On my final day in Croatia, I arranged for a driver (Robbi) to pick me up at my hotel in Dubrovnik for a day-trip to the country of Bosnia & Herzegovina, on recommendation from my friend Shari, who visited a few years ago.
After crossing the border (with only a nod from the border guard – no passports checked), we stopped at the Vjetrenica Cave (cave of wind) near the small village of Zavala. When you stand in front of the cave, you feel a strong blast of cold air blowing from its entrance (hence its name), which dies down after you’ve walked for a few meters inside. I donned a hard hat and followed a guide inside for a slippery walk a few hundred meters into its bowels. It maintains a steady temperature of 11º Celsius year round and is almost 7km in length, though it’s believed that a small tunnel actually reaches out to the Adriatic Sea, which is 20 km away. It’s so amazing to experience these natural wonders.
Our next stop was the town of Mostar, which we reached in about an hour via winding roads, mountain passes and expansive valleys. Along the way we passed by relics of the Bosnian War–overgrown bomb shelters, collapsed buildings, and villages long since abandoned–a sobering dichotomy in the midst of beautiful countryside.
Mostar is home to one of the most well-known sites in Bosnia, the Old Bridge or “Stari Most”. Originally built by the Ottomans in the 1500’s, Stari Most was constructed with local stone, which is very pale and takes on different hues depending on the position and intensity of the sun. The bridge stood for more than 400 years before it was destroyed during the Bosnian War in 1993. Prior to the war, Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosniaks lived in seeming harmony in Mostar, but when the war began, the Croats and Bosniaks forced out the Serbs, and later began shooting at each other from across a front line that followed the Neretva River over which the Stari Most bridge used to extend. The bridge was one of the many casualties of war, collapsing from constant bombing in 1993.
Today, Mostar is still separated by the river and a new Stari Most (reconstructed in 2004 to mimic the original), with the Muslims and their mosques and minarets on the east side and the Catholics and their churches and cathedral on the west side. Along both sides of the river remain crumbling buildings, vestiges of the bombs and mortar shells that pummeled them during the war. While the people appear to now live once again in harmony, one can only assume that while they may have forgiven, they can never truly forget. It was humbling to visit.
We made our way back to Croatia, stopping along the way for a late lunch, and the next morning, I boarded a plane for Budapest, Hungary where I was to meet my brother for a train ride into the Romanian district of Transylvania.