Bike off all that food we ate in Italy.
If you haven’t read the first two blogs you need to read those first otherwise this will make no sense. This is blog #3, third in a continuation... of EAT.BIKE.PRAY.
My memories of Croatia are a bit convoluted. I was in Croatia when I got the heart-wrenching news my father died. We always hope our parents will die of old age in their sleep. It was a bit ironic that I was traveling through the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic sea by boat when I got the news my father drowned in a boating fishing accident back in the United States. On the train and bus ride over to Croatia my heart was breaking, I didn’t want to leave Italy but at this point I thought I would be back because we booked our departure flight out of Milano. Our initial plan was to travel light through Italy and Croatia and on the way back we would load up on treasures to take home - dried pasta, truffle oil, olive oil, wine and some Italian labels because we were going to be there during Fashion Week. Not only was it going to be Fashion Week when we returned but there was also going to be a Men’s volleyball tournament in town, score! But I was mainly ecstatic to be re-united with 3 wonderful Italian boy friends that I had met while traveling in Cuba five years prior. Sounds amazing right, well unfortunately my father died so we didn’t make it back to Italy.
Did I mention that by the time I got to Croatia I had completely forgotten about what had led me on this journey in the first place: my parent’s unforeseen divorce, a narcissistic ex - by the way I can’t take credit for calling him that - his own sister is the one that should get the credit for coining that nick-name, the lying thieving masturbating alcoholic roommate, and the freshest wound of all...loosing a job I loved and moving out of Whistler, a community that had become my home and safety net for the past 10 years.
Thelma and I met up with two other girl friends from back home when we were in Tuscany so we traveled over to Croatia as four. As the four of us arrived to our first destination in Croatia where we boarded the boat, we met up with two other girl friends from back home and now we were six for the bike portion of this adventure. Also boarding the boat were retired married couples and only one other single lady in her 70’s. We were by far the youngest people on the boat.
Coming from Italy, Croatia had some living up to do as my expectations were high but Croatia certainly lived up to the challenge! Croatia is a beautiful country and if given the chance I will go back. I was mesmerized by the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Adriatic sea as we boarded the boat Tarin. Tarin was named after the Captains beautiful daughter who was part of the crew. We were about to embark on an 8 day - 7 night boat and bike tour on an island hopping adventure through the Dalmatian Coast. Looking back, If I had known how intensive the biking would be prior to committing on this trip, I may not have gone. We were biking 40 - 120 km per day. Total of 535 km / 334 miles (for you yankees). It was intense but I would do it all over again. It is an amazing way to see a country and stay fit, great training leading up to our yoga teacher training - PRAY in Nicaragua.
Each day was a new island and a new challenge. Most of the people in our group were married so there was no chance we were going to find “love” here but we did manage to make two friendships with the opposite sex worth mentioning. Cookie and Elvis. For the purpose of this blog I have been referring to myself as Louise and my side-kick Thelma but Cookie and Elvis are not made up names. Cookie was the chef on our boat and prepared 3 amazing meals per day and Elvis was our favorite bike guide. Both were from Croatia and spoke broken English. Elvis had a crush on me and Cookie had a crush on Thelma. We were grateful for the crush Cookie had on Thelma because our meals kept getting better day by day! I’m not lying. He worked so hard to impress her and knowing we just came from Italy, he even slaved over a wonderful lasagna one evening.
Each day the boat would drop us off on a new island and would meet us on the other side. As we cycled our bikes through the center, trying our best to keep pace with Teresa, a 70-year-old woman, a true inspiration - we took in the sights of harbor palm lined coves, breath-taking beautiful rolling country side, treasured old towns dating back to Roman times, historic villages, olive groves, vineyards, forests, Gothic Renaissance Baroque structures and Cathedrals, castles, cobblestone streets, and views of the turquoise clear Adriatic from hill tops. One day we saw an Octopus swimming in the ocean just off the shore, a rare sight. During biking breaks we would wander through narrow cobble stone streets in search of cafes and Gelato shops. The coffee and Gelato in Croatia is good but not the same as Italy, just saying. Some days we would stop to pick figs, grapes and other fruit I’ve never seen before. One day after cycling up the longest and highest hill in altitude I’ve ever climbed, exhausted and out of water, I reached for an olive and plucked it off an olive tree - popped it in my mouth - BIG mistake. Olives used for making olive oil, mental note, bitter and taste horrible. I was so thirsty and I was out of water but I kept pedaling as I had 30 more km to go! We would stop along the way at road side stands and buy wheels of cheese and after we would shop for Croatian wine and fresh bread to smuggle back onto the boat where we would enjoy these delicious finds on the top deck under a setting sun.
At the end of the day, if we were lucky, the boat would dock in a new town just waiting to be discovered by six restless Canadians. And if we were really lucky there would be some night life! Being stuck on the ship with all these married couples made us feel as though we were locked in prison, we went stir crazy after a while. Thelma and I would venture out into the night scene to take in the local culture. One night we managed to close the bar down. We got invited to a local’s after party and were feeling pretty special and accepted the invitation. We hopped in a car with some locals we met earlier in the night. We were really excited that we were going to see another part of the island by car, not having to peddle. As we rounded the bend, they parked and we walked over a hill. As we looked to the shore, there was the Tarin! Damn, the boat was docked at the local’s party spot which was right in front of our boat. Bad luck. This was NOT going to go over well as everyone on the boat sleeps with the window open. They played loud music and swam naked in the moon light. I tried to quiet every one down but it was a bit of a lost cause. Finally at 4 am I stumbled back to the boat. Thelma stayed longer but I knew I should throw in the towel reminded of the fact I would need to get back on my bike in only a few hours. That morning, we did the walk of shame up to the galley wondering if any one recognized us in the moon light. The loud party outside the ship was the current breakfast gossip and they asked if we were there. “No, no. We came back prior and were also awakened by the party.” I hated to lie but we couldn’t admit that we were the ones that caused the entire ship a restless nights sleep.
Sadly it was the last day. We arrived in Pula- the largest city in Croatia. In ancient roman history it was a significant port under the reign of Julius Cesar. The Pula Arena was constructed and still stands today, very similar to the Coliseum in Roma Italy. Such a site knowing Romans were thrown to their deaths, eaten alive by wild animals or forced to fight each other in battle for the entertainment of the people. Our last day in Pula could be spent touring the city by foot. Elvis and I wanted to go tour the Arena but Cookie had other intentions and asked Thelma out on a date. So Elvie and I went together. I was feeling a bit indifferent this last day and just shrugged it off to sadness that this amazing challenge and adventure of Croatia was about to end. I hate goodbyes when meeting new friends. I cried when we left Italy as we said good-bye to Roberto and Valerio, I’m not going to lie.
As Elvie and I entered the Arena we were almost alone here unlike the Coliseum in Rome where thousands of tourists bumped into each other to take in the experience. It was so peaceful here in an eerie kind of way. You could smell historical death. We took lots of photos and some of each other, me striking my usual yoga poses - practicing for my next journey. After we were finished Elvis asked if I wanted to go for a coffee but I refrained. Still feeling a bit “off” I asked if I could be alone. I wanted to go for a walk through the city and down by the harbour by myself and I said I would meet him back at the boat.
Little did I know, during this time my father was drowning in a lake back in my home state of Montana in the United States. He went out fishing for the day in a lake that was surrounded by 100 foot canyon walls. A strikingly beautiful lake but when the wind picked up here it was considered very dangerous. They stopped for lunch and didn’t tie the boat up. I bet my Dad is kicking himself for making that rookie mistake because a rookie he was not. A gust of wind picked up through the canyon and took the boat out quickly. My father loved this boat and named it after his beloved dog JoJo. The water was rough and my father in his jeans and being the only person on the boat that could swim - swam for it. He was only 56 and in good shape. Witnesses say he didn’t reach the boat and yelled, “I’m not going to make it,” and turned around to swim back to shore. He grabbed for a buoy only 10 feet from shore in only 8 feet deep water but couldn’t manage to hold on. He went down and went under and never came up as his friends stood on the shore, watching him drown, helpless.
During my walk through the city I was still feeling uneasy. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. It had crossed my mind that my Father hadn’t responded to a text I had sent the day before but later I found out it was because he was golfing. He won that tournament that day - I’m happy and it brings me some peace knowing he recently enjoyed two of his favorite activities, golfing and fishing just prior to his accidental death. His energy traveled through the universe and even though I didn’t know he was struggling to stay alive during this exact time that I needed to be alone and wasn’t feeling like my usual self, innately my instincts were trying to tell me something was wrong.
Later that night at 2 am when we were saying our good nights on the boat, my Aunt sent me an alarming text message letting me know there had been an accident. After a few back and forth messages, she shared the bad news. Why did I always get bad news via text message. I think my boyfriend break up and father dying via text messages trump Carrie Bradshaw’s Burger break-up via post-it-note by miles, not that this is a contest, haha -just sayin.
Two hours later, Thelma and I were off the boat, homemade lunches in hand courtesy of Cookie with a personal escort by Elvis and himself to the airport in a taxi. As we were about to go through the security gate, Elvis handed me a bundle of money, hard-earned tips they made for themselves. He said it was a part of their culture to do this when there is a death. I didn’t want to take the money but the look in his eyes assured me it could be no other way. Elvis and I exchanged gifts and embracing hugs. I gave him some Smith sunglasses, my re-usable water bottle and he gave me a hat that said “no fear.” I put on the hat and walked through the gate, looking back I could see the tears streaming down his cheeks. I felt comforted by his sincere friendship.
From this point forward, there would be no fear ....