Island Paradise

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Croatia  ,
Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Getting to Korcula involved a long and complicated trip from Pula which left us waiting about 4 hours in Ogulon for our 11.30pm train.  Ogulon at about 8pm is freezing.  The train platform is even colder.  Jogging on the spot is futile.  Ogulon also represents my initiation into the cheese borek (think: ultra greasy cheese pie) and the raw onion and cevapi 'sendwich' (think: breath post-eating will enable anihilation of small children and animals).  Yes, you probably guessed there were not a huge array of dining options near that freezing, cold platform.

Ogulon was a struggle.  We were cold and all falling asleep on our seats.  The train pulled up and our private cabin had seats which extended down to make perfectly flat beds.  Within about 3 seconds I was fast asleep.

At 5.54am we arrived in Split.  Wow.  This place was beautiful.  (I know I am a sucker for sun rises, but the city and the harbour veritably glistened in the sun).  The sun rise was incredible, the water was a dazzling pale green blue and there was an immediate feeling of relaxation in the air.  This provided instant excitement towards our ultimate destination: the island of Korcula.

Numerous cobbled staircases, ancient ruins and a few cappucinos later we were on the ferry bound for Korcula.  We shall never speak of this ferry ride again.  We specifically won't mention the woman who was noisily vomiting for much of the trip.  Nor shall we speak of the numerous other passengers who began waving for vomit-bags soon after.  We won't even mention Adrian's pallor.  The sea was angry that day.

Arriving on the island was a blur of Adrian's Uncles and Aunties speaking kindhearted  non-stop unintelligible Croatian whilst preparing welcome picnic dinners and offering us home-brewed Croatian wines along with tips as to how various things worked and where things were kept.  His entire family (there were a lot of them on the island) were incredibly generous and welcoming and really improved our visit.  Adrian, you have to thank them one more time from us!

The next morning we woke up to see the island lit up in all its glory.  (We had arrived at Adrian's Uncle's Holiday House in the dark so it was unclear where we were or what was around us).  This place was mind-blowing.  Crystal clear, sparkling water, a glacier-like mainland across the way, fig and olive trees abounding and a private access to our own personal swimming hole.  This was remote, this was beautiful, this was Korcula.  If only it stopped raining!

The rain passed and the days became sunny and hot.  Along with the sun came Michelle, Paul, and eventually Vanessa and Glen.  Our cosy threesome had become a boisterous group of seven.

This period was a true holiday in every sense of the word.  Rest and relaxation after a daily morning run around the island.  Swimming and sunning ourselves during the day and then eating and drinking too much every evening. 

Iain and I differed vastly in our verdict of Korcula.  I absolutely loved it and would return in a heartbeat.  He spent much of the week sulking moodily anticipating his escape. 

Trust me, I think you would have loved it.

* * *

Stepping off the catamaran at Vela Luka there was no doubt where our ride was: front and centre was a beaming man in a soft white cap, bearing every facial feature of our travel companion except that a further 40 years had passed for him.
Uncle Cuzmin and Aunt Mara, Adrian's family on the island, were popping out of their socks to see him, and we became quickly aware of the welcome that had been prepared. Due to the presence of three of us - plus backpacks - Uncle Sedjun had also been roped in to be the second taxi to ferry us out to Cuzmin's holiday home about 20km out of Vela Luka town.
The house lies in a secluded cove with just five or six others around it. The locale is spectacular - particularly the granite edge separating tall firs from a clear green sea.
Dropping our bags, Mara was quickly into the kitchen and showing a bewildered Claudine - who else, she's the only woman of our party? - the tools that would enable her to fulfil her wifely and female duties for the week. I am suitably appreciative and hope the effect is long term.
Mara brought with her one of the best salamis I have ever enjoyed, fresh bread and an ample supply of their homemade wine. What a woman.
The following day we headed out for a walk around our neighbourhood and through the olive groves and fig orchards hewn from the acres of stone that would logically seem to preclude any form of agriculture. A striking impression was made of the need to move thousands of rocks to find a little strip of soil.
On a longer walk, it became evident that everyone here was loosely related to Adrian, bringing a bonus of quickly poured spirits and aperitifs that were a little eye opening at eight in the morning but nonetheless gratefully received.
As days passed, my mood here gradually worsened. A few days is enough to kick back and get a feel for the place - but we were in Pula for four and here for eight... and my need for movement and newness was acute. We were meeting Paul, Michelle, Glen and Vanessa here, so moving on was not an option. I was keen to see them all, but I did find myself wishing I was meeting them all somewhere else. Somewhere with stuff. For those engaged in keeping the country on its feet through steady employment the island represents a tranquil respite. For the travelling vagrant, it merely represents slim pickings.
And while Korcula is great if you have a relative there, it can be less attractive as an unrelated foreigner. As I found in the internet cafe amongst other places.
It will be viewed by my fellow travellers that the internet cafe was a low point for me, but in all honesty it was my favorite aspect of the week. Some earnest and unscripted interaction with the locals. I had swallowed my self respect and commonsense and copped $8 an hour to use a PC for an hour to get on with some onward visa applications. On finishing my time, I waited patiently as the proprietor had many handshakes and lazy words with the customer/ relative being served ahead of me.
Time passed. He ambled over to his computer, clicked off the timer and presented me with a receipt for one hour and one minute and a bill for $12. I laughed and gently noted that I had been waiting for him to finish his conversation, and that a bill for an hour was appropriate.
His mood switched up to Balkan volcanic in about seven seconds. Within five minutes police had been called as I informed him no such bill could, in good conscience, be paid. I have always been a shade stubborn and a tad cheap - both elements magnified after 7 months on the road - and I am aware my course of action may have surprised some of our fellow travellers waiting outside. But silently getting rorted is worse. Going down swinging is frequently productive and always more fun.
The short version of the story sees a police officer trying to convince each of us its not worth worrying about, but in the end the sanctity of the printed bill will be hard to overcome. The core of the proprietor's argument is that its not many euros and you foreigners have lots of them, not exactly a striking argument going toward the fairness and inherent legitimacy of his case. To my mind it was more a statement proving a mindset of extortion.
It is always a cause for retrospective pondering to think how far you can push a given situation. I have no such doubts here. At the point, after about 30 minutes discussion, that the officer shrugged and radioed for a police car to drive us the 20km to get my passport I realised an appropriate juncture had been met to fold my little tent and give the extortionist his extra four bucks. Annoying to lose a fight of this nature, but fulfilling to have strung it out.
Meeting up with friends like this showed how different our trip mindset is. Friends on holiday have no desire to cook and endure the washup - whereas our discovery of a kitchen and a chance to roast a chicken was the greatest of luxuries. Conversely, their enjoyment of a little seafood dinner (which is tarting up what is more accurately called fish and chips and beer but with plates) we had in Vela Luka left me astounded. It was profoundly average, but I guess the idea of being away in an exotic locale adds to the value. The downside we are experiencing from being on the road a while is that the value of the exotic is now quite low. Its more about direct utility.
In fairness, I have been quite a pain in the ass for this leg of the trip. Next stop, after some heavy lobbying, was determined to be anywhere outside Croatia. Its very scenic here, the family welcome is amazing, but I can't imagine ever needing a return visit as there are more interesting places around in which to get separated from your euros.
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