This place is comedy gold but more about where I am staying tonight later…
It was a very quick job packing up back at Chez Zorbin in Skradin. I had a quick chat with him before I left and he explained how he was an engineer and used to work in a Deutsch Telekom factory neat Split but it closed and he has been unemployed since. He still spent most of the time in Split with his wife (who is also unemployed) and his seventeen year old daughter coming over to his mother’s property in Skradin over the summer months to help manage the room lets. Travelling along the coast where the economy is still being held up by the tourist industry (although I’m sure it’s not been immune from the downturn), you can get a skewed picture of the economic reality of life for many people. I’ve noticed this all along my journey from southern Greece and it only takes a short trip away from the coast to see the effects of a stuttering economy. I’d certainly seen it yesterday before being plunged back into the affluent enclave that is Skradin.
These thoughts were on my mind as I trundled through the first 40km of todays’s cycle towards Benkovac. It was the kind of ride I’d been hoping to have yesterday but didn’t get; pretty countryside, quiet roads, friendly locals waving at me (although the two blokes I saw knocking back beer for breakfast in one small village would have probably smiled at the grim reaper himself), gently sloping downhills and uphills. It was everything the touring cyclist could have wanted and for a few hours, I was getting it! Nothing really changed after Benkovac until I arrived near a place called Kašić where the first thing I noticed was a derelict house. On closer inspection, it looked more bomb-damaged than derelict. The hole in the wall was a clue (see picture below). Further evidence came in the next few hundred metres where there were further derelict houses but these were also riddled with bullet holes. Out of respect I didn’t take any further photos. It was the first physical evidence I had seen since Dubrovnik that the area had so recently been part of a brutal conflict. Although new houses had been built since the conflict of the 1990s close by, the whole of the small area around the bombed out houses appeared sad. The road had not been newly resurfaced (as much of the Croatian road network seems to have been) & few people seemed to be on the streets. The final piece of the jigsaw was just outside the village where there was a memorial containing the names of thirty five people. They were all male, were predominately born around the same time as me (late 60s to early 70s) and had all died in 1993 in their early twenties. Seeing First and Second World War war memorials is sad, very sad but it was quite different seeing a war memorial to people who, had they been around today would have been my age. There is more about this little piece of the conflict that I need to find out.
I was proud that by the time I stopped for lunch in Posedarje just west of Novigrad I had cycled 70km. Lunch itself was a supermarket job; bread, full fat Philadelphia cheese spread (I’m usually on the extra low fat stuff back at home that tastes like white mud when spread on your bread), a couple of bananas and one of those ‘duo’ Snicker things (how many people buy them and think “I know what, I’ll save that one for later”?) all munched under the awning of the supermarket. The other customers walked past and looked at me in horror. “He’s eating full fat Philadelphia!”.
And so onto the fragmented island that is Pag. I had guessed a distance to reach the place where the ferry will take me back to the mainland tomorrow at about 50km. Then I saw the sign for Novalja (the place where very usefully my cousin had stayed and recommended the campsite there – it looked very much like the one back near Split) which groaned 65km. At least I was over half-way there… After the initial mainly uphill section which wasn’t much different from what I’d been cycling through earlier, the trees and vegetation started to think out until the entire land mass was bare rock. If I’d wanted a change of scenery from the very beautiful Croatian coast, I was about to get it. A high bridge spanned the gorge that has at some point in ancient geology created an island out of a peninsula. It was a spectacular setting for a bridge complete with derelict castle, lofty cliffs… and a fast food joint. Comedy moment number one of the day was watching a ridiculously high-stilettoed woman have to be escorted along the gravel but her male partner from their car (registration LJ TEXY – so close! That S would have cost them dear but I bet they thought about it for a long time) to take a photograph nearer to the edge of the cliff. My camera was poised for police evidence. It could have been Janine Butcher all over again…
My back had started aching after the bridge. It needed a flat floor but I didn’t expect to find a suitable place to satisfy my urge to be perfectly horizontal for a while. Then it appeared. A concrete bus shelter. It was rudimentary but clean, had a flat concrete floor and was in the shade. There was no one waiting for a bus (the would have just been weird) so I parked up Reggie and spent the next 15 minutes horizontal it was wonderful. It was one of those moments when you don’t care what people think as the relief being ditched out was worth any embarrassment. My only concern was whether Miss LJ TEXY might come and join me to get a bit of relief from her high heels.
I arrived at the town of Pag in due course and paused for an ice-cream. Croatian petrol stations seemed to be staffed by rather run-ofthe-mill looking people behind the counter with two attractive hot-panted girls in their late teens manning the pumps. There is a Freudian thing in that no doubt and I do wonder if any spotty, potentially overweight male Croatian teenager has tested this employment policy of the petrol retailers in the European Court of Justice. I’m sure they would have a case. Anyway, I asked one of the girls whether she spoke English. She did. I then asked if she was aware that her employment was in contravention of section 13 of the employment practices convention of the European Union. No, of course I didn’t! (Anyway, it’s section 17.) I asked her whether she knew of the alternative route that was shown on my map that appeared to run along the eastern coastline of the island north of Pag. It would mean that I could avoid what looked like a substantial climb to the top of the very big hill in front of us.
“It’s very up and down. It would be better to take the main road.”
OK. Local knowledge wins out… but then I checked Twitter and Sean Bennett (@SeanBennett88) who had cycled along the same route as me last year had tweeted:
“When you reach the town of Pag, don’t follow the main road which switchbacks up a hill. Hug the water on [the] east”…
“It’s a beautiful trail which will take [you] all the way to about 10km from Novalja”
Local knowledge from a teenager who is good with a hose or cycling knowledge from a man who has done what I’ve just about to do? I went with Sean & set off. I missed a subsequent tweet that included the information that there were “…a few unpacked stretches”.
Now my definition of ‘a few’ would be around, lets say a quarter of the route. It was nearer 80%. Perhaps when the petrol attendant had referred to ‘ups and downs’ she was in fact talking about vibrations I would feel. These were not good ones! Cursing Sean as I cycled I barely had the chance to look at the scenery (which was good) as my eyes were fixed firmly on the road ahead of me.
He is, however, forgiven as he has brought me to e comedy gold campsite that is Camp Sveti Duh. For a charge of barely £5 I’m living the dream of being part of a Carry On Film. ‘Carry On Croatia’: lights (out), camera (poised), action (please no…). It could be an interesting night.