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croatia

Now what?

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Now what?

At the end of August I was in a random little village in the Lika district in Middle Croatia. I meant to just pass through, but it was raining and my sleeping bag was already wet from the previous night's massive thunderstorm, so I checked Warmshowers for help. There happened to be a host just around the corner.

That moment - checking my phone while sheltering from the rain outside a closed post office - seems to have become quite a fork in my journey.

The massive cave in the same village I later got a tour of.

Within minutes I met with a young girl called Lana and stayed at her home with her wonderfully warm and welcoming family. She had her own little hut and garden, and taught me about this concept called permaculture. Some people have summed it up by calling it Applied Ecology. The words come from “permanent agriculture”. As in agriculture that doesn’t destroy topsoil at an alarming rate, nor require constant watering, fertilising, fossil fuels and pesticides. Working with nature instead of fighting against it.

But it goes beyond growing food, encompassing rainwater collecting, renewable energy sources, natural building materials, even approaching a zero waste lifestyle and off-grid living, among other things. In essence, it’s an answer to the elephant in the room question: Yes, climate change is coming, but what to do about it?

There’s a storm in the horizon. A lot of them, in fact.

I think about that question a lot. I’ve even written (and soon deleted) long blog rants about the issue. Sometimes I’m almost depressed about the world’s obsession with consumption and destruction. In too many places I’ve witnessed the effects of mass tourism and the way it ravages the original underlying beauty it seeks. Yet no single drop of water feels responsible for the flood. Even my own rationale for what I do has been a naive and vague hope that my photos might somehow inspire people to protect the nature they portray. That’s probably not true, however. Honestly, the real consequence is likely to be merely an increase in wanderlust and yet more tourism.

So as I learned about permaculture, everything just clicked. My blurry idea of maybe some day retiring by a lake and a forest in a little hut, perhaps growing some vegetables, suddenly turned into a clear picture and a plan. Something I could start creating now instead of decades later. It all seemed to fall in place. It may not be THE answer to the world’s problems, but it feels like the answer for me. I did a lot of research on the topic while making my way south through Croatia.

The lights of Split from a campsite with a view.
Miumiu was orphaned and rescued from the road as a kitten.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina I had a chance to visit another permaculture farm, run by a guy called Bambi. He, too, was on Warmshowers, happily hosting any bicycle tourer who happened to be passing through. I stayed for a week, sometimes alone with his cute kitten, sometimes with up to ten other bike travellers camping in the yard. When I wasn’t doing research, I was sharing stories of life on the saddle. Most other visitors were in the earlier stages of their journeys, happy and excited. I was the only one who didn’t feel like continuing.

15 people from all over Europe, with a couple from South America and Asia came and went. I watched as each of them rode away after a night or two. Usually it’s me who's pedalling away and disappearing behind a corner. The briefness of these meetings is much easier to deal with when I’m the one on the bike heading towards new experiences. This time I felt a pang of sadness while watching people leave.

Ivan, Eric, Bambi and Amir sitting down for breakfast.
One day a lot of people arrived suddenly. There was a sixth tent but they left before the sun rose enough for the photo.

Still, the thought of joining them never occurred. It was at Bambi's farm where I published my last blog post. Only a couple days later coming to a realisation that there was no need to wait around a few weeks to see if my feelings would change. I booked a ticket home.

I carry a notebook where I jot down ideas and thoughts about permaculture. On its cover is conveniently printed “Stop dreaming, start doing”.

That’s the principle to follow. I need a break from the bike trip, and now I know exactly what to do during that break.

The road didn’t take me where I thought it would.

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Cleanup on Long Isle

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Cleanup on Long Isle

Multiple people had recommended beach Long Island’s Veli Zal as a good camping spot. Upon arrival, I couldn’t understand why. There was no sand, just round rocks that moved around under my feet and were difficult to walk on, let alone push a bike through. Even worse, I didn’t see any shade, either. Vegetation consisted mostly of impenetrable bushes. Really uncomfortable for camping, overall.

After walking up and down the beach feeling glum about my lack of sleeping choices, a local lady told me there was a campsite "20 meters that way”, pointing in the direction I had just been in. Huh? She seemed serious, so I went back to look. Between the bushes there was a tiny little path, very easy to miss. After squeezing through it led to this amazing secret gem of a camping spot with soft ground covered in pine needles. What a treat! I never would’ve found it without her.

Just outside the bushes were two walking paths, yet it was almost impossible to see inside.

Already beginning to be accustomed to the many rats on the island, I hung my food from the trees and left the garbage bag further away as bait. It was better to get holes in my trash than in my tent, and the rats were happy to have something to rummage through.

They were getting really courageous. One day this brash individual kept trying to steal my sandwiches from right in front of me in broad daylight, while I was eating them. It seemed genuinely surprised and upset because I wouldn’t share my food.

“What will become of me?”

September 15th was World Cleanup Day, which has millions of volunteer participants from 150 different countries. I joined in by collecting a few bags of trash in Sali and Telašcica Nature Park on the south side of the island. The plastic right by the seashore was the worst - the sun, waves and salt water tear everything into these tiny shreds which are impossible to pick up. There are hundreds of them in this photo, and thousands when examined even closer.

It really is nothing short of insanity for humans to pollute the oceans in this way. The simple fact that toxic plastic is eaten by fish, and later us, should be enough. Not to mention that plankton produce more than half of the oxygen in our atmosphere! And yet here we are, dumping 10 million metric tons of plastic waste right into these crucial waters. Per year.

Disgusting.

To cool down from the sweaty work of cleaning up Mir Bay, I jumped into the water from the pier for a snorkelling break. I had just bought the equipment from Sali the night before, and it was my first time snorkelling in... probably ever. I was instantly hooked. As soon as you dip your head below the water, all the sounds from above the surface die away. In a second you're transported into a place so otherworldly from everything you’re used to. That kind of contrast in experience is surely not available anywhere else.

Sunlight flickered through the waves on seaweed, corals and sea cucumbers. Huge swarms of sardines swam around me, sometimes jumping into the air to escape a predator. Some kind of catfish with white whiskers kept digging around on the bottom, sending silt everywhere. A few curious saddled seabreams followed me everywhere, but were too shy to start a conversation. I spent about an hour floating around on my stomach looking at everything.

I wish I could apologise to the fish for all the shit we throw in their habitat.

My kingdom for an underwater camera!
Crab wishes the fish would apologise for being annoying.

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It's Not All Good

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It's Not All Good

I’ve been quiet lately so here’s a bit of a recap post. I’ve continued to meet many awesome and inspiring people in Slovenia and Croatia, of whom I could’ve written several posts. But I really dislike interrupting conversations and meetings by taking out the camera. It usually makes everyone uncomfortable and disrupts the entire flow of the meeting. So I haven’t really been taking photos lately.

Also the nature hasn’t been quite so inspiring. The beautiful and perfectly clear Sava river turned into dark slimy mud somewhere after Ljubljana, after which it wasn’t even okay for swimming in. “We used to swim there as kids, but now…” is a phrase I heard many times. In Croatia there have been some nice places, but the world famous Plitvice lakes were just a huge expensive tourist trap. (Mass tourism is a topic I’ve been thinking about every day recently, and I’ll probably talk more about that later.) I took zero photos while there. And I don’t like to make blog posts with only text.

The Sava river back near Bled where it was still clean. Before “the incident”.

In addition to that, I was battling 30 degree weather with humidity, which really makes it hard to concentrate on anything. Heat dulls the mind and dries up any creativity. Whenever I ducked under some trees for a rest in the shade, I was chased back onto the road by vicious tiger mosquitoes.

The trip has felt a little too routine lately, which is worrying. After all, routine is what I was originally trying to get away from, in search of adventure and excitement. But after 15 months on the road, touring can sometimes feel even mundane. Wake up, breakfast, pack up, cycle, find food and water, take breaks, locate a campsite, sleep. Instead of adventure, it’s just my regular life, the normal way of things. I still enjoy many aspects of traveling, but enthusiasm for cycling itself has been lost recently.

Waiting for the ferry to leave in Zadar.

So what to do? Firstly, a change of scenery. I returned to the seashore for the first time since Italy. Outside the Croatian city of Zadar, I boarded a ferry to the island Dugi Otok, and camped on a small beach on the northernmost corner, based on a tip I’d received from a Decathlon employee. It turned out to be a nudist beach. To me nudism is a lot like dancing: I don’t mind other people doing it, but I really prefer to be an outside observer at the most. I tried to shoot a few sunset photos without cocks and balls wandering into the frame.

Okay, so there were only a couple naked people at this part of the tourist season, but still.

Darkness arrived, and brought with it a number of rats. They were highly interested in my campsite. I had to hang my food pannier between two trees, after they tried to gnaw through the fabric. My sleep was interrupted many times by them rustling the leaves around me, and even climbing up the inner mosquito net to the top of my tent. Rats climbing right above your head is too disgusting and disorienting to just easily fall back asleep. At least sometimes there was a satisfying thumping sound of them falling off the clothesline that I tied my food supply from.

In the morning I surveyed the damage. One Ortlieb bag had gotten a small hole from the initial attack, and the tent’s mesh had been chewed through in a couple places. Nothing major, but annoying nevertheless.

Lake Fusine back in Italy. Because I’m low on usable photos.

I packed up and continued towards the nearest grocery store. In a tiny residential area I saw a small cat, still a kitten really, rolling on the road ahead in the sunshine. Except it wasn’t rolling, but twitching in a weird way. To my horror, I realised it had been hit by a car and was dying. Fuck. I caught the attention of a woman on her porch. She explained it was one of the numerous strays of the area. No, there were no vets. There wasn’t even a human doctor on the whole island. But it wouldn’t have mattered, there was clearly no hope for the poor thing. So there was only one option.

Now, let me just explain how much I like cats. Because it’s a lot. As an example, there was one occasion in Corsica where we were staying at someone’s home, and their beautiful long-haired kitty sat on my lap and purred so cutely that my eyes actually teared up quite a bit. Look, the cat was soft and cuddly and I’m an emotional guy, alright? Anyway, to say that I like cats would be an understatement. Of course I still agree dogs are clearly better people, but cats will always have a soft spot in my heart.

Having to kill a kitten was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do, even though it would’ve been cruel to let it suffer. I spent the rest of the day drinking red wine and crying.

So yeah. As great as the bike trip is overall, it’s not all good. Sometimes it’s boring, sometimes disgusting, and occasionally it’s downright awful.

There’s a storm brewin’.

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