We leave Trsce early, successfully avoiding any David encounters. We hike up partial trail/partial forest roads to a church called Sveta Gora. I’d been messaging with a fellow Via Dinarica thru hiker who is a few weeks ahead and he advised to skip the trail leading away from the church as it is overgrown and basically nonexistent. We follow his advice and take a gravel road instead, snacking on raspberries along the way. We decide to hop back on the trail again when it crosses the road. Big mistake! An overgrown nettle and thorny nightmare. (By the way, I found out it was the nettles causing the itchy rash on my legs, I have more of an allergic reaction to them than most normal people—perfect.) We struggle through it along a steep embankment, straddling and slipping on giant downed trees. We spot a drainage below us and decide to ditch the trail and follow that instead because at least it’s easier to walk along. We make it through and once we’re back on trail we are in the town of Hrib. The trail takes us walking along a driveway and we’re startled by an unchained barking dog and a man who asks us what we’re doing. We tell him of our hike and that we’re walking to Albania and he basically tells us that Albania sucks. We’re totally put off by this village and hurry through it, excited to reach Risnjak National Park in a few miles.
At the border of the park we walk by a cabin where people are sitting outside at tables picnicking. By the way, people here really know how to have a proper picnic. Tons of food, beer, bottles of wine, they do it right. A nice man named Josip calls us up to the house. He’s maybe a park host of some kind? He asks if we want any beer or food, but we just opt for water. We sit at a table and rest a bit and chat with a Belgian woman. Josip sells us our ticket to get into the park and we head out. We are finally on a real trail and actually see other hikers! The trail follows the Kupa river, famous for its deep turquoise color, and it does not disappoint. We are ecstatic to be not only on a trail but also to be walking alongside this gorgeous river. It’s incredible! We stop for lunch next to where it forms a turquoise pool.
Our beautiful trail unfortunately doesn’t last for long. After lunch we hike up out of the river valley and are faced with an 8+ mile walk on an asphalt road into the village of Crni Lug. We arrive in the evening and there’s nowhere to camp in the area, so I walk into a bar and ask if they know of any apartments we can rent for the night. Immediately a guy gets on his phone and starts making calls. Within a few minutes he hangs up and motions for us to follow him. He hops on his scooter and rides in front of us while we try to keep up. We have no idea what kind of room we’re getting or how much it costs, but we don’t really care, we’re just grateful for somewhere to sleep and a shower. The room ends up being nice and pretty cheap. There’s no restaurants in town, so we just eat some of our trail snacks for dinner—not filling or satisfying but better than nothing. We go to bed early and I have a restless night of sleep, the nettle rash on my legs so itchy under the scratchy comforter.
In the morning we head back into the National Park, this time going through one of the main entrances, although no one checks to see if we ever paid the entry fee. We are back on a nice, well-maintained trail again and are heading for the highest point of the park, Risnjak Peak. It’s an easy hike with a gentle grade up to a mountain hut that is just below the peak. We drop our packs and finish up the last steep scramble to the top. We enjoy the views out to the sea and go back down to the hut to eat lunch at the tables outside. While we’re sitting there a fox walks by and keeps circling around, clearly accustomed to people being there.
After lunch we somehow lose the trail and end up road walking for a couple hours til we meet back up with it. While walking along a busy highway we pass a man standing outside his car eating a sandwich. We say our usual greeting, “dober dan!”, and he tries to talk but doesn’t speak much English. Then he grabs a bag out of his car and waves it at us, insisting we take the other half of his sandwich. I take it from him (it looks homemade and delicious!) and then he also hands us a pepper. We say “hvala!” (thank you) repeatedly—our first trail magic on the Via Dinarica!
When we leave the road, the trail joins an old Croatian hiking trail called the Gorski Kotar trail—more on that later, Gorski is a real piece of work and deserves its own post. We climb to the top of a peak called Tubonic and it’s stunning up there! We are so close to the ocean!
Towards the end of the day we pass through a tiny village and are out of water. We ask a man sitting outside his house if he can fill our bottles. He happily obliges, unfortunately speaks no English so we can’t communicate, and his wife comes out with a glass pitcher of water flavored with a cherry syrup she just made. It was so delicious and we were so grateful—two trail magics in one day! Neither of them speak English so we all just smile and laugh at each other. We camp in a random spot off the trail, again kept up by the wild boars stomping around our tents all night.