After Plitvice Lakes National Park we planned to head to the coast and island hop. Even better, Remy found a post on Couchsurfing about a group that had a boat and was sailing around the Croatian islands. The woman organizing the trip is Polish and although her English was good, we still didn’t have a firm grasp on the arrangement, schedule, or many of the other logistics involved in spending a week on a boat. But we decided to go for it, which meant we didn’t need to figure out transportation and accommodation logistics. We finally got the thumbs up that there was space for us on the boat and the departure point, Zadar.
As soon as you step off the bus there a bunch of people offering you rooms to rent. Some of them are apartments and others are rooms in their homes that aren’t being used. We unsuccessfully tried to bargain with a few women. As I have mentioned before we are frugal, cheap, thrifty, so no one wanted to accept our low offers. When it became apparent to these women that we could not afford/would not pay as much as they wanted they called an over older man. It must be known that he takes those that are on a tight budget. He was tall, big-boned, bowlegged, and as he walked he slightly rocked back and forth. He spoke no English, but we figured out that he had a room with a bathroom, internet, and a kitchen – everything we needed. With hand gestures and pen and paper we eventually worked out a deal.
Now that the deal was made we had to get to his place. He tried to put us in a taxi, but we are cheap and insisted on taking the bus. He scribbled on a piece of paper the stop we needed to get off at, helped us buy the tickets, and then explained to the bus driver where we needed to get off. He then hopped on his scooter and left the bus behind. We had no idea what we were getting into or where we were going, but at least we knew we would have some sort of place to sleep, as long as we could find him. Amazingly just a few minutes later we recognized the bus stop and there waiting on the sidewalk was the old man. We then had to walk a bit, the old man puttering slowly on his scooter and us trudging behind with our way too heavy packs. Finally, we made it to his place. First thing we noticed was it was directly across the street from the marina, where we had to meet the sailboat, very convenient.
We climbed the stairs to his apartment and he welcomed us in. He showed us the room and we were relieved. It was clean and simple and the only thing it was lacking was a fan, which in the coming days we would really wish we had. The old man sat us down at his kitchen table and began trying to speak to us. This was interesting because he spoke no English and we spoke only the token words of Croatian. We managed to understand each other a little and there was a lot of nodding and smiling. But when we had no idea what he was talking about, which happened often, he would talk louder. And for some reason he thought I understood him better than Remy, so he would grab my arm and speak at me loudly expecting me to understand. He insisted we have a drink, some sort of tonic water and sugary syrup, and although it was not very good, it was cold.
At one point Remy was trying his hardest to have some sort of conversation and I was taking in the scene. The old man sat at the head of the table smoking a cigarette. He has big hands, a rugged face, and firm voice. He seemed like he was a serious man without much laughter in his life. I realized that we still did not know this man’s name and I’m not sure we would ever find out. I continued to look around the room at the worn kitchen noticing the little feminine touches left from his wife, until behind me I spotted a scrawny, extremely dusty, stuffed squirrel mounted on the wall. I had to stifle a laugh because it seemed so random, but I am sure it was of some importance to this old man.
The next couple days Remy and I spent time in this apartment researching and planning for after our sailing trip and exploring Zadar, a beautiful city. When it got too hot to stay in the apartment, remember no fan, we went swimming. Of course, while we were in Zadar it was supposedly the hottest day on record. But we got to add another body of water to the list, the Adriatic Sea. We didn’t visit a beach, but a stonewall that surrounded the city. You can jump off and then climb up ladders that were placed periodically along the wall. The water was clear, refreshing, and very salty. We also visited the sea organ, an interesting tourist attraction. A series of PVC pipes were placed along the wall and as the waves come in it causes different notes to escape the pipes. To me it sounded more like a whale than an organ. We also spent time wandering the cobblestone streets, admiring the beautiful architecture, surrounded by many tourists, and an amazing number of pizza restaurants and ice cream shops.
We docked at an island called Kuklijka and got a beer with one of the other guests on the boat, Alex. The next morning Remy and I woke up early, ready to set sail and enjoy being on the water, but after waiting for a while everyone was still asleep so Remy and I went for a walk and a short swim. The water was amazingly clear, but too cold for us. We have become such wimps after living in Miami. Eventually we left the marina, around noon, which we learned would be the norm for this trip.
At first we did not do too much sailing. The winds weren’t the best so we did a lot of motoring from place to place. Most days we would leave the marina and motor to a bay. We would have some time there to swim, snorkel, and explore. Remy and I would typically swim to shore and hike around the island for a bit before swimming back to the boat. The first time we did this we discovered the many, many sea urchins. I managed to get a spine in my knee and Remy in his toe. The islands are really rocky and many barren. There were a few with vegetation, but it was limited. And no sandy beaches.
Besides learning about Croatian specialties we learned a bit about Polish culture and language, my great grandmother would be so proud. It was funny that we were sailing in Croatia, but learning about Poland.
In a short time we became a big family. We took turns cooking, we ate together, we explored the small island towns together, and we spent hours on the deck of the boat chatting about a myriad of topics.
About halfway through our trip we found out that a strong windstorm was coming and we needed to find a place in a marina for safety. All of the slips were quickly filling up, but we found one and decided to hunker down for a couple nights. The winds were not supposed to pick up until the afternoon so we decided to rent a pontoon boat to motor around, explore some nearby islands, and swim. This turned into a bit of a disaster. After our first stop the boat wouldn’t start again so the owner of the boat had to come out and rescue us. He got the boat started and took us to the nearest port. We had a bit of time while he fixed the boat so Remy and I left the group and found some ice cream and a swimming spot. When we got back the boat was ready to go, so we went to explore another island. After some swimming and snorkeling we pulled up anchor and attempted to start the boat. Again, the boat would not start. So someone else came out with another boat, which we all piled onto and motored back to our sailboat.
The storm passed uneventfully and it was finally time to sail. We left the marina and the sails went up. It was another time when everyone wanted to be part of the action so I stayed out of the way. I went below deck to secure everything that started to roll around. The wind was pretty strong so it was an exciting sail as the boat leaned way to one side or the other.
In the middle of the night our captain, with the help of Remy and one other person, brought our boat back to Zadar. I slept through it. We woke up and gathered our belongings. We were lucky that our new friend, Alex, gave us a ride to Zagreb so we could catch the bus to Belgrade, Serbia. This should have taken 2 ½ to 3 hours; instead it took 4 ½ hours. This was the summer traffic that Alex got stuck in on his way to the sailboat.
It was time to leave Croatia. What we learned that it was a lot more expensive than we expected. It has become touristy, but few American tourists and many European tourists. There are lots of pizza and ice cream shops. And lots and lots of bees!
Click here to see more photos of our Adriatic adventures.