“Good Lord! You walked across Croatia?” I hear you scream. Well for those who don’t peer at maps all day, Croatia is a thin country east of the Adriatic, and in some places, very thin. In fact we only walked around 80km, and got the odd hitchhike. So really it wasn’t much different from Gold D of E… anyway it was pretty eventful so here’s a quick (mainly pictures) breakdown of what went on.
After waddling mesmerised by the beautiful Plitvice Lakes, we set off rather later than planned. To be honest, the planning went as far as 15 black and white Google satellite images as our ‘map’ and the knowledge that there was one shop midway, which may or may not be open. So the plan was as much as ‘get to the main road’ before we camped. Oh and as for the camping, anywhere would do.
It was a tranquil evening. The road wound past remote scattered villages, local men sat and smoked outside whilst shadows bustled in the candlelit kitchens. Nods were exchanged as we raced through, twilight had already fallen. Chickens, goats and the occasional dog roamed between the rickety wooden sheds before the village faded into forest. Pines now hugged the road, stretching up to scrape the dusk. It was silent now.
Murmurs ran through our trio; wild bears or maybe even madmen, in the remote darkness who would hear us cry for help? Every half hour a gleam of a headlight raced past, thrusting us into the undergrowth to avoid a collision. We resorted to our own torchlight, which revealed eerie Croat signs, some carved on angular wood. One of us began to grow tired, complaining of a sore ankle like the opening of a classic teen horror – we had to make it out of the woods.
Finally we hit the main road, and streetlights lay beyond. After contemplating asking if we could stay in a local’s garden, we pushed through a hedge and climbed to a nearby radio tower where we pitched camp in the blackness. Here the Croatian night grew bitterly cold, and it wasn’t long before we wrapped up as much as possible and got some rest.
A stark contrast to the night before, the morning was truly spectacular. Autumnal colours were framed by low hanging mist which blindfolded the hills, a spattering of houses lay at the base of the valley. We struck camp early, shoes damp from the dew, and continued.
It was one of those freezing mornings which becomes suddenly boiling. After removing all our warm layers, we were well on track to reach Vrhovine, where we hoped to restock at the only shop for miles. The single road sliced perfectly through grassy foothills with pine forest further beyond. Traffic was rare, what was more frequent were the numerous roadside stalls selling cheese and honey – nothing more, nothing less. Who were they selling to? Maybe the cross-country drivers subsist solely of these two products…
After the shop (which thank the Slavic Gods, was open) we trundled on towards Otocac, which was a less-than-pleasant ‘A’ road through the hills. Concrete really wears down your feet, one pitfall of not having any footpaths at our disposal. After reaching the first small village in the middle of nowhere, we tried our luck hitchhiking. Unfortunately, a few of the local dogs took a liking to us, and we were therefore rejected by many drivers who presumed the dogs were our company. Finally a pleasant chap in a minibus picked us up, maybe confused as to why we deserted our dogs, and drove us the next 8km to Otocac. After struggling to say anything comprehensive other than “Croatia… beautiful”, we jumped off and grabbed a pint at the dingy local bar-thing.
Ploughing on, we aimed for a forest along our route which would hopefully hold a nice camping spot. After passing inquisitive Croat youths on bikes, dead snakes and bullet-holed signs, we found a pleasant sheltered area up on the hills near a small village called Svica. With a little more light, and a little less cold, we got a better nights sleep.
The mist really threw us in the morning, and we literally guessed at a bearing to walk. A few local men looked startled when we asked for the general seaward direction. However after a little wandering and confusion, I clocked our position on the trusty Google satellite images, pretty much on the right track. Another beautiful day in the Croatian wilderness, just the odd farm, scary looking old woman surrounded by chickens, and highly excitable dog.
There was always the looming shadow of the 25-odd km we had to achieve in this final day, for our coach was scheduled for the following morning. It was easily doable, however morale was dropping as blisters grew upon blisters and the road began steadily climbing. It wasn’t too long till the hitchhike sheet came out again – only this time we saw roughly one car every 40 minutes. It was not looking good.
Then something wonderful happened. A truck with two huge Croatian men drove up, initially apologising for lack of room in the front. After 10 meters it stopped, and they signalled for us to hop in the back, promising to take us to the petrol station just 6km from the coastal town of Senj. The drive made us realise how much more there was, and we celebrated by releasing our sweaty feet to the wind and enjoying the countryside from a more relaxed, sitting position.
The guys bought drinks at the garage, and if that wasn’t awesome enough, offered to drive us to the outskirts of Senj (it was kind of illegal to sit in the truck-bed in a city). We took obligatory team photos, and collectively decided (very quickly) to accept the offer. The view down was exceptional, the blue coast glistened before it, and there would be plenty of time for a swim. Upon arriving, we did the inevitable: fell asleep on a bench.
So yeah you guessed it, we didn’t really walk across Croatia, and even if we had it wouldn’t have been much more than ‘that hiking holiday your parents made you do that time’. We did learn a few things from this trip:
- Eating raw onion is incredibly difficult and makes you cry.
- Road walking hurts, grass is much better.
- The Croatian countryside is stunning, and very few people have been off the beaten track in this amazing country.