Lakes, Mountains and The Coast

After our day off in Sisak, we headed west to meet up with Jasmina – who kindly offered to take us in for the night – in Karlovac. The cycle there was fairly unremarkable apart from the fact that halfway along the road, the road builders forgot to turn up to work and didn’t bother to lay any tarmac for around 5km of severe uphill terrain.

Upon our arrival in Karlovac, we dumped our stuff off at Jasmina’s house and ended up back on the bikes again for a night time tour of the old town.

Karlovac was on the front line of the Croatian/Serbian war in the early 1990’s. Much of the southern part of the town was damaged and the smaller outlying towns totally destroyed. As you cycle through Croatia you can still see the remnants of the war – whether it be destroyed houses or occupied buildings still with the bullet holes in the walls. I have to remind myself sometimes that this was a very recent war. I remember seeing news reports, at the time, about the war and here I am cycling through the very same areas that were on the news during that time.

The next morning, we got an early start to head to Plitvice National Park. This is Croatia’s jewel in the crown as far as a popular tourist destination is concerned.

Unfortunately for us, the only route there is along a main road (which we normally do all we can to avoid). Again unfortunately for us, we were going along this road on a Saturday and not just any Saturday – the Saturday at the start of a long weekend as the Croatians celebrated their independence day. This was a horrible cycle – 75km along a fast main road, with lots of hills and fast moving cars/trucks/buses/camper vans whizzing past every few seconds. We definitely do not recommend this route for a pleasant day out on the bike.

We got to our campground in the early evening and finally got our stove working. Before we came out on this trip, we already had a gas canister stove that we had always used on our previous expeditions. For this trip we decided to go for a petrol stove – mainly because gas canisters won’t be available everywhere on our route – whereas petrol should be. Then about a month before our departure date, a friend of Monikas discovered a new type of stove – one that ran on twigs and small bits of wood. Having read up about it, we thought this was a good idea, especially as it negated the need to carry petrol bottles. We had read that travellers often complained about everything smelling of petrol, after a while, when using a petrol stove. Since petrol is such a dirty fuel, the burners and jets require a lot of maintenance and various bits and pieces need regular replacement. So anyways, we got this new stove shipped in from America.

Of course we didnt test it before coming on the trip (much like ninety percent of our stuff!), so we tried it out for the first time in Lake Velence. That was a spectacular failure. It kept going out and so we had no fire. In Plitvice National Park, we tried it again and it worked perfectly – like anything else, you just have to get the hang of it. Getting it started is the trickiest bit, but it turns out that dried pine needles is the very best thing to use to get the baby fire started. Even after a heavy night rain, we were still able to find dry needles and wood.

When we have used it a few more times, we will write a proper review on it, but for now, you can read all about it here.

The next day was spent at the Lakes in Plitvice National Park. It is a beautiful place. The lakes, waterfalls and scenery is amazing. The only problem is the bus tour groups! They come in their thousands, follow each other around like lemmings for a few hours (or seconds/minutes depending on the location) and get back on their buses again and move onto the next tourist attraction.  What a horrible way to travel. Apparently in July/August, the board walks and paths that allow people to move around the park is just one solid line of people all the way round the park – so if you plan to go – go out of season.

After the insanity of the crowds of people at the lakes, it was nice to get back on the bikes again and head through the mountains towards the coast. We decided to stop over in Gospic on the way to the coast to stay with Mile. We met him through www.couchsurfing.org. He actually works at the lakes and offered to take some of our luggage off us, so we could tackle the mountains without so much burden, but we politely refused, telling him that we thought it would be cheating.

This cycle to Gospic turned out to be my favourite day up until that point. The hills were brutal and the downhills were sickening (as you knew you were wasting all that altitude and were going to have to get it back later). The pace was painfully slow at times as the hills were so steep, but each time we made it to the top, we felt like we had accomplished something. We climbed well over 1,000m that day, but net altitude gain was just about 100m, so you can see how much wasted climbing there was. The scenery was amazing though.

Mountains covered in green/golden trees made the climbs totally worth it. When were still about 20km from Gospic, Mile caught up with us in his car and told us that he wasn’t actually going to be at home when we got there, but told us to go ahead and let ourselves in, cook dinner, get a shower and generally relax. We couldn’t believe it when we got to his house. The place was unlocked – key in the door – food in the fridge. It was such an odd feeling to walk into someone else’s house, take a shower, cook our dinner with their food and basically make ourselves at home. Mile had never met us before and yet he had opened up his home to us like he had known us all of his life. It was a real big eye opener to how differently strangers are treated in this part of the world, than they are where I come from. They are treated like a friend, rather than ignored. Everyday we come across examples of kindness and generosity that neither of us had never experienced anywhere else before.

Mile was an amazing guy with loads dreams and aspirations and a real zest to enjoy life. We can’t thank him enough for his hospitality and it’s meeting and interacting with people like him is one of the reasons why we wanted to travel – not just to see different places, but get to know the places through the people who live there.

Yesterday we set off from Gospic and headed toward the coast – to Karlobag. It was another climb up through the Velebit Mountains.

When we reached the Ostarijska pass the clouds had rolled in and it had started to rain – but that didn’t spoil the views across the Adriatic Sea and of the many islands off the coast.

Mile had told us that it was one of the most spectacular views in Croatia and he was not wrong! After leaving the summit, we descended the 928m to get back to sea level at the small fishing town of Karlobag.

It had taken us two days to climb to a height of around 1,000m and about 40minutes to lose it all. We did not turn the pedals or let go of the brakes once in the 20km descent. Everything was numb with wet and cold by the time we got to the bottom, but we had conquered the mountains, so it was all very much worth it! A very enjoyable two days in the Croatian mountains.

Today turned out to be one of those days. It was supposed to be 90km along a flat road to Zadar, but it turned out to be almost 100km along a very hilly road. At times it felt like we were never going to get there!

We did meet our first other cycling tourer today. His name was Jo from New Zealand. He has spent the last five years, working in New Zealand during their summer and then cycling around the Northern Hemisphere in our summer. He has been on the road since April and has been through South East Asia, China and now through Europe, making his way to Germany before flying back to New Zealand at the end of the month. As we were talking at the side of the road, another guy pulled up. He was from Brazil, but unfortunately, we didn’t find out too much about him as he was in a big rush. As we later found out – he was a bit crazy!

He was going in the same direction as us and we caught up with him about twenty kilometres later – just in time for him to give us dodgy directions, which resulted in all of us heading uphill in the wrong direction for half an hour – despite the fact that I knew the right way to go! It was great to meet fellow cyclists on the road though – it sort of reminds us that myself and Monika aren’t the only ones out there.

After what seemed like an utterly endless road, we arrived in Zadar just before dark, thoroughly exhausted and very much looking forward to our day off tomorrow.

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