Wednesday, 13 April 2016

What goes on up a mountain, stays up...

The continuing island craziness continues. I've not documented my everyday life in Split as it has now settled into a comfortable rhythm of university, Marjan, friends and music. However every time I leave Split and head seaward something extraordinary happens. Lastovo was pure peace: Vis ... Well. Let me tell you about Vis.
A few weeks ago I joined the Split mountaineering society because there was a weekend expedition to Vis. I quite fancied another few days of nature, quiet, and tranquility with a guided walk in a new place so I was happy to pay my annual membership and trip fee at the local offices. One of the other expat ladies was going along so I thought at least I wouldn't be alone.

The night before I went saw an evening of great irresponsibility; karaoke followed by a bit of dancing. By the time I'd had a couple of bottles of witches brew, lager, a chilli honey grappa, some vodka and thrown myself around the exceedingly dirty smoky club dance floor til 3am, hiking wasn't on my mind. I had however packed and cooked and bought some healthy high calorie / energy snacks.
We don't talk about the night before the night before.
I groaned out of bed at 8am and pootled gently for a few hours until it was time to meet Maria. She was having issues with her case and I was feeling wobbly. This was the only hiking trip where a wheely case seemed like a good idea and she was already swearing at it. We arrived at the port sweating for different reasons and we were faced with utter chaos. Was it normal for so many hikers to be going to Vis? My idea of a gentle convivial stroll in the style of Lastova was disappearing fast...
Information was definitely mixed. After finding a distinctive lady called Alessandra (blue top and a knotted up hairdo) we discovered that we already had ferry tickets. We clambered on to the ferry in a colourful melee of hiking štaps and waterproofs. Chatting to fellow members of the Split 'Mosar' hiking group we learned that this was a special weekend gathering of all the hiking groups of Croatia and Bosnia. And we were bemused to say the least. Frankly we were both glad of each other's company at this point. So we found a quiet spot, opened our drinks and snacks and proceeded to natter the whole three hours over; Maria truly is inspirational adventurous spirit.
On arrival in the thoroughly uncharacteristic hubbub of normally quiet Vis town, we realised further what we had stumbled into. Over 700 people were pouring off the boat to be greeted with a brass band, food, and many many voices of greeting. There was a little dismay as the weather turned wet so there was a mad dash to the nearest cafe. We were told to put our bags on a truck and we did so...and waved them goodbye with a fearful gulp.
Never mind it was pleasant to lose our heavier bags. We milled around calmly, as we were organised into two groups. We could choose which route to take to the overnight stop, and eventually we set off. The sight of many people winding up and around the start of the route was incredible; the weather had cleared and the vibrant blue sent us up the hill. Laughter and chat echoed around and we marched convivially, occasionally munching wild asparagus and herbs as we passed them. As the path up widened and new conversations were struck up, this is when I discovered that people were very happy to be patient with my lack of fluency. The open friendliness of fellow walkers made the going easy and it was interesting to find out about people. The love of their countryside and passion for health and exercise was inspiring. Children were weaving in and out of the adult groups...entire families - cousins, brothers, sisters - all out for a weekend away.
The land was becoming more gentle and cultivated as we headed into the evening light. Figs, vines, neat and tidy fields of vegetables showed us the way; the scent of fire smoke wafted towards us, reminding us that domesticity was close. So domestic in fact, that people were selling homemade Vis fig cake and olive oil. It was all very tasty! Tents had started to appear along the road, and the hubbub of beer and laughter replaced the relative quiet of footsteps and chat. We turned into the square, retrieved our rucksacks with a sigh of relief, and the enormity of our night situation started to dawn. Due to the number of people on the trip there was no space in the old school. Instead we were shown to the 5* hotel around the corner, our baggage taken upstairs, and a martini ordered.
I say that but in reality it was far more fun. We entered the groundsheet free damp canvas marquee sized tent, and when the gentlemen within noticed two ladies arrive, they were keen to offer their assistance. We kept going to the back corner of the tent which in hindsight wasn't the best plan. Still, it seemed like a good idea at the time. We started a conversation with our neighbour...again, I say this. He struck it up with us. And didn't stop talking for the whole trip but he was very sweet, later buying me a drink.
We laid out our beds so that we wouldn't have to do it later and in the dark. We put on extra layers as we were thoroughly chilled from the afternoon sweaty walk, and went in search of a loo, hot food and drink. The square was bustling with activity; klapa singers were on the stage, the BBQ-ed fish was smoking, and the beer was exceedingly cheap. We made like Dalmatians and nabbed chairs on our mini front row Riva, to watch the world have fun. The party was really getting going...One of the lovely chaps we'd walked with earlier was kind enough to go round with me and introduce me to a load of people, translate songs, and have a dance. The music was getting louder and walking boots were now dancing shoes. The atmosphere was thick with cigarette and cooking smoke, and there was something magical brewing. But responsibility beckoned and I headed for the tent to sleep.
I smiled at the two happy campers sitting outside, and nodded dobra večer. They enthusiastically invited me to sit down and poured me a home-made apple rakija, then popped a pot of Turkish coffee on the fire. Apparently I was now part of the family, and the conversation continued after a Germanic-Croatian fashion. One of the chaps had been in Germany as a guest worker and had vocabulary. I merely have the grammar! As the party grew, the dancing started, and the singing spread around the group. The strumming of a guitar started, a gentle voice hummed love songs and I was lost in the romance of the moment. The rain started to drift down and we headed for the trees. The thunder and lightning offered an extra thrill to the occasion, and then the rain stopped toying with us. We were soaked.
You know those annoying people on campsites who wake people up in the middle of the night with parties?
It was us. We headed into the tent and carried on with the drinking and music. To be fair, the torrential rain had already done the damage, and people were grabbing stuff to save it from being drenched. This included duvets in the far corner of the tent. Oh yes. My bed was now doubling as a wetroom, and the snails were enjoying my yoga mat. Still, there was rakija and music so who cared?By 5.30am crashing out with the wildlife seemed like a good idea. By now the music from another area of the site had finished and a certain amount of quiet had fallen. Flicking off the puž, fighting with a pauk, I was thankful for the many layers, and the chivalry of one of the gentlemen. He had offered his sleeping bag and thrown it over me...I curled up and dozed to the memories of an incredible day.
To be continued...

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