Posted by: Caroline | May 8, 2010

BiH for Beginners

Mostar is not only a pleasant city in its own right; it serves as a convenient base for a host of other intriguing and beautiful day trip destinations. After reading about the surrounding vineyards, waterfalls, and old cities, we were excited to plan the best route to soak in all of these wonders. Unfortunately, we soon realized the necessary public transport links were infrequent or nonexistant.

So we decided to take a regional tour offered by the owner of our hostel. We love to stay in hostels when we can so we can meet other travelers and swap stories or advice. Plus, Hostel Madja is something of a legend among Eastern Europe backpackers, mostly due to “crazy” Bata’s full-day (lasting until 11:30PM!) tour of all the places we wanted to see–and then some!

Bata loaded all of us–five different nationalities–into  his disco-balled van and proceeded to regale us with stories of Mostar’s best and worst moments. It was humbling to hear about his wartime experiences, and we valued his openness on the issue so much because it’s not a topic you can casually bring up with locals. Because of his Muslim surname, he was almost killed by a Croat soldier who was searching for Muslims in his apartment building. Surprisingly, the soldier recognized Bata from school–not as a friend, barely even as an acquaintance–and risked sparing him even in front of a superior. And for what? Bata says it is this instance, this window into the complexities of human nature, that caused a substantial part of his psychological suffering after the war.

But it wasn’t all somber; Bata’s best talent in his ability to deftly weave war stories with impersonations of Sean Connery while blasting the nation’s popular, cheesy turbo-folk on the radio.

Our first stop was at his favorite burek joint. Burek is a warm pastry filled with spiced minced meat, potatoes, spinach, or cheese. He reveres this place because of their commitment to the tradition of cooking burek over coals.

We drove past this Yugoslav-era military base on our way to the pilgrimage site of Medugorje.

Thirty years ago, Medugorje was nothing but rocky terrain and a few villagers. But in 1981, six teenagers claimed the Virgin Mary appeared to them on a nearby hill, delivering an important message that they cannot reveal until the time is right.

Now it is a burgeoning religious wonderland with 80,000 hotel rooms to accomodate the daily arrivals of mostly Italian pilgrims. And there are plenty of real estate offices, too, in case they want to make their pilgrimage more permanent (and many do!).

Here is a statue of Jesus that recently cracked at the knee. Fluid trickles out of the crack, and pilgrims line up to dab cloths with the substance. The fluid was tested and is reputed to have a chemical makeup like that of tears.

One of Medugorje’s main streets, full of religious trinkets and gelatto.

The Vatican has never validated the apparition, but in March it announced that they would be forming an investigative commission to resolve the issue.

Next, we visited the Kravice Waterfalls–my favorite activity of the day! We actually swam across that strong, chilly current to get to the waterfalls. It was hard to breathe when we first dived in the frigid waters, but what an exhilirating experience!

Alex also made use of the rope swing.

After drying off and sampling some local drinks like the strong rakija and the sweet green walnut liquer, we visited this Ottoman-built fortress. The city is on the road from Dubrovnik, so the Ottomans built a bath house and a hotel to keep potential informants around and relaxed. After a nice scrub and some Turkish coffee, wouldn’t you be more willing to spill trade secrets?

The good thing about going on a tour is we had people to ask to take pictures of us!

This is the beginning of a tower we climbed, but before we ascended, Bata challenged us to find the secret exit soldiers could have used.

Guess who found it (and won a beer because of it)?

In the tower

Over a hundred houses fill the city walls, but only a few are currently inhabited. Most of the largely Muslim residents left during the war because of the town’s proximity to Croatia.

We had the opportunity to visit one of these few remaining homes, also home to some very old vines.

We were treated to some BiH hospitality!

We tasted a variety of homemade syrups (sage, mint, and pomegranate) as well as Bosnian coffee. The proper way to express your enjoyment of a food or beverage here is a phrase that literally means, “It hurts my head.”

This sour cherry pastry was the best.

On the way back to Mostar, we stopped at this Dervish house. Dervishes follow a mystical form of Islam; followers here will sway and talk themselves into a trance to attain communion with Allah. This ritual can last all night.

The source of this river is somewhat of a mystery because of the vast network of caves beyond this opening.

A cup is provided to drink from the clean, cold river; you are also supposed to make a wish.

The list of prohibitions upon entering the Turkish house.

Ornate ceiling

At this point, we were exhausted–but not done yet! We stopped at Bata’s favorite grill for cevapi, a type of spiced sausage.


  1. […] stopped to go for a dip in the freezing Colorado, though it wasn’t as shockingly cold as our Bosnian swim; it felt downright refreshing after an hour of Arizona […]

  2. Reading this over again it is truly amazing. Thank you.

  3. […] I joined a semi-organized group tour. Although these have their upsides (and can occasionally be totally awesome!), I was ready to spend the next day exploring my own […]

  4. first two pictures are from Albania not BIH .

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