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On the Way to a Holiday in Dalmatia

Dalmatia Photo by Cezar Sampaio on Unsplash

This is about a recent camping holiday I took together with my wife, Jana, in 2019. I'm not going to tell you how beautiful the Dalmatian cost is; I wish to share with you what I've seen and my thoughts on our way there.

We drove all night and in the early morning reached Plitvice Lakes National Park, in central Croatia. Jana's favorite childhood film, about Native Americans, was shot here. We followed a trail on wooden footbridges between limestone cliffs and azure lakes, over waterfalls and overgrown cascades.

After Plitvice, we continued south towards the coast. Our goal was a town called Podgora; we expected to reach it in the late evening, hopefully just in time to find accommodation. Wanting to save money, we decided to get off the toll highway and take the countryside roads. We turned left, then drove on a new road across a mountain range. At the pass, we stopped to look at the view. In front of us a valley stretched as far as the eye could see, and a sign told us it was a national park and a nature reserve.

We continued. This time the road was not new, sometimes it was not more than a goat trail. It snaked between low stone walls surrounding dried thorny shrubs. The walls were crumbling and in many places, there was nothing left to mend.

Orchards? Save the wild figs; which we occasionally stopped to pick, there was nothing but stones here.

We drove through two villages: The first was just a few rundown houses; there was no square with trees to give refuge from the midday sun. The second was a sign with a name and nothing more.

The road got narrower and the terrain more inclined. At the bottom of the slope, we reached a place called Klaštor Zigorsky. Klaštor means monastery. We drove past vegetable gardens and fruit trees along a running stream. The monastery was on the cliff above us. It reminds me of Wadi Qelt.

The road went around a bend into a small town called Podvoda, 'on water'. We came to a bridge and stopped to stretch our legs.

Leaning over the bridge and looking at the water, I eavesdropped on an old shepherd talking to a young girl while his sheep were drinking. It sounded very familiar, but I could not make out a word. Then the shepherd took his herd up and the sheep were all around us. We waited for a while till they cleared the road and we drove on.

The town was bigger than it seemed at first but the streets were empty. We looked at the stone houses with their huge façades, wooden shuttered windows and always a canopy of vines growing over a stone terrace. It must be pleasant to sit on the stone stairs; cool in the shade of the vine. It was midday now; through the open windows of our car only hot air blew at us. In the square I read the graffiti and Jana translated it for me;

Serbi so piča "The Serbs are c---ts";

Podvoda je čista Podvoda is clean".

A graffiti in red on a house read harvatska kuča – nepalit! Croatian house – do not burn!'

"Look at the black smoke marks above the windows."

Out of the town we were on a semi-arid plain. Along the road, and behind a stone wall; long flat stones stand in two rows about 50 meters facing each other.

A graveyard?

"I don't think so. You wanna take a look?"

"No, it's getting late, you don't want to pitch a tent in the dark, do you?!

The rows of stones stretched on and on. After a while, we met another road and a farmhouse at the crossroads. I stopped the car and went out; I walked behind the farmyard and over to the wall. A rusty, twisted metal wire was suspended between the pairs of the stones facing each other, and on the dry earth under it, in an interval of about a meter, a burnt stump.

The Galilee is full of deserted orchards and you can find grapes on the feral vines that grow there. We used to go to one like that and pick grapes and pomegranates every autumn.

"You are a stupid fool, you know"

"Why?"

She pointed at a rusty sign on the ground which read mine opasnosti, "Danger mines".

"Why would someone mine a vineyard?"

"Maybe it's not, I don't know:"

Later, on our way back, I did see mines. We stopped for the night in Mostar. The muezzin sang in Arabic from the mosques and the church bells rang. In the souvenir stalls along the narrow streets that lead to the famous bridge I spotted an umbrella stand made from a 115mm gun shell and ashtrays from a Russian PMN-2 anti-personnel landmine.

The sun was already setting when we reached Krka: a huge canyon which becomes a fjord at the coast. Here, at the top, we were still on the semi-arid plane; but below us we could see the red roofs of watermills, fresh water in aqueducts turning waterwheels and watering fields and orchards. Further down the canyon, out of sight, there's the touristic coast – Podgora, with hotels and zimmers, restaurants and bars on the beach. Trees shaded deckchairs on the gravelly beach, and a cool sea breeze blowed gently. All this is still far away, at least three hours' drive.

We decided to follow a sign that directed us to Autocamp Krka. When we reached it, it was already dark. The autocamp was actually someone's back yard with a newly built toilet and shower.The guy was really nice - he brought us a candle bread and olives. He told us he grew up here, in this house; before he moved to work in Zagreb as an electric engineer. He came back last year; when his father died; his mother still lives in the house.

We cleared the ground and built our tent. The earth was so hard we could not drive pegs into it; instead, we put our backpacks inside. As soon as we were done, a strong wind picked up and we went into the tent to hide.

"This place…, something, something is missing…"

"But what?

In the morning I saw the walls of the deserted farmhouse across the road riddled with holes. I looked down at the ground we cleared last night and kicked away the empty cartridge shells. When we finally reached the coast, we found accommodation, changed and went down to the beach. We lay on the deckchairs under a pine tree and ordered a local white wine.

"There is something unresolved here. Like a vengeance".

"But the war has ended more than 30 years ago!" I said.

"Has it? What are 30 years?"

The wine was wonderful and soon I got tipsy. I closed my eyes and imagine a story. A story I wanted to write many years ago, but never had the courage. A story about a woman waiting for her son to come home. She looks out of the window all day and listens to sounds of gunfire. 

 

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Wednesday, 04 August 2021

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