Villages and Bunkers: Bosnia through the Outdoors and Underground

LUKOMIR- Village in the Sky

Some time has passed since I have hiked to a village high in the mountains, (Ecuador, 2011) and even more time has passed since I have ventured into a war bunker (War Rooms, London, 2010). I have enjoyed recent opportunities to visit Bosnia’s highest village and a Cold War bunker deep into the ground over the past weeks. Both experiences were surreal and interesting in their own right, and they contributed to the aspects about Bosnia that can only be ascertained through experiences outside of the internship office and the classroom. Last weekend, our group hiked to the village of Lukomir, the highest village in Bosnia, way up in the Bjelašnica Mountains. The village is located at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, or 1,495 meters above sea level, around the same altitude as the city of Denver. That may not seem like a significant altitude, especially for all of us who live in Denver, but mountains start at sea level here in Bosnia. Having a designation of the highest village in the country means a lot here. It means that the village is remote and it is indeed high in the mountains.

Bosnia is a hilly and mountainous country. I was aware that mountains existed here, and I certainly noticed the mountains and gorges that seemed to endlessly encompass the landscape when I flew into the country, however my hiking experiences within the last seven weeks here have enabled me to really experience this aspect of the terrain. Our group started with a three-hour hike with the Eco Tourism group Green Visions, where one of the students in the group is currently working as an intern. We called our excursion the “Three Generations Tour” as one of the guides with Green Visions is the granddaughter of one of Lukomir’s residents, and her mother also accompanied our group. The hike was picturesque. Our day began with mist and fog, which contrasted with and highlighted the verdant mountainsides. We stopped and marveled at points along the hike where we could see over other mountains and valleys for miles, and watched the mist descend over mountaintops. We also passed through forests with leaf floors along the trail. It was a beautiful hike, a perfect start to the day. Nature always has a soothing effect for me. I believe wholeheartedly in those articles that describe the positive mental and physical benefits of the outdoors. It reminded me of hiking back in Colorado.

hike

Lukomir was even smaller than I thought-it is a true village. The village itself has also dwindled in size over the years. Spending a few hours there was like going back in time. Not much has changed in the village over the past few centuries. People are completely self-sustainable. We could see stones and structures from civilizations on a mountainside across the valley that originated many centuries ago. Knowledge about civilizations is limited due to a legacy of little to no importance placed upon anthropology or archaeology; disciplines that are only starting to gain importance within the last decade or so. Younger generations do not stay in Lukomir, and the residents themselves do not live in the village full-time. They leave when winter sets in due to the heavy snow and harsh climate. Lukomir reminded me of a few villages that we visited in Ecuador, just from the universal aspect of people truly living off the land and completely sustaining themselves. The residents have sheep and vegetables, which provide more than enough sustenance for them. We enjoyed homemade Bosnian pita (a phyllo-crust savory pastry with cheese or potato inside and other magical ingredients, one of the best things in life Bosnia has to offer the world) and sour milk, or yogurt. The student group from the previous year also hiked here and met the family. Two of those students, Marty and Shannon, are co-coordinators for the program for this year, and they talked about their experiences for their first time to visit Lukomir from last year. Marty is a fan of the various Balkan yogurts here, which are indeed amazing. I will miss them when I return to the States as a yogurt lover myself. Marty said the village yogurt was so authentic it still retained some “stank on it,” which is all the description one needs to ascertain and expect the level of freshness and authenticity. It would be legit. This year, the yogurt was apparently tamer. I expected some “stank,” but it did not differ from yogurt that I usually eat or drink in the morning in Sarajevo from a corner market. I just thought I was worldly and traveled (legit) and that I developed some cool Balkan taste for intensely fresh sheep yogurt, when in fact it was just tame. No complaints here, just laughs at myself.

People in Lukomir do not only sustain themselves for nutrition, they also utilize an abundance of wool for clothing and other necessities. The woven articles were beautiful. Traditional Bosnian designs are like nothing I have ever seen before. The colors and patterns are indicative of a culture that predates and transcends histories from centuries ago, long before the Ottomans or Austro-Hungarians arrived. They also sell the clothing, which is also suited for any Colorado winter, and several of us bought gifts for people at home and picked up a few items for ourselves.

Lukomir

-We hiked to the top of a nearby hill to catch views of the village and the surrounding mountain landscape.

 

ARK-DO: The Underground

As archaeology is only now becoming something of value here, historical relics are also gaining public and cultural value. Our group visited a Cold War Bunker, which was built during the time of leader Josip Broz, or Tito as he is known in history and immortalized for many people, and harshly criticized among others.

Yugoslavia was situated in the crosshairs between the Cold War adversaries of the United States and the Soviet Union, in a contentious zone between the bipolarity.

The Cold War has always been a fascinating and distant historical topic for me. I was born in 1989, when the Cold War was at its end, and tensions declined. People in my generation did not experience school drills for nuclear attacks. We did not learn how to peel radioactive fruits or spy on suspicious neighbors. We have only heard stories about Cold War life from relatives or friends, or in history books, movies, art, documentaries, or in this case, visits to remaining vestiges. I had the opportunity to step back into that time last weekend with a visit to ARK-DO, the formerly top-secret bunker that would protect Tito and his family, along with top Yugoslav political officials and their families, in the event of nuclear war. The structure was built to house over 300 people for up to six months.

The tour itself is difficult to obtain. The bunker is only open during certain times of the year, and its hours are difficult to determine. It is located near the town of Konjić, which is south of Sarajevo. We luckily had connections through our director’s friend Jadranka, who is a tour guide and has directed tours for us before. Through her efforts, and the efforts of our director, we showed up on a Saturday morning, ready to explore a nuclear war bunker. The tour began with a preview of the bunker’s layout, which is similar to a narrow U or horseshoe shape. As we toured the structure, it was another time travel experience. The bunker was fortunately never used, and its ownership is largely undesired, left to the military. It was ironically almost destroyed during the last war, however a Bosniak guard thwarted the operation and saved the bunker. Today it serves as both a historical and cultural relic.

International artists now feature their work in the bunker, and I believe it is remarkable that a former nuclear bunker now serves as an art exhibit-with an abundance of anti-war art. This paradoxical dynamic is one of the main reasons I wanted to tour the bunker during our program stay in Bosnia. Due to the fact that none of the bunker’s military equipment and domestic items were used, we were able to see code machines in one room, or typewriters and radio systems in another, complete with the ubiquitous red phones in all rooms. We walked through the bedroom with the finest bunker items that were intended for Tito and his wife, and we all took turns sitting at his intended desk and snapped photos with his intended red desk phone (how many opportunities does a person get to sit at the desk of a former leader in a bunker and pick up his red Cold War phone?)

Bunker

-Unused desk intended for a highly trained and skilled bunker individual.

We passed through rooms that comprised conference centers, hospitals, kitchens, and electrical and filtration systems for water and air conditioning. One of my favorite passages was the air conditioning generator room. It was a huge space with a giant generator that blew wonderfully cool air into the bunker structure, and our group stood in front of it for a giant burst of AC, (free air conditioning is always coveted here in the Bosnian summer-Bosnians do not like drafts-a fact that deserves its own blog post) and then discovered how funny it was because it literally blew our hair back, and more photography ensued.

I enjoyed both the Cold War relics and the artwork equally. The pieces all were powerful and indicative of an anti-war message, or of a social commentary, and few places are better suited for their exhibition than an old, unused, and undesired nuclear war bunker.

Art

-Roma art

Generals

-Piece titled “The Generals.”

Glass

-Art piece, depiction of a glass floor. Soldiers walked on it and symbolically broke it into pieces with their footsteps.

 

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