Travel Stories

Sarajevo to Mostar and the Tunnel of Hope

The days quickly blur into one another.  The snow melts slowly.  It is easy to walk down the mountain into town in about 20 minutes and almost everyone does.  Almost no one walks up the mountain (except school children) making it look like a one-way street.  And while there is no bus service up the mountains taxis from the center of old Sarajevo are ubiquitous and under 2$ gets me dependably up the steep incline to my apartment on Okrugla Street.

There are two places I feel I must go before leaving Sarajevo and my impatience thrills me.  First is to the "Tunnel of Hope," a half mile long tunnel that was dug from the Sarajevo side underneath the Sarajevo airport landing strip to the other side.  Historians estimate that more than 1 million trips were taken through the tunnel, allowing the import of millions of tons of food, guns, crates of ammunition, and humanitarian aid.  Without the tunnel it is hard to imagine how much more severe the cost in human lives and suffering would have been.  My taxi driver tells me he made many trips back and forth through the tunnel and that he was seriously wounded three times during the three year occupation, but that only once was it life threatening, as if the shrapnel and bullet wounds in his back were simply the price one paid for being a fighting aged man at the time in Sarajevo.

I find my visit to the tunnel deeply moving, actually bringing me to tears, inspired/touched by this example of human cruelty, courage, and fortitude.  The one still accessible tunnel entrance was/is literally inside the home of a very ordinary family who lived near the airport and who began the project without aid or assistance other than inspiration.  I crouch my way through the dampness. When I finish my visit I go outside to await my ride and look for a coffee shop.  The only coffee shop I see is closed and the woman who lives next door to the tunnel entrance, who collects vehicle "parking fees" from non-Bosnia tunnel visitors and sells little trinkets, sees me looking around.  "What are you looking for?" she asks me.  "A good cup of coffee," I reply.  "Hajde vam" (Come on, you) she says wagging her finger and bidding me inside.  "Sjesti!" Sit, she commands and then disappears into the kitchen, leaving two grandchildren staring at me and laughing.  I can smell the Turkish coffee well before she delivers it.  When my ride appears she makes him sit and drink coffee also.  It is very good coffee.  My driver says the woman is recently widowed.  He suggests there is an opportunity for me here.  I refuse politely.  I offer the woman money.  She refuses politely.

My other must visit place is Mostar and its famous bridge.  This is a UNESCO world heritage site and rightly so, and even though the original bridge was bombed to smithereens - as well as over half the town destroyed - what has arisen from the ashes is vibrant and unique.  I will not say more, if you are interested google it.  Remember please, this siege and embattlement were genocidal in intent ... nothing less.

Finally, I spend a day just wandering around Sarajevo seeing what I can see.  I find the University anthropology department inside the Poitical Science building but no one there speaks English - in contrast to my welcome 50 years ago when I was served coffee, šljivovica (plum brandy), and pastries by a distinctly bilingual host department at 9AM.
I get a haircut, well shave.
I get my shoes shined, well sprayed with silicone.
I get lost.  My favorite thing.
I watch a couple of chess games played on a big board in a town square, see an angry man physically attack and knock to the ground and annoying but also obviously crazy person while onlookers do nothing but say tsk tsk, go to my now favorite coffee shop, eat more cevapi, lot's more cevapi, wave goodbye to my favorite cat, and try not to jump out of my skin with excitement that tomorrow I head for Maglaj!