The Super Funky Awesome Tour

Earlier: Mostar's McDonalds

If you ever make it out to Bosnia-Herzegovina, you must go to the city Mostar, and you must stay at the Hotel Majdas, which will mean you get to do the most important thing you must do: Go on Bata's Super Awesome Funky Tour.

Majda's little octogenarian mom will not stop bringing you out food, especially these homemade donut things and this cream stuff kahyek, for which there is no English equivalent.

Oh and homemade jam 

More donuts

Oh my god, another round (there was still another that I didn't photo)

For breakfast one morning we got these fried zucchini open faces. Every morning they made us tea and Bosnian coffee plus bread, butter and jam, plus donuts and cream one day and these another. At night they make you more tea and often more treats.

The Super Funky Awesome Tour:

Six of us climbed into a huge van with this man Bata who started things off by telling us he had multiple personality disorder and that things were crazy here and this tour would change our lives. He  shut the van door. A woman started yelling at him from a balcony. They yelled is Serbska and shook fists, at one point Bata opening the van door, Vanna White-ing us, then slamming it shut again. The woman retreated into her home, and Bata climbed into the driver's seat. He told us that was his aunt who couldn't see very well and thought Bata had stolen some of her hostel's customers. He'd had to open the door to show here we were different people.

He turned on music of a genre called turbofunk to ear-buzzing level and began driving the enormous van through the tiny alleyways of Mostar, alleyways that we had, the night before, in our somewhat smaller van, driven through inch by inch in order to not scrape the car up, but through which he sped, all the while doing that stop and start jerky thing with breaks along with his dancing moves, often leaving the steering wheel handless for two or three tense seconds at a time, which simultaneously made us scared for our lives and earned him our trust in his masterful control of that van in his city.

I have tried and tried but cannot find any of the songs he played or us, nor any I find anywhere near as good, though of course I have positive associations with the particular songs he played. At one point a few hours into the eleven hour tour, this girl from Liechtenstein ("No, not Germany. Everyone guesses that," she had answered Bata's inquiry with a bit of mockery in her tone, as if anyone should ever be expected to guess someone was from freaking Lichtenstein), asked Bata, "So do you have any good music?"

"What?" asked Bata, staying cool but of course a bit stunned that someone would ask this.
A Ohioan girl who was with us, who had been teaching in Frankfurt, Germany for several months, played damage control. "I think she meant, like, is there any other type of traditional or popular Bosnian music we should listen to while we're here?"

"Not really," Bata said, turning the music back up so that the rest of us could resume dancing and singing along with the occasional English words, such as "1, 2, 3, Go!", "Yeah!", "Do it!", "Faster!" and "Sex on the beach, yeah!"

I'm usually quite reserved (when sober), but I couldn't help smiling and laughing and even dancing along with Bata's antics, humming as my body was with a bit of fear's adrenaline. Except for the stern-faced Liechtenstian, everyone else was right there with me.

Bata stopped the van after a few minutes and changed the mood as he told us about the Bosnian war and his experience in it, which was eye opening and very sad. Then we were off to breakfast. Bata told us he was taking us to the only authentic burek place left in Mostar, where they still make it the old fashioned way with the right kind of wood fire.

You could try to find this place on your own if you really want I suppose.

There was no sign announcing that it even was a restaurant.

And even if you were to find it, I doubt they'd let you go to the back and watch them cook as we could because Bata is friends with them.

These expert burekistas, after years of practice, learn to roll the dough so thin it looks like they're doing laundry. When she had it all rolled out, it looked line another tablecloth.

You choose between minced meat, cheese, potato, or (as pictured) spinach.

They roll a length of it, cut it, then add it to a snaking pile in a large circular pan. 

Painting oil and butter on the finished tubs of rolls

Topped with a lid, it goes right into the fire.

This was my first burek, though I would go on to have more. Would it turn out to have been the best? The wood-fired taste really was superior, but it was also greasier here.

He took us to this Dervish House.

On the sacred Buna river

Aw, Jesus, pointless, sexist bull shit from religious people.

This makes God happy?

The coolest thing was that we got to take a sip of water from the sacred river. Not only was it absolutely the best water I've ever taste, but Bata told us we got to make a wish with our first and only sip from the river. Of course, telling anyone what my wish was would void the magic, so my lips are sealed, my fingers stilled.

Then this happened. Apparently, because it was still the off season, we didn't get to go to his secret cliff diving location. In the summer time, swarms of tourists come to jump off the main cliff of the Kravica Waterfalls, but if you take the tour in the summer, he'll take you to a little known and supposedly more beautiful cliff area from which to dive off and where there are also natural jacuzzis. Also, unlike my group, you won't have to do this:

as fast as possible in fear for your life.

Bata's driving continued to make Scott's seem tame in comparison. He drove full speed ahead while winding around narrow mountain roads, passing oncoming cars within one to three inches. I started thinking thoughts like, "I don't want to die anytime soon, but I'm thinking now that when I do, I don't want it to be in my sleep at all, but rather in a high speed car collision, or some such adrenaline fucked situation."

When The Lichtenstenian girl, who'd been a negative nancy throughout the day (or am I somehow misunderstanding her German-ish nature?) asked Bata about his completely broken driver's outside rear view mirror, he made some casual jokey remark about a little accident that we shouldn't worry about and we moved on, preferring to keep our absolute faith in him intact rather than pursue details.

We went and saw this hill where some people claimed to see the Virgin Mary, which has consequently become a mecca for millions of people, despite not being officially recognized as a miracle spot by the vatican. This is turn, has made a lot of people a shit load of money and has led to the development of this big, ridiculous tourist area around it where people can purchase chintzy Catholic souvenirs. Apparently believers are constantly climbing up the hill, some of whom go so far as to crawl up the thing on their knees, hoping for some extra credit or whatever.

Bata then took us to his favorite rakia place, but no matter where you get rakia, it tastes like a combination of vodka, gin and tequila, so, have fun with that.

Finally, as the sun was setting, Bata took us to this15th century fortress town. 

It was incredibly beautiful and of course could not really be captured.

These kids, who lived across the way from this old village, wanted to play around us the whole time we were there. The boy tried to run up behind us and scare us. At one point, they started practicing simple English sentences next to us.
"Hi, I am ___. What is you name?
"___. I am 9. How old are you?"
Very cute

Only three people still live here year-around, though some of the houses are owned by rich people and used as summer homes. We got to go into the home of one of these three homes because Bata befriended the wonderful little old lady who lives there. Apparently one day when he was showing the village to people on his tour, it started pouring rain, and she came and rescued them and served them all food. She loved the company so much that they worked out a deal where he'd take his tourists to her.

Bosnian coffee - We were taught how to properly drink it with sugar cubes. Dip one corner of a sugar cube ever so lightly into the coffee, then suck the coffee off it. This also gets a little sugar into your mouth, so take another sip. Repeat until the sugar cube is gone.

We were also told that Bosnians who learn how to prepare Bosnian coffee also learn to scoop some of the crema from the pot onto the top of each of her guest's coffees. To fail to give crema to a guest is considered a huge insult, apparently resulting in the occasional dissolution of friendships.

Also they call having coffee with someone "sacrastel" or something like that (I can't figure it out on the internet) that means "adding me and you together," which I think is such a wonderful way to explain what happens if two people purposefully drink coffee together (or do any kind of stimulant together, for that matter). Even more so than alcohol in some ways, you can't help, with some good strong coffee, sharing things about yourself. It's why we do coffee for so many first dates.

I wish I'd gotten a picture so that you could see the wood pile she kept in that bottom drawer for he wood stove!

She'd grown those kiwi in her garden our front!
Then we played this game using syrups she'd made from ingredients in her garden. Bata poured each of us a glass with a little simple syrup, had us smell it, then added a little sparkling water to each glass, had us taste, and then had us guess what the syrup was made of. I guessed two of the three correctly, getting  sage and pomegranate right. No one guessed elderflower, though the Liechtensteinian girl kept insisting she knew what it was but only knew how to say it in German. For prize, Bata bought me a two liter of Sarajevsko, a beer with political importance. Drinking it shows support for Bosnia-Herzegovina against Serb and Croat aggression.

Apple Pancakes - Ushtepsi - Delicious!

The whole thing was magical. Then, walking out of the village, Bata told us all to wait there while he went and got the van. A few minutes later we could see the van coming down the road toward us.

"I forgot to tell you!" shouted Bata, as the car drew close, "If you want back on, you're going to have to run for your lives!"

We could hear our by then favorite turbofunk song blasting from the van's speakers as Bata passed us and kept going, the large sliding door to the back of the van open. Had he pulled something like this earlier in the day, we might have all hesitated, thinking he must surely be joking. But by this point, we knew him well enough that we all immediately started running for the van. It required a very real jump to get into the van at the speed at which he was driving, and it was exhilarating. It was pitch black outside, and Bata had hung a disco ball up and turned on a little laser light show he had rigged up in his van. We were all laughing and smiling and dancing, even Ms. Liechtenstein.

The whole experience with Bata got me thinking that there's something about being a little bit scared that you might be about to die that makes you so happy to be alive, just the way being a little too cold makes you so happy to go get warm. It can be too easy to forget to be happy that you're alive when life is always so perfectly safe. Just like I don't want to walk around in -5 (I'm learning Celsius!) all the time but rather, say, 8 and then go into a 19 house, I don't want to go to Afghanistan and walk around in shorts, but a good tummy dropping flight, driving on fucked up roads, and taking a running leap into water you hope and are really pretty sure will be deep enough where you land - that's a good level for life gratitude. Just a whisper of death.

Speaking of which, we made our way to a nest sniper's used to randomly shoot citizens in Mostar during the war and walked up.

 Each floor was covered in trash, mostly broken glass, and the walls were totally grafittied. It was getting cold and the wind was picking up, and walking up the exposed steps to the 12th or so floor ( I lost count) was getting a tad bit scary.

What could we do but imagine ourselves in the mind of the snipers while sharing the views they used to pick off their fellow human beings?

On the way to the sniper's den, we found a house that had been shot to hell and then bombed out, and some of us went in to explore the wreck.

 One by one people dropped out and walked back to the road, but I stuck it out and walked up when there were hardly any stairs left, just some sand and broken glass and trash in a slope, a tree growing out at one point, which was actual useful to hold on to while climbing.

 On the way down I slipped and almost fell and had that moment that made me appreciate being alive again.

Next: Cevapi Eating Competition

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