Week 128 September 10, 2016

Dear Sweet Family and Friends, it is awesome when Loren and I hear from you, to catch up in what ways we can while we are journeying. Finding your comments on our blog is always a gift as they reinforce parts of our journey’s journal. We also treasure your emails. Thank you for keeping in touch!
One day this week while still in Croatia we hiked 6 kilometers round trip to the river near Plitvice Lakes to swim, as no swimming is allowed in the NP anymore. Entrance 1 of the park was just 500 meters from where we were staying. Another day I hiked a good part of the park route marked “K,” while Loren and our AirBnB host’s son hiked a longer and more strenuous trail. My delight was with the many ducks, aside from witnessing more outstanding beauty in nature. Last week Loren and I had hiked route “A” and some of route “F.” The trails are well marked, and, an easy to read karta – map, that we bought for 20 Kuna – about 3USD, helped.
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This week too we celebrated Loren’s birthday! It was a big one – he is now eligible to collect the first level of Social Security, if he decides to do so. Applying for Medicare – should it look the same in three years time – is on the horizon. We enjoyed a bottle of local red wine, a gift that our AirBnB host in Split had sent us away with last week to help us celebrate. We splurged on a dinner special-for-two of our first young goat meat at the family restaurant where we had celebrated our anniversary last week. This dish was not available to us on that evening because it requires advance ordering, as it takes two hours to cook. Both nights we had complementary snifters of Rakia – plum brandy, which went down more smoothly for me this night, being the 2nd time…
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We felt fortunate that we had had three gorgeous days of hiking in Plitvicka Jezera Nacionalni Park. Our last full day in the area turned out as predicted: completely rainy. Loren learned from our AirBnB host’s son that the area is a rain forest, even though in winter it snows and freezes. So, we made our last day a rest day.
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We then headed by bus to Split overnight, back to our same lovely host in her comfortable AirBnB. Then, we split Split, to travel by daytime bus to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Dalmatian coast south of Mostar reminded us of Big Sur, except for the nearby islands. There was an incredibly long line of cars and campers at border control. Our bus driver bypassed them all – fortunately the only car coming in the opposite direction pulled over for us! We arrived to where the immigration officers board the buses, much more quickly had he not jumped the line, otherwise our passport verification wait time would have been longer than some we had experienced in Africa.
We are now settled in our Mostar AirBnB with delightful sisters as our hosts, both college students. We treated them to lunch and they introduced us to their arts. One sister has much talent in debate and drawing, the other is a gifted singer who shared with us Sevdalinka Emina, a traditional Bosnian folk song of yearning. It tells a touching story of a beautiful woman in a garden who is unmoved by her admirer’s greeting in her task of watering of the roses. Our hostesses’ great-grandmother is famous for writing the lyrics to a version that was made popular by a local musically talented doctor. As if that were not already a special story, this sister was chosen by audition at 10 years of age to sing this song at the celebration of the grand re-opening of the Old Bridge in 2004. It had had to be rebuilt – so well that it looks original – after being demolished in the civil war.
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On the topic of the war which is hard to avoid seeing the lasting effects of and talking about while walking around town, we came across a local park that had had to be converted for use as a cemetery. Headstone after headstone records the death year: 1993. We also visited the War Photos Exhibition on permanent display at the Old Bridge. 
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Then, while on a one day tour, we finished the day at “Sniper Tower,” a formerly attractive, modern glass building where mercenary gunmen had stationed themselves. Around the perimeter are still chunks, chips and shards of plate glass fragments. 
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The building, like so many others 20 years later, is simply a multistoried mortar-wounded concrete shell. Artists have left myriad messages in a 2016 Street Art Festival.
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I learn best in a hands-on, experiential way, and on our journey I am learning so much. I had known of the unrest in Belgrade – capitol of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s. But I had felt so far removed; I remember feeling a vague, sad awareness at that time. Being in Bosnia and Herzegovina now, the aftereffects of the struggles as communism fell and regional boundaries in the Balkan countries were sometimes violently fought for, are highly visible. Mortar damage is tangible, and there is a palpable heaviness. We did not experience this visible or spiritual vestige in the areas of Croatia where we had visited. So many of the locals’ family members and friends here were either killed, or took refuge in other countries, and most of them have not returned.
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We also visited “Tito’s Aircraft Hangar” on the day tour. This was tunneled deep into a mountain during the Cold War, for storing planes and for protection should there come a World War III. It seemed similar in some ways – especially the massive amount of concrete used for the walls– to bunkers we had seen at Normandy beach. Hitler had designed those for protection of what he saw to be Third Reich’s 1000 year reign. What can we learn from all this? How do we protect all humanity from violence? I believe we can learn to communicate in better ways, to be able to live in peace on our precious planet. Now and forever. Ok?
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On a lighter note, other stops on our day tour were the historic Blagaj Dervish House, a place of study for the Sufi’s during the Ottoman Empire. It was so well built and protected then, that it still proudly stands against the mountain, beside the river, of its origin. It is where Whirling Dervishes come annually in mid-May to practice their dancing meditation. This is where Loren and I shared our first cup of Turkish coffee.
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Another stop was for a hike up a hill to the medieval castle and fortress of Pocitelj. The one other stop was to Kravice Falls, where we had lunch. Loren swam in the take-your-breath-away cold water.
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One more thing I have learned from our journey is how to correctly pronounce Herzegovina: Herz-eh-govina, not Herzgovin-i-a as I used to mistakenly say. On Sunday we will return to Croatia to visit Dubrovnik for two days, a place that Loren has been interested in visiting for 40 years. I am also interested in seeing the War Photos Limited temporary display there, a larger version of the Exhibition to what we saw here in Mostar, including current images from Syria… I have so much still to learn.

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