Thursday, September 16, 2010

Peljesac Peninsula and Mljet Island, Croatia

A mountain on Korcula Island that we could see from the ferry.

Korcula Town, home of Marco Polo.

Riding all the way down the Peljesac Peninsula, down to Dubrovnik, and taking a ferry to Mjlet in a single afternoon did not happen. I let Davida's slow style suck me in and I was enjoying myself a bit too much to rush away. I did my best to make it, but it turned out my estimates were about 40km off. Also, they didn't factor in the first mountain, or the second, or third, or fourth. You get the idea. The coastal mountains just don't stop. You might get a brief break in a valley, but you have to get out of the valley sometime.

Orebic, Croatia

Looking back out to the cloudy sea.

As I neared the end of the peninsula, the reality that I was not going to make it set in. I resolved to just camp on the peninsula and finish up in the morning. As I was looking for my campsite, I saw a sign that said there was a ferry to Mljet from where I was. I did not know if there were any ferries left that day, but I certainly did not need to ride an extra 40km just to catch a different ferry. I found energy that I didn't know I had to make it to the ferry terminal. It looked deserted. There were five people around. I was not hopeful. However, after asking around I figured out that that was one last. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and commenced sitting around.

Their war memorials are a lot more violent than what I am used to seeing in the US.

This dog will be friends with you if you have food.

I filled the time getting my gear sorted. After a couple days of hard riding, my stuff had shifted around quite a bit. I made friends with the bar's dog when it thought I had food to share. I also made friends with some Brits who were on their way to the island and having their own type of adventure. Normally, they book lodging ahead of time, but were just winging it for the night. The problem was that the ferry terminal on Mjlet was 3km from town. If it was like every other tourist destination in Croatia, there would be someone there trying to get you to stay in their house.

Sunset at the ferry terminal at Prapratno, Croatia.

Sunset at the ferry terminal.

Unfortunately, it wasn't. The locals got their rides out quickly. There was no one selling rooms. There were no taxis. I biked the 3km up to town on a pitch black road. It was a dark night and I wasn't happy about it. My other option was sleep near the ferry terminal which was lit a little too brightly. A few kilometers past town, I grabbed a flat spot where I would be left alone. It was gravel. It was not the comfortable, but offered some great views when I woke up.

Sunrise in Sobra Harbor, Mljet Island, Croatia.

More war memorials.

Mljet Island mountians.

After I got moving in the morning, I biked 40km mountains to the park. I had hoped for flat, but no such luck. The guidebook mentioned a steep hill between the second ferry port and the park. I rode it. It was a joke, but that is because I have been riding so much and was only carrying my sleeping bag. I left the rest at park headquarters.

Islands near Mljet.

Clear water in Polace, Croatia.

The park was great. After the hill, it was flat. It will go down as the only flat ride I remember in Croatia. I rode through the pine forests along the water body they call a lake that really isn't a lake. It has an opening to the sea, which makes the whole thing salty. Either way, it was great to give myself and my clothes a good rinsing. We both stunk. Afterward, we still stunk, but less.

This car is available for your renting pleasure.

Biking Mljet National Park.

After my swim and a nap, I went out to the 'island' within an island which isn't that because it isn't a lake. Anyway, there is a church and some Roman ruins on the island. If I had been ambitious, I could have swum out, but they give you two free boat rides with your admission to the park and being lazy suited me fine. I locked up my bike and rushed to the ferry. The island was nice, but nothing spectacular. I preferred the 'lake' shores.

My napping bench beside the 'lake' in Mjlet National Park.

The abbey on the 'island' within the island on Mljet National Park.

When I got back, my sleeping bag was gone. This made me very unhappy. I could understand the bike, a camera, a wallet, and many other things, but a sleeping bag? Really? They probably were hoping for something more than a sleeping bag when they took it. I hoped that they would search it and drop the stinky thing somewhere near by. They didn't. The funny part about this is that Davida was paranoid about people stealing his stuff when we were biking together. I would always leave my bike unlocked in small towns to go into the grocery store for two items. He always insisted one of us stay outside. Before I met him and heard his warnings, I had no problem. One day after leaving him, bam!

Looking back to shore from the island.

A random house on Mljet.

Having my bag stolen put a damper on my mood. I went back to town and had a great pesto spaghetti that picked me up a bit. While I was eating, I got to watch a sailboat pull up to the wharf and watch the disaster that is throwing the line to shore happen three or four times before they got it. Ahh, I remember those days fondly. Afterward, I just waited to catch the ferry back to town. When it came, it looked like the exact same catamaran ferry as on Hvar, but this one allowed bicycles. I just had to pay extra. At least, that worked for me. Sleeping bag nonsense or not, Mljet National Park is a beautiful way to spend a quiet day. It was exactly what I needed.

Heading back to the mainland.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hvar and Korcula Islands, Croatia

Sunset at my campsite on Hvar Island.

Memories of island hopping in Croatia will stay with me for the rest of my life. I'm just not sure which memories will stick around yet. On Hvar, I got off the ferry in the evening and had to find a place to camp quickly to not be riding at dark. After biking 3km in from the coast, I just took a right turn down an unmarked dirt road. There was no flat space though. I kept going and the road suddenly took a steep descent. If I went down, I was not coming back up that night. I committed to it and just kept following this dirt road to no where. I saw one van down there and nothing else. When I was just about to give up hope, I walked down to a beach to explore. The rocky beach didn't offer any place to camp. Neither did the area above the beach. However, there was a pine tree. Over the years the pine tree has drops its needles, buried all the rocks, and made me a wonderfully soft bed.

Morning from my bed at my campsite at Hvar Island.

There were so many women filling baskets with figs along the road.

I love slate roofs. I have no idea how they don't cave in.

I'm always a little apprehensive about being kicked out of my camp spots. I don't want to pack up and move in the middle of night and don't want any trouble with the authorities. Sometimes that fear keeps me way too tuned into sounds and keeps me awake. However, after a great with a fellow bike tourer after this event, I might have put that fear to rest. We chatted about it and he explained that the worst that happens is the police wake you up and you move. His worst experience was being woken up by an barking dog in the hands of the police. All of these assurances would not have made a difference though when a car came down the deserted dirt road and dropped someone off right beside my spot. They couldn't see me because the open side of the tree was towards the beach. They left with no incident, just like always. Back to sleep.

Beautiful water and beautiful mountains.

A quiet swimming cove on Hvar.

I spent the next day discovering that it is likely no part of Croatia is flat. The islands are just the top of mountains. I spent most of the morning climbing who knows how far up on tired legs. Then, I traversed the island on a ridge. There were a bunch of beaches to swim in but I didn't want to descend off the ridge to climb back up it again. Luckily, the road eventually descended on its own and I found a great place to swim and admire my Keen tan.

These may be my best tan lines ever.

A small street in Jelsa on Hvar.

Two boats with curious wooden posts in Jelsa harbor. I found out they put a horizontal piece up that connects to the a vertical piece on the stern. Then, they put another horizontal one perpendicular to the first horizontal one with a sun shade.

I was able to swim, instead of just wade, for the first time since I hurt my shoulder in July. It was probably only two hundred yards and I am out of swimming shape, but it still felt great. My shoulder only complained a little. I can't wait to get do it again.

After my great swim, it was time to get moving again. I headed to the first ferry terminal on the island in Stari Grad to ask about getting to Korcula. They said I was on the wrong side of the ridge and had two hours to get to the other side where different ferries leave from. It was only 15km back up the giant ridge and through a tunnel so I was going to make it to Hvar without a problem, but I was not looking forward to it. The tunnel was definitely a little unnerving because that seems to be the only place that bikes are not allowed, but they were allowed here for a change.

Jelsa harbor.

More great coastline.

I had hoped to spend a few hours checking out Hvar town, but only had an hour after meandering all day exploring the island. It looked like another cafe culture old town on a beautiful harbor. While they are beautiful, I had seen a few too many recently anyway. Also, I got thrown into a bit of a panic when I was told the ferry does not carry bikes. However, if you take your bike apart and wrap it up in something they will take it. They will still know its a bike so I figured wrapping it up won't make a difference so I didn't wrap it up, just covered the chain. When the ferry came, they didn't let me get on because of the bike. I started to get out my tent to wrap it up, but then other crew members packed up the gang plank to leave. I protested and just got on with my bike half wrapped up. They complained, but let me go, probably because they were in a hurry. Earlier this trip, I was pooped on by a bird and someone said it was good luck. About two hours before this ferry ride, a pigeon pooped on my bike. Maybe it was just the luck I needed.

Hvar town, Hvar.

A tuna (featured on the one kuna coin) they drug across the wharf while we were waiting for the ferry.

Unfortunately, the bike drama kept me from exploring Hvar town at all. Oh well, I did meet Davida, an Italian, who joined me for a couple days of biking. On Korcula, Davida and I set out to camp near the coast. We were having trouble finding a campsite though. I eventually spotted a pier and we went down there. While we were setting up, an older couple came by to discreetly investigate. Where I prefer to hide my camping, Davida likes to ask permission, if possible. The husband said yes. The wife said no. The husband overruled and said yes and Davida might have started World War III. On their way back to their house, they took their surfboard. I appreciate them deciding better to be safe than sorry, but I got a big chuckle because I am curious how they think we would have stolen the surf board on our bicycles.

Blato on Korcula Island.

Biking downhill in front of the sun setting on the Adriatic Sea.

Davida and our campsite on Korcula.

One of the best things about meeting Davida was seeing how someone else bike tours. He carries one backpack thrown over his bike. He uses an old, beat up, bike. He cooks real food every night for dinner. He lazes around in the morning. He showed me the good life of slowing down and it really fit the stereotype of Italians. I showed him how to put the pedal down a little harder and cover a lot of ground. I think we most happily met at the road side fig trees where he showed me how to pick the best ones to eat. It was a lot of fun to swap ideas about how to travel on bike. While we might steal a few ideas from each other, neither one of us is going to change our style for this trip.

Davida shows me how to pick the best figs to eat.

Korcula town, birthplace of Marco Polo.

On our ride across Korcula, I saw similar terrain to Hvar. We had more big beautiful mountains, stunning coastline, yummy figs, ripening olive trees, ancient rock walls, and a great cast of characters. We finished our ride in Korcula town, the birthplace of Marco Polo, though it was an Italian territory at the time. It was similar to the other old towns with winding streets except this one was the smallest. It was a small square on a hill and then several spokes as side streets back to the base of the hill and through the city wall. After a long lunch and a little exploring, I was ready to go. I was hoping to make it all way down the coast to Dubrovnik so I could catch a ferry to Mljet that night. Davida was not interested in Mljet so we both took the ferry and then split up but made plans to meet at Dubrovnik's clock tower in two days.

Korcula Town city streets.

A properly stocked kitchen.

One of the really curious things for me was that I got frustrated on our second day of riding together and not the first. The company was still great, but something had changed. On our first day's riding, I didn't have anywhere I felt I needed to be so riding with Davida was great. On the second day, I needed to get to Mljet to stay on schedule. Biking Davida's speed was not going to allow that. I was happy to slow down a bit, but on just his second day of riding and my 45th or so, I was a lot better equipped to charge the hills. I was still enjoying the company enough at the end of the day to plan to meet up again, but I knew those days would be shorter too.

Korcula Town city defenses.

On the beach with a view of the sea and reached by walking down fancy steps, this is a styling basketball court.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Markaska Riviera on the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia

After I left Bosnia and Herzegovina, I was destined for my first big coastal ride north to Drenik where I could catch the ferry over to Hvar. This was only the second half of my day riding out of Mostar, but it was so amazing it deserved its own post. The area I rode is loosely referred to as the Makarska Riviera.

When deciding to bike Croatia, I had an idea that there would be a coastal road that was flat, like Route 1 in the USA. I was very wrong. There are no hills. There are mountains, big mountains. I was super excited to finally get to the ferry to Hvar, which I hoped was flatter.

This area, while beautiful, will probably be remembered by me for the sight of my first flat tire of the trip at around 3140km. In a manner very unlike me, I didn't get grumpy about it. I had beautiful coast line to look at and was even able to ride my deflating tire to a safe place to change it. I just took care of business and got back on the road. I am not sure what happened to the real Brody, but the fake Brody got to use a CO2 cartridge for the first time to inflate a tire and thought it was pretty cool even though it is a little wasteful.

Beyond the flat tire and mountains, there isn't anything to say. Look and enjoy.

The Croatian side of the Neretva River.

Bacinska lakes.

Bacinska lakes.

What an amazing view.

There is a lot of trust in that single column.

The view of the mainland at sunset from the ferry.