My time in Bosnia and Herzegovina holds some of the fondest memories of all my travelling. I have been wanting to write about it since I first started travel writing but have always struggled to find my words. So I am going to write about it bit by bit, starting with the thing that drew me to Bosnia in the first place. Stari Most, Mostar.
History of Stari Most
Stari Most is the Old bridge, built in the Ottomon Empire. It connects the East side of the city to the West, over the Neretva river. It’s a majestic and impressive piece of architecture that is steeped in history.
There is a tradition for the young men of Mostar to dive off the bridge as a coming-of-age ritual. The first ever recorded dive was in 1664. During the war, Stari Most was destroyed by a shell attack. Reconstruction began again in 2001, using the same materials as the original bridge. The restoration was completed in 2004.
Since then the locals of Mostar have continued their great tradition of diving off the bridge. An act that is even more impressive when I mention the bridge is 22-24 metres above the river.
Tourists can also dive off Stari Most. You pay roughly 20 Pounds for the professional divers to train you and then, if you are ready, you can take the jump and sign your name in book of divers. In ten years, under 1000 foreigners have made the jump so it really is something special. It’s not rare for people to break limbs. Do not take it lightly, only jump if you feel confident and the divers tell you you are capable.
Planning to jump
*Spoiler.. I didn’t jump.. But keep reading anyway*
Of course this was something I had to try. The reason I came to Mostar wasn’t only to see Stari Most but it was to add my name to the list of divers. I have always had a big craving for adrenaline. Before leaving for this trip I had my heart set on it. However when I was in the alps, I had a bit of a hiking accident. One that came as a very ‘hands on’ lesson of how not invincible I am. Well, the combination of my new found mortality and my remaining (perhaps even stronger) addiction to adrenaline had left me very torn on the matter of jumping.
In my first night at the hostel. I met a German boy. He also had plans to jump. We both talked about it and our hostel owner really tried to talk us out of it. He only had one more day in Mostar and so we decided to go down to the diving school together the next day. Seen as I had six more days to ponder how reckless I wanted to be I told him ‘You dive today and if you survive, I will do it’. So he paid the fee and got the training. I sat on the rocks below the bridge watching him. Much to both of our disappointment, he was advised not to jump.
So I spent a few more days considering the idea (if you need a few days to think about it after arriving in Mostar, it’s probably a sign you aren’t going to do it). I sat down on the rocks below Stari Most with my sketching set and spent five hours drawing the bridge. I admired how one of the retired divers sat up on the top point of the bridge all day. To me, he resembled a superhero. It was as if he was standing guard, watching and protecting the city.
Once I’d finished, I walked back up the steps and past where the divers were hanging out. They all seemed so cool, 19 year old me was definitely crushing hard. They asked to see my drawing of the bridge and I think they liked it. They laughed at the little silhouette I had done of the one sitting at the top. I asked them if they could train me to jump off the bridge and they said to come by the school tomorrow.
That night I laid in bed and just thought to myself ‘Ah shit’.
When I arrived at the diving centre, I could tell that they don’t get many woman attempting this. Definitely not many 19 year old British girls. So the smallest wet suit they had was still baggy on me. One of the divers took me through Old Town and to the training platform. I did receive many looks (perhaps because I was wearing a wet suit about 5 sizes too big for me) but also ones that resembled a sort of ‘Bon Voyage, nice knowing you’ kind of look…
The way they dive makes it even more terrifying. Instead of jumping in with excitement, as you would when cliff jumping- you must just step off the ledge. Just take one step and drop. It was so unnerving. When you move one foot forward and there’s nothing underneath that foot except a 12 metre fall into icy water, every survival instinct you have tells you ‘Hold on, no.. there’s no ground there, step back silly’.. at least that is what was going through my brain. Despite this, you then have to casually move the other foot forward to drop.
So yeah, I practised off the 12 Metres twice. It was good, my severe incompetence really comforted me in my final decision not to attempt the bridge. It also taught me an important lesson, one that my stubborn-self needs to remember sometimes. I learned that it is more than okay to walk away from a challenge, especially when you realise it was an extremely stupid challenge set only by yourself.
I have still got my heart set on going back one day but first I plan on building my body stronger. I also at some point need to learn how to jump into water without holding my nose…
If you are like me, and the highest point you have jumped from previously is possibly 3 metres.. do not attempt the jump. However do come to Mostar, for more than a day trip. Watch the professionals dive and give them a contribution to the school when they come round before each dive. I had such a wonderful, humbling and educational time in Mostar. It is a must visit destination.
Read about my “‘hands on’ lesson of how not invincible I am”.