20.06.2015 - 27.06.2015 34 °C
I was never a fan of counselling. It seems to be a modern scam taking advantage of those who have an unfortunate experience. Pay some money to a caring ear and feel gratified by sharing the memory. That was until I performed a counselling role – for free I might add – for Flypaper. She organised for us to spend a day in a speedboat zipping around the Adriatic Sea from Split (Croatia) to the nearby Islands seeing some caves and pretty spectacular scenery. All was fine until disembarking at Hvar. Understand, this is a small speedboat just above sea level and Hvar was 40cm higher. She leapt ashore with surprising agility for a mature woman in new designer casual wear, but forgot to ask her left foot to follow the example of the rest of her …. Ummmm …. ‘mass’ is not the word to be using here …. Ummm ….. collective other parts. She accomplished what, in acrobatic diving terms, would be a ‘belly flop’ – right on top of the backpack I had fortunately thrown ashore mere seconds earlier. My first thought was, “OMG – what has been squashed in that backpack”? Although I am not understanding of Croatian, the boatman’s cry, which probably said, “#@&*^@ - I haven’t paid my public liability insurance”, made me hesitate to speak at all. Between us we helped her to her feet and strapped the pack onto her back. She was fine until, in a secluded café the drama came flooding back. Fortunately I was on hand to provide what I believe was excellent counselling. This mostly consisted in listening a bit them pointing out all the positive things. Stuff like, less than 20 people witnessed the event, the boatman was grateful not to be sued, the ancient jetty was undamaged, the contents of the pack were all Ok, my embarrassment was minor (especially as she could still carry the pack) and she bruised the already injured foot so there was no additional disability. The shot of Grappa in the coffee was probably unnecessary and would have saved 5 Kuna (I call it 5 rats). This counselling stuff is pretty easy. Maybe there is something in it after all.
One day it rained a little and the streets were covered in foam. I’ve seen this a few times before but when Flypaper asked why, I told her it was because the local women didn’t feel the need to rinse out the laundry when it will be hung out in the rain. She understands and accepts this laundry stuff – but I felt we should know the real reason. Turns out that on Chip Seal surfaces, the oils leach out in summer heat allowing oxygen and dirt to be mixed by the traffic creating a foamy look which is slippery. Disappointing eh. I think the laundry explanation is better.
Our Balkans agent was responsible for fine-tuning the program planned by Flypaper and booked us into a local hotel each night. Most of the accommodation has had the usual problems, plumbing & electrical inadequacies, air conditioners that don’t work, paper thin walls, squeaky beds next door and recycled linen. One however, added a very poor class of clientele – other than ourselves. I’m not sure if it was also a halfway house for recently released habitual criminals or a well promoted destination for idiots. (Perhaps they have their own magazine or web site.) Certainly after joining them for breakfast I concluded there is an argument for many people to be sterilized before they breed more like themselves. It should have happened to the parents of some of our fellow guests. My next unkind thought was to pay a local graffiti artist (of which there were many) to repaint the sign to indicate it was a Sanatorium.
In spite of the commentary above, Flypaper usually gets the last laugh. I am the victim of cruel manipulation. It is conceivable I need counselling. In past years Flypaper has had the audacity to comment I was developing a ‘weight’ problem between my motorsport commitments. This is all very well – but it’s not something that should be mentioned in company or to ‘online’ travel agents. It has the tendency to make me sulk and remember the ‘good ol’ days’ when one could eat and sleep without converting the calories into leaden lard. I’ve started suspecting it’s the result of genetic engineering of our food. Even a diet of celery and carrots causes my belt to tighten. I digress. Flypaper decided that she needed a cruise of the Southern Dalmatian Islands and I needed either liposuction or extreme exercise. The medical procedure was put aside for another time when, with the help of the blasted internet, she discovered a boat with 16 cabins that facilitated Island cycling tours for sadistic Germans.
The result has been an 8 day program of my rising with the sun and puffing through ancient villages on pretty islands to a new port where she waited on the boat …full of appreciation of the local wines and an understanding of the wild herbs used in the indigenous cuisine. Throughout this exercise I was smothered in suncream that has now been recognized to be carcinogenic while wearing a bright shirt that I’m sure makes me a target for badly maintained diesel minicars. If I had life insurance I would be certain this was an attempt by Flypaper to cash in on it. My cycling companions revel in comments about ‘vertical metres’ and ‘incline percentage’ while slugging back litres of water wobbling on carbon fibre 64 speed bicycles with variable rate suspension and massaging seats. In deference to my age I have been allowed to have a ‘machine’ with electrical assistance. This is a sadistic device that requires a degree in electronic engineering and the ability to interpret combinations of flashing lights on a small screen while concentrating on delicate variations of pedal pressure. All this remember, while wearing a bright shirt. On more than one occasion I have inadvertently switched off the ‘energy assistance’ while struggling up hills behind a couple of heavily perspiring Lycra clad Frauen.
The ‘fabulous’ beaches in the Dalmatian Islands are so stony that I found it almost impossible to walk from the pathway to the waters edge. The solution I decided was a pair of rubber ‘flip flops’. These are also known by other names around the world – jandles, pluggers, Japanese riding boots (as seen in really old pictures of Samurai), slaps, step-ins, etc. Shopping is not my forte but as Flypaper was elsewhere making important discoveries about the various icecream flavours on offer everywhere, I decided to take the plunge and enter a shop that was full of crazy women flashing cards and wads of ‘rats’ around. I broke out in a sweat and almost fled. However, as it was very hot, the urge to swim was great so I hyperventilated for a bit and proceeded to the shoe department. I was just about to ask for some ‘thongs’ when I suddenly saw a customer who was wearing a ‘thong’ of a very different nature. I not only became tongue tied but realized that, should I suffer a heart attack, its unlikely I would be ‘medivaced’ to a hospital in time to resume even a future life in ‘care’ facilities. With great internal fortitude I made a grab at some basic black rubber flip-flops, proffered a handful of ‘rats’ to the shop attendant (who took most of them) and fled. They will forever be a treasured memory of my retail daring.
The water temperature in the Adriatic during summer is about 23*C. Much cooler than me when I exited the shop. It was relief to concentrate on basic survival as I bobbed around between the tourists who were calling for their friends to take holiday snaps recording their bravery on Facebook. There are 17 species of Shark in the Adriatic Sea. None have yet had the urge to taste a tourist but it could happen. (Remember the first guy to milk a cow? Who would have thought to pull those dangly bits and put the discharge on their muesli?) After a couple of minutes I calmed down enough to check I had changed into correct swim-wear, removed my watch and, in essence, ‘done it right’ without marital supervision. The water is astonishingly clear. I was told this is the result of the plankton being subject to all sort of influences that don’t allow the growth of weed that produces whatever causes cloudiness in the water. I started to research this but the opening statement on the subject say’s ‘ … its due to the unique geomorphologic specifications’. Well, yes, I’m sure. This does need further research as it could be something quite different and more easily understood. For example, there are no whales in the Adriatic. No whales mean no whale dung – which I feel sure would cause significant cloudiness.
The boats moored in every picturesque harbour are, in the main, fabulous. I’m referring to those obviously owned by wealthy people who visit to display their affluence. This is in stark contrast to the local vessels that have been relegated to secondary moorings away from the thousands of tourist traps. These fiscal exchanges exist, not primarily to feed the visitors, but to provide a much easier lifestyle for the local families who have abandoned their subsistent living inland in favour of bars, café’s, souvenir shops, chandlery businesses, restaurants and ‘pizza dispensaries’. I don’t begrudge them. The islands are basically mounds of fractured rocks thrust up from the sea. Over the centuries countless generations have moved some of these rocks into fences to contain their sheep and goats, the creation of basic habitation – or just great mounds to provide tillable land for basic crops and olive trees. Life has been tough here for a very long time. I am however, unsure if ‘progress’ is better.
A highlight of our voyage, which almost justified the pain endured, was our on board ‘steward’. His name is ‘Goldie. Almost certainly a name coined by a previous guest who considered him a precious commodity on the boat. He in his mid-40’s, slim, elegantly dressed and has a large nose. This nose presides over a huge smile and the most helpful demeanour. He also has abnormally long arms that accentuate his voluble Croatian speech which is interspersed with English and German phrases. They are also helpful in reaching across tables and delivering platters of wonderful food through the saloon windows. Goldie is also the barrister and barman. He runs and rules a small alcove in the saloon that produces excellent product with such enthusiasm that I felt inclined to provide him with a substantial ‘tip’ on completion of our voyage. This, believe me, is the ultimate compliment.
Our last day in the Balkans was a stressful drive from Split (Croatia) to Tirana (Albania) to return the rental car and catch the late night flight to the UK. The drive should take 7 hours but in fact takes 12 … due to traffic congestion caused by tourists on the coast, slow speed limits, 7 boarder crossings and poor roads. In each of the 3 countries we meet a person that personified the Balkans.
In Croatia it was the middle aged guy that arrived at dawn to take me to our car storage on his motorbike. With apparent kindness and consideration he bought me a beaten up crash helmet. However, when I put it on it was much too large. His comment, “One size fits all”. When I tried to fasten the chin strap I discovered the clip was broken. Comment, “Unnecessary”. As a result it fell off when we became airborne over the first speed-bump. It hung securely on the handlebars for the rest of the terrifying journey while I pondered if it was possible to strap my backpack on my head.
In Montenegro around midday, Flypaper spied signage at a café that seduced us to stop for Coffee & Cake. It was an opportunity to be rid of our remaining local currency. We parked and ordered - then tallied up the required funds. Opps – we only had enough for the coffee - at the same moment I realized we needed indigenous funds to exit the carpark. Flypaper frantically cancelled the cake while I ran to the carpark to escape within the 10 minute free grace period. There must have been only seconds to spare but I made it and parked illegally in the street feeling very pleased. Back at the table I discovered the waitress had felt sorry for these poor old people and convinced her boss to provide us free chocolate cake. It was a lovely gesture and, being chocolate, I wasn’t the least bit embarrassed about being the recipient of charity.
In Albania we stopped at a traffic light adjacent to a well weathered man who had chosen that day to cut his high hedge from a step ladder. He also chose that moment to relieve his bladder but didn’t feel the need to dismount and preserve his modesty. He checked the wind direction, correctly chose downwind towards the line of traffic and proceeded to relieve the pressure. As we passed Flypaper gave him a ‘royal’ wave – which he was unable acknowledge because he was concentrating on getting his fly-buttons in the correct sequence.