It is 11pm on our first night at Plitvice Lakes. I am lying in bed listening to the sound of a waterfall outside our window. A half hour ago a sudden storm swept through, a clash or two of thunder and a heavy downpour. More or less our first rain since we were in Assisi. We hope it passes quickly, as we have a full day planned in the national park tomorrow. All the same I enjoy the sound of rain and thunder, at least when you are snug and dry inside.
We have had one of the most unusual days of our trip. Luckily, I was feeling well again, and managed to stay vertical all day. Today’s adventure started with collecting our hire car in Split. It seemed to take forever to complete the paperwork, and then we discovered that we had been given an upgrade. It was a very kind thought on behalf of the front desk assistant, except that the alternative vehicle could not accommodate luggage and backpacks for four people. Waddy had taken the trouble a couple of days prior to double-check that our requested station waggon was available, so he and Jay ‘negotiated’, and eventually we got what we needed. Good on Waddy and Jay.
Eventually, with GPS in hand, we set out an hour or so later than intended. Our first destination was an inland place called Knin. Jay had promised to call in on family of a Serbian friend from back home in Wollongong. Along the route the landscape was more of the hilly, rocky, sparsely vegetated type that we have seen along the coast, but as we went further it became greener, and in some places the gorges and valleys were quite steep. Much of the countryside was dotted with huge wind turbines. There was agriculture, but not as intense as in other places, oftentimes it seemed to be made up of bales of hay, but for what purpose was not clear as there was not much livestock about. Every so often we passed small villages, and larger towns in the distance here and there.
We found Knin without much trouble, but finding the house we were looking for was another matter. We sought advice in a service station, and came away with a roughly scribbled map, on which the most prominent mark was ’10klm’. It was then it dawned on us we only had half the address of where we were going. What we thought was a street name, was actually the name of a small village – which was NEAR Knin.
It is marvellous what the GPS can do when you feed it the correct information, but as one decent road after another withered to a dirt track we started to wonder what we had committed to. We pulled up at a deserted looking farmhouse – our destination according the voice that lives inside the GPS. Across the road from the farmhouse there was an old man sleeping in the noonday sun on a slab of wood, balanced on a low stone wall. There was no other sign of life, so there was nothing for it but to wake him and ask his advice. It turned out we had to continue on down the road a bit further. It took Bill a few goes at getting enough traction to pull the car up the gravelled hill to set us on our way again, and then we lurched and bumped a kilometre or so further on until there wasn’t any more road. Just a cluster of houses and farm outbuildings. Eureka! A mere two hours or so later than we had indicated we would arrive. Our hosts were not upset, just amazed that we had managed to find the place at all. They had been out looking for us earlier in the day.
This land has been in the family for seven hundred years, can you imagine that. None of the houses are that old, but they are old enough, and each of the houses belongs to a family member, even though most of them are unoccupied now. Most of the houses in the district (around eighty square kilometres) are unoccupied, an outcome of the war. This land is called Croatia now, and the people who lived here are Serbs, and most of them have relocated and left their former lives behind. There are only around one hundred and twenty old people left in the area. There are no children, or almost none. I will not attempt to explain the ins and outs of how that happened, war historians and journalists would understand the facts much better than me. All I will say it is sad to see a formerly fertile and populated area shrivelling away into a ghost town. Nevertheless, we were given a warm welcome, a tasty home style lunch, and we had a good look around the property. We saw all the trappings of a formerly busy self sustaining farm. The area where wheat was threshed by hand, grape crushing equipment, wine barrels, rakija storage, sausage smoking sheds, a corn drying shed, and vegetable fields. These are just what spring to memory. It seemed to us we were in the remote out-blocks of rural living. What a contrast to the hype and buzz of the tourist spots on the Croatian coastline.
Time was marching on, and our hosts had already told us that one of the roads to Plitvice Lakes was closed, so we said our goodbyes and hit the road again.
I should mention that I don’t really enjoy travelling by Satnav. I much prefer the old fashioned way of having a map spread in front of you so you have some idea of your actual position in the wider scheme of the landscape. Nevertheless we had to trust in the GPS, except that because of the road closure we had to ignore it at one stage until it could recalculate. Towards the end of our trip I was left with the impression that we may have made a wide circle and added unnecessary time to the journey. Even so we were doing ok, until right at the end.
Talk about going down the wrong road. Our destination was a village called Korana, and the GPS accepted that fine. The problem is that oftentimes a village and an area can have the same name. We were barrelling down the main road when it indicated that we had overshot our turnoff. If we had ignored that for another kilometre or two, we would have reached a point where I had written instructions that would have then made perfect sense. But no! We put our trust in an inanimate object with a non-existent person barking out instructions to us. We reasoned that it had got us to the back-of-beyond rural outpost earlier that day, and it would do the same for us again now. (As I said before, they are marvellous inventions when you feed it the correct information. But? How can you be sure which is the correct information?)
Well, we managed a u-turn without collecting any oncoming traffic, and turned off onto to the side road. It was a narrow country track that wound through dense green forest. Highly scenic for the passengers. Highly nerve-wracking for the driver. Very tight blind corners. Oncoming traffic would catch us unawares, and one or the other would have to pull off as far as possible to permit passing. There was an hour or two of daylight left. It was dimming in the thickly foliated forest. After five kilometres or so, we reached a village – not the one we were looking for.
Jay to the rescue. We stopped for her to ask advice of a couple outside their farmhouse. They were highly amused. We were of course on the wrong road, and if we hadn’t stopped to ask we could have driven on for another forty kilometres in a wide circle in the forest. As it was, we had to drive back in the direction we had just come.
So here we are in our private house accommodation, in the tiny hamlet of Korana, nestled in a valley of the Plitvice Lakes National Park, tucked up in bed and being lulled to sleep by the sound of the water rushing by …………….
Monday 8th July 2013, Garrulous Gwendoline, Korana, Plitvice Lakes