29 June 2012

Why I Love Croatia: Essay One by BA One

K-Fed almost always finishes the jar of Nutella, has never lost a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors, and is opposed to the clubbing of baby seals - except, of course, for when the seals deserve it.

Day 37: Mercredi 20/6/2012

...following dinner, Molly gave Danny and I much needed haircuts with a pair of scissors and a comb in Danny’s room...when all was said and done, the haircuts turned out quite well, especially since it was the first time Molly had never cut people’s hair before. Danny was the first human guinea pig because he lost a best 3 out of 5 rock-paper-scissors match to me in a final score of 3-0. I won with scissors, scissors, and then paper...

Day 38: Jeudi 21/6/2012

We woke up and went to a sporting goods store near Cora to get some supplies...one of our big plans for this weekend was to not book a hostel, but instead, camp in the woods somewhere in/near Plitvice Lakes National Park. In the store, they found and bought 25 meters of nylon rope (2 of them) and cheap but sturdy hammocks (3 of them). With those purchases, we then went to Cora to get our travel day’s supply of food (baguettes and other easy-to-eat entities). Our first train took us from Metz to Luxembourg. Then, we had to go from Luxembourg to Namur, Belgium. Finally, we went from Namur to Charleroi, Belgium where we had our flight...while we were waiting in line at the Charleroi airport and during our flight to Zadar, Croatia, we met a mechanical engineering major from the University of Florida. I don’t know if we ever exchanged names, but we talked with her for a while. It was nice to see new American faces and share travelling stories with them....upon landing in Zadar, we took a bus from the airport to the city and then walked to our hostel. The city of Zadar, being right on the Adriatic Sea across from Italy, had a very Italian feel to it (architecture, food, etc.). For dinner, we all got very delicious pizzas at a very low price. The current conversion rate is about 1 US Dollar to 6 Croatian Kuna, so we had tons of purchasing power. As such, I could get by for meals, hostels, and transportation with having withdrawn less than $90 USD over the entire trip. For our hostel that night, we were on the 5th floor of a building that was right on the coast. Our room didn’t have a waterfront view, but it was really easy to find the building because you could simply walk along their shoreline until you found it. However, heat rises and our hostel didn’t have air conditioning, so we were very hot and sweaty the entire night.

Day 39: Vendredi 22/6/2012

Today, we woke up and had ice cream for breakfast. That’s always a good start to a day. Then, we went to a store called Super Konzum which sold pretty much anything you could think of. While walking there, we saw this one tour bus that couldn’t make it down a tight road because somebody had parked their car poorly. To fix this problem, the bus unloaded its 10 strongest men who literally lifted and relocated the car out of the way of the bus. Croatians are crazy. At this supermarket, we bought a small cooking pot, a knife, a lighter, a can of beans, a can of Mexican corn, pepperoni, 3 loafs of dense bread, a jar of Nutella, a jar of peanut butter, a small bottle of olive oil, a 6 liter jug of water, and a bag of instant coffee mix. All of these food stuffs were carefully chosen because we needed energy dense meals (calories per unit volume) that weren’t perishable because we were going to have them with us in our backpacks the entire time. With this, we began our journey into the wilderness. For the equivalent of $15USD we bought a bus ticket that took us 3 hours east across Croatia to the national park...upon arriving, we greeted by this nice old lady wearing a purple sweater who asked if we needed help finding a hotel. Clearly, she was trying to get us to stay at her place...we told her we already had a place to sleep (lies!) and that we were all set. We then found a bistro nearby and got dinner. When we got the bill and saw it was 60 Kuna, Danny freaked out thinking they were trying to rip us off, only then to hear me tell him that it was collectively $10 USD for all three of us to eat. After dinner, it was starting to get dark, so we had to begin preparing for nightfall. The entire park was on the west side of a “highway”, so we went just across this street into the woods, set up our hammocks about 200 meters away from the road, and prepared for sleep. We weren’t in an actual camping site, so we don’t know if we were legally allowed to be camping there, but we didn’t get caught, so all is well that ends well. We put all of our food into a “bear bag” and tied it up between two trees a good distance away from us so that any animals that may be attracted to the scent wouldn’t be attracted to us. Danny and I are both Eagle Scouts, so we sort of knew what we were doing. We used one of our 25 meter ropes to tie up our hammocks. We cut it into thirds (because there are three of us) then each of those pieces in half (because each hammock has two ends that need to be tied). Using a series of clove hitches, bowlines, square knots, and various other knots, we were able to quickly tie up all of the hammocks into a triangular formation. Being our first night in the woods, we were at first scared by every noise we heard as we were in a relatively vulnerable position. We ended up falling asleep somewhere around 10 PM (because it was dark) only then to end up waking up several times throughout the course of the night because it was really cold. We knew the daytime temperatures in Croatia were 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, but we hadn’t anticipated the night
time temperatures dropping as low as they did. By time we woke up at 4 AM (sunrise), we were all wearing almost every article of clothing that we had with us. It was rough, but we made it.

Day 40: Samedi 23/6/2012

Waking up at 4 AM, the first order of business was getting our bear bag out of the tree and taking down our hammocks. Then, we began with our breakfast (one loaf of dense bread, the jar of peanut butter, and a hot cup of instant coffee). This required making a fire which was against the law (forest fires aren’t cool). Nevertheless, we did it with a reasonable amount of ease and were able to get the water for our coffee to boil in a few minutes. After breakfast, at only 7 AM, we began our big adventure of the trip. We had seen on Google Maps that we were about 10 km away from Bosnia and Herzegovina. With a park map and a map of the country, we set off on what in hindsight was a really stupid hike. No one else knew where we were, we hardly even knew where we were, and all we had to guide ourselves was a compass. We walked and walked as straight eastward as we could for hours before finally giving up around 10 AM. The terrain was filled with massive bowls, steep hills, and thick forestation making it very difficult to move fast or in a straight line. Eventually, we gave up without ever knowing if we had (illegally) made it to Bosnia or not. Finally, deciding that we had ventured far enough, we turned around and headed westward as best as we could in hopes of making it back to where we had started. Something happened along the way (either while going there, coming back, or probably in both directions) and we ended up drifting a bit off from our intended east-west line. The woods all looked the same, so we had no identifiable landmarks to go by and no trail to follow. After a few more hours of wandering westward, Danny miraculously spotted a house off in the distance. Smelling like a mixture of sweat, wilderness, campfire, and nasty, we knew they would be in shock when we came walking out of the woods into their backyard. Regardless, we needed to find our way home, so we approached the house. There were two guys sitting at a picnic table smoking and chatting with each other as they watched their kids play together in the yard. They knew English and thought our story was very funny. We pulled out the Plitvice Lakes National Park map to ask them where we were and they said “you’re somewhere around here,” pointing a couple inches below the map. Somehow we ended up about 6 km south of the park and they were happy to give us direction on how to get back there. At around noon, we left their neighborhood and headed north along the “highway” back to the park. Shortly after 1 PM, we made it back to the park where we run into none other than the purple sweater lady (it was the same purple sweater, but then again, we were also wearing the same clothes as the previous day) who pulls up in her car and asks us: “Can I help you, do you need a hotel?” Again, we told her that we were doing fine and didn’t need her help, so she reluctantly drove away. Then, we had a well-deserved lunch of another loaf of dense bread, olive oil, half of our pepperoni, and trail mix. Following lunch, we snuck into the park (because the 80 Kuna entrance fee for students seemed stupid and there were already well-defined paths made by other people who had done the same thing before us) and we toured the southern half of the park. The waterfalls there were beautiful, but not quite what Google Images had led me to believe we would be finding at the park. All along the trail, the other tourists were all looking at us, probably because we were a mess, but probably also because we smelled disgusting. By time we were done with the southern loop, it was around 5 PM and we needed to get back to our camping location to prepare dinner, put the bear bag back up in the trees, get our hammocks set up, and get ready for sleep before the sun went down. The campfire for dinner was much easier to build than the one at breakfast because we had a proven system this time of a way to get the campfire started with what we had to work with. We ate the can of beans and the can of Mexican corn along with the second half of the pepperoni that we started at lunch. Again, putting the bear bag up was very easy because we had that down to a science following the somewhat long ordeal of trying to get the rope up in the trees the first night. Hammocks too were very simple for the same reason. By around 8:30 PM we were in our hammocks and just waiting for it to get progressively darker. We talked for a little bit just to kill time but were probably asleep by around 9 or 9:30 PM. It was just as cold as the previous night but we were so tired that we slept right through it. Also, after having survived the first night, we weren’t concerned about the animals or noises that we may have heard
throughout the night.

Day 41: Dimanche 24/6/2012

Again, we woke up at around 4 AM. We got the campfire going, boiled water, made coffee, and drank the coffee along with our breakfast consisting of a loaf of dense bread and Nutella. Molly and Danny were exhausted and wanted to just have an easy day of travelling back to Zadar, then relaxing. However, I really wanted to see the northern half of the park. The southern half was alright, but it wasn’t what I had been expecting, so I was hoping the northern half was going to be better. I was right. We went/snuck into the park at around 8 or 9 AM and explored the northern half of the park. It was amazing. But of course, we run into another recurring character. One of the two guys who gave us directions when we walked out of the woods 6 km south of the park happens to work as a tour guide at the park. He saw us while on a tour and couldn’t help but laugh as he told us: “I see you found your way”. We also saw several tourists from the previous day who clearly remembered us as well as new tourists who were also put off by our disheveled appearance and increasingly more potent smell. There were caves, bigger waterfalls, and a lot more great scenery than the southern half had to offer. We ended up staying there until about noon when we had to start heading back to the bus stop. We made it to the bus stop around 1 PM, ran into the nice lady for what was now a third time. She was still wearing her purple sweater and talked with us for a bit as we waited for our bus. She tried to make her pitch to a few new people then told us her life story and how she couldn’t afford to advertise her hotel on the internet. We got on the bus around 1:50 (?) and made it back to Zadar at around 5 (?). We bought a loaf of bread and some food for our Monday travelling, ate ice cream, found our hostel, checked in and went straight to the water (about a block away). Fully dressed in our dirty clothes that we had been wearing in the woods for almost four days, we jumped into the Adriatic Sea (or at least some channel/bay/straight/sound thereof. There are many islands belonging to Croatia that surround the entire mainland coast, so this wasn’t exactly the Adriatic Sea, but it was an open body of salt water that was directly connected to the Adriatic Sea. Following a short swim and drying off period, we then went back to the hostel to take real showers (our first since Thursday morning or Wednesday night). Then, we ate our loaf of bread with the remainder of our olive oil, got some ice cream, then went to watch the sun set over the sea near Zadar’s Sea Organ. We then ate a very nice dinner trying to spend the remaining Kuna that we had and finished it off with a little more ice cream (the ice cream was not only really good, but was also really cheap). We then went back to our hostel where we got quality sleep in a real bed.

Day 42: Lundi 25/6/2012

We woke up around 8 AM and headed to the Zadar bus stop. We boarded sometime around 9:30 AM and went back to the airport for our flight back to Charleroi, Belgium. When we get there, we meet none other than the UF mechanical engineer from our Charleroi–Zadar flight. She had finished her stay in Croatia at the same time as us and was on our flight back to Charleroi. We talked some more and shared stories about our Croatian adventures before boarding our flight back to Charleroi. We landed and took the bus from the airport to the train station. There, we waited for a long time as the trains got further and further delayed...apparently there were many European train lines that were having protests and someone said the computer system at the Metz train station was malfunctioning. Whatever the cause, we eventually did pull in at around 10 PM. Hungry, we decided to go straight to a kebab place rather than take the bus back to campus. The food was good, but when we left at around 10:30 PM, we didn’t feel like waiting a half hour
for the next bus at the closest bus stop. So, keeping up in the tradition of our long weekend of outdoor adventure, we walked the 2 km back to campus and got back around 11 PM. Exhausted, I showered, unpacked, pulled two ticks off my body (major downside to camping), and went to sleep.

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