Rural Tourism

- Has this summer heralded a new touristic era in the life of Prebilovci and other villages on the periphery of  Hutovo Blato? The answer is yes. However, what the final result will be for Prebilovci depends on many things, most of all on the actions of the local residents - returnees. It also depends, at least as much, on the work of the canton's tourist organizations, particularly the Hutovo Blato Nature Park. Some of the projects which have been launched and developed indicate that Hutovo Blato has finally got a company which protects and values its resources. There is undreamed-of potential in the nature park and bird reserve at Hutovo Blato.

Following the completion of a modern road to Hutovo Blato passing through the local community area of Prebilovci, and the installation of improved road signage to this pearl of nature, interest in it has increased. It is also worth noting that the increased number of visits to Hutovo Blato is due as well to the fact that modern tourists seek out just such places. Although Hutovo Blato has been devastated for years, it remains the case that there are still several intact places within this huge area.

Two Frenchmen milking one cow 
Several visits paid by foreign tourists to Prebilovci this summer open a new area for activities by those interested in the development of rural tourism, and in using Hutovo Blato and the Herzegovina village as a tourist resource for Herzegovina and even for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Namely, during August 36 visits by foreign tourists were recorded in Prebilovci. There were also four overnight stays. The tourists were from France, Sweden and Spain. Add to this the fact that this summer certain families from the country and abroad, with family connections to Prebilovci, spent part of their vacation here, and the issue mentioned at the beginning of this article makes sense.

Two two-member French families arrived at the village in the early evening when the villagers were preparing to put their cattle into stables for the night. The families were staying in Do below the village where they came across a flock of sheep and some cows. They pointed at a goat and its udder – imitating milking – and Stana, happily smiling, understood their wish. The unexpected guests were each offered a cup of warm unboiled goat milk for supper. In the morning, after breakfast served by Stana's neighbors and having refilled their water tank, they left for Sarajevo.

Spaniards looking for the best view 
A six-member group of young guests from Spain arrived at Prebilovci wanting to know which hill offered the best view of Hutovo Blato. They spent the whole day in the village and its surroundings. The Spaniards left but the question remains to be answered by the local residents, particularly by those who administer the Hutovo Blato Nature Reserve: how and where to open and adjust the paths for the tourists who would like to visit the sites offering the best view of this pearl of nature. Crno Brdo with the Sušića garden is one of the most suitable places for a future site offering the best view of the whole Neretva valley and Hutovo Blato.

The Swedes who spent their summer vacation in Dubrovnik, some hundred kilometers from Hutovo Blato, from where they went on picnics to Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, were surprised at the number of houses which, more than a decade after the war, were still in ruins. They wondered how it was possible that human beings can do something like that to one another. Determined to see as much as possible, they visited  nearby Hutovo Blato, and were delighted at the sight of the old bridge in Mostar as well as at the ancient medieval town of Počitelj whose beauty and whiteness surprise motorized tourists on their way from the seaside. They had lunch at the Buna spring and wondered at how so many contrasts were to be found in such a small space – natural beauty along with buildings of cultural and historical importance.  

Live encounter with animals instead of picture books 
Our people from Switzerland are a separate story. While the adults were talking about their homeland, their children, who were born and raised in Switzerland, wanted to see as many domestic animals as they could. They approached them without fear. They needed no picture books; it was a live encounter with kids and calves. When the children were each given a liter bottle of freshly milked milk, their joy and imagination were boundless. Three of the five children, they said, saw the cream on the surface of the freshly boiled milk for the first time. Five-year-old Branko, holding a bottle full of milk in his arms, had already decided, if his grandpa would not object, to spend all of the next summer vacation in Prebilovci.

Return to village 
The villages of Bosnia and Herzegovina experienced radical changes during the latter half of the 20th century. In the Socialist B-H villages paid the full price of industrialization which left them virtually empty, closing down schools. Prebilovci was no exception. On the contrary, it is an illustrative example of the results of such a policy. Nowadays, when the consequences of the foolish war which took the lives of many innocent people, and demolished and burned down entire villages, have been healed, there is hope that life will return to the villages. This particularly applies to the villages in the Mediterranean part of Herzegovina, which were abandoned due to unemployment but where today the revival of agriculture is both possible and necessary.

Rural tourism, both domestic and foreign, might be an additional source of profit. In an effort to preserve the authenticity of Hutovo Blato, it is believed that it is possible to find a common interest and reach an agreement with local residents to make numerous waterways through Hutovo Blato passable. Intact nature would then be even more accessible. Even those who know little about Hutovo Blato are familiar with the fact that there are dozens of homonyms given after the names of families. They refer to ravines and ditches where some families used to fish and subsist from that labor. It is possible to return to that tradition founded in the Middle Ages, which reached its peak during the period of Austro-Hungarian rule and broke off during the Socialist Yugoslavia, and to permit those interested from Svitava, Gnjilište, Drijen and Prebilovci a limited fishing of carp and eels (nowadays the largest number of poachers is recorded from these villages). Fishermen who possess permits would realize a triple profit: for themselves, for Hutovo Blato Nature Park and for Mother Nature, which would be made accessible to tourists by building waterways for fishing. In this case, it would be possible to revive the former tradition of fish drying, particularly carp and eels which were once even served on the dining tables of Paris.   

If it was possible once, why shouldn't it be possible today? All the more so because the local residents once participated in the preservation of nature at Hutovo Blato and took care of it far better and more responsibly.

Published at the beginning of September 2008.

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