Before learning Jon was not going to be meeting me in Zadar, Amy and I adventured to Plitvice Lakes National Park.
After an hour of sleep, a haul to the bus station, and the pure adrenaline and hope pumping through my veins at what the day would bring, sinking into the seat on the bus was divine.
Quickly, my head bobbed to the window and sleep coursed through my blood. There were a few times along the way when my eyes would flutter open and I would marvel at the road we journeyed down. Amy had nudged me at one point to show me homes that had been destroyed by the 90s war; another time I was greeted with the sight of turn-of-the-century homes teetering over waterfalls and rushing waters.
When we finally arrived to Plitvice, you wouldn’t have known what was contained beyond the thick forest where we departed the bus.
To say Plitvice Lakes is a stunner would be an understatement. Its sheer technicolor natural beauty around each and every meandering turn is jaw-dropping. Its 16 turquoise lakes link together through waterfalls cascading down sheer rock cliffs. Unlike most water bodies I have seen, you can see straight to the bottom with astounding clarity. That twig resting on the lake floor? You can see even the most minute detail.
According to Lonely Planet the colors of the lakes change constantly depending on a number of variables – minerals and organisms in the water at that time, whether rain has deposited mud and the angle of the sun as it reflects on the bodies of water.
The park is also where the civil war in former Yugoslavia began in 1991 when rebel Serbs took control of its headquarters, killing a Croatian police officer, who was the first casualty of the war. The parks few hotels were turned into barracks during the war. It was until 1995 when the Croatian army retained control of the park, repairing the damages inflicted by the Serb occupation and opening it back up to tourists to take in its beauty.
The Sunday Amy and I went to the park, it was overcast, which played brilliantly to the vivid blues and greens we took in. Unsure of which path to take, we opted for one that would allow us to traverse a lot in a little bit of time, the A route.
While the path markings left something to be desired, the hike we took turned out to be perfect. We were a bit unsure of where we were going at the start of our exploration. Rather than being joined by other hikers on paths, we found ourselves climbing a paved road up a hill. We questioned our choice in direction until we heard the sounds of rushing water and saw, peaking between the just-turning foliage, the sea green water below.
In retrospect, we probably created our own path, which doesn’t surprise me. Most of the time we passed hikers struggling up steep stone steps, climbing vicious switchbacks, while we slowly descended towards the water.
I have no idea how long it took the people who originally created the winding wooden bridges that crisscrossed the lakes, but it must have been years. We zigged and zagged over lakes, through caves, along the shores, up hills, down hills and around the park for hours. Every turn we took we were greeted with the most picturesque sights, from butterflies dancing up the side of the mountains, to large fish circling ducks, to waterfalls casting their refreshing spray on us and more.
In five hours, I took more than 100 photos. It seemed every sight was more awe-inspiring than the next. And, at the end of the day, when we were sitting at the cafeteria, feet aching, hot and sweaty, the images couldn’t be removed from our minds.
It was hard to say goodbye to Amy at the bus stop that evening. She was heading back to Zagreb to catch a flight the next day to Dubrovnik. I was continuing on my journey, starting my trip down the coast. We planned to meet somewhere in between Zadar and Dubrovnik, although just where, we could not determine. In one day, in true travel bonding fashion, we had shared so many stories of our lives.
When my bus came, we embraced with promises to stay in touch and see each other in a few days, and then we parted ways.
The first hour of the bus I fought to stay awake, looking out the window, taking in the mountainous Croatian roads that slowly changed as we moved closer to the coast. The second part of the trip I couldn’t fight it anymore. I closed my eyes and just sleep wash over me.
I wasn’t sure where I was going to stay that night. I had wanted to stay in the old city of Zadar. It sounded so unreal and gorgeous with its Roman ruins, the Sea Organ and the Greeting to the Sun (a layered glass installation in the pavement that during the day collected the sun’s energy and at night produced a light show on its surface) all within walking distance. Only, by the time I got off the bus, I just wanted to get somewhere, shower and check my e-mail (because I was still clinging to the hope of Jon and the idea of travel romance).
As soon as I got off the bus I was swarmed with men, speaking broken English, asking me where I was staying, shoving photo one-sheets of their homes, trying to entice me to stay at their Sobe (apartments you could rent in a home). I was too drained to take the effort to figure out where the hostel was, so instead, when one man had a group of travelers around him, I opted to take him up on his offer and hopped in the car with a family traveling from Spain.
After doing exactly what I set out to do — showering and walking 30 minutes through dark (but seemingly safe) streets, I entered the walled city of Zadar, crossing over the water. After getting to the Sea Organ I wandered aimlessly through the town for awhile. Fighting the sadness that had crept in with the realization of being solo and lonely. This was the first night there were no people I was going to meet. I didn’t want to go to a bar. I just wanted to decompress.
I set out from the old city with every intention of taking some control over the rest of my trip. Doing some scanning of my guide book, writing down where I wanted to visit. But first, I had to get back to the Sobe. Something that would prove to be a somewhat difficult feat.