If you haven’t heard already, travelling is the best form of learning and experiencing new cultures. This is the sole reason for which I travel. I want to understand the world I’m living in. Unfortunately, it’s not always shiny streets and cute cafes. Travelling is real life.
Growing up, I was so unbelievably lucky to travel as much as I did. But we usually went to charming London or miraculously gorgeous Hawaii. Not saying these aren’t amazing places worth seeing (they definitely are, and still remain some of my favorite destinations today!) but they are very sheltered, catered to tourism, and because of that, I was not prepared for a country like Bosnia & Herzegovina.
In a previous post, I wrote a short poem called “Aquamarine Lace,” about the way I felt stepping out of the bus and onto the streets in Mostar. Although that is how I felt at the time, I feel now that I may have painted the wrong picture of this town. So let me redeem myself!
The main reason we went through Bosnia & Herzegovina was because we needed to go north from Dubrovnik to get to Germany, and rather than backtrack our way through Croatia, we decided to go through a new country instead. Besides, we had seen beautiful pictures of this bridge in a town called Mostar that we had heard many people raving about, so we just did it!
Perhaps it was the perfect pictures and raving reviews that made me feel so disappointed at first, because I was expecting something like Croatia or even Hungary. What my years of sheltered travelling had not prepared me for was the broken glass in the streets, the thousands of bullet holes, and a little boy my brother’s age begging for money. That was a lot to take in only five minutes from disembarking the bus.
My own ignorance led me to believe that this was a dangerous place. I wanted to go, but our train didn’t leave until that night. However, this experience has been one of the most important so far. After walking around a while and forcing myself to see everything with a new perspective, I learned that these people suffered a terribly violent civil war only 20 years ago. Every family lost a son, brother or father, and there are hundreds of headstones to prove it.
I learned that this place wasn’t violent or dangerous, it was recovering. These people live their lives around the past because they have to. Yes, the evidence is still around. But maybe they leave it as a sort of memorial. That bridge that the town clings to is their hope. It brings in tourists so that they have the opportunity to rebuild and eventually thrive. It serves as a reminder so it never happens again.
Since then, I have met many people who still rave about Mostar, expressing what a lovely town it is with such friendly people. Maybe I felt differently because of my expectations. Maybe it was because wars have always seemed foreign to me. Maybe it was because I travelled off-season and the streets weren’t manicured for tourists yet. But I know now without a doubt that it was my own attitude. I openly admit to this because, in the end, I learned the best lesson any place could have taught me: The best thing to bring with you when travelling is a good attitude.