November 06, 2005 GMT
Bosnia Herzegovina

On 24th June 1981 six teenagers in Medugorje claimed they’d seen an apparition of Virgin Mary. They still do, but only three of them see her every day. Now, I thought some well qualified sacred guidance could come in handy. Perhaps she would appear and bless the bike? That would really be something.

Can you see Virgin Mary? I didn’t.

My expectations were sky high. But the dirt poor mountain village was not dirt poor anymore. Mary had become big business. I had hoped for some dusty outdoor camping clinched against a rough stone church wall, but the village was brimmed with lodging options, in total more than 17.000 beds for tourists, and – perhaps most disappointing – I did not see Virgin Mary anywhere. If she were there, the busloads of pilgrims were first in line. I had no time to wait for an appointment next month.

Further up the road and beautifully situated in a valley is Mostar. This scene of heavy combat a few years back is now open for visitors, but the city is still filled with tension. The population is segregated between Croats on the west side of the river and the Muslims on the east side. Since I was neutral I could cross the line without getting in trouble. From a touristy point of view the Croat side was not much to look at. The Muslim side was the nicest and the liveliest. In a backstreet I met Omar, a retired professor, and I was welcome to stay at his loft.

The rebuilt Stari Most Bridge…

…and the view from it

Ramadan was over. Omar pealed an orange and shared it with me. In the streets firecrackers popped everywhere, thus bringing a déjà vu, the CNN sound of Bosnia Herzegovina. Next morning the joyful singing in the neighborhood had silenced. The temperature was only six Celsius, making the planned mountain drive a slippery business. Instead I zigzagged between two cars that crashed in front of me, carefully avoiding a puncture from the broken glass as well as any discussion with the arriving police, and set course towards Monte Negro.

Omar and his oven: Alright, let’s turn up the heat!

Posted by Erik Saue at November 06, 2005 06:15 PM GMT

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