Here’s the honest truth: we spent too many days in Mostar and it made the kids wild. Most people spend a few nights or make it a day trip from Dubrovnik or Sarajevo because it’s a small tourist town. And to be fair, we spent most of our time going in the exact opposite direction of the tourist attractions. We stumbled across a small merry-go-round and jumpy house in a parking lot near the Spanish Square that the kids adored. We bought tickets from a trailer which I now suspect was the home of the family who owned and operated the carnival rides. We also spent many days at the playground in Zrinjevac Park which is in the shadow of the graffiti-covered Sniper tower used to keep the city under siege.
Mostar is a city of stark contrasts, like the Sniper Tower and the playground along tree-lined streets in the mostly Croatian part of the city. The city is divided now along ethnic and economic lines and you can sense the lopsidedness of the haves and haves-nots, as well as your own privilege. There are areas of the city where there’s new construction and the others where many buildings are still in ruins. A young girl the age of Squirrel sleeps barefoot in the shadow of the Catholic church while her mother begs with her little brother. A few meters away is the Mostar Tennis club hidden behind lush cypress trees. And young girls from a dance class run past a statue of Bruce Lee. Yes, Bruce Lee.
The city was also hot. Very very hot. Our host told us that Mostar is one of the hottest cities in Europe. So it was with some relief that we traveled outside of Mostar a few times. Our first trip we took a car up the hills up to see down into the city. It was the same mountain from which the Croatian forces bombed the old bridge and the Catholics later erected a huge cross, four years before the old bridge was reconstructed. Of course the wind was fierce, and of course the kids complained: we were on a mountain! Squirrel pawed like a pony in the black dirt as we took pictures and ended up looking like a coal miner from the knees down. I was fresh out of wipes.
We then drove a short way to Blagaj where, from out of sheer rock, the Buna river empties out, and almost like magic a Dervish house appears. It was quite beautiful, and I imagine that for people without kids, this is a peaceful spot which invites meditation: watching the birds swoop out of the holes in the rock and listening to the water drop down small waterfalls. Instead, D and I took turns going through the house while the other waited with the kids who were too filthy to enter a sacred space. On my turn, I gave the girls applesauce pouches which they both somehow managed to spill on their pants within seconds. I was still without wipes. And now clean pants. I briefly contemplated throwing the girls in the river to clean off, but since this was a sacred spot, thought better of it.
One of the sights I really wanted to see with the girls was the Kravice waterfalls, so on our way to Dubrovnik we stopped off there. Of course Goose fell asleep in the car and woke up screaming that she wanted out of the car, only to continue screaming when she was, indeed, out of the car. Our poor driver did his best to take a nice family picture.
Eventually Goose cheered up. And how could she not? It was absolutely beautiful to see the pristine water after a week in a dusty city. We adults were mesmerized by the sheer force of the water. But of course the kids would have a different perspective than us. It was the tiny hidden things right in front of them that they were most interested in: lizards darting along the path, tiny frogs splashing in the water, and even a dragonfly molting. Squirrel took pictures, and Goose insisted that our driver throw rocks in the water and enjoy the splash. I realized how wild children are, and how much they need wildness.
Which is why it sucked so bad to continue the two hour drive to Dubrovnik. The wild things whined and cried and basically insisted on touching me the entire time since I was their buffer in the back seat. Squirrel asked at least five questions a minute: about volcanoes, and dinosaurs and flowers, and why we were stopping at the three border crossings. Our driver was incredibly patient, and when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore, we stopped for lunch at the Jadran Restaurant that had a beautiful view that was lost on the children. We ate outside so the wild things could eat with impunity and apparently, without utensils. And as soon as they were done they tried to escape. But I was one step — and a glass of wine — ahead of them.