Sunday 19 June 2016

What does a lady do on a paradise island?

Is it still possible to write a 'first impressions' post about Šipan? I think so, as I've only been here full time for a week and haven't actually experienced a full Sunday yet. I had a nasty back twinge again last night and so went to bed early - probably why I'm awake with the swifts now. It's lovely to lie here with tea, and the sound of song bird, the 7.30am ferry warming up and gentle rain falling. Add to this the crunch of homemade bread and burbling coffee, and I think you've got Sunday heaven
Question. If I'm by the sea, why no seagulls? Why only lovely tweeting birds, not raucous screams of the gulls that are so annoying and vicious in Torquay? Perhaps it's the lack of fish n chips, rubbish and landfill...who knows. Answers on a postcard. The programme on Radio 3 this morning incidentally had me reaching for bird websites. There is an island close by which doubles as lighthouse and bird sanctuary. Wonder if an ornithologist fancies taking me round?
The reason for not having had a Sunday here yet is because the last one I was in Split, and the one before that I was clambering aboard the Dubrovnik ferry so that I could get the bus north. Exams and moving upheaval caused minor stress, with some serious mileage covered up and down the coast. Whether it was related, my troublesome lower back disk decided to remind me of the importance of not sitting for long periods of time, and to get my stationary studious arse jogging. Hence the reason for spending 3 days in Split, curled up willing it to shrink back so I could move again! Yes, just move...let alone carry a ton of stuff around with me, and then sit on public transport for 4 hours. Oh did I mention clubbing on Friday? As far as I was concerned, that was 'therapy', essential for back health! Happily it cleared up enough for a fabulous Friday night *misty eyed*...
This was partly how on Monday I could amble 'drunkenly' - so my friend Ives said - with all my bags down to the port to catch the catamaran to Dubrovnik. That rucksack was so heavy, I think I lost a couple of inches off my height. It turned out to be an exciting boat ride as the weather wasn't great to start with, but got worse and worse en route. We hit a storm around Mljet and it got 'bumpy'. Can I say that with more glee? But oh that poor guy behind me... I was lucky enough across the full seat at the front so I could rest my back, but also kneel there when it got really rough and enjoy the bounce of the waves! Never sure whether I enjoy the swoop or the bump more!
I had the usual ferry wait when I got to Dubrovnik, but this time only for an hour, rather than the couple of hours I had experienced previously. I had luckily only paid 20p extra for my ticket - my booked return had to be amended! Once aboard, nearly throwing my bags overboard in frustration, I enjoyed the ridiculously pretty abstract colours and shapes that the rain was making on the old tub of a ship. I was greeted by one of the aforementioned guys from the bar - fully clothed this time - and he was obviously unaware that we'd met. Then he did a comedic style double take and he wouldn't stop apologising for the evening. He took my bags and called my landlord to help. This time when I arrived, I had more to unpack so I was adamant about not being lured out for drinks.
A relatively quiet evening followed, and Tuesday saw me getting the second ferry of the day  (7am)back to the mainland for provisions and a trip to the police station. I was even hoping for some art. The shopping here is very limited and I really needed boring inexpensive things like bleach and washing powder. If I could live on olive oil, wine and fish, I'd be sorted! Sadly my clothes wouldn't... It was a baking hot day and when I arrived, I really did hot foot it to the first police station I saw on the map. The wrong one. I was directed to the next one just out of town, which instead of a reception, had a photocopying shop. Obviously. A country which demands paper in triplicate...they must make a fortune. The queue, redolent of boredom, sweat, and photocopy ink, was breath-taking. Clutching my own essay of paper, I asked for the counter which dealt with aliens and was ushered down a corridor to another hole in the wall.
From this point onwards my day went downhill and I wish I'd stayed at home washing my clothes with fish and olive oil.
The woman was unbelievably rude and unhelpful. I'm not going say much more because it might jeopardise any chance of me staying in the country. However the simple process outlined in Split, according to her was rubbish; if Split was so easy, I quote 'why didn't I go back there?' She said I needed a bank account here  because my English money in a fully accessible account is fake and nonsense, my printed statements off the internet are fiction, and even if they aren't fiction, how does she know I haven't spent it, and in any case I need the balance translating - how does one say £10,000 in Croatian numbers?! Not only that, but my landlord has to prove that he has registered me with the police - um, isn't she the police and aren't I on a database? Anyway, I came out of there in tears. Ona je bila picku.
I did the only logical thing after that. It was pointless going shopping immediately because it was 4 hours to the next ferry. Imagine the state of butter, meat and milk after a few hours in the sun! So I sat in a café and drank coffee. I've had practice and after months on Split's  Riva, I'm at least PhD level of expertise on doing nothing. I was seriously not in the mood for art after that brush with the law.
Finally I ambled into a large Supermarket Tommy where I was happy to spend a couple of hours. Food is always soothing. I picked up a Gimi (Moore) shopping trolley for £20, figuring it would be cracking investment for carting stuff back and forth. And proceeded to shop as if I was going to be on a desert island with no freezer.
It's going to be an experiment and I will only know over time what sort of stuff will be useful. But I bought the usual whole chicken, a few sealed packs of sausage, veggies, fruit, flour, yeast, baking powder, milk, juice, and cleaning materials. I've never spent quite so much on one shop here (£130 which included my trolley, and a large baking tray which cost me more than an electric slow cooker at home!) but I'm hoping to make it through til my next 'pay day' on 26th June. Yup, mackerel and olive oil will become a staple! I'm already making a note of the fact that next time I should pick up more fruit juices and long life milk. I'm enjoying making bread because I refuse to wait for the ferry at midday but next time I shall Google the flour before buying. I'm not a light touch at baking at the best of times, and future attempts at rye bread might mean a trip to the dentist. I also bought the ingredients to make my landlady's cream cake recipe...! That was frivolous, fun but a waste of shopping bag space. Scratch was the best cake I've ever made!
More and more impressed with my sturdy trolley, Gimme and I trundled back to the new port and on to the ferry, and a gentleman parked it along with the others. I fumbled for my return ticket but it must have fallen out at the police station. Bugger. He was not impressed and so I had to run and get a new one from the office. With 5 minutes before departure...would my chicken be flying solo across the waters... ? I was not having the best of days and I was wishing Dubrovnik to the far corner of the earth. And it was only 2pm. Needless to say, I made it back to the island and was happy to once again start unpacking and put a comfortingly large amount of provisions in the fridge and cupboards.
Did I mention I could rent out my 2 store cupboards as pod hotels? They are at least 7 foot deep, 4 foot high - that is a lot of tinned tomatoes and pasta for which I may be grateful when it's the depths of October and the ferry isn't running and there isn't even any fish. Still, mmm olive oil...
It doesn't need to be autumn for this place to experience weather. I mean, I've had 'weather' on holiday; Italy where we had to hastily roll up blinds to prevent the villa from taking off and being blown out to sea; iciness in northern Spain which threatened to remove body parts; rain in Russia which meant serious head injuries for the unwary. But Croatia has been spectacular over the past 4 months or so - we've had all of the above. Not to mention raging hot sunshine for a few days in April. After conversations with the farmers and vine growers here, they are seriously concerned over what is happening to the weather over the past few years. This year the fruit harvest is a disaster, the vines and olives are struggling, and who knows what is happening to the wildlife in the sea - invasions of tropical fish which are also chomping through indigenous species faster than the Italian commercial fisheries. It is basically katastrofa of the first order. Anyone who denies climate change is a complete potato head with no connection with the natural order of things.
Tourism is also affected by the weather and given the precarious state of virtually self sufficient Island life, visitors and their kuna offer security for the winter months. However if the weather is stormy, this tiny place with beautiful beaches, remote churches and mysterious woodlands, the colourfully dressed invasions of people disembarking the ferry will dry up. As my helpful man in the bar said, people now have access to fairly reliable weather forecasts on their smartphones; they can check before booking excursions to this out of the way place.
Although there are exceptions, such as today - non stop rain - days which tend to start murky, often end in glorious sunshine. There are clearly benefits to being a late riser but running when it is cool and grey is very pleasant. Especially when you get so lost you end up retracing many of your strides. Follow that with a long afternoon walk in the sun, and a late swim, and you have a perfect day. The atmosphere has also provided some sunset pyrotechnics which makes all the weather uncertainty worth it! Being distracted by one of these meant I was stuck with the option of walking home in the dark, until I realised that there was a bus back to my village at 8.50pm.
Transport here is interesting. There is the aforementioned bus, whose timetable is as erratic as the main road, the landlord's bicycle (not a euphemism), various taxi boats, and obviously you can walk around. The island is only about 7km long, and the two main villages are 5km apart, roughly, so it's not that much of a hardship. Unless you baulk at the thought of a dark empty road, devoid of street lighting - not that much will happen to you here, if I'm being honest. The bicycle and I have already had a lover's tiff and as far as possible away from home, its front tyre burst into... well, burst. What a drama queen! Happily, I was chatting to a very drunk fisherman from Nottingham, my landlord's other guests walked past. They offered me and the limping bicycle a ride back to Suđurađ. Phew! Today I was told that the bike was at my disposal again...after seeing him wield an axe precisely and with care the other day, I'm loath to upset him again!
Yesterday I returned to my perfect isolated cove - on foot - for an afternoon in the sun. With not a puncture in sight, I managed not to get distracted by the thought of the cute little Bar No Name in Šipanska Luka, and headed straight to the beach. I was vaguely disappointed that a couple of naked Germans, with a little red dingy (stop sniggering at the back) had got there before me. Still, we exchanged some witticisms about me wanting a nibble on his bread. Further guffaws were caused when they went to leave and he had problems detaching his dingy from the mooring post...after an irate few words with his lady, a soaking of his feet as he fell in, and finally taking the wheel, I waved a cheery goodbye. I don't think they heard me laughing. Ok, so people in Dubrovnik could hear me.
After that, I had the place to myself and I counted every single blessing I could think off and it was only as the sun was disappearing behind the mountain, that I realised I should head home for fresh chicken and noodle soup, Dalmatian style. 

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