It is not just a bridge - it is a symbol of a town (and a country) that is very slowly rebuilding itself, but not without its challenges.
A stunning, three hour bus ride from Sarajevo took me to Mostar, a town that suffered major destruction during the 1992-1995 war. Mostar is home to five beautiful bridges, including the Stari Most (Old Bridge), which was totally destroyed then rebuilt and opened again in 2004 after significant support from the international community and UNESCO. I got a lump in my throating watching video footage of the successive blasting and bombing that finally sent the symbolic arch plummeting into the river below after it had stood for 427 years.
It is a long-standing tradition for the young men of the town to prove their manhood (and impress the girls) by taking the 24 metre plunge from the Stari Most, into the cold, flowing, emerald green Neretva River below. That tradition now tempts more than a few brave foreigners who are lured by the challenge for a mere 25 Euros. Not surprisingly, there is a right way and a wrong way to do a 24 metre jump safely and there is some coaching provided beforehand, in true Balkan style.
There is also a process of building up the crowd anticipation levels and collecting donations to 'encourage' the bridge diver. It is no mean feat to attempt and lots of false starts as newbies get to the edge and hesitate. Can’t say I blame them - it is a LONG way down to the river, but I was lucky enough to catch one brave soul in action.
After just a short time in Bosnia & Hercegovina, I have been amazed by the friendly, strong, resilient, positive people I met - many of whom had lived through terrible times in refugee camps, finally coming home after the war, with nothing, to start again.
When you live in a country, as I do, that has never known its own war, it is often hard to understand why refugees often struggle to integrate and retain so much passion, pride and sometimes bitterness.
I get it now.