This could be a list of random acronyms, it’s not. These are the Croatian islands we’ve travelled over in the past few weeks.
- Cres, the isle of sheep.
- Krk, our shelter against the rain
- Rab, the island of the shower
- Jablanac, temporarily stranded.
- Pag, where the sea freezes.
- Hvar, caves, creeks and cliffs
31st of December, in Brseč. Time to make decisions. We face a dilemma. We must choose between following the coast northwards to Rijeka, the countries second largest city, or taking the ferry to the wild island waving at us on the other side of the shore, Cres. Landslide vote. For new year’s eve, we want to play Robinson Crusoe on a small piece of land where there are more sheep than two legged inhabitants. We enjoy the experience so much that we chose to continue island hopping.
From Cres to Rab, lacking a direct ferry we join the dots with a stopover on Krk. Rain has been announced. It’s agreed to have a rest day sheltered from the whims of the sky. Straight after landing on our second island we leave seeking refuge. To give ourselves more chances we split up and fan out. Between the chapel of a cemetery, a cabin in the forest and a family beach shelter, the last option seduces everyone.
Up at 5am to take the boat, the kilometres pass slowly on this otherwise flat island. The city of Rab gives us a rich meal in its only open restaurant. A soundless visit of paved alleyways deserted by tourists and we realise that it’s been a week. Seven days with no shower. A quick internet search turns up an apartment for three with sea view. Thirty euros. Hard not to get tempted. The chef in the kitchen bakes cakes, the mechanic on the terrace changes chains and the photographer is forced to rest because his hands are covered in chocolate and grease.
To go from Rab to Pag, you have to take the ferry in Mišnjak, travel 20 kilometres on the coast between Stinica and Prizna then take another ferry to Žigljen. Such was the itinerary on thursday the 5th of January. Once again, the weather got in the way of our plans. On disembarkation of the first boat, gusts and snow make it impossible to pedal straight. It will probably stop, forecasts announced a sunny day. Well, our forecasts. The Croatians knew. A storm is coming, it will be here in an hour maximum and for several days. A friendly motorist stops and warns us. He highly recommend that we head towards the next village and find a sheltered place. Seeing the mass of black clouds approaching at top speed, we believe him in a second and get quickly down to Jablanac, a peaceful village of which the only hotel is abandoned.
Doors off their hinges, slamming windows, groaning stairs…but the walls stand up and a room reveals itself as more or less welcoming. Intact windows, sea view and acceptable cleanliness. Anyway we’ve got no other choice. Three nights, two days. It will be the time it took to the weather to calm down. The time we get ourselves comfortable in our 3 star squat.
Finally, we’re there. Stepping off the boat on the island of Pag, it’s like landing on another planet. There are stones as far as the eye can see, rocky hills, pebble beaches, and of course cliffs to climb normally all year round. Except when it is minus 6. The storm is gone but the freezing temperatures hang around. Never mind, no climbing, we satisfy our appetite with breathtaking landscapes in very rare condition. In Pag, the sea is frozen. So are we. Fortunately, cheap apartments are easy to find.
After Pag we’re forced back onto the mainland. Between the waterfalls in Krka National Park and meeting Matt, a traveller on two wheels from the UK in sandals like Adam, we have no regrets.
Once in Split the ocean calls to us again. In the chain of islands in view, one of them draws our gaze. It’s name is Hvar. In our climbing guide of Croatia, it’s got 30 pages dedicated to it. In tourist guides, it’s claim to fame is as the sunniest island of the country. As we arrive, it’s pouring with rain.
When we take a shortcut to join our first destination, the rocky track climbs up so much that we end pushing the bikes… in the snow!Whilst raining on the Coast, it was snowing heavily 500m above. Taking much longer than expected, our road takes us to the top Sv Nikola, 623 meters above sea level, in complete darkness. In these conditions we are unable to find the cave that is marked on the map. Surprised farmers open the door of their overheated attic for us. Lucky.The next day, the 18th of January, the cave in which we wanted to celebrate Noémie’s birthday remains unfound. We have to face facts, our directions found on the internet are more wikipedia that Encarta ‘95. An icy descent follows down to the village that we previously towered above. Potholes, bumps, rocks, snow, it shakes and we take it all in. Incredible landscapes. Once in Sveta Nedjelja, there are signs to the infamous cave but it is too late to get up there. It’s just a question of time. It took two days to find it, no regrets to have kept trying.
This cave is first class wild camping. Well, it’s necessary to leave the bikes at the bottom and walk up the hill for thirty minutes with all the necessary gear to sleep, cook and drink. Then go down to fill up our water bottles when deciding to settle for a few days. Then cycle 40 kilometres to the nearest grocery store to resupply, thanks Sylvain. Apart from this, it’s magnificent. The view. The silence. The cliffs.
Even so, we eventually leave, there’s still a way to go. After playing hermits, we do 37 kilometres to find some more cliffs. This time the gear comes out of the bag. Overlooking the crystal waters of the heavenly creek of Vinika, we warmed up our arms in the sun. After two days our food starts to run out. We have just about enough to check out a cliff 10 kilometres further. Banco. Another paradise lost.A creek with turquoise waters, a cave to explore, cliffs to climb, a beach to sleep on and even oranges to pick. To say that we have to leave in the morning… We have to go tomorrow…
That’s how, in a month we’ve covered only 700 kilometers. Island to island, paradise to paradise.