Traveling through Croatia
August 9, 2006
So I did end up jamming with some of the campers in the secret garden. Brought my violin and harmonicas, got the bongo couple and guitarist together (who were about three tents from each other but never managed to play together), and soon enough there was a cosy circle of other campers seated around us enjoying the live music. The establishment eventually asked us to stop, so we moved the instruments to the beach and finished the evening under the moonlight by the ocean.
The next morning the Hungarian’s car was still there, so I put a note in English and Croatian asking him to move. Hung around the beach for the day and by late afternoon he got the message, so I was off to Split and got there by the evening.
Got off the ferry and soon noticed a tourist agency, so I put on the blinkers, hogged up half the roadway and asked where there are some beaches so I could park my truck for the evening, and an internet café so I could do some work the next day.
Hung around Split for a few days buying little tidbits for the truck and doing some important internet work. Turns out I parked practically in the centre, by the town’s main beach. Lots of traffic all night on the street where I was parked, with mobs of Croatians partying the night away. As usual, the evening was muggy and warm, with not much wind, so I opened the back door (leaving it locked) a crack so at least some breeze could flow through the truck and make the sleep more bearable.
Actually, this brings me back to an incident the 30 days before I split2Split in Prague and where the evenings were quite muggy as well (I was out of my flat and "sleeping on the streets" back then too).
Actually, two incidents. The first one happened about four in the morning. I woke up hearing some male voices talking and laughing. I was back comfortably in bed, drinking away, when all of a sudden someone rapped their fist on the back door. Then on the side of the truck. Then I heard someone first try to open the left front door, then the right. My heart was beating voraciously with my bottle of water in my hand, waiting for my demise. Then I saw the head of a tall person in the front window (most people cannot see inside because the truck is too tall), with several others on the sides. One of them stood up on a big concrete flower pot, to be able to see inside, and the four of them were peering inside. One of them mentioned they saw a backpack. My heart was thumping away and I was awaiting my doom, not knowing at all what to do.
That is when, in the moonlight, I noticed a badge on the breast of one of them, and confirming to me that indeed they were police, I saw the hat of the fourth one. That is when the short skinny guy standing on the potted plant shined a big beaming flashlight right on me. There I was, blinded to my audience, everyone staring at me, and all I could think of was to grin wryly and wave my hand to them like a criminal caught with his hands in the cookie jar. They just giggled and left, so that was a relief.
Anyway, the second incident I wanted to mention was one other muggy night when I left the two front windows and the back door open a crack, and woke up in the dark morning to what sounded like one of my front windows opening slowly. I ninjad quietly to the front of the truck to take a look, but didn’t notice anything. But the next morning I noticed the left side window was opened all the way. So I figured someone must have stuck a wire through the crack in the window, open the small side window and put their arm through that to slowly roll down the main window.
I told this to a friend the next day and he told me he knows a company which makes this simple yet genius solution, which is basically a metal sheet with ventilation slits through it and which sits on top of the window so that when you roll it up it jams into the frame of the door. The slits are made so that you cannot get a wire in to open the window like this person did. Since the company owed my friend a larger amount of money for a few years, he got a couple of these made for me for free and I felt safer.
But this evening in Croatia, the attempted break in was a little less discrete. I was sharply awoken, first by someone trying to force open the slightly open back doors, where I was sleeping, while a second person was already on the roof, where my treasured solar panels are located, and the whole truck was bobbing away, as it does due to the older springs. I jumped out of bed and didn’t know what to do but to pound with my fist on the side wooden wall. The person on the top jumped off and the two villains walked away.
THAT was scary. The next day, after another day of city centre errands, internet and a dip in the ocean, I sat in the driver’s seat and was ready to roar up the baby to drive away and find myself another prime parking spot, farther from the centre. I turned the ignition and got the same response as I did back at that busy intersection in Siberik – dead silence nothing. Well that is just fantastic. So I proceeded to take apart everything and try to repair it myself according to how the previous mechanic seemed to start the engine by hooking a wire directly between the battery and somewhere in the engine compartment. But I decided I might hook up something wrong and either electrocute myself or do some greater damage, so off I was prowling the streets looking for a mechanic, and back at the tourist agency (which by this time I was visiting practically every day, asking them where to buy this part and that). He suggested one just around the corner, saying, "He might not be able to fix it, but at least you’ll get an honest answer." Seemed a nice enough guy, and indeed he couldn’t fix it, so together we walked to another mechanic (both were fortunately within walking distance of my parked beauty). He started looking at it, and like the last mechanic, rather than use an electric meter, he used power cables to test the batteries’ strength by judging the sparks produced. Hmm, I thought, maybe this is the normal sign of a good mechanic.
I told him how the last mechanic had connected a wire from the battery to somewhere in the engine compartment to start the engine. He answered, "Any idiot can start an engine that way." Hmm, maybe my fancy alarm system preventing the truck from being started isn’t so foolproof after all.
And actually, he didn’t really say that, because the first mechanic had to translate everything. So once again I was hiring two people at once to fix my truck. I explained to him the procedure how the last guy managed to fix it, although I didn’t understand the contact part and how he managed to get it going, and how at the end he said, "Now you can go to China and back." He answered, "Only an asshole and an idiot would say something like that." Anyway, this guy seemed much more on the ball, and was repairing the truck in a way that made absolute logical sense: using his electric meter, the first mechanic had one end on one of the battery contacts while the second mechanic was under the truck poking into various wires. Always asking, "How’s this?" The first mechanic, "Weak, strong, strong current, no current." Finally he honed into the root of the problem. Turns out that the cable hooking up to the alternator had slowly worn away over its 20 year history, the contact eaten away by the bad connection, where the occasional spark would create some film over the contact, making it worse. It turns out that the previous mechanic had started the engine as the standard burglar does, and created enough spark to cause a temporary solution.
Well, this new mechanic severed the chord, made a better contact, slapped me on the back and said, "Maybe not to Peking, but Montenegro should be possible." I joked, "Maybe the last mechanic meant the local Peking restaurant in Siberik."
So I was another hundred dollars poorer, but because it was later in the evening and everything was torn apart, I didn’t really feel like putting it all back together and decided to risk another evening at that spot.
During the day, before I tried to start the truck and make my getaway, I was on heightened alert, closely watching the construction crew strategically placed on the second floor of a home, in full few of my solar panels and across the street. And a small group of Croats on their little mopeds were hanging around the back of my truck all day, drinking beer. That must be the evil gang, I thought, who are keeping an eye on the juicy goods. And that gang was there all evening as well. Blabbing forever next to my ear all evening, occasionally driving away in their moped, two people staying watch, others coming back in their mopeds later. I was on heightened, super red alert all evening, not sleeping much at all. I couldn’t believe how someone could keep blabbing endlessly for hours like that, and was probably glad I couldn’t understand a word. This must be some serious operation I thought, some gang members reporting to the headquarters while at least two stayed behind to watch the goods.
Even if I did put the truck together at this strange hour of the morning, they’d easily follow me in their mopeds, reporting to headquarters of where I was trying to escape to, so I decided to stay in the trenches and see what happened. Finally by around 4 in the morning that one blabber mouth stopped jabbering and the mopeds and endless conversation ebbed away down the street, so it was finally time for some comfortable shut eye.
Only to be abruptly awoken at about 4:30 in the morning, again by one guy shaking the whole truck trying to open the back doors, and the other surfing on the roof of my bobbing truck. But this time I had some time to plan out a slightly better strategy, wrapping hard with my knuckles on the back doors, on which there is no insulation or wood, so it is quite loud. And ready to set the alarm off, if necessary. And again the guy on the roof jumped off, both of them scuttling away, this time though while I managed to hear them speak in one of those goofy British English dialects: "That came from the inside, that did, back door. Someone’s tramplin’. Tramplin’ someone is." Well, tramp in Czech means a vagabond, or someone dressed in army clothes who sleeps under the open stars in the forest, playing guitar around a fire and all that.
I might not wear army clothes, but I guess I sure am a vagabond who likes to play music around the fire. And they certainly were not part of some Croatian underground operation, so more thumbs up to that nation!
Thinking about this later, I developed a better strategy how to deal with this in the future.
Firstly, the knuckles on the back door is definitely good. Loud and immediate. Then I ninja to the front of the truck and open the glove compartment. In there lies a sensor, which sets the alarm a wailing. After that I can get into the driver’s seat and roar up the mighty loud diesel engine. If this doesn’t scare the shit out of those pests and get them off my roof, by which time I hope I will have the newly planned plexiglass covers put over the solar panels, I put her into first gear or reverse and throw that bastard off the roof (the plexiglass in case the roof dude loses balance and falls on my dear solar panels instead). Or how was it? Then I put it in reverse or first, opposite of before, and drive the mighty monster with beamers shining high and brightened into the aghast faces of my culprits, possibly rolling over their legs with the full four tons of the beast? Guess I’ll deal with that decision when the time comes.
So I spent the next few days at another beach in Split, where the young Croats hang out during the summer evenings. Was nice to hear them sing with great spirit to their local music, and eventually I was off to my next destination: Zivogosce, just past Makarska.
Ahh, yes, Makarska, the Czech Riviera as many call it. I thought I escaped that country, but all I hear is vole, vole, vole all day long (vole in Czech means ox, and it is kinda like calling someone a dumb goofball after every second or third word).
So I partied and hung out with the friends I used to play basket ball with back in Prague. A full ten days, allowed to park for free next to their pension, eating their grandiose and cheap supply of Czech food they brought with them, playing violin and banging on my bongo with them almost every night, and even getting free internet from the pension. Nice people there and living was easy in those days back then, yes they were. Not much happened during those days than the standard lying around on the beach, playing some tennis or petanque, but one day we did decide to go on a little adventure. Looking up the great mountain next to us, half way up someone pointed out a little white triangle, which was supposed to be some chapel.
So, to do something different, we decided to hike up there and check it out. In Prague I liked to walk bear feet wherever possible, but now that I am a vagabond in this new beloved lifestyle of mine, I am bearfoot practically all the time, often to the frowning of supermarket and restaurant employees, but I guess they’re glad to take my money.
Now one thing I’ve discovered about Croatia is that it is quite rocky. And many times you can see how the countless numbers of boulders are carefully piled up in rows, where the locals apparently tried to reorganise nature a bit to create pockets where they could grow their orchards.
Crossing the highway to the beginning of the path, a few of the people I was with asked me, "Are you sure you don’t want to go back and get your shoes?" "Nah, I’m a tough, rough Canadian and am used to walking bearfoot." As you can imagine, famous last words indeed, and that day turned out to be one of the silliest in my life.
The path started off easily enough, but soon it was just small pointy rocks up a rather sleep slope (not to mention that the rocks were rather baking hot in the sun, making things worse). When that started to hurt, I tried walking up straight, off the path of small pointy rocks, up along the larger pointy boulders. But there weren’t that many of them, and they were quite sharp anyway.
So I got back on the "path", because at least those rocks were kinda worn down from people walking on them a lot. At least they felt better. Got to the very top and that little chapel turned out to be a pile of falling apart rubble with a mini statue of mother Teresa in it.
Okay, maybe not worth the torment but at least mission accomplished, and looking forward to getting back. Wasn’t too looking forward to getting back down the same way we came up and someone suggested taking the path further west, in that it should hook up to the main dirt road.
Well, we missed the path which would have taken us straight to the road and, all in all, one guy guessed we must have covered about 10 kilometres that day. The worst part was that, either my feet were just getting more sensitive, or the path was just getting worse. But even occasionally putting my hands on the rocks confirmed that they were indeed getting sharper. Like broken volcanic rock.
Or there were these dead little prickly things along the path, which were worse than anything else and forced me to stop to pull them out every time. Reminded me a bit of Mexico when I took a walk in the desert and everything was sharp, telling me, "Hey, this is my spot! My water! Get away from me!"
The path we took kept going on, and on, and on, until I was slowing down to a snail’s pace and it was really getting annoying. The whole time I saw the road perhaps around a hundred metres below us, so I told them to go ahead and look for the connecting path, that I will rough it through the jungle and try to make it to the road.
That proved tough as well, but after about half an hour walking on all fours I managed to make it to the road, where they were waiting for me a while. By this time even the dirt road was painful, so I made some shoes out of a cut-up plastic bottle and the soul of one of the girl’s shoes who had fallen off, and hobbled my way back to camp.
My friends eventually left, two stayed behind an additional four days, and then I was on my own again. I spent about a week hanging around Makarska trying to save gas and living off 10 bucks a day. My money was still running out, but at least during my stay in Zivogorce some translation work came in from two new agencies, so hopefully they will pay. Found a suitable parking spot in Tucepi, driving to Makarska occasionally to do internet and more errands.
But the parking spot was not in the shade, so by around noon the inside of the truck was a furnace. I therefore continued my general daily routine of getting up early, working until it was too hot, walk down to the beach to buy a banos of beer (in Mexican banos is a whale, and that is what they call a one litre bottle of beer down there), with half a loaf of bread, a couple of tomatoes, and a can of sardines from the massive supply I accumulated while still in Prague. Since my business goes up and down occasionally, I try to stock up when things are going good. It has happened a few times that I was fumbling through drawers and clothes to find hidden bills and change, surviving off that until the next cheque came in. Now it was cans of sardines. Every day one or two, with bread and beer.
And before I left Prague, I turned in the mountain of empty beer bottles from all the people who would come to my place and hang around, surfing on the internet for free, exchanging them for, yes, more cans of sardines. Now, more than a month after departing, I STILL have a pile of those sardines to last me more than a week.
After eating that on the beach while getting hot and sweaty, I’d put on my new diving goggles and go for a long swim along the coast. I even bought a waterproof pouch around my waste where I could store my pocket pc, keys and some money. So I would be totally mobile, bearfoot and shorts only, with my mobile business wrapped around my waste, soon to plunge into the sea, to surface at some other section of the endless beach, check my email and fall asleep under the baking Croatian sun. Wake up around five and put in another shift before signing off around 10pm.
So this has become my new lifestyle. If someone heard back in Prague that I, the drunken party stoner, would go to sleep before midnight, their chin would hit the floor. But this, after all, was one of the many reasons I left Prague in the first place. Not only can fourteen years of delicious and cheap Czech beer put a mighty large muscle around your waste, I felt I was rotting away in stagnation there. Needed a change in my life, and think I’m rather happy with this new lifestyle. While rotting away on the couch, in front of the computer, under the baking sun and stagnant air, I’d often dream of the day I could finally break away in my mobile office and hopefully get bored of the perfect life on the beach. After all, I’ve spent my entire life weathering ruthless winters and really needed to treat myself to something better. And this was it.
But it can get a bit old, and more importantly, I wanted to get moving. And it was expensive here. I mean, around a dollar for a beer in the supermarket! It was really difficult to survive off 10 bucks a day at these prices, and I wasn’t even counting the gas and internet. I wanted to move, but couldn’t afford the gas. I heard that it gets significantly cheaper past Dubrovnik, where most tourist don’t bother to go.
And this, my friends, seems like the slow conclusion of another chapter before entering another. I am glad I have a bit of a purpose now, because it was getting a bit old with my routine, no matter how much of a paradise it may seem to those of you who have to grind the nine to five in the office…. Okay, I’ll stop rubbing it in.
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Published - December 2008