Back in the USSR (Day 10)
I woke up with cotton balls for brains after a night of way too much wine. Sleeping in was nice after a busy week and early mornings.
A group of us hitch a ride in the hotel delivery van out to a waterfall. The van drops us at the end of a gravel road and it’s about a mile hike in the wood until we begin to hear, then feel, then see the falls.
They are a beautiful rush of mountain water pouring about 50 feet into a clear pool. The sound is overwhelming; even from the shore we have to scream to be heard. It’s a hot afternoon, but the mist cools the air significantly.
The first dip of the foot into the pool is a shock. The water is like ice and so crisp it makes my skin crackle. All of us take the plunge, walking until it’s too cold to stumble over the pebbly bottom and finally diving head-first into the green water. Most of the pool is shallow enough to stand, but our toes are too numb to balance on the rocks. Instead, we breaststroke against the force of the falls, continually getting pelted by mist and pushed by the wind.
When we finally make it, we’re almost hypothermic. Surprisingly, the water showering down on us is maginally warmer than the pool. The falls are overpowering: a true force of nature; and they take my breath away in every sense of the phrase. The noise is deafening and the impact of the falls on the surface of the pool creates an arctic frothing that seems to rain upwards. We are so precariously balanced on our footholds that we press back against the rock wall as hard as possible just to stay upright. Conversation is almost impossible, but there’s really no need to talk in the presence of something so beautiful.
We doggedly swim back across the pool. Our ears ring from the shock of the noise. The sun is warm over the western lip of the canyon and we climb a hill to let it dry us. Tina had the foresight to bring snacks, so we spead out and had an impromptu picnic, letting the sun warm us as the mist cooled us.
The naked rock of the falls gleams in the late afternoon sun, contrasted by the thick pine forest on either side and a goatee-like smattering of the greenest moss you’ve ever seen. On the hillsides are hundreds of unbloomed sunflowers and we can only imagine how spectacular this place will look when the flowers bloom in late summer.
We gradually made our way back to the gravel road, expecting the van to return at 5:00. In Bosnian time, however, 5:00 means 5:45 and just as we decided to hitchhike, the van arrived.
We returned to the hotel for delicious homemade, brick oven pizza. After dinner, Hase, the hotel owner and Omer’s father, told us his personal story of the war. When he was taken from his home in May 1992, he was told it would only be 30 minutes. Those 30 minutes turned in to seven months in the Manjaca concentration camp. During his internment, Hase carved a statue of a prisoner. When the Red Cross released him in December 1992, Hase was interviewed by someone who looked like an important American. Hase gave this man his carving and said, “Take this back to your country and show them how the Bosnians are suffering.”
That man turned out to be Richard Holbrooke. There is now a full scale representation of Hase’s sculpture at the International Rescue Commission in New York. Hase met his family in Croatia in December 1992 and they moved to Canada in January of 1993, where they stayed until 1996.
Hase said, “We will forgive, but never forget. And we will teach our children to remember so that they may teach their children not to make war. If you demilitarize the world, only then can we talk to each other.”
It is our last night in Sanski Most and to celebrate, we buy plastic two-litres of Sarajevsko and Karlovacko and drink straight from the bottle on the bank of the Sana. Nic and I spend most of the night talking to Aida and Brigitte and some people sing along to York’s iPod.
Sammy, who weighs 100 pounds soaking wet, has somehow managed to drink an entire bottle of wine. We stumble up the bank with her and wait while she pees behind a Yugo. Its owners show up and laugh when I explain what’s going on. Trooper that she is, Sam insists on one last dance at Palazzo before we call it a night. We indulge her; after all it is our last night.
We say sentimental goodbyes to The Bosnians and The Europeans, as we have taken to referring to them. Joe and I walk Sammy home, keeping her awake by having her count the stairs in the hotel. York and I get her in bed and we talk until she falls asleep. None of us have packed and we leave Sanski Most in seven hours.
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Tags: Bosnia, Europe, nature, Sanski Most, travel, war stories, waterfalls