I booked a few nights at hostel Miran in Mostar, after reading it’s fantastic reviews. I really wanted to get amongst the history of the area, and so many had only wonderful things to say about the tours run by them. I was not disappointed. The Herzegovina tour was fantastic.
Our group set off, and we met Miran’s cousin, who also had a group from another hostel. He would take us for this part of the tour. Our first stop was Blagaj. The remains of a castle sit high on the cliff tops. The king was called little king, which translates to Herzeg in German (he used to have German visitors). This region also made really good wine. He combined Herzeg, with vino, resulting in the name for the area – Herzegovina. His daughter married into the Bosnian family, so Bosnia and Herzegovina joined. Before this they were independent.
Bosnia and Herzegovina was occupied by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century for 400 years. The house built in Blagaj is famous, built in the Dervish style. Every year Dervish come here and celebrate with their renowned dancing.
The river that runs under the Dervish house is one of the biggest sources of natural water in Europe. They have never found the source. They have dived two hundred metres into it but still don’t know where it starts from. It’s a bit of a mystery too since it barely rains here. It puts out 40,000 litres per second.
We learnt that the south Herzegovina area has a Mediterranean climate, while the north in Bosnia has a continental climate, snowing in winter. In Herzegovina it’s still 15-25 degrees in winter. I always assumed most of Europe gets freezing, so I’ve mentally added this onto a winter travel list!
We stopped at the town of Pocitelj, where there was four castles built on the hills in the 14th century, connected by a protective wall. They knew the Ottomans were coming, so built the walls in preparation. The walls weren’t enough, and after a small siege in 1471, the Ottomans occupied the city until the Austrian reign. The mosque still stands, and is one of the oldest ones in the Balkans.
Our guide told us his family was taken to a concentration camp five kilometres from where we stood. The concentration camp was one of four in the nearby hills. He was 3 at the time, and his family said he cried the whole time, since they only got fed one meal a day. After a week, his family was taken back to Mostar, but they kept his dad for four months. He was lucky to survive, returning with scabies, and about 30kg lighter. Standing there in 40 degree heat, it was easy to see how these conditions could take their toll.
He told us of the Croatian army’s occupation of Mostar. They would take a hundred or so prisoners, and make them carry sandbags. They used them as a human shield. It meant the Bosnians wouldn’t shoot, as the line would be made up of family and friends. The Croatians followed along behind. When they made the ground they needed, they would make the prisoners build a bunker from the sandbags, and then shoot them.
He told us his grandma and grandfather were in a human shield line. His grandfather was shot dead, and his grandma was shot in the neck but didn’t die. She waited until dark, and crawled to safety on the Bosnian side of the city. Their stories really hit home about the atrocities this country has faced, in such recent times.
On the drive, I noticed a lot of road signs had directions crossed out. I was confused, did these roads no longer lead to where they were originally destined? Someone pointed out that no, these directions were in the Cyrillic alphabet, used by Serbians. The local people aren’t happy that the Serbian language is used, in what is deemed to be their country.
Stopping off at the Kravice lakes was a welcome relief for us all. It was 42 degrees, and a swim was definitely on the cards. Our guide took us into the water, warning us to steer clear of the grass banks if we didn’t want to see snakes, eek!! He showed us where was safe to swim, as there are often rockfalls if you get too close to the waterfalls. He did an impressive intentional belly flop off a rock for us (how do you tell yourself that’s a good idea?!) and then left us to swim a bit longer.
Five of us shared a meat platter that was ginormous. I don’t think Bosnia is the kind of country you could be vegetarian in. I’m not sure it was the best thing to eat on such a hot day. But challenge accepted, we did our best. Stuffed and happy, we had another quick dip before heading off.
We all fell asleep on the drive to meet Miran for the final part of the tour, the war tour. The heat plus the emotional history is draining. For more on the tour with Miran, about the recent wars, click here.
The Herzegovina tour offered by Miran Hostel was outstanding. €30 for a whole day out, with so much knowledge, and different things to see, it was completely worth it. If you’re planning a trip to Mostar, an extra night’s stay to make the most of this tour is a must. For link to the hostel, click here.