Today we berth on the island of Mljet. It is helpful to know that ‘lj’ in Croatian makes a sound like the ‘lli’ in million, otherwise English speakers would think the word unpronounceable. We tie up in the harbour of Pomena, and set off on foot for the nearby Mljet National Park. This is an area of immense beauty, notable for two salty lakes, appropriately named small (Mali) and big (Veleki) lake.
The colour is green turquoise, and the lakes are surrounded by dense forest. The air is thick with the sound of cicadas. On some of the remote tracks, walking alone through the bush, looking down on the crystal water and listening to the singing cicadas, I am transported back to a summer Sunday of my childhood, joining with my brother and his friends on the banks of the George’s River in the outer reaches of Sydney. A remote bush location they had found on a military ordnance map when doing manoeuvres in the army reserves ( citizen’s military force as it was known at the time).
Civilisation is not far away here though. Family groups are picnicking and swimming around the edges of the lake, particularly at a small bridge joining the two lakes. There are bikes, kayaks and canoes for hire. Small boats ferry passengers around the shore, and out to the island of Sveti Marija ( Saint Mary) , where one finds a small church and a 12th century monastery being refurbished.
After visiting the island, we let the boat drop us off at another point on the big lake, and we ramble back on foot, winding around the shore. We come to a small village with a cafe. Bill orders beer and I an ice-cream, and the owner can tell I have a few words of Croatian. We end in a discussion in which I understand every second word, but I get the part at the end where he is offering me a rakija on the house. I tell him, “Please! No slivovica!” He assures me it is something else – but whatever it was, it was potent. The kind of drink that kills any germs lurking in the throat.
People have been telling me that the waters of the lake are warmer than the ocean, so a little further on we come to an easy access point, and I finally make the plunge. The salt water makes the body buoyant, and it is pleasant to lie on my back and squint up to the bright sky above, drifting and dreaming. There are patches that are warmer than others, those areas that still hold rays of the bright sunshine, even though it is now late afternoon, and the forest is starting to cast shadows on the lakeside. That doesn’t seem to bother the next young couple who come along – after all, they are from Finland, and she is a member of a group who go ice swimming.
As Bill and I straggle back into town, we meet Jay and Waddy, just returned from a scuba dive. Jay has been looking forward to this moment for many long months. It is her forty-ninth dive. She first learnt when living on the island of Bougainville. On this dive they saw relics of an earlier civilisation, clay earthenware fragments, and an almost complete amphora – its two handles sticking up out of the mud. They also came up close and personal with a small squid. That’s a tick for Jay’s bucket list.
Thursday 4th July 2013 , Garrulous Gwendoline, Mljet, Croatia
NB: It is timely to mention that Jay has been providing some of the photos appearing on this blog – for example, the two from the marketplace in Split. (Cruising: Split to Hvar). She has found a latent talent for photography, with a keen eye for the detail of daily life. Thank you Jay!