I stood, perched at the ramp to the Jadrolinija catamaran, the country’s main ferry system that weaves through Croatia’s islands and across the Adriatic to Italy, until after boarding had started with the hope Mel and Shaun would come bounding down from their hostel, bags on their backs, ready to go.
Only, they never did.
I love traveling solo, I really do. I feel like you meet more people when you are by yourself. If you want social interaction traveling solo almost forces you to be a little more outgoing, a little more friendly, than you would in normal life. It also creates a fascinating dynamic — you make friends fast and furious — and then move on and do the same thing, town after town.
I really liked Mel and Shaun, so when the boat pulled away from the dock, it made me sad they were not there, too. I was, once again, solo. But I knew, as my previous travel experiences had dictated, I would meet new and fascinating people as soon as I was ready.
My antics from the night before were starting to catch up with me, along with the throbbing in my ankle. For now, I wanted to zone out and breathe in my trip to that point.
I looked around at the boat’s passengers. Most of them were Croatian, as evidenced by the conversations taking place around me. There were about 15 backpackers, mostly Aussies or Kiwis, and some stragglers from the summer tourist season, carrying on in Italian, German and more.
To my left was a guy with a tiny hoop nose ring and handlebar ‘stache. He was solo, too, but too intimidating to even think about saying hello to at that moment.
To my right, a family with small children.
I don’t get a lot of sleep when I travel. There is too much around me that is stimulating. The sea! The ruins! The people! I get way too into my surroundings and closing my eyes means I miss something precious that being awake would have let me experience. But, at that moment, I needed a little bit of sleep in order to function. So, I let my eyes close as the boat powered its way around some of Croatia’s many islands.
When we finally arrived in Hvar, the sunniest place in all Croatia, an hour later, I was immediately struck by its beauty.
Hvar Town, the capital of the island, is paradise. While many writers describe in detail the sweet smell of lavender permeating the air in the island town, I was much more aware of the island’s distinct luxury emanating from every nook and cranny. The main square, Trg Svetog Stjepan,the largest in Dalmatia, alone boasted some of the most magnificent yachts I had seen. Even the many restaurants and stores dotting the main part of the little town were posh.
I wasn’t well-rested, but felt refreshed enough to get out and explore. I pulled my bag after me, got off the catamaran and pulled the directions to Green Lizard Hostel out of my back pocket and began my journey up meandering, winding streets dotted with homes and churches, and finally up a decent set of stairs, to the hostel.
The hostel, located about 10 minutes from where we docked, was lovely. Owned by sisters, Tonina greeted me at reception and immediately made me feel at home. The hostel has a few shared rooms with less than 10 beds, and then private accommodations, all given names. I also noticed, with much glee, the showers in the main part of the house were rain showers, heads firmly planted in the ceiling, rather than the typical, hold-at-your-own-risk shower heads most hostels had.
And, there was the most charming part of the hostel — the outdoor kitchen. Perched atop a large hill in Hvar, Green Lizard provided a spectacular view of the town and then the sea while preparing your meals or sipped your drinks with other travelers.
“I can put you in your own room,” she said, offering me some peace and a chance to relax quietly. But, I was ready to meet new people.
“Thank you, but I prefer to be in a room with people,” I said.
She put me in a room with five Irish guys and then asked me to come back after I dropped my things so we could have orientation and she could give me a map explaining the places to visit on the island.
I went into my room, dropped my bags and introduced myself to the Irish guys who were just getting showered and ready to start their day. We did the typical Travel Talk, and then determined we would all walk down to the main part of town. They wanted to rent a boat, and I wanted to explore.
As I was getting ready to walk back into the cozy little reception office to talk to Tonina, the guy from the boat — the big ‘stached nose-ringed one — walked into my room.
I hadn’t seen that one coming. His dark skin and dark hair made me think he was Italian, but when he spoke English laced with Australian came out of his mouth.
“Hi,” I said, extending my hand towards him, “I’m D.”
“Jason,” he said, smiling wide.
I was in a hurry to get changed — there were beaches to visit and water to submerge myself — and went back to see Tonina.
“OK,” she said, her Croatian English accent so enunciated as she explained where I was going and the places to see. Tonina grabbed a map and began to draw all over it, marking “x” where the beaches were.
“Here it is rocky, rocky,” she said, placing a large X near where the boat had docked earlier. “And here, it is pebble-y pebble-y,” once again drawing an X by the first set of stairs I had climbed to get to Green Lizard. “Here are other beaches you can boat to and the beaches are rocky, rocky, pebble-y, pebble-y. And here is one with sand.”
The beach with the sand was tucked in a cove on an island, what seemed to be far away.
I didn’t remember the beach in Split being rocky or pebble-y. In fact, I recalled the beach there to be nothing but smooth sand. There were some large rocks people set up shop on, but for the most part, everyone there had sunned on the sandy, soft beach.
Tonina pointed out some other must-visits — the Hula Hula beach bar, Spanjol, the citadel built high above the town on the site of a medieval fortress to defend this island gem from the Turks hundreds of years ago, some restaurants with fresh seafood and more.
I thanked her for the map and the suggestions and quickly popped on the free internet in the room. As soon as I had logged in to Facebook I was greeted with a post from Shaun saying she could not wake her sister and they were taking the later ferry to the island.
The later ferry? In my research, I had only come across the option I took. There was another? I was thrilled, my smile growing across my entire face at the thought of being reunited with my two new friends and enjoying some time being distinctly girl-y and soaking up the sun’s rays for a day or two.
The sisters were taking the 3:30 p.m. ferry from Split, getting into Hvar an hour later. I posted detailed directions to get to the hostel — there was no way we were going to miss each other — but decided to ensure we all found each other, I would just meet them when they got off the boat in a few hours.
I gathered up by belongings and headed down with the Irish gents to the beach, planning on just hanging out at the pebble-y pebble-y one until the girls arrived.
The guys decided to pay a local to take them around the islands, offering me a seat on the boat, but I declined, knowing if I got sucked in, there was no way I could convince them to take me back to Hvar to meet Mel and Shaun at the right time.
They departed for their island adventure, and I walked over to the little beach, which was very pebble-y indeed, and grabbed a lounge chair to camp on for a few hours.
No chairs are free on the beaches. There is a small rental fee attached to enjoying not laying on pebbles. It is definitely worth it if you want to get some relaxation and to not have rocks of all sizes jutting into your body as you sun. I forked up the few Kuna it cost and took full advantage of my white plastic lounge chair.
I left my bag at the chair — it felt perfectly safe to do so and my passport and important documents and valuables were locked safely away back at Green Lizard — and got into the water.
It was chilly. Not as chilly as the night before when Shaun and I had gone in, but it was still pretty cool until you got used to it, which took a few minutes.
I swam for about 10 minutes and then got out, choosing to lay down and have some quiet, alone time with myself.
I closed my eyes, letting the sun’s warmth soak into my body, and just thought. And, then, something happened.
For the first time in my life, when I was laying there, I was able to chase away the negative thoughts, the thoughts that rained on my Croatian parade. I started to think about work, about a client I didn’t like, about my bosses, and, justlikethat, I blocked those thoughts. Blocked them completely. I tucked that reality neatly away and it did not come out again until I landed at Dulles days later, reunited with my parents during a stopover back to Altanta.
Instead, I thought a lot about me. I thought about why I didn’t like those thoughts. What could make my life more fulfilling. What could make me a happier and more satisfied person. I knew, no matter what, there would always be similar thoughts to chase away, but for the first time, I recognized the importance of why I so desperately wanted to not focus on my work, my career.
I knew at that moment, laying on the cheap plastic lounge chair, thousands and thousands of miles from my home, I wanted more out of my life. And, I was going to set myself on a path to achieve just that.
I was intertwined with my mind, in a semi-conscious state, when I realized it must be very near the time Mel and Shaun would be arriving.
Excited to meet them, I rounded up my belongings (my bag, a towel and a magazine which had traveled with me throughout my trip and still had not been finished) and bounded to the port, where the catamaran was quickly docking.