Island hopping

Did I tell you that I love the beach? Love it! I love floating in the clear blue water. I love the way my hair curls after a swim. I love the taste of salt on my skin. I love the simplicity of a beach visit.

For the last few days I have been keeping it simple and baking myself into a deep berry brown on a few islands in the north of Croatia. From Rijeka I hitched and walked my way to Krk island. The island is connected to the mainland by a bridge and I had a great view of it from the cab of a red truck. Once on the island I had trouble catching another ride, and since I feel better being on the move, I started walking. And walking and walking. In the white hot heat. But with some luck, good tunes to keep me company and a smile I arrived in Krk town.

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This wasn’t the best choice of location (if I had a travel guide I may have known that before) because it is overflowing with tourists. There is a huge campsite packed wheel to tent peg with German, Czech and Slovenian families who brought their entire homes with them to the seaside. Likewise the beach is crowded so I walked on some and came to smaller cove and joined the other sunbathers for a swim and last look at the evening sun.

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Krk harbour

Despite the crowds, Krk town is a quaint seaside city complete with city walls, cobbled streets, a magnificent church and narrow streets leading you around in circles. I took my backpack out for dinner and then cruised around the harbour watching the holiday makers. And by 11pm I toddled back to the forest I had walked through earlier and found a flat spot to call my home. I’m not well equipped for camping, but I was comfy enough with a foam mattress, my sleeping bag inner sheet, my backpack for a pillow and scarf for a blanket. Watching the stars through the canopy of pine trees was a special way to fall asleep.

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In the morning light I could laugh away the scared face I wore sometime during the night when I heard rustlings and snufflings too close for comfort. And the fright I got when a squirrel ran over my shoulders.The rising sun greeted me through the trees and I enjoyed the quiet and heavenly light from a rocky outcrop where I had a swim and ate my breakfast, topless, like a mermaid. Although mermaids probably don’t eat muesli and yoghurt out of tin mugs.

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Teeth brushed and smile in place I stuck my thumb out for the port on Krk. In keeping with my wandering theme I managed to choose a small, narrow road leading to the port instead of the main road. That, combined with the tourist vibe, made it really difficult getting a ride and I ended up walking to the next town. I don’t know how far it was, but I walked for about two hours in the heat before a lovely German woman stopped for me. She saved me from melting into the road. And drove out of her way to take me to the ferry. Those people make it all worthwhile.

Making connections, however brief, is what I most enjoy about travelling. On my long walk I met a local guy who was cycling to the port. We stopped for a chat and then he left me to have better luck catching a ride. But when I arrived at the port he was there, waiting to help me carry my bag and share a drink. So we had more conversation and recognised our similarities: he left his job a few years ago to start his own business and sculpt a lifestyle that works for him. I wouldn’t have met him if I had taken the bus!

And with that I walked onto the ferry heading to the next island, Cres. There was a bus on the ferry and rather than have more bad luck in the sun I decided to play it safe and take it. And good thing that I did because the port is ages away from Cres town and the road is too narrow and steep for any cars to stop. In the end I rode the bus to the next small island and the end of the line, Veli Losinj. I love getting a taste of a place from a bus or train window and the views of the harsh, dry, rocky island made me imagine a hardy life dependent on the whims of nature.

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Veil Losinj is another tourist hive, but it is beautiful. Small and ancient, it curves around the shoreline below the hills and is a winding maze of decaying villas and dry gardens; purple bougainvillea hanging over red earth gardens, cracked wooden shutters standing in stark contrast to bleached white walls, old locals playing cards and smoking on shaded balconies, and the sea, that clear inviting turquoise.

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This time I did try to find a place to stay, but had no luck (I did only try the one hostel but didn’t have the power for more asking). Anyway, taking a swim was far more important. Ah that water. It is refreshing but not cold and so salty that you float easily over the bobbing surface. Again I spent the evening sunning myself on a rock and seeing some of the town. I watched the sun set as I hooped along the sea wall, and then had a dance, just for me.

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That night I slept on a beach lounger set back from the beach under some pine trees. There is a stone wall that runs all the way around the island, leaving only a narrow space for a path along the rocky coastline. I drifted off to some terrible disco karaoke and a dj yelling whoop whoop into the microphone, but slept extremely well indeed.

The next day was all about the beach. I had my morning swim, visited the hostel to collect my laundry and sneak a shower and then walked along the coast path, past the crowded beach, another small beach and around corner after corner of harsh heat and red earth. I eventually joined other sun worshippers – most of them naked – on a bit of flat rock and got to work swimming, growing myself, reading my book and napping. Love a beach holiday!

I left Veli Losinj that afternoon – by bus and ferry – in order to get back to Rijeka for a much needed shower and a night of pivor and rakija, and to hit the highway to Zagreb and then on to Budapest.

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