Note: This is an old post whose content was created for fun, with little to no proof-reading or editing. Please read this post keeping that in mind.
Sarajevo is a city of contrasts, a city marked by both tolerance and neglect. Tattered buildings still carrying the scars of war sheepishly face modern out of place buildings glowing at night. The call to prayer rings out from minaretes scattered along the city as others enter synagogues or churches. Apartments are kept tidy and neat while trash floods the street. A small limestone crag filled with motivated climbers lies minutes from an ancient bazaar. Sarajevo was my first stop. I’ve been to Sarajevo only once before but remember enjoying its quirkiness and its good heart. From the pieces of a war whose effects obviously have had lasting, permanent roles in the economy and society of Sarajevo, people have endured and have created a display of a rich culture, a display, though, that seems half-broken and as if it is undermining the true depth of the history of this unique area and its diversity. It is a feeling that I find hard to describe but that is simultaneously beautiful and tragic. This “vibe” is unique and it is worth going to Sarajevo just to experience it. But, I digress.. this ia climbing blog, anyways, so I shall skip straight to the climbing! I went to Sarajevo principally to visit family. Before arriving, though, I was curious as to whether or not there was any crags near the city I could stop by to squeeze in some climbing. A google search led me to some informaiton about a place called “Dariva.” To my pleasant surprise, Dariva is a park right outside of the city within which sits a small limestone wall that is bolted. This is, in essence, the local crag. To get there, one only needs to walk 20 minutes from the city center. So, on my very first day in Sarajevo, after filling up on some “bosanska kafa” (more on that later) I headed over to the Dariva, hoping to meet some local climbers who would show me around and give me a belay. The path to the Dariva is very straightforward as it follows the Miljacka river, which runs through Sarajevo. While this isn’t exactly a natural oasis, it certainly is green and offers a nice respite from the city. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to find anyone nor was I expecting the climbing to be any good. The information I found online seemed to be out of date and from what I gleaned, the climbing scene wasn’t too big. To my surprise, as I wound a corner and saw the wall appear, there were a fair number of people there. I approached them and in my broken Bosnian explained my situation. Two climbers were happy to belay me and everyone was very, very friendly. I arrived at around 5 PM and we were climbing in three, so I only got to do a few pitches, all of which I believe were below 6c. However, I would return again and give a good on-sight go to a very nice 7a. I fell on one move that I mis-read but sent it a second time.
In general, I was impressed with the ambience of Dariva and its accessibility. What really won me over, however, was the attitude of the local climbers. Everyone was very friendly, relaxed, open and above all not only willing but happy to show me around and climb with me. I even got coffee with a local climber one night as he patiently sat through me muttering in my terrible Bosnian. The energy was strong and it was evident that the climbers were proud of the efforts put into developing Dariva; they wanted to share it with me. However, when talking solely about the climbing, I would have to say that in general Dariva offers nothing more than mediocre climbing; the movement is nothing special (though there were one or two gems), there is little diversity (diverse grades, but not a lot of routes) and the rock is polished and sometimes doesn’t feel solid. I was also pretty distraught at the fact that Dariva itself, like much of Sarajevo, was totally trashed. All along the banks of the river, on the trails, at the base of the climbing were chip bags, beer bottles, etc. Personally, the amount of trash visible really detracted from my entire experience. How can such a warm, welcoming spirit and an obvious passion for climbing exist simultaneously with such apathy toward our natural environment. For me, rock climbing and environmental stewardship are linked and inseparable, you cannot practice one without the other. I’m fairly certain that not a single local climber is responsible for the trash I saw at Dariva, though its mere presence weighed on me and caused me to have a worse experience than I otherwise would have had. The bottom-line is, if you are a climber and are in Sarajevo for whatever reason, don’t hesitate to walk over to Dariva and check out the crag. In the summer, most people are there after 4 PM, when it goes into the shade. With a good attitude and a smile, you’ll surely be warmly welcome. Now, if you are traveling to Sarajevo (or Bosnia) I must give you some basic food advice. If you are a coffee lover, you must try bosanska kafa, or Bosnian style coffee. It is very similar to Turkish coffee; hot water is poured directly on very fine coffee grounds. I personally have never tasted better coffee in my life. You can get it anywhere in the old town, the Baščaršija. Generally it is served to you on a tray and is cooked in a pot called a “dzezva”; you drink it out of a small cup known as a fildzan. I recommend getting it with a lokum (Turkish delight) if you’re feeling in the mood for something sweet. I’m addicted now, I brought my own set to make it at home. Last time I went to Bosnia I wasn’t a coffee drinker.. oh how I missed out… You should also try Ćevapi, which is grilled lamb and beef portioned out into tiny sausages (with tons of spices), put in pita bread and served with raw red onions. Get some yogurt, too. Simple, potent, delicious. While I’m on this meat binge, get some locally grilled lamb. You’ll know it will be good if you see them grilling the entire lamb whole on a spit, over a fire. Usually served with some raw scallions. Another dish I rather liked was bosanski lonac, which is like a veal and veggie stew. An obvious specialty not to miss out on would be “pita ispod saca” which is basically a type of pastry/dish in which ingredients are put into phyllo dough and cooked in a traditional way (ispod saca means on below a saca, which is a heavy metal cover shaped like big plate, The pita goes on the surface first then covered by the plate. This entire combination is then covered by fire and left to cook). Burek, is filled with meat, sirinica is filled with cheese, zeljanica is filled with spinach and cheese (what my mom makes!) and krompirusa is filled with potatoes. I’m obviously focusing entirely on two of my favorite things- food and climbing, and skipping the cultural highlights that Sarajevo has to offer. Honestly, I’m no expert but basically I would recommend you at least walk through the old town, Baščaršija, or bazaar; it features tons of traditional shops (and the not so traditional ones) that specialize in all sorts of things, from making the fildzans for bosanska kafa to making the kafa itself… (as well as artisan crafts) . It’s a bustling, windy little maze and is worth getting lost in. You can also stand on the stari most, where Franz Ferdinand was killed prior to WWI. The city center itself is nothing special, especially and in comparison to those of other European cities. Some more scenes from Sarajevo: