Roberto Bordin – It’s been a while since I’ve planned to take part in an international working camp and visit the countries that used to be part of the former Yugoslavia which made them, unfortunately, interesting to the world public for a long time. I decided to look for a working camp in the region during summer and visit some of the cities there.
I set off from Ancona to Split and took a bus to Mostar. Two days later I took a bus to Sarajevo, and then went to Belgrade (eleven hours on the train), which was also the final stop of the first part of my journey.
From Belgrade I traveled to Ruski Krstur, a town in Vojvodina where a two-week working camp (public park landscaping) was taking place.
On the way back I visited Novi Sad, Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes and, finally, Ljubljana.
What follows is a brief account of my journey with a focus on my stay in Mostar, the first destination.
The bus from Split arrived in Mostar at 2 pm. Immediately I dialed the number I got from the “Viaggiare i Balcani” agency in Trentino who arranges responsible tourism tours, but I got no answer. I stopped a passer-by who was more than willing to help me: he dialed the same number and instantly got through (I still don’t know what I was doing wrong). The man misrepresented himself as a taxi driver and took me to my destination charging me 5 EUR, which would be a realistic cost in the West, but this was pure stealing.
The person who rented me a room was very kind although we had some communication problems because he didn’t speak English very well.
I went out for a walk in a narrow street along the river Neretva. Naturally, the first place I visited was the famous Old Bridge that was destroyed during the 1990s war. The Bridge is in the old part of the city with the strong Ottoman style and numerous mosques which make it attractive for tourists. I felt as if I was in the Middle East. The hill on the right has a huge cross on top of it and I wanted to get there. When I asked the people in one of the cafes if I could get there on foot, they said it was possible but very tiresome. Since I wasn’t in a great physical fit I gave up on the idea. The cafe was a meeting point for football fans of one of the two Mostar premiere league clubs. One of the people spoke Italian and he explained that they were fans of a Croat football club, the rival of a Muslim club from the other part of the city. One of the walls in the cafe had a poster of the Croatian National Football Team and it became clear to me that they felt as Croats. They also told me that the Bridge had been destroyed by the Muslims who only wanted to transfer the blame to the Croats. I didn’t really believe them but I still think it’s dangerous to rule out anything because history is full of manipulation. I decided not to climb the hill but the meeting with those people still taught me something. I continued my walk in the Croat part of the city which seemed so different from the other part, so much closer to the European style.
I passed by a church with a huge bell tower. There was a wedding and it was also a starting point for many cars. That wouldn’t be so strange if the cars weren’t decorated with Croatian flags. I stuck around for a while and saw, among other things, a building completely ruined by bomb shells. Afterwards I crossed the Bridge and found myself in the Muslim part. I walked around some more and finally went back home. The journey and tour around the cities (Ancona included) wore me out since I’d been walking since the day before (I only slept on the ferry for a short while).
The next day I chose to visit the mountains around Mostar. I wanted to see the city from a higher place. I climbed up a street in the Muslim part and continued on a rocky road where I even saw some turtles. I came to a plain, mostly farmed land surrounded by few houses. I was in a place called Podvelež. In front of me were the tall mountains and I intended to get to the top. I passed by a house and asked for some information but no one spoke any English. At another house I came across a girl who spoke English and her entire family spoke Italian because they were refugees in Sardinia during the war. The offered me coffee, spoke badly about Berlusconi and the host showed me the path that would lead me to where I wanted to go. However, it was impossible to get there during the day. I asked him about his job and he said he was unemployed. They probably lived off the land, selling whatever they had left. I left them my cap, nothing much, just something to remember me by. It’s not every day that an Italian appears in such God forsaken places. I continued on the road leading to the top of the Velež mountain at 1900 m altitude. I walked for hours until I reached a place from where it was impossible to go any further. There I saw remnants of something that probably used to be a military bunker.
A bit disappointed, I started to head back. When I reached the main road it was already 8 pm, just an hour away from a total darkness so it was impossible to get to Mostar in such a short period of time. I tried hitchhiking few of the cars that passed by and one driver took me to a small place that had a hotel and a bus stop (it was too late for a bus). After that I continued to walk on and another driver with a little girl stopped. They didn’t take me far and to make things worse they told me that Mostar was 25 kilometers away (he showed me the number with his fingers). When I got out of the car I didn’t really like the idea of walking the whole way, but something unexpected happened. The man returned, without the girl, and offered to take me to the city for 40 KM. He didn’t stop talking the whole ride and I kept shrugging shoulders letting him know I couldn’t understand anything but that only caused bursts of laughter in him. He had a good reason for it too: the locals don’t get many chances to earn some money so the money he asked of me was heaven sent. I didn’t think of it as a minor cost but it was definitely better than walking that would leave consequences for the days to come.
I came to my room and decided to make the final tour around Mostar. I had ćevapi (popular traditional meal) and went to the Old Bridge once again. I tried to take pictures of the girls passing by (most of them more beautiful than our Italian girls). I asked for their permission but didn’t get it very often. Two teenage girls even ran away from me and I’m still not sure if they were afraid or they just wanted to hide from something. Another reason for taking pictures was to make a documentary of the journey as well as to meet new people and have some fun in the evening. When I returned home I ate the pie, another traditional specialty. This is how my visit to Mostar ended and the next day I set off to Sarajevo, the next destination in my journey.