Croatia

Chapter Twenty Six: Learning to Breathe

I’m pretty good at leaving things to the last minute and pretty good at dealing with the inevitable fallout but trudging down a hundred stairs in the morning sun with panniers weighing down on my chest and back I admit I wished for the foresight to have booked two nights in our first hostel. The apartment for tonight, where I was headed, was at the southern city walls, about as far from yesterdays place as you can get in the small old town – and I didn’t envy tomorrow when the bags would need be taken back up the steps to Candy Indy. Regardless, I got out of making breakfast by volunteering myself for pack mule service. Little Victories.

We settled into (threw our stuff all over) our new swank pad. I was already frustrated, mulling over the loss of my Union Jack flag which I’d carried with me and displayed on my rucksack for every mile since Sevilla, Spain. There was nowhere to display it with a passenger on the back so I’d tied it with a simple overhand knot to the top of Sarah’s bag. Now it wasn’t anywhere. Worse still, my travelling companion had developed his own personality, battle scars and rugged good looks as whites turned to dirty greys and colours were bleached by the sun. Now he was at the side of the road somewhere, caught in a bush or being eaten by goats. He should have made it back home, to a frame on my wall. I mourned having to leave a man behind. Naturally I couldn’t communicate any of this and I was antagonized by Sarah’s  indifference. After I failed to pin it on her (it was my knot after all…) I entered a sulky, empty blue world. I sank even deeper when I couldn’t find my inappropriately small swimming shorts – a stolen rental pair from an Icelandic hot-spring.  I ‘settled into’ the apartment some more by decanting the panniers onto the floor, fruitlessly. We left without them. On the small main street I was frightened by my own conversions. £45 for swimming shorts? Fuck that. Sarah found an outlet shop with the same pair in for a more palatable £18, pulling me a little out of my foul mood.  I questioned how far gone my people skills were. I had learned to love a flag (my flag) after all..

After changing into my pristine shorts and throwing our stuff into a big waterproof barrel I recovered to my normal competitive self pretty quickly. We were going was Sea Kayaking and Snorkelling which meant Sarah and I had a power-couple job to do. Beat all the other Kayak bitches mano-a-mano, boato-a-boato. Getting into a rhythm quickly we followed our guide past out of the bay and around Lokrum island. Turns out our guide had been an extra when the Game of Thrones team had been to Dubrovnik and Lokrum to film. I couldn’t be surprised they’d chosen here as a set. In the shadow of the towering sea-lapped cliffs and city walls the place still felt so Medieval, like nothing much about the city had  changed in hundreds of years. We passed a nudist beach but I couldn’t see any boobs as I’d left my glasses in the apartment. Sarah said she did – and she didn’t even want to. I cursed my eyes.

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Selfie cam comes into its own – capturing the essence of being better Kayakers than old American couples and fat silent girls. Natural born winners.

A leisurely paddle across shipping lanes bought us underneath more looming cliff sides on the mainland and a huge cave where we’d break for lunch. The huge slab roof shaded us as we pulled the bright red and yellow boats onto the shore, it was an impressive cave, scoured clean by the sea. The stones were small and hurt your feet to walk on. Snorkels and masks were dumped from a mesh bag onto the cobbles – looked like we were being left to it. Sarah hadn’t done it before and my experience extended only as far as an hour in a swimming pool as a cub-scout 16 years ago. Since then I’d unlearned how to swim for any length of time – sprints were OK but where stamina was concerned you could dub me pet-rock for all the swimming ability. I strode into the cold, crystal blue water with my conviction left somewhere under a rock on the beach. The water deepened, my feet left the ground and I felt the water pressure against my chest as I breathed. Like through a thick straw I gulped up the bitterly salty water and had to tear the snorkel out of my mouth to spit it back into the sea. Sarah’s initial attempts were as encouraging, spluttering about on the surface like I do when trying to swim normally. But we persevered, calling upon the ancient and wise dolphin spirit for inspiration with our new tool. Breathing had always been the sticking point with my swimming technique but now I was floating, face down in the water, breathing. Liberated. I questioned why everyone didn’t swim this way.

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Sarah getting the hang of snorkelling as cruise ships linger in the bay behind her.
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Old columned structures fighting back the sea.

We returned to the mainland for a quick  towel dry before squelching our flip flops back to the apartment to wash the salt deposits off properly. Killing time we changed, ate and drank until a little heat had faded from the day before heading up onto the city walls for the best view over the city. The city walls sit astonishingly high above the sea. I started to doubt the young, irritating Aussie girl I’d met on Kos actually jumped off this – if only for the long swim it would be back to dry land.

Big Drop.
Big Drop.
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Fort Lovrijenac on the other side of the bay we launched our kayaks from earlier. If you squint there’s a couple still out, down by the rocks. SMALL
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Old churches above old ports. The setting sun set everything alight with its pink hue.
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Genuine fucking pirate ships. This bad boy managed to snuggle other boats out of its spot int’ harbour. Check out the tall cypress trees in the background. Pretty fucking Mediterranean.
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One of the oldest, most beautiful skylines you can hope to see.

The bells from the churches rang for tens of minutes as Sarah and I made our way across the final section of wall and down to the square keeping Big Onofrio’s Fountain. The marble gleamed the low sun back at us on our way back to the apartment where we mustered the energy to go out for beer and groceries before draining the last batteries in my un-rechargable Turkish genuine-fake beats pill (Bluetooth speaker) and collapsing in the apartment. Our plan was set, tomorrow we’d ride up the coast as far as Drvenik and catch a ferry over to Hvar – a long,  west-easterly stretching island with a reputation for liveliness in its principle town, Hvar. We might have time to stop and sightsee on the way…

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