Only after buying a return bus ticket to Dubrovnik did I learn from Rezi that a little-known service that does door-to-door pickup from Korcula to Dubrovnik costing the same amount as the bus, with fewer people and at a sane hour existed. So I was still stuck with needing to catch a bus back at 6.45am, and spent most of the day indoors to prevent the hives from getting worse.
Yet the scratching continued, least helped by the next early day-tour taken to Mostar, a town nestled deep in the mountains and valleys of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which, away from the coast, boasted soaring spring temperatures that hit near 30 degrees. I was told that Mostar is one of the warmest regions in the Mediterranean (so they claim it is indeed a Mediterranean climate), but frequently gets 40-degree summers.
It felt unreal entering Bosnia, a place that I vaguely remember in my teens as war-torn, and politically divided, and needing prayer, according to a teacher who said so during morning school assembly. Back then, we scoffed and laughed, and wondered about its relevance. But I wouldn’t have thought that I would, years later, step foot in the region, only to see the tragic scars of war on Bosnia-Herzegovina that remain. Reconstruction and rehabilitation continue at a snail’s pace for Bosnia. It remains an incredibly poor country with a 30% unemployment rate, and gypsies litter the surrounding streets of Mostar asking for money.
The bus went by the Neum corridor, a 9 km long stretch of Bosnia-Herzegovinian territory (border-checks included) that is 60km from Dubrovnik, and then slipped back into Croatia once more, before driving into the mountains and the Neretva Delta. Before long, the “proper” border-formality and check-point came into view once more.
It seemed that no one knew if my passport was valid for entry. But it was.
Mostar, for all its Ottoman influence, feels like a miniature Turkey, stunningly familiar in some senses after having seen Istanbul twice. Its food and architecture are foundationally Turkish, a consequence of six hundred years of Ottoman rule. Its famous bridge that spans the Neretva river is much a symbol of division as it is of unity between sides, and guides are quick to point out the coexistence of multicultural groups rather than its tensions.
Men jump into the river for cold, hard cash and simply to amuse tourists who live out their thrill-seeking alter-egos by paying these men to do it. Erring on the side of caution, the german-speaking guide chose instead to point out particular spots of significance and its origin, but glossed disappointingly over the complexity of the war’s surrounding circumstances. I wanted to ask burning questions – how was it like as you grew up? What were such tensions? – but wondered in all good faith, if it hit too close to home, when such seemingly innocent questions might have, for them, meant a matter of death of life.
We stopped for a “photo-break” in Pocitelj, a town to the south of Mostar, devoid of anyone until we came along it seemed. The last toilet-break was once more in Neum. To my horror, the bus parked beside many other large tour buses where all perspiring tourists queued for gelato, and crammed into the supermarket seeking cold drinks. That particular scene served as a timely reminder of the bane of a package tour, even if it was only for a day.