Wednesday, September 11, 2013

AWF Balkans - Day 7

Day 7

Stepping out your front door and having the Adriatic Sea to welcome you is an experience few have.  Since Day 7 would be the last our group enjoyed this luxury, we decided to take advantage of it one more time.  Immediately after breakfast we met by the water and did a swim sprint workout:  Swim 50 meters every 2 minutes on the minute for 20 minutes.  We divided the group into halves (stronger swimmers/weaker swimmers), and started on opposite ends of the 50 meter distance.  Group 1 went on the even minutes, Group 2 went on the odd.  This kept the course relatively clear so people weren’t swimming over each other in an effort to stay close to shore. 

After the workout everyone had free time to enjoy the beach as they saw fit.  Jenn and I chose to lay around on the beach chairs with a group of others, but many decided to go out and try the inflatable obstacle course the hotel had set up a short ways offshore.  This was essentially a balloon bounce house, with jumps, ropes, and handles scattered throughout.  The TV show “Wipeout” came immediately to mind as I watched our group struggle, flail, and eat it all over the course.  Definite comedy for those of us watching from shore, but an exhausting workout for those directly involved.  Just goes to show you don’t always need to be “training” to get a work out.

Just before noon we loaded onto the bus and set our sights on Bosnia.  Although it was certainly sad to say goodbye to Croatia and her infinitely beautiful waters and coastline, I have to say I was excited to see the interior of the Balkans.  So much history from the Yugoslavian civil war is still fresh and palpable there and I knew our group would find it interesting. 

As we drove across the border the first thing I was struck by was the landscape.  Huge mountains and forested hillsides, beautiful rivers and cliffs… not exactly what I had pictured.  For some reason the image in my head was something much flatter and desolate.  Chalk it up to ignorance I guess.  Throughout the drive Armann got on the microphone and explained some details about the conflict, including the cultural peculiarities of Bosnia-Herezgovina.  Because this region was home to a large population of Bosnian Muslims, Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Serbs, it was where the majority of the fighting took place.  To a large degree, each nationality fighting for independence was defined by its religion, so mosques and cathedrals were easy targets for bombings.  And nowhere else in the Balkans was there such a high concentration of all three denominations than in present day Bosnia. 

We saw the lasting effects of the fighting at our first stop in Mostar.  Mostar is a small town in the hills that boasts a singular crown jewel: it’s bridge.  A beautifully arched stone structure connecting both sides of the river, this bridge was destroyed by bombs and mortars during the war.  We stopped and watched a video detailing the process of rebuilding that took place and couldn’t help but wonder how they did it.  Walking around the town you could feel the poverty.  The walls still boast bullet holes, many of the buildings have not been bothered to be repaired from explosions, and the street vendors are all huddled onto a single stretch of cobblestones that lead tourists to the bridge.  While eating lunch we could observe locals enticing foreigners to jump the 80 foot bridge for a fee.  Apparently it’s common for the local diving club to raise money by coaching tourists on how to safely enter the water from such a height.  Naturally, our group only a few days removed from a day filled with cliff jumping in the Adriatic, the buzz over lunch was about who would jump the bridge.  It wound up that only Sven, Sunny, and I were willing to pay the 25 Euros to take the plunge, but boy was it worth it!!!

Before we could jump we had to go below with the diving coach and do a series of practice jumps from a 10 meter platform he had set up down river.  In severely broken English, he coached us to keep our knees bent and relax our arms like a bird’s wings until just before impact.  At this moment we were to violently extend our legs and tuck our arms to our sides, breaking the water and entering vertical.  While this is not the first time I’ve thought of these things, I’ll admit the practice jumps helped get my nerve up.

As we climbed back up the rocks to the bridge I noticed our entire group had found seats along the shore to watch and take pictures.  I mention this because they looked a whole lot smaller from the bridge.  I was the first to jump, so I climbed the ledge (a 8 inch piece of stone was we had to stand on once over the rails), got my balance, and tried to think of nothing but the practice jumps.  If you ever find yourself in this position, it’s important you don’t waste time on the edge.  Just go for it.  And I did, floating through the air for over 2 seconds of blistering freefall before entering the water.  I’d love to describe exactly what it was like, but it happened quite fast.  Perhaps the videos will do it better justice.  Sunny and Sven followed soon after, each of us emerging unharmed and exhilarated.  And we had to have the biggest, loudest cheering section Mostar’s seen in quite some time. 

By this time it was nearly 6:00 pm and we had to be getting on to Sarajevo.  Only 3 days left to go…

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