The Stari Most is located in Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina and is a recreation of the original 16th century ottoman bridge. The original bridge stood for 427 years until it was destroyed on the 9th of November 1993 by Croat forces during the Bosnian war.
After the end of the war, plans were raised to reconstruct the bridge. Reconstruction began on the 7th June 2001 and the bridge reopened on the 23rd July 2004. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
Diving off of the bridge has been a tradition for hundreds of years. Traditionally boys from Mostar would not become a man until jumping off, many used to jump from as early as 13/ 14 years old.
On the 19th of July 2016 I was in Dubrovnik Croatia trying to decide where to go the following day. Looking up flights from Dubrovnik to Dublin, it proved too expensive to fly home. I had been to Mostar in July 2015 but only for one night, ever since then the thought of jumping off the bridge had been present in my mind. I said screw it and bought a bus ticket to Mostar for the following day and booked a hostel called 'Hostel Nina' for 2 nights.
As the bus arrives in East Mostar, the aftermath of the war become ever present, there are derelict buildings around every corner decorated with bullet holes and debris, at first sight it seems extremely grim. However there is something about Mostar that enables you to ignore the remains of the past and see the beauty present day Mostar has to offer.
I walked 2km from the bus station to Hostel Nina which is one of the highest rated hostels in Mostar on TripAdvisor I must say at only €8 a night it was a steal. It is run by a woman named, Nina and her family, it is very homely. It was about 8pm when I arrived so I checked in and went out for a stroll in the old town where the Stari Most is located. The moment it came into view my stomach jumped into my mouth. No matter how many pictures and videos you look at, you just have to see it in person to really put its enormity into perspective. I walked up onto the arch and looked down at the fast flowing Neretva River below pondering life, then I walked down to the banks of the river below, this time looking up I did the same.
When I was done taking in the beauty of the Stari Most, I went for some food. I got a mixed meat platter for €5 , it was huge and included beef, chicken, sausage, chips, bread and veg. It was delicious! I went back to Hostel Nina and got some sleep as I had a big day ahead of me!
Day of the Jump
Thursday the 21st of July, today was the day, I was adamant I was going to jump off the Stari Most. I went down for breakfast in the hostel, everyone sits at one table so naturally conversation starts. My fellow back packers thought I was a borderline insane the moment I said I was going to jump off the bridge, the truth is I probably was and I knew it too! There was an Australian guy named Jacob working at the hostel who constantly reminded me about an Australian girl who broke her leg a few days before. This didn’t deter me though as personally, I felt as if I would be capable of jumping.
I left the hostel around midday and headed for the old town. I wanted to create a video documenting my experience so I filmed some footage around the bridge for roughly an half an hour before plucking up the courage to walk into the Mostar diving club. When I entered the divers were counting money they had just collected. They jump several times a day for money, it is actually their job during the summer! I said 'Hey guys I want to jump off the bridge'
'How many meters you did before?’ muttered one of them from the corner, ’10 maybe 12' I said 'No problem you have experience my friend'. I paid the 70 Bosnian marks (€35) for both membership and training, one cost 20 marks (€10) the other 50 marks (€25), I can't remember which was which.
I got changed in the diving club and then was escorted to the training platform which is roughly 100m down stream from the Stari Most. It is 11m high. A diver in his early 20s, Eda, taught me the technique I would need to implement for the bridge jump. I had to stand on the edge of the platform with my chest forward and both my arms out, take one small step off the platform, keeping my arms out while I fell and just before hitting the water, tense as hard as I could with my arms down in front of me, my head up and my toes pointed. I had to enter like a stone to avoid injury. He got me to practice this a number of times by stepping off a curb on the side of a road.
It was time for practice jump number one, first of all I was instructed to splash cold water from the river onto my body so I wouldn’t get a shock upon entry as the river Neretva is very cold. I climbed up the ladder and stood on the edge of the platform, looking down it seemed very high and at 11 meters it’s less than half the height of the bridge so this scared me, a lot. I got into position and then stepped off implementing the technique Eda had taught me. As I was falling I remember feeling a little awkward trying to concentrate on falling correctly. I plunged into the fast flowing, ice cold Neretva and swam to a nearby rope which I used to climb back up onto the riverbank. Eda corrected my technique and I went again. This time when I plunged into the river my chin got a slap which stung and my feet touched the bottom (gently as I had slowed down considerably). I emerged to the surface greeted by Eda saying “that’s much better my friend!”. I jumped a 3rd time to finalise my technique and when I swam to the shore and climbed up, Eda said “let’s go to the bridge my friend”. I was absolutely terrified to say the least.
We walked back to the bridge and I had to wait a couple of minutes as the divers were collecting money as one of them was going to jump. The wait was killing me, but I kept myself occupied by showing Eda how to use my camera as he was going to film from below (while on standby in case I got into difficulty). I also gave my goPro to one of the guys who worked at the diving club selling merchandise, ironically enough he has never jumped off the bridge! He would film from the upstairs of the diving club which is probably one the best places to watch a jump from. Unfortunately my goPro lens fogged up and the footage he got is not of the best quality.
Finally after a long 10 minutes, it was my turn to jump, I doused myself with cold water from a hose that was beside the diving club and then walked up the to the arch in the bridge, it was terrifying. I climbed over the railings and stood there for about 45 seconds breathing uncontrollably as if I was sitting in the electric chair about to be executed. A crowd began to gather along the bridge and on the banks below, 'Let's go my friend, woooo!' Eda shouted from below, there was no way I was backing out now. I put my arms out wide and began running the technique I was to do through my head before stepping off the bridge. I lost control and panicked as I fell for what felt like my entire life. “Ohhhhh Fuckkkk!” I roared as I wiggled around uncontrollably to stay in an upright position, just before hitting the water I went into the entry position but my form was slightly off. The next thing I remember is being somewhere beneath the river Neretva thinking that my legs were broken, thankfully I realised they were just incredibly numb and sore. I surfaced to the sound of cheers and applause and doggy paddled over to the banks using only my arms and just about climbed out. “I record everything my friend!” Eda shouted as stumbled up the bank, this gave me a smile. Many of the onlookers congratulated me and asked how it was and if I was ok.
Eda escorted me back up to the diving club where I would sign my name in the book of jumpers. I was jumper #2,112, I am pretty sure this number is since the bridge reopened in 2004. It’s a very low number of jumpers though in 12 years! I got a certificate to prove I jumped, then got a few photos and left. Stumbling back to the hostel with the certificate in hand (so I didn't crease it) I was greeted with many smiles and thumbs up from the locals when they saw what I was carrying. The respect you gain in the Mostar after jumping from the bridge is incredible. When I got back to the Hostel, Nina and her family congratulated me and I became the centre of attention amongst the other backpackers.
The following night, I met Eda in a bar (coincidentally) and he was happy to see me. I asked him could I interview him the following day (for the video I was making about my experience). He told me to meet him at the bridge the next morning so I did just that. I got there on time but there was no sign of Eda, however one of the older divers named Jimmy was there and invited me to sit with him at the cafe he was outside. 'You are my friend forever' he told me before buying me a fizzy orange drink, I couldn't believe how nice he was, I had a chat with him for about 10 minutes and then Eda showed up. I wish I had been more prepared with my questions because I blanked when I was sitting with him but he did tell me that he was 14 years old the first time he jumped from the bridge and that he has probably jumped off over 2000 times. ‘In Mostar, when you jump from the bridge, you are the man’ he said. I have to say that since jumping and still to this day I feel like the man — lol. He showed me some of the actual mortar shells that had contributed to the original bridge’s demise along with an actual piece of the original bridge, this was rather chilling in a way. I mentioned to him that he was probably too young to remember the war and the collapse of the Stari Most, he responded by saying: ‘Yes, but I don’t forget’.
My visit to Mostar is definitely an unforgettable one. Considering such a tough recent history, the locals are very friendly and the city is beautiful. I will definitely be back again. If you are considering going to jump off the bridge, just go into the divers and they will advise you.