Sarajevo Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
Back in June 1997 I spent five weeks backpacking with my good friend Josie from
I was profoundly affected by what I saw in the cities of
The border crossing from
Our seven hour ride from
The scenery is unforgettable the road climbing higher; all the time clawing at the rugged majestic mountains, the Neretva river snaking below, an emerald green in the early morning light. We had come to
The first surprise was the sheer size of the city with a population that is 99% Muslim. The high rises stretch out on either side of the main approach road for as far as the eye can see, a veritable man made canyon of concrete and glass; the previous government’s answer to the housing shortage. From a distance they appeared neat and well kept but on closer inspection the scars of war were all too evident, pock marked with bullet holes and the occasional gaping hole of a mortar blast.
Well this did not appear to be the city of death and destruction we’d been led to believe - or was it?
Indeed it was, this was just the hors d’oeuvre for a feast of devastation that left us speechless.
The downtown area was a litany of burnt out and shattered modern high apartment blocks, gaunt and silent.
The vista was once breathtaking and somewhat surrealistic, almost like being on a movie set.
We could not find one building during our short stay that was left untouched by the ferocity of war. Some of the scars had been repaired, but not to hide them, in fact more to illustrate them. The mortar crater in the old market place where so many died that fateful morning was filled in and painted a disturbing shade of red…….. A symbol of remembrance or defiance? We never did find out.
Through Dean, a friend from USAid, we were to learn that
It took his 4x4 all the power it had to get us up the twisting, narrow, potholed impassable road that seemed to go on forever before we finally crested the ridge overlooking the city. We parked and got out of the vehicle, it was twilight; the city lay in the valley a slight haze from the heat of the day hung suspended, giving it a dream-like effect. The truth of the matter was we were standing on the same ground with the same viewpoint that the Serbian gunners had during the four year siege!
Further up the road we inspected a sniper’s fox hole and gun emplacement, hidden amongst a small copse of trees that once shook to the boom and rattle of gunfire. The entire time keeping strictly on the narrow strip of tarmac --- the earth on either side still littered with between three hundred thousand and two million landmines! Still waiting to be cleared. Present estimation to do this, at least thirty years.
Five minutes later we were surveying the city lights from the balcony of a fashionable restaurant, dining on schnitzel a la champignon, a good local beer, followed by a peach flavoured tea, a local speciality.
Down in the city we paid a visit to the Catholic cathedral of Jesus’ Heart, built in 1889. This grand structure was mercifully spared major damage, not counting the shattered stained glass windows of course; but outside in the square, patrons were sipping cappuccinos and people watching in one of a dozen or more fashionable open air restaurants
A balloon vendor with a ten meter high multicoloured fantasy, surrounded by eager young faces, was plying his trade under the friendly though ever watchful gaze of the crew of a nearby armoured vehicle. Yes, the military, from a host of countries, is everywhere, their IFOR (Implementation Force) insignia changed to SFOR (Support Force) now that peace had returned.
The city’s pedestrian avenue Ferhadija wide and spacious was filled with young trendy fashion conscious slim hipped girls and the scent of
Yet we had not seen it all. With what was left of the fading light we wandered over to one of the many public parks and here the true tragedy of this unwarranted aggression against a defenceless city lay. In a small fenced off area under some Plane trees, was what at first glance appeared to be a well tended garden in full bloom, but looking closer we found the wooden markers of eighteen graves! During the height of the siege the parks were turned into burial sites as the cemeteries were filled to capacity. But even here in this poignant setting the generation of tomorrow was playing ball, rollerblading and enjoying a bed time ice-cream treat.
And what of tomorrow? There is some concern that when the military mandate expires in June 1998 hostilities could resume, but for the most, people are intent on living every day to the full, confident that this is just the beginning of the life they once knew.