We woke up in our tent in Croatia for the 66th time. It felt completely normal to us and always guaranteed a good nights sleep. More so because we were in a campground and not the side of a road or some other hidden place. The sun beat down upon us in the Croatian town of Omis, just south of Split. We had just hitchhiked 350km in a day having arrived at 11pm the night before and now strolling through the town, it was almost midday. We had needed a sleep in as the past couple of days had been crazy long hitchhiking days so feeling refreshed, we had plans to climb a mountain and explore a fortress. Thanks to the advise of our good friend Johl ( https://johlhodges.wordpress.com ) we took the second approach of hiking up a track on the oceans side of the mountain and had incredible Adriatic views the entire walk, stoping regular to take it in.
Nearing the top, the track reached a plateau where the fortress laid some hundred meters along a flat path. We opted for the non beaten option to try find a better vantage point and pushed past thick prickly foliage and scaled rocks until finding a rock formation which gave us the view. We sat there for some minutes taking in the beautiful view then ate sandwiches. Tomato and Cucumber. The warming weather took us quickly back down and along the large stretch of beach in Omis. A quick dip brought us quickly back out as the ocean temperature drops dramatically once summer has past. Returning to the campground we had a relaxing afternoon in the shady olives trees around our tent. It felt nice to sit back for a few hours as the next day, another large adventure was to begin.
It was early morning as we walked out of our campground and headed towards the largest supermarket. We stocked up on enough food to last four days. Even with Croatians expensive food prices, it was bellow our 10€ each daily budget. Plain and simply foods such as rice, pasta and basic sauces of vegetables made up the bulk of it. We then walked the typical 5km to reach the outskirts of the town and wrote a sign saying Split. We had big plans today; to reach Split, buy a new camera (our had fallen off a cliff in Montenegro!) and cooking fuel all before catching a ferry at 2pm to the Island of Vis. It was 8am and Split sat only 20km away.
A nice just engaged couple were who picked us up 15 minutes later. They both spoke english very well, a great change, and sat in awe as we explained where we can been and how we travelled. Despite repeatedly explaining it required hardly any money and anyone has the possibility to do so, they could not grasp it. They were kind enough to drop us at a large shopping centre where we hoped a camping store would have ethanol fuel as everywhere through Albania and Montenegro we had checked did not. It failed too so we walked the 2km into the centre to where we had looked up a camera store and staring into the front window, it appeared to have shut down. A great start to the day!
We were told of another outdoor camping store in the centre of Split which would definitely have the fuel however as it turned out they also had none. They suggested a tiny local paint store and finally, we found it. With that ticked off we found wifi to locate another camera store and sadly blew a large portion of our savings on a replacement. The day began to run smoothly again until we reached the ferry ticket office and they indicated our 2pm ferry was booked out! We walked away from the booth with two options; stay the night in Split then catch a morning ferry or take one at 6pm. As the weather was amazing again and we had time to think, we walked to the closest beach and sat weighing up the option. Our days were beginning to become scare in retrospect to everything we had plans to see so ideally we wanted to make it to Vis that day. The biggest problem with the 6pm ferry was we would arrive in darkness and finding a free camping place on an island where camping is strictly prohibited would mean an early rise. Of course, we chose the most difficult option and least expensive. At 8:30pm we were walking off the ferry and following a lightless road up a mountain on the island of Vis.
We woke up as the sun began rising on a large expanse of asphalt. A large white painted “H” letter in the centre. For the second time of the trip we had slept on a helicopter pad! They were the best option, usually isolated and forbidden to be on so getting noticed was minimal. Of course if it were ever used we would be in big trouble! Having hardboiled a lot the eggs from the day before we had some for breakfast. Then an incredibly steep walk to a fortress overlooking the bay of Vis was next.The sun was only beginning to break through the trees and as the fortress was locked, being off season we presume, we continued walking in the direction of a ex-Yugoslavian submarine tunnel.
We had planned to stay there the night just past however they of course changed and now we had a lot of distance to cover. Hoping to try hitch, not a single car drove by in the 3km walk and we scaled down a steep rocky path exhausted by the warming weather. The submarine tunnel was north of the main town of Vis and was abandoned after Yugoslavia split up as a nation. The entire Island of Vis was actually a private military area not accessible to the public until 10 years ago so compared to other islands, it has a little more historic charm intact. We explored inside its 50m depth and had a quick swim and jump off the structure. We hurried to be back on the road however as the lack of traffic was making travelling distances a lot longer.
Due to no traffic we were required to walk the entire 4km back into the main town and a further kilometre heading up a mountain. We stood at an intersection which lead onto the quietest west side of the island as we hoped to reach a beach called Stiniva. Perhaps one of Croatian most renown and popular beaches. We had no idea how isolated and difficult it was going to be to reach. An hour wait, due to only two cars passing got us a lift with an American women who owned property on the island. She was happy to give us a lift up and over the mountain to where the beach was only 4km away however was inclined to threaten camping was strictly prohibited and people call the police if they know it is happening. We politely asked what accomodation was available in the area but it was obvious what our intentions were. She stereotyped us as young drinking smokers who would leave havoc behind, but we just kindly admitted we would ask a farmer to use their land and if that was not available find accomodation. It was an awkward goodbye.
At the intersection where she left us a paddock of donkeys friendly kept us company while we waited for a passing car. To no luck we left walking in the direction of the beach. The interior of the island was like nothing we had experienced in our trip! It was so dry, barren and empty. Paddocks of dirt and dead grass lay on each side of the hot road and further along where masses of vineyards grew millions of grapes, even they seemed to struggle. 1km into the walk a French couple picked us and dropped us another kilometre to where we changed roads. Even that short distance meant a lot as we were topping 11km for the day and still walked another three to reach the beginnings of the treacherous climb down to Stiniva. The beaches incredible location was the creation of an ancient deceased volcano. It had made steep cliffs which lead to an enormous cave structure which thousands of years ago had fallen in and created an inlet bay surrounded by cliffs. The beach itself is tiny, only 30meters wide and as we experienced the next day, gets insanely busy and early. Getting down to the beach was an almost climbing hike. With our loaded packs and six litres of water the climb was treacherous and it took us well beyond the 1 hour recommended time. We were in no rush however as halfway down we unexpectedly saw a difficult situation. The American lady had mentioned a cafe and accommodation on the beach but we did not expect the area to be so small. It left us in doubt of whether we would be caught free camping as there were no hidden places to set up. We waited an hour on the path, one of us making a tactical scout climb down, before the owners packed up and having to hide from them, made their way up the steep track. Once at the bottom we had the entire beach to ourselves. But we were beyond exhausted.
Too tired to cook we had ate bread and jam. We chose to put the tent up among ruined old fishing buildings, a little hidden from the beach, but it ended up being one of worst nights sleep. A stray cat, seemingly home to the cafe, had made friends with us and sat beside our tent the entire night meowing. Then multiply times through the night we heard him defending his territory against invading cats. The extremely high pitched squealing would happen for minutes on end and many times throughout the night. We woke the next morning feeling no more recovered and gruellingly packed our tent up with no realisation of what we were about to experience.
We emerged onto the pebble beach in silence. It is an intensely more satisfying feeling having a beautiful and popular place entirely to yourself. Moments we have always pushed to peruse. This was one of our most amazing times and all care about being tired had dissipated. The sun slowly rose to entire between the large cliffs opening, flooding in like a gate slowly rising. We hugged the side where it first entered. The two hours before 9:30 when the first people and tourist boats emerged we swam and laid in total euphoria. These experiences don’t have to cost a lot of money..
By 10pm we were walking back up the track, leaving the 3 boats of more than 12 people each behind. It was another beautiful sunny day and we walked back along the road enjoying it. We had a 3pm ferry to catch back to the mainland and were counting on getting a hitch to save us the 12km walk. We did of course allow enough time incase we had to walk though. Having no intention of seeing a car for the first 3km until we reached the main road we didn’t. Once there however we were hopping to and while we kept walking, eating an endless amount of grapes and figs from the roadside, it was another 2km before a local vineyard farmer picked us up. He was very friendly and talkative and enforced we must try his wine next year if we visit. He dropped us right at the ferry terminal and we were happy to not have to walk the entire distance. With our last two hours on the island we explored the old town.
We arrived back at Split just before the sun began setting. We had booked a night in the cheapest hostel as we had saved money free camping and the next day it grew to two nights. Having attempted to photograph the old town palace the first morning, an amazing building with a tall cathedral, courtyard and dome tower, and finding it too crowded, our lack of plans and tiredness from Vis made us decide to stay again. The final morning we were up at 6am and had the entire palace to ourselves, an occasional local commuting to work. On returning and checking out we unfortunately discovered 100€ had been stolen from our bag (5 days budget!), the only person in our room a lovely 60 year old British women. Whether it was her we’d never know but it was a shattering morning.
A local bus took us 15km out of the city and to a small town. Trusty instructions from hitchwiki lead us there as it was the best location to hitch away from Split but we poorly read the map wrong and as we were planning to head deep into the countryside, found no good location to hitch. It resulted in us standing on a highway entry ramp where cars had a side lane to stop. The biggest problem was there was very few cars leaving the small town and we waited an hour before a car stopped. It actually slammed its breaks on from the highway as we were standing so far up the entry ramp they could see. Prowled hallway across a zebra line section and entry ramp, we quickly ran over and although the young man spoke no english, we understood the name of the town he kept repeating.
Several attempts to make conversation ended with “sorry no english” so the 25 minute lift was in silence. He dropped us in the centre of a town named Sinj and we were experiencing rural inland Croatia for the first time. Away from the coast and tourism, it has an entirely different vibe and culture seemed to be less influenced. Buildings and infrastructure were much poorer. We walked until we found a petrol station and sitting beside it in some grass, ate hard boiled egg sandwiches for lunch. On our walk through the town we had noticed many local hitchhikers, similar to Montenegro and Albania although memories of a Croatian hostel lady in Dubrovnik popped into mind “you will not be able to hitchhike in Croatia, it is dangerous and no one will pick you up”. How different it was inland.. Another hour standing opposite the petrol station brought a semi trailer truck to its stop, blocking a side of the road. It was a Bosnian truck of course (our easiest country to hitchhike in) and although he spoke little english we negotiated to be dropped 30km down the highway to where our destination sat hidden in the countryside 6km away.
There was no traffic, no noise and no evidence of people. From where the truckie dropped us, even beside a main road, nothing seemed to move. We were trying to reach a natural spring called Izvor Cetina, the source of the river Cetine, which was unbelievably deep and beautiful in an array of colours. What did not know was how far away from civilisation it would be. This seemed to be the story of our Croatian experiences. With no other option we new we would need to walk the final stretch. Its distance was no worry and as it turned out the countryside was impressive. Small dotted farms of tree’s and animals spread along the road. It was remarkably flat and small clear streams ran in every direction, run offs from our goal. When we finally reach Izvor Cetina, the sun was beginning to set and we were far from disappointed. It appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, hardly touristic, as its beauty was further beyond the similar spring we can visited in Albania and that was busy (and it was in Albania! Which is not touristy). It was a 30m in diameter circle pool funnelling gradually before dropping off to 115m deep in the centre (i sign told us that..) The outskirts were white from its sand bottom, then lead from light green into an almost black blue in the centre. A church sat on the hill overlooking. It was incredible, and we had it to ourselves..
The fading light forced us to retreat and find a camp spot quicker than we had hoped to. On the opposite side of the river which spilled from the spring, we ventured into the trees and found several small stone fire pits and evidence of camping. It was the perfect location, completely hidden and with flat ground. For some reason the complete emptiness and isolation gave off a spooky feel however and while we cooked a quick packeted spaghetti bolognese and were into our tent early, it turned out to be another terrible nights sleep.
It had been our coldest night excluding Norway. Matters were made worse by the sounds of continuous foot steps, perhaps imagined or not but they were slightly confirmed by a very close dog barking crazily. Surely enough however the sun rose and we were packed up walking to the spring to take photos. A few tourists stood by its waters edge but they soon left and we had it to ourselves again. After some extremely quick swims, the water was easily the coldest of the entire trip, and almost going into shock again from trying to dive down into it, we were warming on the shores when an older German mixed Croatian family walked down. We began chatting with the youngest son, 28 years old, while the father jokingly spoke what tiny english he knew, constantly repeating kangaroo after we told them we were Australian. We had to say goodbye quite quickly however as we had to make the 6km walk back to the main road if we were hoping to get a hitchhike anywhere.
Only a kilometres into it a large mobile home drove by stopping. We had not even stuck our thumbs out as never had one stopped for us before. Familiar faces stepped out and the young son asked if we needed a lift to the highway. “Yes! thank you!” we happily agreed and miraculously they ended up taking us 85km and almost entirely to Krka National Park where we planned to camp for the next couple of days. They were travelling to a large town just beyond Krka and being dropped on a main highway where Krka began only 2km away, we were so grateful and ultimately lucky for we had underestimated the distance and difficulty (so many road changes and traffic scarceness). The final 2km was a breeze and we walked into a campground ecstatic of how the day had panned out.
Our campground, Camp Krka, was 4km from the main entrance to the park and the next day we had no intention of paying the 22€ each entrance fee. As a result we were up at 4am and hurriedly walked to the entrance. Plans do not always work out however because we assumed no security was there so early and walking right past the entrance booth we heard a man yell out and he stopped our entry. Frustrated and torn between sticking to our budget or missing out on an amazing nature park, we decided to try a different route in. The park sits at the bottom of steep loose stone mountains of thick vegetation. We attempted to climb down one side to glimpse the amazing waterfalls (very similar to Kravice waterfalls in Bosnia) however the decent began to get too steep and we sadly turned around and walked back to our camp. It was our first failed attempt of seeing a landmark but in the end we agreed it is the sacrifice to travelling this style. The highs are far better than the lows.
The next day we were up at sunrise yet again and leaving the campground. We had put high hopes in the days efforts and pre booked a hostel in the capital city Zagreb. 350km away. A 4km walk took us back to the busier highway but unsettled by the infrequent traffic, we decided to try walk closer to the major motorway which lead far north. As a result we found nowhere to stand and a further 5km, taking us through a first time 1km tunnel finished us at the main entry road to the motorway.. It was in the middle of nowhere in mountains and very, very little traffic passed. It was the perfect location, but nobody stopped and we experienced our drastically longest wait of the trip; 5 hours..
It was a Slovenian man retiring from his summer seasonal job which was the perfect lift after the long wait. He was traveling beyond Zagreb however our travel was delayed by roadworks, forcing us to a stop for an hour. He was so nice to drop us in the centre and by this stage it was well and truly dark. Our hostel was on the other side of town but what was another 3 kilometres when the day was already to long. A bought slice of pizza along the way was dinner and once at the hostel it was not long before we shut our eyes.
We had slept poorly again, woken by 6 guests arriving at midnight then leaving at 4am. It seemed no matter what your style of travelling, in a hostel or camping hidden in some woods, there is always adversity. It was made somewhat better by the hostels free vegemite and milo for breakfast as it was Australian ran and after we were out the door, at a bakery spending our last Croatian Krona then onto a tram and local bus. It took us to the outskirts where after walking for half an hour we were at a petrol station on a major motorway leading north west. The Slovenian border was only 50 kilometres away and we stood in great location to hitch towards it.
(137km walked, 514km hitchhiked)