2010-10-11 Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
1991 saw the deterioration of Yugoslavia following the pressures of economic hardship, ethnic conflict, and incendiary Serbian President Milosevic. Bosnia declared independence in 1992 and the region disintegrated into a bitter civil war for the next three years. In 2010 I spent several months traveling through Kosovo, Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Slovenia. The region still bears scars, remnants of a civil war which divided a region along ethnic, economic and religious lines. Their happiness and joy for life seems to paradoxically bear memories of a past darkness which haunts their dreams.
I was shown extraordinary hospitality wherever I went, but also a surprising accessibility to their real lives and never sugarcoated thoughts. They didn't hold back. Many of the people I encountered were extremely authentic, accessible and open about the reality they had endured. I stayed with locals I met in Kosovo and Serbia, and was given a ride by local crime bosses from Albania to Macedonia. The stories they told were of a reality eerily similar to the corruption I saw developing in post Saddam Iraq. Wearily though, everyone shared a faint a glimmer of hope in the region which I have seen in few places. There was a shared knowledge that things were getting better, not worse. This was fascinating to experience in Kosovo as they slowly pieced together the exuberant recognition of their new country.
Throughout my travels in this region, I engaged in a favorite pastime with the locals. We shared a love for cliff jumping, whether it was in Split and Dubrovnik, Croatia or Lake Ohrid, Macedonia. As I traveled, an iconic bridge haunted my dreams. A bridge which united the Christian and Muslim sides of a divided town. This bridge reflected people's hope and reconciliation. Stari Most stands as a symbol of unity and the peaceful coexistence of diverse ethnic, religious and cultural groups. Upon arriving in Mostar I befriended a varied group of people while staying at a bed and breakfast run by a Bosnian family. That night we returned from dinner across town, and looking down from the bridge, I thanked God it was ridiculously high. It was too high and too dangerous a feat. At 86ft (26m) there was no way I was jumping.
Later that night I had drinks and met some locals. As fate would have it, they were members of The Mostar Diving Club. They chatted about life growing up in Mostar, and the emotional past that had shaped them into the men they were today. I was persuaded to show them videos of my cliff jumping in Croatia. They made me promise to visit them at their club the next day. My friend and I spent the next day wandering throughout old Mostar. The city was riddled with bombed out, bullet ridden shells of buildings; remnants of a bitter war not long enough forgotten. I stopped by the club to chat with the men I had met the night before. Their excitement was contagious, and before I knew it, I was back at the B&B changing into my swim suit. The owner thought I was absolutely crazy, and she told me of the last visitor that had attempted the jump. He had broken his back! Nonetheless, I returned to the bridge where a crowd had formed.As I stood on the edge of the bridge I was offered a wetsuit to help with the freezing water below, I declined because I didn't want anything to impede my movement or throw off my cliff jumping routine. At 85ft, I would be hitting the water a tremendous speed. Any small error would be amplified and could be catastrophic. It was a hot day, and the Mostar Diving Club was concerned about the ice cold water, and the temperature difference when I hit the water. the solution, I was doused with a bucket of freezing cold water. Refreshing. I climbed over the edge of the bridge, and peered down at the shallow water 85ft below me....this was insane. I looked forwards and remembered a tactic I learned in New Zealand while bungee jumping. A countdown enables helps my brain ignore all the fear and doubts rushing through it. All I focus on is jumping once I reach the end. 1, 2, 3 and I jumped! My years of cliff jumping sprung into action as I lept from the bridge, and I remember thinking how beautiful a day it was, and the view was incredible. As I was barreling towards the water, I had time for a second thought which was, "wow I am still falling, this is high" before I straightened my toes and tilted my head as I slammed into the water. The speed in the last third of my fall was remarkably noticeable as gravity's hold was drawing me faster towards the water. On impact with the 6 degree celcius (43f) water was shocking, so was the speed of the current as I entered the Neretva river. I swam to the surface and quickly to the shore. Later an American girl approached me, whom I still keep in contact with. She gave me a Euro, the standard offering to divers who jumped off the bridge.
That night, I signed my name in their book. I was the 500th person to jump off the Stari Most into the icy water below