After 3 days off in Senj—eating great food, watching dumb movies at our apartment because they’re the only thing not in Croatian, swimming in the sea, and watching the World Cup finals with the locals—we are rested and ready to hike again. We take a bus from Senj back up to the mountain pass Vratnik and we’re back on the trail. It feels good to be hiking again. It’s always nice to have days off in town but I usually start getting antsy and ready to be back out in nature.
We’re excited because we will be entering Velebit National Park today which means actual trails!! We spend the beginning of the day walking through meadows and have some incredible views of the Adriatic.
In the afternoon we reach the national park. We expect to see tons of people, but we seem to be the only ones there. So much different from the parks in the states! But we do hear from the locals that the parks in northern Croatia don’t see a lot of visitors. I don’t understand because it’s so beautiful here! We pay our entry fee of 30 Kuna (about $5 USD) and hike a trail up to a mountain hut called Zavizan. It’s perched at the top of a mountain pass with gorgeous views of the meadows and mountains surrounding it. I talk briefly with a German couple who are visiting and they are also baffled that it’s not crowded here, they tell me they’re the only ones staying the night at the hut and it sleeps 25 people. We do some quick side trips up to the top of a couple peaks nearby to see the views then find a place to stealth camp—camping isn’t technically allowed in the national parks here.
It rains and thunderstorms throughout the night and neither of us sleep very well. Maybe because we’re paranoid about getting caught camping? But the sun comes out in the morning and our day starts with a beautiful trail to Alan Hut where we stop for lunch and lay all our wet gear out to dry. There’s a couple park workers hanging out with the guy who runs the hut, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. As we’re leaving, Express asks if they have any glue or tape—the sole of her shoe is nearly halfway off. One of the guys runs to his truck and grabs tape and proceeds to tape up her foot, cigarette dangling from his mouth. They are all very kind and wish us luck as we continue on the trail. We have about 12 more miles to get to Skorpovac Hut which is the next water source and where we plan to spend the night. The afternoon is hot. The trail is beautiful, following a ridgeline overlooking the Adriatic, but it’s super exposed and the sun is beating down on me. And the rocks, oh man the rocks here! The trail is all rock—big, little, sharp, so many rocks! The trail is like an obstacle course and I can feel every rock through my shoes and keep stumbling and twisting my ankles. It’s hard to keep any kind of steady pace and the bottoms of my feet are killing me.
We reach the hut in the early evening and find that there’s a huge group of 30 school kids from London also staying at the hut. At first we consider hiking on and finding another place to camp, but Tihomir, the guy who runs the hut insists we stay. He doesn’t speak much English but he tells us the kids are camping in a field down below the hut and we can sleep inside with the teachers where there are bunk beds. The bunks look comfy and we’re tired, so we’re happy to stay. We sit outside and eat our PB&J dinner while chatting with Tihomir and a Croatian guy named Gordon who’s helping out with the school group. They are both so excited and impressed by our adventure. They’ve both heard of the trail we’re hiking (not many people seem to know about it) and also know about the PCT. Tihomir, struggling with his English, gives us a thumbs up and keeps telling us that what we’re doing is “fucking cool!” and, using Gordon to translate, asks us to marry him.
We’re so grateful when, after declining his offer of rakija (basically Croatian moonshine), Tihomir picks a bunch of wild plants from the yard and makes us tea. It is so delicious, some kind of wild oregano, and so nice to have a hot beverage to drink before bed. The guys laugh at us when we go to bed before the sun goes down, but hiking over 20 miles in a day makes us sleepy! I’m hoping for a good night’s sleep after only getting a few hours of sleep the night before. I get cozy in my bottom bunk and pray that none of the teachers are snorers.