The dog on Hum Hill

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On our way down Hum Hill, we ran into a dog! He was super cute and very friendly. I pet him, of course.

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As we walked down, the dog came with us. Uh oh. At one point I walked him all the way back up to where we thought his car and owner would be, but no such luck. Doggo walked right back down with us.

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Now we were in a bit of a quandary. Doggo had clearly decided he would be following us, but he also clearly had a collar. We didn’t want to accidentally lead someone’s dog down the hill. It was getting cold so Natalie wrapped him in her jacket while we decided what to do. We checked for a dog rescue in Mostar – there was one! But we had no real way to contact them. We settled on the next best thing – flagging down cars to ask a local for help. Most passed right by us, but a few stopped.

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The general consensus seemed to be that sometimes – fairly often – people will leave their dog up on the hill when they don’t want it anymore. This seemed unbelievably cruel, so we asked about a shelter. This was admittedly naive but hey, the dog was quiet, apparently well behaved, and adorable. As we expected though, Bosnia is not at the stage of having animal shelters, and one of the people who helpfully stopped told us he calls the rescue people once in a while but they never seem to come. The thought on whether to bring him down into the city with us, or leave him on the mountain, was that in the city, he’d be competing with some very rough street dogs. Up here at least, even though it was cold, there would be less violence. Neither option seemed great to us, and it was pretty clear doggo would follow us right down the car-laden road.

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We finally met someone coming down who was taking pictures with a drone and seemed fairly well off. We chatted for a bit – a surprising number of people spoke great English. He promised he would at least stop the dog from following us into the road, and also ask anyone else he saw if they knew the owner. We left with a heavy heart. With any luck someone took pity and took doggo in – our only solace is that the guy we left him with seemed like a good person and maybe in need of a pet? Despite what we’re used to in first world countries – that shelters aren’t great and adoption is hit and miss – there are at least mechanisms in place to prevent total abandonment. In many countries around the world, there isn’t even that. We want to believe everything turned out ok for doggo as we made our way down into the city.

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Hiking Hum Hill in Mostar

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Hum – pronounced ‘Hoom’- hill dominates the south-west portion of the city. It’s not a mountain, definitely a hill, but it’s large and extremely up close. We decided our outdoor activity for the area would be to climb it. Luckily for us, we had run in to a local who chatted with us for a bit in the marketplace. His salient warning was to not climb the city-facing side of the hill. There’s a road that runs around the back and is the only safe trail to get to the top of the mountain. The rest of it is still mined.

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To get there, we crossed the bridge to the west side of the river. We then passed through some of the more typical residential areas – medium sized soviet style apartment buildings and their associated markets and restaurants. The prices here are much, much lower than in the old town.

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After the residential area, the road started heading up into the hills and the the houses started becoming a bit more decrepit. Not every house was like this, but a fair number were.

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The top of the hill is marked by a giant cross. In a Muslim majority country, this was something of a big deal when it went up. Many people were quite unhappy, and it doesn’t seem to foster good relations.

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The road winds up and up, here we looked back at the city. There’s not much of a space for pedestrians to walk. It’s much more common for people to drive up and then walk around after the highway ends, but the locals are used to pedestrians hiking up the mountain. It’s still very important to be aware and careful though, especially around the curves.

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At some point near the top the road ends and the hill-road begins. It’s a fairly long hike all told, and the split is roughly halfway.

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Along the side of the mountain road are these stone settings – they each show Christ or another religious figure. The whole mountain was apparently decorated with religious symbols around the time the cross went up.

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One of these comes around every hundred meters or so.

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From the back of the hill you can look down on to the edge of the city and the green hills and mountains surrounding it.

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In the other direction, the majority of Mostar. Even during the hike up there’s a fantastic view.

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Along the way we spotted some amazingly vibrant blue flowers.

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At the top the cross looms large. It’s a fairly minimalist, concrete structure, fairly similar to the one in Skopje, but less Eiffel-tower like.

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On the other side of the cross is the part of the hill facing the city – the mined part. There are some clearly marked trails that people have been through, and the view is very nice.

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We took some time to soak in the view. It seemed fairly important to not go off trail, despite the fact that there had been clear human presence in some of the ‘off-limits’ areas.

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The only other people we had seen go off the road were a family picking up cans and foraging herbs. We ran into another family on the way up who talked with us for a bit, lamenting the downfall of Mostar and the rampant inequality.

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The famed bridge was not quite visible from the safe areas. To get a view of it we would have had to walk out onto the face of the hill we had been warned against.

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Having seen the landscape and the city sprawl, we headed back down the mountain. It was starting to get near sunset and the temperature was dropping.

 

Mostar

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A lone person traverses the Stari Most in the morning.

A couple hours’ bus ride west of Sarajevo, the city of Mostar is a point of pride for the country. When we asked people in Sarajevo where else we should visit, the answer was also “Mostar, because it’s beautiful.”

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One of the old buildings in the downtown, at dusk.

Situated on the aquamarine Neretva River, Mostar’s most famous landmark and namesake is the Stari Most (Old Bridge), a 16th century Ottoman Bridge made of silken white stone. Destroyed in the Bosnian War, Stari Most was reconstructed with the help of the U.N. Protections Force and funding from several countries, in part using stones from the original bridge that were fished out of the Neretva. Local tradition of jumping off the bridge as a right of passage for men has morphed into a tourism attraction, and on a lucky day you’ll see a tourist or two taking the plunge. The bridge is also now a stop on Red Bull’s Cliff Diving World Series.

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Staring down into the Neretva River.
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Stari Most at night.

The downtown area is a tourist hotspot, with market stalls packed full of souvenirs, artisan shops, and restaurants. Most of touristic good sold are likely made elsewhere, but if you find a craftsman at work then you’re likely getting the real deal. Hand-hammered copper reliefs and Turkish coffee sets* make ideal take-home gifts, so as you walk through the marketplace listen for the clink of chisels on metal.

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The touristic downtown market.
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A coppersmiths workshop. Jizve are being molded using lead (silver circle) at left.

Outside the downtown area, the city bustles on, a network of roads full of cars and lined with densely built shops and houses. There are fewer physical signs of the war here; fewer bullet holes or mortar shell scars. The neighborhoods get a bit rougher looking at the city’s edge on the west side, but we had no problems walking through at dusk. If you’re not behaving strangely or wearing anything ostentatious, you’ll probably be left alone.

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The remains of a building.
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Modern cars parked in front of a building, likely damaged in the war and now left to decay.

Oh, and when you’re there be sure to stop by Tima Irma to eat the best kebapci money can buy, served with fresh veggies, cheese, and pita bread. You can even wash it down with a local beer.

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A view at the edge of town.

*A slight word of warning: traditionally, the jizveta are formed by pouring lead into the mold, and then removing it afterward. It’s been done this way for centuries, but if you do get one you might want to test it for lead before using it to make coffee.

**A second slight word of warning: the countryside around here may look dreamy, but don’t wander off into the hills without a guide. Mostar sat at one of the fronts during the Bosnian War and much of the area is still mined.