I feel a million times better after a solid night’s sleep. We hike a few miles down a forest road to the Slovenian border town of Babno Polje and walk into Croatia. The border patrol officers are super friendly and when we tell them we are hiking all the way to Albania they look at us incredulously, stamp our passports, and send us on our way with a smile and a warning to watch out for bears and wolves.
We unfortunately have to say bye to Simon here. He has to get back to Venice to catch a flight to Sweden and return to work. We try unsuccessfully to convince him to quit his job and keep hiking with us. So goodbye it is and now it’s just me and Express.
Within an hour or so we get our first taste of what we’ve heard the trail in Croatia is like…basically a tiny bit of trail but mostly bushwhacking intermixed with road walking. We start out on a marked trail, lose the trail to a mangled mess of downed trees and thick bushes, check our phones constantly to look at the map, make our own route through the mess, backtrack a bunch, cut up our legs, etc, etc, etc. This will continue to be a pattern for the foreseeable future. We finally make it to a small town, Cabar, and sit in a smoke-filled bar while it lightly drizzles outside, charge our phones and eat some random food we found at the tiny market. While we’re there the supposed mayor of the town chats us up and tells us how when he was 20 he hiked from Croatia to Cairo. He’s impressed by our similar sense of adventure and buys us a Karlovacko, a popular Croatian lager. Our first day in the country and the mayor is buying us a beer—we are feeling good about Croatia!
We camp in a field just a few miles above Cabar with plans to hike a couple miles in the morning into the town of Trsce to find a room to rent so we can rest, shower, and do laundry. We are really counting on finding a restaurant because we haven’t been eating much on the trail, it’s slim pickin’s at the markets especially when you don’t have a stove. I’ve mostly been eating peanuts, bread, salami, and cheese. Luckily I still have a few Cliff bars that I brought over from the states to throw into the mix. We make it to town early in the morning and find there are no restaurants, just a market and a bar. The bars here open around 7 am and just serve espresso and booze, no food. It’s barely 8 am and already it’s filled with old men drinking wine and beer and smoking cigarettes. Luckily there’s WiFi and outdoor seating and the bar is next to the market, so we order cappuccinos (so cheap, around $1!!), grab some fruit and a pistachio yogurt (my new favorite thing!) from the market and sit outside to avoid the smoke while we search on our phones for a place to stay. Super randomly a woman comes up to us and asks us if she can check our blood pressure and blood sugar levels. We’re not sure but it seems they’re from a local clinic and checking the stats for the town. We shrug and say “Why not?” and follow her into the bar. It’s awkward sitting there getting tested, trying to pull my arm out of my sleeve while holding my shirt down so I don’t show anything inappropriate. The men puff on their cigarettes and stare while one of the women takes pictures of us on her phone. Our blood pressure is too high—we’ve had no food today, only espresso! She tells us to cut back on sodium and sends us on our way.
We find an apartment for super cheap, just $12 each for the night. It’s a mile or so out of town, but a pretty walk so we don’t mind. We’re greeted by a kind older woman who doesn’t speak much English but shows us the apartment which is the lower level of her house and fully equipped with a bathroom and kitchen. We each take a shower—the shower head lights up and flashes different colors!!—and bring our stinky hiking clothes upstairs for her to wash. She tells us her son, David, will be home soon and will come down to talk to us because he speaks much better English.
Long story short, David decides he’s our new best friend and we can’t shake him for the rest of the day. He makes Express walk back into town with him to buy groceries to make us pizzas, stays in our apartment to watch us eat the pizzas, takes us upstairs to the house to show us his gym, shows us his mom’s knitting, and walks with us into town to watch the Croatia vs Russia World Cup game at a bar. There really was no getting rid of him no matter how much we told him we just wanted some down time to rest. But about this World Cup game…
Express and I are so excited to be in Croatia for the game and to be in a bar with the locals rooting for Croatia. Our high hopes are literally shattered when someone in the tiny smoky closet of a bar launches a beer bottle at our table as soon as Croatia scores their first goal and hits the glasses and bottles on our table, dousing us in beer and covering us in glass shards. We are completely stunned and grab our stuff and leave immediately, scared and pissed off, especially since no one even apologized. I have no idea how or why it happened, everyone acted like this was a totally normal thing. We go to another quieter bar to watch the rest of the game, David tagging along, but we’re totally not into it anymore and leave before the game is over. David walks home with us and becomes even more annoying when he won’t stop trying to ask me out. What?!?! We are so over him and this town and it’s late and we just want to go to bed and leave this town which we’ve now dubbed the “Trsce curse”. (Trsce is pronounced “tur-suh”, so it’s a rhyme, get it?). We’re prepared to make a stealthy exit first thing in the morning before David can catch us. I’m looking forward to getting back on trail where life is more simple—we may have to deal with crappy trails and scratched up legs, but at least no one’s stalking us or throwing beer bottles. Oh Croatia, I had such high hopes for you! I hope this is just a fluke and things gets better.