Welcome to Bosnia, Mr. Trump

The Ottoman Old Bridge (or Stari Most) across the Neretva River in Mostar

The Ottoman Old Bridge (or Stari Most) across the Neretva River in Mostar

We left the hip town of Split quite early in the morning, and hurriedly drove to the Croatia-Bosnia border. I wanted to cross the border, drive through the town of Pocitelj and reach Mostar well before sundown. It was as if I was planning to enter the battle-ridden town of Mosul instead of the gem of a town that is Mostar. We had read and heard mixed reviews about driving and traveling in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and for whatever reason, were a little anxious.

The landscape changed from aquamarine beaches to limestone hillsides which were still pretty green, but more importantly, the surroundings started becoming quite sparse. The frequency with which we came across towns and villages rapidly decreased within 50 km of Split, and by the time we were whizzing down E65, Croatia felt very very different. The only familiar theme seemed to be a billboard of the Indian-named Taj Mahal, a Bosnian cuisine restaurant in Dubrovnik, Croatia, whose uniqueness and cultural confusion kept us engaged in curious banter for a while.

Sunset across the town of Mostar with it's numerous minarets, over the Neretva river

Sunset across the town of Mostar with it’s numerous minarets

A few miles from the border, we saw our last signs towards Dubrovnik in blue, and the green signs to Mostar / Sarajevo splitting us from all things Croatia. There was no turning back now.

As was typically the case in this region of non-Schengen travel, there was a Croatian Emigration checkpoint with barely a soul crossing over to the Bosnian side, followed by a few hundred feet of no man’s land, and then the Bosnian Immigration checkpoint. 4 quick stamps on our 4 passports without any questions asked, and we were in.

As I started picking up speed on the short-lived A1 (the freeway ends in a few meters due to lack of funds), we came across a third checkpost. As this was completely unexpected (we still don’t have a clue as to what that checkpost was all about), I had to slam on the brakes pretty hard as a uniformed officer stood there bewildered and aghast at my accelerating speed and motioned me to stop.

The town of Capljina was one of the first towns we came across in Bosnia

The town of Capljina was one of the first towns we came across in Bosnia

Confused, I asked, “Toll?”

The officer responded sternly with, “Passports!”

This was not off to a good start at all.

I hand him the set of 4 which he carefully peruses, and with a scoff, bellows, “America! …” A long pause ensues and then comes with the same sneer, a question, “Trump? …” followed by another pause.

First Crossing into the country of Bosnia across the Neretva river

First crossing into the country of Bosnia across the Neretva river

Was I supposed to react? Was there a right or wrong answer to this seemingly open-ended conversation? Were these the only two words he knew in English? As he waited, it seemed to me for a response, I pondered, and then simply shrugged indicating helplessness.

To which he bellows, “Obama! … “ in a little more upbeat tone, and paused. Seems like there was a right or wrong answer to this, and I responded with a questionable thumbs up. A smile appeared on his face as he chatted briefly with his colleague, handed me the passports, and waved his hand indicating I should get going on my way. I wonder what would have been the response if I had given a thumbs up to the Trump question.

Walking the streets of Mostar, Herzegovina, at sunset

Walking the streets of Mostar, Herzegovina, at sunset

 


Also published on Medium.

Posted in Balkans, traveling.