Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Thousand Islands.

So back in May when I had just returned to Croatia, I received a call from my longtime sailing friend Bastian who mentioned an opportunity to go sailing in Croatia with the Cooper Boating crew. When you travel, plans tend to change, people get busy, have stuff to do and arrangements tend to fall through. I was pleasantly surprised when earlier in September I got a confirmation call that the sailing trip was on, and there was extra space on the boat. Being a bit strapped for cash, Bastian was kind enough to invite me along as long as I hauled my weight on board in return. Fortunately there was also extra space on board, so I was able to bring my brother Miles along for the trip as well. It would definitely be a new experience for myself, but it would even cooler to share the memory of trying something new with Miles. Sailing in Croatia. Land of a thousand islands. Pearl of the Adriatic.

I spent the last few days before the trip planning our way up the coast, transportation to Trogir and a way back at the end of the week. Thankfully my boss Jon was awesome enough to cut me some slack and come in a bit earlier to replace me so I could leave town a few hours earlier. That worked out great, the only other problem we had was that once we arrived in Split by bus, we would have to catch another connection out to Trogir harbour, which didn't run late at night. Huge thanks go out to my friend Diana, who was kind enough to drive us out to Trogir in exchange for a nice dinner out. I was also excited that Miles got to meet Diana and see what kind of great people Croatia has. As we drove out to Trogir, Diana told us about all the times she had been in a fender bender since I had last seen her in Dubrovnik three months earlier. She was pushing the limits but managed to avoid losing her job seeing as her car was provided by her employer (the number is five accidents in three months). Needless to say we made it to Trogir in one piece, albeit a bit nervous and met up with Bastian and his friend Isabellina. We sat around, had a drink, took in all the beautiful harbour had to offer. Due to rough weather we had to stay in Trogir harbour for two nights. Both nights I managed to sleep in the hammock up on deck which was an amazing experience. By day we went exploring and shipping at the local markets. It's strange how in this part of the world "buying local" isn't anything new. In fact for the most part they never stopped. Organic carrots, apples and my favourite, mandarin oranges were all bought in the local market. Lets also not forget a bottle of local "Travarica" that Miles found, a local Croatian herbal brandy which was consumed by all on the trip.

During the second night in Trogir harbour, we were slammed by a squall at about 9:30 pm. Initially Bastian and I had wandered into town to take photographs. As we walked into Trogir town we noticed that a storm front was steadily approaching. Not being more than 15 minutes from the boat we weren't worried about it. We took shots of the town, enjoying the local cafe culture and trying to snap as many discreet pictures of the locals as we could sneak. As we snapped away we noticed the storm getting closer and closer. I managed to snap a few pretty cool pictures of the storm as it approached. On average I would say there was a lightning strike every three seconds. It was a storm that was packing a heck of a punch. As we felt the air go still, and the hairs stand on the back of our necks, we decided to make a run for the marina. As we sprinted over the Trogir bridge back to the right side of the channel, the wind picked up significantly. What Bastian and I thought was a rain cloud aproaching at breakneck speed was actually a dust storm from the local harbour howling our way. We managed to make it back to the boat in the nick of time as the marina got hammered by the squall. Three foot waves started to form and batter the boats against the docks. Foresails proceeded to unfurl and flog themselves to death in the heavy winds. Our boat fortunately was well secured as we fired our motors up and left the boats in gear to help keep them from bashing into dock finger. During the early stages of the storm I managed to record this video.

Needless to say I don't think many people had seen anything quite like that before. A quiet idyllic marina turned into complete mayhem in an instant. Fortunately thanks to quick thinking from fellow sailors we managed to save a few boats from damage. Ripped power boxes, a shredded jib and a damaged pontoon of a catamaran. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but I know a few sailors were shaken. Other than the drama from the second night, the trip was otherwise a relaxing and warm vacation. Days were spent sailing in great winds, or motoring in the sunshine. We anchored out for lunch a few times, eating european style with a platter of cheeses and meats. Snorkelling until we were tired, napping until we were awake and traveling until we were reunited with the group. The further away from Split we went, the cleaner the water seemed to get with visibility improving and reaching the 100 meter mark. Fantastic snorkelling was experience, although I have still not managed to see the ever elusive octopus which is supposed to rule the area. We saw some amazing sunsets which I also managed to snap a few pictures of.

To earn my keep aboard, I was Bastian's "right hand sailor" always manning the main sheet and other lines. I also hauled my weight by being primary cook on board. Breakfasts, lunches and dinners were handled by yours truly. Meat and cheese platters, curries, omlettes etc... were all prepared on the tiny two burner stove in the galley. Here is one of our meals. Not too bad considering it came out of a boat galley! In the end I think Bastian was happy with my performance as a crew member.

So the rule of thumb goes that the longer your boat, the faster it's top speed will be. For some reason in Croatia this is not the case, as our tiny 32 foot "Dinghy" (compared to the other 43 footers) managed to consistently lead the pack and give all the other sailors a good run for their money. Plenty of fun was had on my last day as we raced from Stari Grad, Hvar to the small marina of Palmizana. I managed to snap some pretty cool photos along the way. There are some advantages about leading the pack!

Anyways on the last day, Bastian was awesome enough to drop me off in the town of "Hvar" where I caught a high speed catamaran to Split. A five and a half hour bus ride later on a double decker bus and I was back in Dubrovnik ready to work again on Saturday day... which is where I am writing this to you now! So if somebody asked me what my new favourite activity to do in Croatia is... my new answer is SAILING! The islands are stunning, the views amazing, the water clear and blue and the weather fantastic. And let's not forget the Bijela Kava with a shot of travarica.

Until the next adventure...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

When Miles came to visit (along with everybody else)

So it seems that I am best at posting blogs with large amounts of time between entries. That's mostly due to the fact that I am out doing awesome shit, and seriously lack time and patience to write about it. Luckily I take a boatload of pictures, so I can always bring you up to speed quickly about the time that you may have missed.

So where to begin? Well it all started roughly on the 17th of August, when Miles, Christine and Lisa all happened to arrive on the same day, about two hours apart. Miles and Christine had just finished a family reunion trip in England, and fancied a visit. Lisa had been paying close attention to my blog and was obviously enthralled by my fancy pictures and enthusiastic writing and had decided to blow all her remaining vacation time to come visit me in Croatia.

What I neglected to mention was that Kim and her friend Joy had also visited and stayed for two weeks on my couch. To be honest, for the most part I have had somebody on my couch almost solidly since mid june. Lucy(6 weeks), Sarah (10 days), Suzanne (6 days), Kim and Joy (two weeks), Lisa (Three weeks), Me (five days, while Miles and Christine had my bedroom), and have finally reduced the number of random travelers to just my brother. Now you'd think that one would potentially go "Bat shit crazy" from such large numbers of people in the house, but it actually works out very nicely. When I cook up large curry dinners for the hostel (cooked at home), I never seem to have a shortage of hands to help me bring food and supplies up for dinner.

Not to mention the fact that all of these people have been close friends, or people that I had grown closer to during that time. Make a few new friends, see some old ones, have a sibling or two come visit. It's been a hell of a treat to get to show dear friends and family around Croatia. Not just show them Croatia, but show them MY CROATIA! Ranting a car and driving through the Peljesac peninsula, tasting wine and swimming along the way. Driving up to the mountains to enjoy a nice fresh locally grown meal in Konavle, hopping in kayaks and going to explore caves, bombed out hotels and hidden spots in the city of Dubrovnik.

After years of having people put up with old man Fraser telling stories like a senile nostalgic traveler, I am finally getting some glory by showing them that I didn't make that shit up... they are all real places full of real adventures to be shared.

Anyways it has been fantastic having friends and family visit the last little while. Even acquaintances have provided a unique experience, just like the last few days when Alanna's sister Laura and her friend Sara came to visit. It's strange how you can get to know somebody you've never met, but had an amazing amount of things in common with, halfway around the world. I figure showing people a good time is something like "travelers karma". When I end up in another town somewhere random in the world, the amazing people will come out of the woodwork and show me the unique amazing things of the region.

Speaking of random, I met up with a fellow traveler I met five years ago at Fresh Travelers Bar. Now it was a random meeting to begin with. His name is Sergei and he's a Kazakh/Russian fellow who was living in London. Interesting guy to talk to back then, ironically enough he came back to Dubrovnik and sought me out. I went out for a drink with him yesterday where he introduced me to his recently married wife Olga. By chance Olga happens to be from the Ukraine... and not just the Ukraine, but also the region that my ukrainian heritage is from. We spent the better part of the next hour and a half talking about ukrainian life, life in Bukovina, the making of kutia (a traditional ukrainian dish we would make at christmas), the best things to do and see in the country and some good insight for north american travelers. The more time I spend on the road, the more it makes sense that I need to return to the Ukraine and see it for my own eyes. Experiences like this seem to solidify the fact that I do in fact need to start planning and executing a trip there this winter. Everything is slowly falling right into place.

Anyways it is 1:30 am, I need to be up at 7 am to work at the hostel but wanted to avoid leaving you all hanging so I decided to bang out this blog. Here's a few more pictures from the month to tie you over until next time! Safe journeys in the meantime, and to anyone else in the area, don't hesitate to drop by for a visit!