While the prospect of writing about my future travels excites me greatly, I would also like to share some stories from travels past. This time I am regaling the tale of That Time I Jumped of That Bridge in Mostar.
If you have travelled through the Balkans at all, there is a good chance you visited Mostar. If you visited Mostar, you would have seen the Stari Most and either some nutbag traveller or some entrepreneurial local jumping from it (in exchange for tips).
The Stari Most defines the city of Mostar. In a literal sense, the word most, is the Bosnian word for bridge. Tradition dictates that young men from Mostar must jump from the Stari Most into the cold waters of the Neretva river as a rite of passage into adulthood. In Australia, we achieve this by attempting to rapidly drink a 1.4L yard glass of beer while surrounded by friends and family. Each to their own.
Before arriving in Mostar, I had already learnt about the reputation of the Stari Most as a jumping location. I don't normally do a lot of research on travel destinations before I arrive, but I was aware of the Stari Most bridge jump for two reasons.
Firstly, there was an Australian T.V show titled 'Hamish and Andy's Gap Year'. It documents a couple of Aussie comedians and their travels around Europe and the mischief they get into. Hamish and Andy both performed the Mostar bridge jump on their show. When considering whether to attempt this jump, I and other Australians find this fact quite persuasive. Primarily because neither Hamish nor Andy are athletes. Hamish in particular is... hmm... an unremarkable physical specimen. He possesses the physique and importantly, the courageousness, of the average man. The fact that he managed to jump from the Stari Most makes me not only think that I could also do so, but that I must, lest I forever tarnish myself as less courageous than Hamish Blake.
The other reason I knew all about the bridge jump is that I had spoken to another traveller only a month earlier while hiking the Meteora in Greece. Not only had he performed the jump, but had done so 3 times. The last of which he did without clothes. It may not surprise you to hear that he was also Australian.
I arrived in Mostar and began talking to other travellers about the bridge jump. I stayed non-committal. I would ask people about the bridge jump and what it involved, without sounding too excited about it. I didn't want anyone thinking that I was definitely planning on jumping. That would have made it difficult to bail out without losing face. As a means to avoid jumping, I told myself that I would only jump if I found another traveller to do it with.
I should point out, that the jump in question is around 24m in height. The top platform for olympics level diving is the 10m platform. Red Bull regularly runs a high diving competition from the Mostar bridge. It seems to me that Red Bull only involves itself in sports where death is a realistic outcome. It is not a jump to take lightly. From that height, you hit the water at 80 km/h. Bruises, dislocated joints, broken bones and compressed spines are common injuries for inexperience jumpers with poor technique.
Over the course of the next three days, I didn't meet any other travellers that were planning on jumping. Growing in confidence, I began explaining to other people that if I had found someone else to jump with, I would have. Well... of course that evening while out drinking I met a few new travellers and said the same to them, one of them quickly responded with "I am jumping tomorrow! We can jump together!". As soon as he said those words, I knew I would either have to jump the following day, or never show my face again in Mostar. The only justification I had for not jumping had disappeared and along with it, any chance of maintaining any respect within the Balkan backpacking community.
The next morning at about 10am, very hungover, Mike and I and a few others wandered down to the bridge. It was lightly drizzling. But given that I was about to jump in to a river that sits at about 10°C, not grounds for cancelling the jump. We had to hand over 25€ to the local dive club in order to jump. My first reaction is, why do I need to pay? But in hindsight there are 3 very good reasons to pay the 25€:
- They dive club will take you to a spot a hundred metres down stream from the Stari Most where a ~10m platform is set up. Here you can practice your jump technique under the watchful eye of an experienced diver. He will give you lots of tips that are extremely useful if you want to avoid dislocating a limb.
- One of the divers will wait for you at the bottom close to the water's edge. Should you be unable to swim to the edge, he will stop you from being washed down stream. A potential lifesaver. Literally and figuratively.
- You become a lifetime member of the Mostar Dive Club on completion of your dive.
After getting the go ahead by the dive club, we headed up to the bridge. There were actually 3 of us. A Canadian girl had joined us from one of the other hostels. As is normal with Stari Most bridge jumps, as soon someone is about to jump tourists begin to crowd around, mostly out of morbid curiosity. To be honest, I was pretty stoked to see the crowds build and gather. If you are going to jump off the Stari Most, you damn well want to have it witnessed by some other people.
We were then instructed to douse ourselves in a bucket of cold water. Apparently it helps to stop the body from going into shock upon landing in the icy river. Good to know! Mike jumped first. His technique was pretty good. I think I performed better in the warmups, but he had pretty much nailed his jump. I say this because he wasn't dead. I was hopeful for a similar result.
Climbing over the railing to get in position was a strange feeling. If I slipped while climbing over the railing I would fall uncontrollably into the river below. Looking back on such an event, if indeed I had the luxury of doing so at all, undoubtably I would have described it as a near death experience. Yet I was climbing over the railing, so that I could willingly jump into the river. An odd paradox and a thought I had to suppress.
I had to wait a few moments for Mike to get out of the water. I waited a few extra moments for him to get settled and ready to watch my jump. One of the reasons I gotten myself into this situation is because of this guy, I was going to make sure I had as many witnesses as possible, him included.
Next, I had to step off the edge. The only way to do this part is instantly. If you stop for a moment to think, you just won't jump. Your rational mind takes over very quickly. My first reaction after stepping was to wiggle my legs back and forth, a bit like a little kid does when jumping into a swimming pool. Thankfully I very quickly got my shit together and remembered the advice from the 'instructor'. Legs together, hands covering my nuts. As straight as possible. My form was actually really good through the air.
Then I hit the water. I was not prepared for the speed that I would hit the water. In retrospect, that seems stupid. It is incredible how quickly you decelerate. That rapid deceleration is why it is critical to have all of your limbs tucked in when you hit the water. If you have them flapping around at all, they will catch the water and decelerate quicker than the rest of your body, that means dislocation or breakage. Thankfully I did not have either of those things occur, but it must have been close. My legs were thrown up over my head once I hit the water. I was thrown around like a rag doll. I could not walk without pain for several days after and must have strained every ligament in my groin.
I very gingerly swum to the side and got into position to watch the Canadian girl who was last to jump. Her form through the air was not good. She did not hit the water like a pin, she was shaped more like the letter G. Not ideal. She compressed/fractured 3 vertebrate. She wasn't paralysed or anything, but she certainly fucked up the next few months of her life. Travel insurance doesn't normally cover this kind of stuff, obviously.
We then got invited into the Mostar Dive Club to sign the admissions book and receive our certificates.
Here is a video of my jump, in all its glory. Special mention to my lovely friends for the photos and video.