WEDNESDAY 31ST OCTOBER 2012.
DUBROVNIK TO MOSTAR
The owner of the ‘studio’ took us to the bus station this morning. The car was a bomb and after many efforts to get it started I began wondering if we were going to get to the station on time. The car we were picked up in on Tuesday was a new Renault but today, a different matter. Finally it kicked over but it sounded like it was running on three of its four cylinders and when we stopped along the way getting moving again meant a lot of clutch slipping.
During this odyssey we have travelled mostly by bus, it really is the only way as they are inexpensive and comfortable. All the buses (mostly Mercedes) we have been on to date have been clean and modern. The only disadvantage has been the odd smoking driver but otherwise no complaints. I suspect all of the buses we have been on have been privately owned and today’s bus was no exception. The driver and attendant were immaculately dressed in light blue pinstriped shirts with tie and black pinstriped suits. Neither smoked, even when off the bus.
The whole of the trip today was most scenic and we had no trouble recognising places we travelled through in 1972. Following are some images taken through the windscreen and side window of the bus. In view of the conditions (twisting road) I think they are remarkably good.
The road can be seen benched into the mountain at right hand edge of the photograph.
Ston is said to be one of the most under visited places in Europe considering its historic legacy. Building a wall like this was a gigantic effort. No words can describe the hard labour required. I think it should be included as one of the wonders of the world.
The road left the coast at Metkovic, turned north and for most parts followed the Neretva River. The Neretva River basin is the largest river basin in the eastern part of the Adriatic so it stands to reason that there is extensive irrigation within the basin. The following images show what I mean.
The reeds are most likely to be those used in compressed board insulation. In 1972 I took an identical photo and it has always been one of our favourite images.
The Neretva River basin appears to be very productive as all along the way today there were orchards and farms. The green coverage in the distance is citrus orchards.
Travelling the Neretva valley today made me think how brave we were tackling countries such as Yugoslavia in the winter of 1972. During the journey the whole countryside was blanketed in snow, roads were icy which made driving dangerous. It would have been easy to go over the edge on many occasions. Many roads had no guardrails and on one occasion, high up on a frozen pass, two men waved us down and wanted a lift to the next town. Their car had gone over but they had miraculously survived. On another occasion a Landrover being driven by communist party officials (communist officials cars had red coloured number plates) had gone into a deep ditch and they were having difficulty getting it back onto the road. Being a Landrover man at the time, I took control and drove it out of the ditch. Along the edge of the high mountain passes there were roadside monuments indicating where people had lost their lives. The monuments were more like sculptures, made from car parts such as doors, radiator fronts and steering wheels belonging to the car that went over.
The decision to travel through Yugoslavia in 1972 was for me influenced by the film Von Ryan’s Express. The film made in Yugoslavia in the late 1960s related to an American POW leading a group of mainly British prisoners to escape from the Germans during WWII.
The above poster image was dragged from Film Watch List http://www.imdb.com
The high alpine scenery in the film impressed me and being able to travel through the film set was something I didn’t want to miss, winter or not.
Many post WW2 war films made light of war. They concentrated more on heroic deeds by the victors, they didn’t show the ugly side of war. As we approached Mostar today the grim effects of the 1990s Balkans war started to appear.
As has been the case on a number occasions, as soon as we alighted from the bus we were approached by a couple of locals offering us accommodation. The two ladies (mother Dada and daughter Tia) seemed genuine so off we went to their apartment, which was within a short walk of the bus station. The apartment was in a large conglomeration of private flats and although the entrance way didn’t look too fancy the interior and friendliness of the family made up for the dreary look of the outside. As I have said previously, you can’t judge a book by its cover.
The stay at Hostel Dada turned out to be a wonderful experience. Staying there was like staying in a private house. Our room was very private and as soon as I saw it I said this is it, this is the sort of accommodation we have been looking for on this odyssey and at last we have found it
The kitchen was small but everyone worked around each other so there was no stress at all. The experience of staying with Tia and Dada was something we are not going to forget. During our stay we shared the kitchen and living room with a young couple from Catalonia, (its population is presently campaigning for independence from Spain), a girl from Austria, a number of local blokes from outside Mostar who were working on a building site and also Tia’s young daughter. The living room turned into a place of communication and laughter.
Excited by the fact we had found the ideal digs, we walked to the centre of Mostar about two kilometres away. The old town we visited and enjoyed in 1972 is now a little worse for wear; understandable when you consider the pounding it sustained during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1900s.
The reason we came to Mostar was to see the restored Old Mostar Bridge. This photo is taken from the western side of the river. All the buildings here were destroyed during the war. We were here thirty-nine years and eleven months ago. The date was the 29th November 1972.
The Old Bridge built in 1566 was destroyed the 9th November 1993 by Bosnian Croat tank bombardment. I remember watching the event on television shortly after it was destroyed and I thought then that civilisation was really still back in the dark ages. There have been other events that have left indelible impressions on my mind and they include the destruction of the Twin Towers 1993, the address by Kevin Rudd (a past Australian Prime Minister) in 2008 apologising to the Aboriginal people of Australia for past wrongs, the day in 1983 when Alan Bond’s yacht Australia 2 won the America’s Cup, the day in 1969 when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and the first television transmission in Sydney in 1956 but the most vivid in my memory was the destruction of the Old Mostar Bridge.
A noted commentator said at the time of the opening of the restored bridge, ‘The bridge is now a monument to human stupidity. It would have been the cheapest and easiest thing on earth to let it stand as it stood. I wonder if anyone taking part in those past Yugoslavian wars is ashamed of his abysmal stupidity? Alas, there is no known cure for hate blindness.’
When the Old Bridge was bombed the masonry fell into the river. However much of the fallen bridge was retrieved during the period 1999 to 2004 when a monumental rebuild took place. The money for the bridge reconstruction, was donated by Spain, the United States, Turkey, Italy, the Netherlands and Croatia. A grand opening was held on 23 July 2004 under heavy security.
There were basically three warring sides for much of the 1990s Balkan conflict and they were the Bosnian government (Muslims/Bosniaks), the Bosnian Serbs supported by Serbia (i.e. the Yugoslavian government) and Bosnian Croats who were supported by Croatia. Later NATO (USA & Britain) became involved when they launched attacks in some areas against the Bosnian Serbs and the Yugoslavian government forces. There were also a number of partisan groups as well. I know this list probably doesn’t explain fully who was who in the conflict but it may be of help to readers who want to pursue why the war happened. At the end of this posting there is a detailed explanation of events leading up to the war.
Note that the church steeple, evident in the 1972 photograph, has gone, although the pine trees still stand.
During the war alleyways like this were known as ‘Snipers’ Alley’. Much of the west bank of the river near the Old Mostar Bridge was in sniper range. If residents on the west side could see any part of the east bank then a sniper could see them. Not only were snipers a threat but shells from the tank bombardment killed and injured many as well. It was estimated that more than 100 000 shells fell on Mostar during the nine months of shelling.
I am grateful to photographer Zoran Bozicevic for giving me permission to use the above image. After receiving his permission I got to thinking that he probably risked his life to take this photo and many of the others shown on his web page. Thanks again Zoran, I would like to meet you one day.
Zoran’s web page is www.zoranbozicevic.com and I recommend readers look at his web page and read his biography.
I sighted the angle of trajectory for this bullet and it came from right to left from a high window about fifty metres away. The lead projectile was still in the wall.
The Old/New Mostar Bridge spans the Neretva River. The bridge and Mostar town were named after the mostsri bridge keepers, who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the river.
Sitting near the west end of the bridge today we met Dinonn, a watercolour artist. He was sitting demonstrating his artistic ability by painting on rocks from the Neretva River. As you can guess, we fell into conversation very easily and soon realised we had a lot in common, he even used the exact same brand of pens I use. I mentioned to him that I had to buy a new pen soon. He immediately gave me one of his, not because I bought one of his paintings but out of true friendship. Dinonn studied economics at university but at the moment there are few jobs in that field on offer. Fortunately he earns sufficient in the summer to live through the winter.
During this odyssey we have met many young unemployed people like Dino and I must say I feel for them and understand their plight. It must be so frustrating not being able to get on with their chosen life’s ambitions. Dino and I will no doubt be communicating by email.
When we were talking to Dino a young traveller from the USA came up and introduced himself. We also had a lot in common. He told us he wants to head down under to Australia, so we invited him to look us up when he comes. Emails are a fantastic way to keep in touch with those we meet. How are you doing, Caden? How was Albania?
Dino earns money from painting the bridge but there are other young blokes who earn money from jumping off the bridge. Members of the Mostar Diving Club collect money from spectators (like busking) and dive off into the river below. The waters of the river are at a constant 12 degrees which is not over warm so, before jumping, divers hose themselves down in order to lower their body temperature to avoid having a heart seizure when hitting the ice cold waters below. It seems the diving activity is a test of manhood.
The image above is from the National Geographic web site. There are a number of YouTube presentations showing the jumping.
Tomorrow we shall go back into Mostar and explore the areas away from the main tourist areas.