As we have been travelling up the coast the last few days we have been trying to decide what to do next, we have more islands to visit, more waterfalls to see, and we have longstanding friends to hook up with. What to do first? What to do to avoid island overload to ensure we encounter them with a fresh persepective? What about Bosnia? How would this fit in with our ongoing plans? So many exciting places to go and decisions to be made. In the end, it’s sometimes better to let the road decide and go wherever it goes.
We had been in constant text contact with our Murter friends. Peter and Alenka had decided to leave Murter early and still had a few days before heading back to Slovenia. Would they like to join us on Pag or at Paklenica? We asked. In the end they opted to go to Karlovac to see Yankee and Maja. Were we up for it too? By the time more texts were exchanged, it appeared that they had already decided for us. There was nothing for it but to follow the road to Karlovac – so after a quick picnic at Paklenica, we trundled a bit further up the coast towards Karlobag where we turned steeply inland and wound over the Velebit mountains to join the motorway. With lots of hooting and waving, we ‘met’ Peter and Alenka on the way.
We very rarely travel by motorway, so this was a novelty of sorts. We enjoyed seeing the temperature announcements along the way, and wondered whether we should reach for our cardigans as it dipped below 30 degrees celsius. We also noticed the landscape changes – green rolling hills and Austrian style churches with their onion spires. It had obviously been raining here recently, but the storm seemed to have passed.
Karlovac is an industrial city, known for being home to one of the biggest breweries in the country – Karlovačko. We followed Peter and Alenka’s car off a main road down a quiet residential lane which seemed to run out near a half-built looking house surrounded by green. Could this be right? We were reassured when Yankee appeared and after an enthusiastic welcome, we drove up into the field behind the property. A perfect camping spot. Maja and Yankee’s tent was already in place beneath a tree.
The house belongs to Maja’s uncle and aunt, but they are still building it – a long term project. Some things are in place – there are doors and windows, a toilet and an almost fully equipped kitchen, but no shower and no kitchen sink. No matter though – there was a hose pipe surrounded by flowering bushes in the garden.
The perfect place for a party.
The party began straightaway, with a welcome rakija shortly followed by a stroll down to the river. The Mresnica is just one of several rivers flowing in and around Karlovac, and this bathing spot was peaceful and beautiful. Until we got there anyway. A few more rakija probably meant raucousness and lots of fun was had jumping off ropes, and enjoying the cool refreshing water, a change from the salty sea waves, and considerably less buoyant.
Meanwhile at the house, Maja had arrived back from work and her sister Tatjana was there too and the party continued, though for me it is a rather hazy memory. Rakija on an empty stomach has that effect. Apparently. I’ll say no more on that subject …
So followed several lazy days, hiding from the heat of the day, talking and eating way into the early hours, and having frequent swims in the river. It soon felt that we had lived there together forever as we got used to the languid rhythms of eachother’s days, like hippies in a commune.
Sometimes there would be a burst of activity like adding lavender to a bottle of rakija, leaving it to infuse and enthuse for hours in the sun to create lavendarica.
We went for a ‘massage’ to an extensive series of small waterfalls and rapids a few kilometres away up the same river. We walked, stepping-stoned and swam around the whole area, taking time out to sit in the water and let it flow over us. Pounding any remaining stress out of our bodies. Some of the currents were quite strong so you had to pick carefully not to get washed away. It was a beautiful area not unlike a mini Krka, but freely accessible.
We sought out other bathing spots too and found a wonderful area of lanes with pretty summer houses leading yet again to a wide grassy expanse by the river. Many Croatians have summer houses, and these looked to be a mix of summer and all year round places, a perfect place to live.
An early morning solitary swim in our beautiful stretch of the Mresnica, amongst tiny fishes, birds singing, and a multitude of the now familiar blue satin-bodied damsel and dragonflies brought me to wonder at being a tiny part of the natural world. Swimming at one with the flow of the river and the life all around is a cherished moment of real freedom and joy. If only such opportunities were more available in Britain.
Evenings brought visitors, Maja’s parents and aunt came to meet us, and also a couple of foxes started out by scaring us and ended up enchanting us. We were mindful that they could carry rabies and the fact that they showed no fear of humans was a bit alarming at first, but we were as transfixed by them as they seemed to be by us.
We also spent time trying to learn more Croatian, from practical things like parts of the body, and how to ask for things in shops to the more colourful colloquialisms we could use if things went wrong. Tatjana was very keen to get my pronunciation right, and I tried to copy the way her tongue sat against her mouth and teeth to understand how the sounds work.
An animated discussion broke out among the Croatians when teaching some of the more lurid phrases – how could you translate that phrase into English, what strength of swear word was it and when would you use it and so on. As we seem to be spending a lot of time in Croatia, we are keen to learn more of the language, although we may be slightly wary of using some of our new phrases in case we cause offense.
On the afternoon that Peter and Alenka departed, we were meant to have gone out for a canoe trip with Yankee and Maja. As ever we didn’t hurry, luckily so as the wind suddenly got up heralding a dramatic electric storm and torrential downpour. Lightening dancing across distant mountains, the far rolling thumps and thuds of thunder came directly over us. I’ve never heard or felt such apocalyptical crashes.
The next day we did get out in the canoe and being paddled gently upstream saw a tree ripped apart, one half of it submerged in the water. We were glad not to have been caught out on the river in the storm. We went a way up stream past other bathing spots, reed beds, and even saw a water snake swim-wiggling along until the narrow rocky rapids got the better of us and we floated swiftly downstream again.
On our last evening we walked up a hill to a viewpoint over Karlovac and the distant Zagreb through woods lit by the last few golden spotlights of the setting sun, the scents of the trees and plants captivating us.
Maja advised us to check for ticks afterwards. These small bloodsucking creatures can be carriers of two lethal brain damaging illness: encephalitis and Lyme disease. We’ve been wary of them at the same time as not being quite sure what to look for or what to do if we found one on us.
Next morning Maja said that she had found one on Yankee, and she checked Adrian. Sure enough one of these blighters was embedded in his shin. She covered it in oil to suffocate it so that it would loose its grip. After ten minutes she carefully lifted it out with tweezers, especially ensuring that the head had been removed. A wake up call to us to be more vigilant after walking in wild grassy places.
After a few days it was time for us to hit the road again, our friends in Samobor were waiting for us and we were already nine months overdue to see them. Having already bid farewell to Peter and Alenka, it was time to hug Yankee, Maja and Tatjana. It is definitely doviđenja though, not goodbye. We are already thinking about our next get together with them, probably in Slovenia. Oh and we never quite got around to seeing the old town quarter of Karlovac, the river called us too strongly.