I tried to leave Mostar after one night. I really did. I’d spent one day wandering around the Old Town and seeing the New Old Bridge, and eating the best cevapi in town. I thought I should be moving on.
Majda, who runs the hostel, took me to the bus station and I bought a ticket, and I waited for the bus. Jonathan, who’d also been staying at the hostel, came with me. We waited with our packs on. The bus didn’t come. We took our packs off. The bus didn’t come. Jon lit a cigarette, because that usually works, he said. No dice. We tried sitting down. We tried going for coffee. No bus.
Majda showed up two hours later to collect some more guests. She sat with us for coffee. The bus didn’t seem to be coming, and even if it did, I’d made up my mind anyway. Jon and I both asked Majda if we could come back for another two nights. She laughed at us, and took us back to the hostel.
Majda’s brother Bata has an amazing tour that he does of the area that I’d wanted to take, and it was running the next day. I’d finally put an end date on my trip – November 18th – and didn’t think I had any more time to spend in Mostar. Finally, though, I took the bus’s absence as my chance to change my mind.
Thank god I did.
Bata’s tour is brilliant. It lasts for 12 hours. You get in his van at 9 a.m. and his loud booming voice starts to tell you about his life, the life of the town, the history of the war and how it affected inhabitants. He talks about how Mostar was and still is divided between Muslims and Croats, drives you up a mountain for a view of the city, and then takes you for lunch at the best burek place in town.
That’s only the beginning.
(I didn’t brave the icy November water, but a few people did.)
I can’t go into the details of Bata’s tour. There’s too much. There’s the waterfalls and the 14th century village, the history lessons starting from the 7th century, the fresh figs and pomegranetes, the shots of rakia, the Dervish House near the cave from which water constantly flows from an undetermined source.
What I can say, after 12 hours of Bata shouting, is that I’ve gained so much more understanding of Bosnia and its people and their resiliance. I’ve been learning, as I’ve traveled the Balkans, about what happened here, both in the recent past and throughout history. What I’ve learned from people like Bata, though, can’t be gained from a book. I sat in shotgun, in the van, and got to talk to him (when he wasn’t shouting) about the region, about its young people, its agriculture, its recovery, and what Bata calls ‘The Bosnian Spirit’. It’s all intrigued me to the point where I’m already planning my trip back to see more.
When I did finally leave Mostar, Madja told me to write in the guest book about our first attempt to leave. Apparently that’s never happened before.