Watching a town get back on its feet

Trip Start Apr 08, 2007
Trip End Oct 01, 2007

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Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina  ,
Friday, June 15, 2007

I woke up this morning at an uncomfortable 6:20am, bleary-eyed and fatigued. As I discovered last night, there aren't a whole lot of buses between Banja Luka and nearby Jajce. Unless I wanted to leave in the afternoon, the only better option than a 7:45 bus was one around 6:30! So much for a good night's sleep. It was nice knowing that the breakfast included with my night's stay in Banja Luka began at 6am though. It was even better to discover that it was a rather substantial spread they had available, so I made sure to stuff myself. Sure beats the usual bread and juice.

The ride to Jajce was pretty short and anyhow I slept for most of it. With a modicum of luck I'm sure, I managed to awaken just as we pulled in. The bus station was predictably run-down and barebones, but unexpectedly there was a left luggage office available. Well, rather there was left luggage there at the ticket office itself that you just paid the attendant 1KM for. Funnily enough, stowing my bag there for the day worked out cheaper than putting it under the bus in - they charged me 1.50KM for the privilege of something I didn't really have any choice but to do! What happened to luggage storage coming with the ticket price?

Jajce's a puny little place. It's quite striking from the get-go though, with an old town set clinging to a large hill, the top of which features a crumbling medieval castle. All around the town are thickly forested mountains rolling into the distance. A tiny tourist kiosk sits just off from the main pedestrian bridge into the old town, which I made my first stop after peeking at the famous waterfalls on the way up. The woman at the kiosk only spoke (heavily-accented) German, so I decided to stick to simple questions like "can I get a map?" and "is there another [better supplied] tourist office in town?" From there I made my way up into the historic core of the town.

The place got a real pounding in the war and it shows. Everywhere you look there are pockmarked facades, burned out buildings and houses with newly assembled, still-to-be-plastered brickwork. Not surprisingly, the Serb militia hiding in the hills made a concerted effort to destroy as much of the town's heritage as possible, so a number of its historically-listed structures are fragmented shells or just plain rubble. A few have been reconstructed, but it's obvious that the town still needs years of work to get itself back to how it once was. With most Western attention going to Sarajevo and Mostar alone, it's perhaps understandable why Jajce's further behind.

This does mean that foreign tourists are few and far between. I got to meet and chat with a Hungarian guy that arrived on the same bus with me, but other than that the only other guy I saw was an American that was living there on an anthropology field study. There were a few tour buses that seemed to be all from within the country, but I never noticed any tour groups wandering about. Perhaps they come for the waterfalls and then leave? Who knows. In any case, I got to wander the winding paths of the old town and have it basically all to myself.

The waterfalls themselves are quite spectacular. I found a couple pictures around in the tourist literature showing a magnificent view across to them with the old town looming overhead, but couldn't figure out where it could have been taken from. The only possibility was from the forested slope across the way from the falls, which didn't seem to have any marking on either of the maps I'd seen. So, I decided to have a look up along the road out of town. Eventually I came to a clearing that gave a marvelous panorama of the town itself, but left the falls obscured. Then I saw a small dirt path leading into the forest. Now most people know that hiking through the mountains and forests is risky business in Bosnia thanks to all the mines. I figured that this close to town everything was probably cleared though, and in any case the fairly recent litter discarded along the path reassured me a bit. Litter does have its positives on occasion, I guess. Sure enough, the path led to a small clearing in the forest, where the falls were perfectly framed with the old town and castle up above. Best of all, it seemed like only a few locals knew about it (the woman at the tourist office sure didn't), so I could claim a little explorer's pride over the keen photo op.

I tried some of local specialities for lunch today: a little meat-stuffed burek and some Travnik-style ćevapčići - spiced minced lamb (or beef) in a pita-like bread. That just about filled my meat quotient for the week and I realized about halfway through that I'd overdone it a little by ordering both. The puny Fanta I had with it barely got me through the burek alone, so I made sure to head straight for the store and grab a big bottle of water afterwards. I was needing it anyways - today has been a roaster! Climbing all up and down the slopes and steps of the old town left me a sweaty, sticky mess, so I'm quite eager for a shower. Somehow it's puzzling how hot Bosnia is proving so far . . . I thought temperatures were supposed to decrease at higher altitudes!

The trick ahead of me now is getting accommodation lined up for Sarajevo. Well, really it won't be happening until I arrive there, as I have a three and a half hour bus ride ahead of me. With my bus leaving at 5:15pm (or later), I won't be getting there until around 9 at best. Fortunately there's an accommodation agency in town that stays open until 11, so I'm placing my bets on that. Here's hoping it all works out well.
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