It turned out that our “waterproof” Nikon camera wasn’t hugely watertight so, as you might imagine, taking it snorkelling with us ended badly. It was rubbish timing too as today’s cycle to Plitvice was one of the most scenic we’ve had in a while but with no photographic evidence, you’ll just have to trust me on that.
The first part of the day was up a fairly steep mountain against huge headwinds, but the traffic wasn’t bugging us today and our pangs of homesickness from the previous night were soon forgotten with the backdrop of the cliffs and sea in the distance, the mountain road dotted all along with men and women selling homemade cheese and honey from the backs of vans and on little tables.
It was the first time since northern Spain that we really felt we were starting to head off the beaten track. When we got to the top, we stopped at the plaque for a moment and took a picture (in our minds – click).
Even on the downhill we were in first gear and pushing hard against the wind. Eventually, we headed inland, avoiding the main roads which lead us through some beautiful rural landscapes and (of course) some awesome photo opportunities. There were wrinkly old women in headscarves dressed head to toe in black, hand sorting berries, men hacking away in fields with scythes and some awesomely retro Soviet-looking tractors. We even saw a baby deer bouncing along through a field. We’d only been passed by two cars in over 10 miles; it really was idyllic, which is when it all started going a bit horror movie…
First, we passed a bullet-hole ridden sign for the village we were about to cycle through. A little bit further along, the tarmacked track we were on turned into a gravel track. Almost an hour had passed without a single other vehicle passing us except an old tractor with a stern looking man and woman who stared at us as they went slowly bumbling past. On either side of the track were dense woods. Just as we started discussing how they have bears in Croatia and what we’d do if one jumped out at us, I spotted a bright red sign through the trees with a skull and cross bones on. That can never be a good thing. I shouted ahead to Nev but he hadn’t seen the sign, and we started pondering about what it might have been. This is when I realised I’ve watched WAY too many horror movies. My mind was on overdrive. The sign, I was sure, must be a “keep off my land or die” warning to strangers. I started playing out horrifically disturbing scenarios in my head… we hadn’t told anyone we were coming this way. We’d booked a hostel a few days ahead but by the time the police figured it out, our killer would have dumped our bodies in the sea or have us well hidden away in a creepy torture basement somewhere – and that’s if the bears didn’t get us!
It turned out that the skull and cross bones sign (of which there were many more along both sides of the track) was an active landmine warning. So to add to my fears of serial killers and bears, it turned out we were cycling through an active minefield!
We pedalled as fast as we could to get out of there as quickly as possible, stopping briefly when I got stung TWICE by a wasp (can there be any more hazards in these woods?!). The track turned into a fairly steep and rocky hill, but we pressed on, not wanting to stop in case the bears or murderers came out, never verging off the track in fear of the landmines! Eventually, we got to a little fork in the track with tiny wooden signs that were hand painted in red paint. We took the fork for Plitvice and eventually got out of the woods of horror and onto a proper tarmacked landmine-free road!
Because of the mountain, the hills, gravel tracks and headwinds, it took us almost eight hours to cycle just 59 miles, so we were exhausted when we got to our little campsite for the night but instantly cheered up by the fact that there were quite a few sheep and a miniature horse all running about right next to our pitch.
When we asked about wifi, the man from the reception said we could sit in the porch of his house, which felt a bit bizarre. We (I) ate quite a few of the homemade biscuits that had been left out on the table, washed down with a lovely bottle of Croatian wine. After a while, the Croatian man came back in, got a bottle from the fridge, asked us where we were from then poured us both a shot of something he’d “distilled himself”. Oooof it was strong! For the rest of the day and morning after we both kept getting repeats of the taste in waves that made us shudder. It would’ve been rude not to though, right?