Balkan State of Mind II: Bosnia to Montenegro reading Joe Sacco
We woke up in Bihać (after Slovenia & a bit of Croatia), at some place on a river with some waterfalls & goats. It seems everyone else in our hotel was part of some sort of large & loud Israeli tour group, with the exception of a family from, i'm guessing, Saudi Arabia (the guy's wives covered in black except the eyes). When i went into the bar the night before to check on the score of Italy vs. Spain, the Saudi dude glared at me like he didn't like the look of me.
Other than that, people so far haven't been paying too much attention to us. Bosnian muslims are like the Turks in that they are very secular & don't outwardly wear their religion on their sleeves & treat everyone equally.
After breakfast we hung out in Bihać some with these goats & other farm animals that lived on an island near our hotel.
And then we pushed on into the heart of Bosnia, through mountains & forests & meadows blooming with wildflowers. We stopped in some town called Jajce, perched over yet more stunning waterfalls.
Even 20 years after the fact, many of the buildings still have bullet holes in them or are damaged or abandoned.
We walked around Jajce & then pushed on. A vital ingredient of any road-trip that i didn't mention in the first Balkan State of Mind post is the playlist. Having music is as important as having a car. Two decades ago we used to make mixed tapes, a decade ago we burned CDs & this past decade we make playlists. Thing is, when you're renting a car here you can never be sure what sort of audio hookup you'll have, so i still burn CDs as a backup in case we can't plug in our iPods. For this Balkan trip i burned 7 CDs worth of music. Not that i know anything about this region's music, or that these songs have anything to do at all with Bosnia or the Balkan states, but just seemed like music we might want to listen to to get into a Balkan state of mind, to set the mood. Here's the contents from the first 2 CDs or so:
Towards late afternoon (after more stunning canyons & crystalline lakes) we arrived in Mostar which is in the southern Herzegovina region.
Mostar was an important gateway to/from the Ottoman empire, as symbolized in the famous «Stari Most» (old bridge) that spans the river between east & west. After surviving hundreds of years, including during WWII when Italians occupied this area, the bridge was senselessly destroyed by Croat forces in 1993 in the Yugoslav war.
Mostar was a bit of a pain to navigate with a car as there are a bunch of one way streets & lot of the old town is closed to traffic, or if you stop you get accosted by touts (the only place we really experienced this). We eventually found our way to the Muslibegovic House, an old traditional Ottoman house which is so cool that it doubles as a museum.
We walked around the old town & across the bridge to the other side. Mostar was the epicenter of heavy fighting during the Yugoslav civil war & a lot of the scars are still visible, houses still riddled with bullet holes & pavement pocked with mortar marks. I'm not sure if they just haven't gotten around to fixing these damaged buildings, or whether they are intentionally left like this to serve as a reminder—to not forget.
Crazy to look at all this & imagine what it must've been like. They seemed to have coped fairly well in light of it all. (Here's some images of what Mostar looked like in 1993 right after the war for comparison).
We at times felt funny visiting a country recently scarred by war, especially gawking at the damage—but to not take note of it or acknowledge it & only see «touristy» things would also be strange. If more people had known at the time what was really happening perhaps it wouldn't have been as bad, and if more people see it for themselves, if there is an interest in Bosnia & its history, then perhaps there is less chance of such atrocities happening again. At the time it was happening i didn't have the first clue that such a place was even on the map.
Woke up the next morning & after getting lost a few times trying to find a road south, we continued on into more stunning landscapes.
At one point, near the border with Montenegro, i got flagged down by a Bosnian cop. Evidently driving with your lights on at all times is a law in these parts. It was a bit awkward trying to communicate with him, but from what i could gather, he wanted me to go to some bank in the nearby town to pay a ticket & then bring back a receipt that i had paid it back to him (at which point he would give me my passport & license back). But there was no way i was going to leave him with my passport so i offered to pay on the spot. I pulled out my wallet & showed him a 20 euro note (to clarify that this indeed was the amount he was talking about) & he got all nervous & told me to get into the police car with him (a very dated Datsun, i think a Honeybee, for anyone old enough to remember). He hemmed & hawed for a bit like i think he was contemplating whether to take the cash (technically a bribe) & in the end just let me go. So there you go, proof of at least one Bosnian cop showing restraint under the temptation of corruption.
Every once in a while we'd see these old communist monuments, seemingly in the middle of nowhere (reading now, they were constructed on battlefields or concentration camp sites)—World War II memorials built by Tito in the 60s & 70s. Here's a full list of them.
We followed some shitty roads that almost petered out at a few points until we finally got to the border with Montenegro...