I’ve just washed my shorts for the first time since Salzberg, or possibly even since the start of the trip, I’m not quite sure. They’re the only pair I have so it’s not practical to wash them because it would mean wearing jeans when exploring the towns in the boiling heat.( Or walking around in a t shirt, boxer shorts and a camera round my neck.).
We are in a rare position of having time, good weather and the coast to play with. This magic triangle means we can dry all our washed clothes out whilst sitting on the beach all day with nothing but our swim clothes on. We are just outside Dubrovnik after spending two nights in a cheap apartment and exploring this beautiful old venician walled city. We weren’t able to take any photos for various reasons but it’s a spectacular little place.
Compared to cycling, it can sometimes be more exhausting when being tourists so after our two days off we decided to have two more days off from both cycling AND tourism. We left the apartment this morning, cycled 3k along the coast and found a lovely cheap campsite in which to spend our last two days in Croatia. It’s the earliest we’ve ever set up camp:10:30am.
Our arrival into Croatia via the steep slovenian mountains greeted us with a great thunderstorm so we found a dirt cheap apartment in which to dry off, cook (in a kitchen!!!!) and flake out for a day and a half before heading to the ever awaiting coast. Our exhausting 80k journey to the coast was executed in an afternoon of full-on sun and mountains. We were greeted with the misery of a busy coastal road at the horrible industrial eyesore of Rijeka.
Our Croatian Coast Dream was further shattered by the onset of another vicious storm. We also found roads that didn’t exist in real life that were present on our map and consequently ending up on a slip road of a motorway (not present on our map). We duly turned back. It was this day that I equated such series of forces and accumulated circumstance to the Gamemaker of Hunger Games, or the director on Trueman Show (or any authority figure in any dystopian society….Big Brother… God). The Gamemaker was testing our agility and determination to meet our dream by throwing a series of extreme forces at us. In those four hours I could hear the Gamemaker shouting his orders to the operators “SUN!” “MOUNTAIN!” “They made it to the coast?” “MOTORWAY!” “STORM!” “CRAPPY CAMPLESS PORT!” “They found a campsite?” “REMOVE THE RESTAURANTS!”. When we eventually found a restaurant, we had grilled fish and beer. It was amazing. That day was emotional.
It wasn’t until two days later that our dream was met and we found peace on the quiet island of Cres. The sun even came out the next day so we were able to finally swim after four days of being on the coast. Our dreams of hopping Croatia’s numerous islands were shortlived when we arrived onto Lošinj and told that the next ferry would be leaving in five days time. We weren’t too impressed with the Gamemaker at this point because he had also switched the sun off completely after only two days and replaced it with rain. Stranded on a rainy island! Luckily though, the next day he switched it back on for the remainder of the week where we were able to wild camp in the exquisite coastal path near Vel Lošinj, swim, relax and enjoy. Here’s a few photos of that, doesn’t it look exquisite?
We left via ferry to Zadar where we performed our first night-ride because the boat got in at 2300. The next day we were treated to lunch by Bryan whom we had met on the ferry the previous day. In almost Christ-like behaviour, he fed us fish from an excellent restaurant in the back streets of Zadar’s old town. Perhaps one of the best fish meals I have ever had. Did we mention that we love north Americans’ instrinsic hospitality? Fuelled by my jealousy of Carmen’s read of Andrew Marr’s History of the World, we stopped off at the book shop for some light reading of my own, “The Fall of Yugoslavia”. We started a late afternoon ride down the mainland coastline towards Split. This part of the coast was fantastic, modest and seemingly barely affected by tourism. We found our first back-to-basics campsite here. No frills, cheap and friendly. Much better than the Campervan Sleeping Institutions with which we had been used to thus far. (I feel bad for previously accusing Germany of inventing them; turns out they’re the status-quo of camping everywhere so far.)
The small quaint medieval-looking hamlets around Kastela were an absolute delight as we approached Split. But Split was crap, at least arriving by bicycle, it’s crap. Another emotional turmoil saw us fight back The Gamemaker by taking the first ferry to Korcula island in order to cheat the coastline, with Dubrovnik in mind as a destination. From Korcula we would get the ferry to Peljesac island (actually a peninsular) and back to mainland. These two islands were great and full of quiet coastal delights. More lovely quiet, cheap and friendly campsites greeted us, one of which was run by an old Croatian married to an Aussie Sheila called Shelly, who told me that during the 91-95 war (she has been living there for 27 years) the island was cut off completely from travel and supplies. She wanted to return to Australia but physically could not.
We have also discovered the forces which test each of us. Mine is full-on-sun on a steep climb. Carmen’s is gravel tracks on hills. They will break us physically and emotionally, though not without putting us back together again in one piece after a couple of hours. Peljesac was where we were met with a 4k stretch of hardcore costal hilly gravel track. I ploughed through it fairly uneventfully and I dare say, with a bit of enjoyment. The opposite was definitely true for Carmen. For me it was the Wurzenpass that destroyed me.
At this point I would normally sign off the blog by saying something like
“recharged and ready, we now have a nice 6 weeks of easy-paced cycling to reach Bulgaria where Carmen’s parents will await us, (hopefully with the similar Christ-like behaviour demonstrated by our American friends?) Although sad to be leaving the coast, we are very excited to meander through Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania and Macedonia. We really can’t wait!”
But it would be a shame to not mention Miguel. Miguel gets his own section. In fact I am even going to start the next paragraph with an indent, the equivalent of a sub-narrative if you will, or in video editing terms, anamorphic letterboxing. Sorry Bryan for giving you neither a paragraph nor an indent, but this guy was way out there.
We often attract the attention of various people who will strike up conversation with us. Some of these people are incredible bundles of energy, whose combined oscillation would shatter the world apart. An 80 year old german guy stopped on his tracks once while we were lunching on a beach in Croatia. “Woouw wouw wouw wouw” he exclaimed as he backtracked after having cycled past and noticing last minute our loaded bikes. He began a machine gun line of friendly questions which we duly answered in our bad german. “80k pro tag aber wir sind sehr erm…heavy” etc. Ten minutes later our goodbyes were accompanied by an invite to send him an email with simply a photo of us once arrived in Malaysia. These little exchanges are great and can tickle us. But our exchange with Miguel though was unprecedented on this trip.
As we sat on the coastal path behind Dubrovnik city’s wall enjoying the sun and swim, my eye met with that of a young chap in his early 20s wearing a hat, Hawaian shirt and a backpack. He seemed to have been walking towards us anyway but a brief smile to him may have sealed the deal that he would definitely sit next to us. He slung down his backpack on the stone next to us, pointed to our barbag map holder and said
“ahh cyclists! Where are you going? If you want I can show you some of the places I’ve been to, you might find it useful”.
To be honest it’s annoying when people start looking at the map and try to give us advice but actually he turned out to be very knowledgable of the roads we were about to conquer. He hitchiked and walked from his home in Estonia and had just arrived into Dubrovnik and headed straight to where we happened to be sitting.
He claimed to sleep under the stars every night, sometimes in churches. Mosquitos are of no consequence to him, for he is in direct touch with nature, thus immune to its perils. He met a lovely couple in Albania who offered him a threesome which was a step too far for him because, although he would have given her one, he didn’t have such extra-curricular materialistic needs beyond that of the love of two people. “Thinking about ditching the shoes soon too actually” he fitted in very quickly before spontaneously, for reasons perhaps beknown to himself, launching into a songlet; singing happy words sporadically about a slow beat produced by his mouth and ending on a big grin as if to say “do you know what I mean?”
The kid didn’t stop talking, his energy wore us out after these first 4 minutes. Luckily we were able to recharge because all the while he had been talking/singing thus far, he was stripping off into his boxers in order to go for a swim. He revealed a very healthy tanned and toned body, with a cross about his neck and the face-and-glasses-combo of Harry Potter. We observed him sort-of chat up a girl very briefly before diving in elegantly and perform a perfect butterfly full of energy which lasted for a few laps. Outside the realms of the swimming pools where people swim to get fit and become swimmers, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a stong swimmer.
After this second 3 minute performance he exited via the shower, returned to us and declared that in fact, the chlorine in the taps makes him feel less clean. He dived back into the sea and performed a very fast and beautiful crawl for a few more laps. Came back out “ahh that’s better” and launched into a third performance which went something like this:
Carmen, noticing a stick sticking out of his backpack: ” is that a flute?”
Miguel: “yeah, it’s a Hungarian flute thing, I’ve been playing it for two weeks now, I’m not that great but I’ll show you” and then played this lovely song on the flute, with little hints of subtle beat boxing as he did so. He was quite good. As he dried off with his blanket, which presumably he also used to keep himself warm whilst sleeping under the stars and in the churches, he revealed that he gives music therapy. He also admitted that English not being his first language, his lyrics consisted mostly of primitive and earthly words. “Sun” ” love” “god” featured heavily in his repertoire of spontaneous songs. I wondered what kind of lyrics Estonians would be treated to. I wasn’t really following his chat by then but somewhere after some songlets and his own brand of conversation, as he was threatening to depart, he said that he’d be happy to arrange to meet somewhere or simply allow our paths to naturally cross.
“Or I could do a quick therapy session now?”, which obviously brought my conscious back into the conversation thingy we were having.
“Go for it”, I encouraged him without hesitation, intrigued as to what this final act of his theatre would be.
He had us sit upright with our eyes closed and placed an object on each of mine and Carmen’s lap that we held. He launched into another song accompanied by the unidentified musical objects on our laps that he played. The sound emitted from them was stunning and completely arrested our minds. We were very self-aware and conscious of the 100 people in our immediate vicinity. My cynicism stole much of the positive energy throughout what was actually a beautiful ten minute performance, and I squinted my eyes open slightly trying to catch a peripheral glance at our bar bags and their valuable contents located behind us. I also used the opportunity to ponder whether he had simply brought up his Albanian cultural experience as a prelude for further things with us; with this last performance being the hypnotic seal.
With our barbags and groins intact, we were afterwards treated to look and play with his instruments: they were gas tank drums. Invented in 2006, people have started making their own DIY versions using domestic gas tanks sawn in half with carefully perforated slots to produce half a dozen notes tuned in harmony. Miguel played each drum with each of his hands rhythmically and melodically (accompanied by his earthly lyrics). You can see two being played excellently here. And here.
Miguel’s performance was almost as good as this.
Despite how I may have made it sound, there was not an ounce of arrogance nor pretence about Miguel, he was a very, very loveable character. As he departed our company we introduced each other by name and he left, fully clothed with his backpack of drums, hat and charisma. Here is a bad photo of that moment.
We exchanged no method of contact. I instantly wished I could be in touch with him as I quite like the idea of one day spending 3 minutes with him. I’m off to be as cool as him and attempt a truce with Mosquitos.
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