I'll never forget the journey into Mostar. I no longer fear death, just my next bus ride through Bosnia. It was the hottest day so far. It was easily 40°c and I was stuck on a bus with no air conditioning as hurtled through the Bosnian Mountains, mostly on the wrong side of the road. Until it broke down, that is. That was hell. The only shelter from the sun was inside the bus and that was ever hotter than being in direct sunlight. I hated my life at this point. The road was too narrow for any passing vehicle to stop and jump start us. I think that's what the driver was trying to explain to me; he spoke almost no English. So I just sat against the side of the mountain, wondering if it would be less painful to jump.
About an hour later "Push! Push!" I thought he was joking, but the driver wanted a push start. There were only about 10 or 12 of us in the bus, I wasn't very optimistic about it, but we had a go. It was f***ing hard work, but the thing slowly started to move, it really wanted to start, but didn't. Everyone was stuffed so we took a break before we tried again. We had some shade at this point which was a relief. The second effort finally got the thing going; I was standing directly behind the exhaust and as it turned over, it covered me in carbon and oil but I didn't care, I just wanted to get moving again.
I was in no mood to walk around finding my hostel when I arrived in Mostar, so I can hardly describe my happiness when I stepped from the bus to see a man holding a piece of paper with my name on it. My time in Bosnia only got better from here. His name was Bata, and he worked for the hostel, which offered free pick up! I had forgotten about this but a few days earlier I received an email asking from which direction I'd be coming from and what time. I thought this was just to confirm my booking, but it was so there would be someone waiting for me when I arrived. Although I was incredibly late, they'd already been notified of this and knew when to be there.
I was driven around and given a brief tour of the city on my way to the hostel, called Hostel Majdas. It was located on the Bosnian side of Mostar (across the bridge is the Croatian side) in a really dreary looking communist style concrete block. It doesn't look very impressive from the outside, especially with the bullet holes. But I was amazed once I made it inside, it was so homely and comfortable and I was greeted by Majda with a coffee and a slice of homemade cake. I was booked in for two nights, but within the first hour I was convinced by Bata (Majda's brother) that I should stay for three so I could attend his tour which was held every few days (It lasted 14 hours). These people could not have been more friendly or accommodating. Although it didn't say breakfast was included on the booking website, every morning, or whatever time you were to stumble out of bed you were made 'Bosnian toast', fresh fruit and a tea or coffee. And good luck trying to turn it down. One night I arrived home just before midnight and was on my bed reading and Majda brought me in a bowl of freshly made popcorn and sat it next to me. She was amazed by the name 'Lachlan' she'd never heard of it, and couldn't pronounce it for a while but tried her best. I can't recommend this place enough. It was just perfect, and is probably the reason I loved Mostar so much. They went above and beyond anything any other hostel offers, I'd love to go back there.
The city itself was confronting. Although a lot had been rebuilt there are still a lot of ruins around the old city. I climbed the old bank building, still full of personal files which I had a bit of a flick through. There was a Serbian sniper at the top of this building during the war, so I walked all the way up the crumbling staircase to get a view from the 'birds nest' and was surprised to see the floor littered with bullet shells. I guess not a lot of people have gone up there since. I guess they'd rather forget. The Old City is amazing, the central attraction being Stari Most - the Old Bridge which was very impressive. It was 427 years old before it was bombed and destroyed during the Bosnian war but has been rebuilt using the same materials and techniques. I sat under it and had a couple of Sarajevsko Piva's with Ben from the hostel and watched the locals jump from it into the river below. It's 21 meters high and the water is freezing. We were told stories of people jumping, going into shock and being dragged away in the current. Up until then I was considering doing it.
I went out for tea with a couple of girls from the hostel that night. I had chicken soup and a mixed grill for about $10 including a couple of beers. The meal was great, huge too.It's good value over here. I wouldn't want to be a vegetarian though you'd probably starve. We decided to have an early night as we'd been told by others how grueling Bata's tour was going to be the next day, they were right.
The tour started at 10:30 and was to last around 14 hours. It only cost about $40 plus expenses. I had to go to the bank that morning, the ATM electrocuted me every time I touched it; 9 times in total. When Bata arrived we were loaded in to his Mercedes van. There were 16 of us, but only 10 seats. But right up the back of the van were ottomans and deck chairs to fit anyone else. I found it pretty funny. It was another hot day and was bloody hot in the van, but we knew there'd be swimming at some point which made it a little easier to put up with. It started with a brief tour of Mostar and some of the more important points of the war before moving on towards Medjugorje, the Catholic pilgrimage site. This town is best known due to claims of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to six Croats since 1981. Now thousands of people flock to the site as well as a statue of Jesus which has started to weep (from its knee?) Next stop was KraviceWaterfall and a few hours of swimming, cliff diving and swinging from ropes in to the river. An 8 meter jump into white water at the base of a waterfall was a bit nerve racking but we were assured they weren't any rocks at the bottom. Whoever jumped from the cliff was rewarded with a free beer back at the bar, later in the day. That's what convinced me. Up next was Citadel Počitelj and the old town below, I was amazed to see people still living there. Including a few kids who just ran around and played on the rooftop of old houses. We were invited into an old lady's house for some drinks and cakes. She made all her own syrups, dried fruits and cakes and we tried them all, everything used was grown in her yard. She also made everyone some Bosnian coffee. Next stop was Blagaj Tekke; a Muslim holy house and another pilgrimage site. The place is built on the side of a cliff, above a cave which is the source of the Buna River (Google the place it's amazing.)
Then a ride back into Mostar with a disco ball on the roof, strobe lights flashing and Michael Jackson pumping, pizza then bed.