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New Europe

Day Thirteen: Mostar

Mostari divers 
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With the fast-flowing Neretva River below, Mostari divers, members of one of the most elite dangerous sports clubs in the world, leap 70 feet into 15 feet of water.
Michael Palin - New EuropeIn the approximately three seconds between leaving the bridge and hitting the water 'the diver must feel he is flying,' says Emir. 'It's not long but for a diver it feels like a century.'

The most important things for a diver doing the lasta (the swallow dive) are to break the water with his hands and never his head, and to enter the water at an angle of no more than 35 degrees.

Emir explains rather starkly, 'In Olympic swimming pool, the depth of the water is 10 metres. Down there', he peers over at the swirling green waters of the Neretva, 'the depth is around 5 metres.'

Whilst someone else collects contributions from the crowd of tourists now swelling the bridge (150 euros a dive, 40 euros a jump), three young men strip down, and one by one terrify and thrill the onlookers by mounting the unprotected 12-inch-wide parapet and, focusing their gaze straight ahead, push themselves outwards and down towards the river. There's just time to catch your breath before they slice into the water and reappear to howls of applause.
Emir is justly proud of their skills.

'This is extreme sport. Only other place in the world where you see this is the cliff divers in Acapulco.'

Though he can remember only one fatality from diving, twenty-three members of the club died in the war of 1993.

The area around the bridge has been well restored, with the inevitable cobbled streets and orderly tidied-up markets, but you only have to climb up into the back streets to see the extent of the war damage. Burnt-out hulks of buildings pitted with shrapnel, the windows of the Union Bank building smashed and the gouges of pre-stressed concrete still hang down the walls. A richly decorated Hapsburg-style building that used to be Mostar's best hotel is roofless and empty.

Kamel, who lived through the siege, who ran for water for his family at the risk of his life, refused to be bowed. He taught himself English and worked as a runner for the UN force that saved the city. Now they've gone he's retrained into computers.

He thinks it will be a long time before Mostar can once again become the prosperous, tolerant, lively city it once was. Many people who could be helping to rebuild it have left and gone abroad, and the tripartite Croat, Muslim and Serb administration of Bosnia & Herzegovina, with its colonial-style, EU-appointed High Representative is a reminder that of all the countries of the Balkans, this is perhaps the most serious casualty of war.
Mostari divers 
click to enlarge 
file size
With the fast-flowing Neretva River below, Mostari divers, members of one of the most elite dangerous sports clubs in the world, leap 70 feet into 15 feet of water.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: New Europe
  • Chapter: Day Thirteen: Mostar
  • Country/sea: Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Place: Mostar
  • Book page no: 36

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