It’s safe to say Hvar town stayed red-paint free.
With all the tensions, frustrations and heat-induced anger from earlier that day was only a matter of time (and alcohol) before it all bubbled back to the surface, black and angry. Sarah and I had left a bar to get cash from a machine. The first one we tried didn’t work. The second one across the other side of the town did, but after a fashion. Walking back something happened and we stopped. We stopped and we argued. Under the reflective cream glow of the street lamps we bickered. It was my fault, though it was hard to see at the time. I’d adopted a certain passiveness and dissolution of responsibility since Sarah had got here. Her holiday was much shorter than mine, so she should make more of the decisions. With this mindset came a droid-state, a self-enforced slave-state at odds with the freedom of the open road before it. I was unhappy and it was my own fault. Broken rationality. Sarah was unhappy and it was my fault. Bad boy friending. The argument didn’t last too long, we patched up, ducked out of our pub crawl and walked back to the hostel. I questioned my behaviour for much longer.
With the morning came the promise of a fresh start. We could leave the legacy of the road to Mostar behind us and focus on enjoying the beautiful Mediterranean island we’d woken on. With its beautiful marble streets and squares it was apparent that Hvar was every bit as classy as Dubrovnik. Sarah and I walked amongst lavender, natural sponge and art stalls, little wooden huts bleached by the sun, effusing the air with scents and feeding the eyes with soft colours. In the background the sea glinted azure blue, the sand underneath clearly visible as it rolled slowly down to deeper waters. Boats swayed gently in the harbour. It was a tropical paradise. We followed the coast South, looking for the swimming spots the hostel workers had marked on our map. Not that swimming spots mattered. The bouldery shoreline offered decent enough places to stop for the dusting of revellers already out and enjoying the sunshine. Clambering over into a vacant patch we were enticed into the sea by means of avoiding the searing heat from above. Despite its perfect appearance it was cold as shit. I mustered courage to go as deep as my waist, hissing when my nutsack was claimed by the tide, then emerge the rest. As good a place to sunbathe as any, but a bad place to swim – we discovered why it wasn’t on the swimming map after getting our feet needled by prickly black anemones, the tips of their barbs broken like splinters in the soles of my feet.
I dried my top half, threw on a t-shirt and padded wetly back into town for some a snack and a chill out (because relaxing next to the sea is so demanding). We admired the luxury yachts in the harbour and wandered up through a wooded area out to the east, stopping only to act like fools in a children’s playground. We were going rockpooling.
Suitably scorched by the sun we were enticed to the sea once more. This time I’d bought back up – although as we were financing everything using Sarah’s card for better bank rates, technically Sarah bought back up. I’d always been rubbish at swimming. It was natures way of telling me I was as dense as I looked (my mom always warned me the wind would change..). But with my new ally and recent practice in Dubrovnik the doors to the fish kingdom were opening. I had a serious wide-on for snorkelling. Sarah and I wasted away the strong afternoon rays skimming stones out to the boats, playing with rogue dogs and swimming with my new favourite toy. I was lured by my own curiosity to the eerily still, algae covered boat anchor chains, as thick as my wrist, feeling like I was in a Pirate movie. Sarah explained her irrational fear of the underside of boats and as we were right next to a Harbour, I used it to cash in on the majority of snorkelling time. I revelled in being able to breathe as I skated face-down along the surface. Normally I’d tilt, my legs would drop and I’d be sinking if I didn’t maintain the pace of a small yacht. But now, after drifting around for an hour, I was sufficiently worn out, complacent and happy. Retiring back to the hostel we chatted with others, played drinking games and headed out into town again for some happier, more relaxed drinks. For the first time in my life I showed maturity towards social drinking, capping my alcohol consumption and insisting on going to bed. Shame I was already smashed.
Our time on the idyllic island drew to a close as we woke late and bleary eyed on another bright day. Sarah and I hurriedly jammed all our gear into panniers in record time to beat check-out. We left the stuff in the hostel hallway among ten or so suitcases, had breakfast then loaded Candy. The internet showed us we could get to Split via the car port at Stari Grad, half an hour to the east. With Hvar in my mirrors we climbed up steeply away from the coast and back to the high grounds of the interior. We stopped a couple of times to admire the view or adjust the bags and had to set off almost as quickly to avoid the heady symptoms of oppressive heat exposure. Without the wind-chill it was torture. Getting only slightly lost in the process we found the port and settled in under sun parasols to wait for departure. Hvar had offered the chance to clean the air and I thanked it for it. We were both happily sipping coffee watching the world unfold around us.
The ferry access to Croatian islands was efficient as the crossing from Drvenik to Hvar, so after some increasingly competitive card-games, short naps and chatting shit we rolled off the ferry into Split bang on time. I cruised into town and stopped on a side road next to a cafe full of police. Luckily, next door was a travel agent who let us use their wifi to get onto hostel bookers. Pickings were sparse, so we opted for a private room in a clean looking hostel. Getting back on the bike we encountered that all too familiar experience, when the GPS wanted us to go cross country and ramp up staircases. We rode round the block looking for a way to get closer to home for the night using all the questionable riding moves in the book. Riding along pavements, between enormous blockade flowerpots, grinding panniers against wire fences and granite walls. After loop uno I stopped and closed in on foot, leaving Sarah to bark at any glory-hunting traffic wardens that might stray too close to giving us a ticket. It was an easy find, but difficult to get a bike there – so Sarah departed to check us in and I took loop dos to locate the only alleyway that would reach the hostel’s street. Once more cross country I accidentally took a different line and rolled into a manned car-park. The barriers were down where I needed to go, so I pointed and asked if it was OK for me to go round. The guy nodded and waved me through, so I rattled sideways past the barrier. Or so I thought. I heard the clang of the barrier snapping off and turned to see it ping into the air and hit the ground – leaving just a lonely stub next to the mechanism box. The pannier, tent strapped on and bulging anyway, had caught it and ripped it off. I felt instantly drained. The question of how much these things cost shot back and forth through my head as the guy looked at me, threw his hands up in wide eyed disbelief and stood up inside his operators booth. Grimacing I lowered the side-stand and disembarked for a closer look. Despite my slight panic I had time to figure out the puzzle just as the operator opened the door with a big, pained “what the fuck?“. Amidst my own apologies I picked up the arm from the concrete floor and found a metal bolt next to it. Slipping the arm into the stub with one hand I managed to push the bolt through both pieces, let go gingerly and stand back humbly. I hoped I fixed it. The operator inspected it and seemed to lighten quickly, before waving me away with a “Go, Go.” I was embarrassed, so took my leave, found the side road and parked the bike down the widest part of a narrow alleyway where the hostel was.
Hot and flustered I walked into the reception and instantly greeted by Sarah with “The private rooms aren’t here, they’re in a separate apartment somewhere else”. After all the hassle getting the bike there I was annoyed at the staff for not mentioning this sooner, i.e. when we had booked it. But we had little choice, and followed another employee across the oval car-park I’d been ramping through earlier and down another side street to our apartment. Watching the employee struggling to unlock the door didn’t inspire any confidence, then again neither did the room when she opened it. It didn’t seem like the 3 star apartment the sticker on entrance arch called it. Left alone and after hauling the bags over, then the bike, Sarah conveyed her dismay, wanting to cut the stay short to find another apartment. In the end it was half the cost of everything else in Split and pretty central, so convenience and cost won her over. It wasn’t the worst place I’d stayed in on my trip – bearable for the two days we’d be staying.
In the cool early evening breeze Sarah and I wandered through Split without our cameras, absorbing the sights. Twenty meters through the old town arches, along a narrow stone corridor with shops selling customary lavender and sponge, an open courtyard revealed itself through the brickwork on our right. We stepped out of a small rabble of tourists and through the courtyard into a travel agent and started palming through brochures for something to do tomorrow. We left with smiles on our faces and fewer coins to rattle our banks. Extreme Canyoning. Sounds sweet.
That night we feasted a feast of kings. And I’m not exaggerating because I was left in charge of the cooking. I can speak for Sarah when I say we sat outside, eating our part-cooked corn on the cob, chokingly over-seasoned chicken and strange instant pasta in mushroom sauce thinking this lovely plate must have been gifted from the gods. It was so good that I agreed I’d not chef for a little while, lest we forget how average normal food is. We forced as much of this delicious food back as we could, knowing we’d need all the calories for an early start tomorrow.