As forecast, it’s been a wet night up at Crnopac sklonište. In the morning, the rain finally peters out, leaving the forest floor shiny with wet leaves and the limestone a brilliant, glistening white. I’ve slept badly (again), so I rise slowly while Callum puts on tea. We read some more Howard’s End. Mmm.
A little while on, after the rain has started up again, a black and white dog flashes past the open door. The dogs wiry coat is clumped in thick stands like he’s been washed. He ducks inside and shakes vigorously. A man and another dog soon follow. The man has white hair, and a huge red raincoat which he takes off neatly to rest on a peg at the door. He does this walk every morning, the dogs too.
By this stage, we’ve accepted that we won’t be able to climb Crnopac. I’m slightly upset. It looks beautiful from the balcony, but it’s a labyrinth of limestone, fitted out with ladders, pins and ropes. It would be stupid to attempt in this amount of rain. The man agrees. Even if it stops raining, he warns us, as if we look shifty enough to sneak up the mountain after he leaves, it would still be very slippery and dangerous after the weather last night. I’m glad to have gotten a second opinion which helps justify our decision, but still feel a niggle of regret as we descend towards Gračac.
As we retrace our steps down the hill, I replay yesterday’s walk in my head. It had been long. The last two kilometres had stretched and warped and squirmed in my mind as I walked up. How long had we been walking? How far had we come? One hundred metres or six hundred? My judgement was completely without bearing, as if all the distance behind and in front of me had been erased, and I was left as a singularity.
But today they settle into place. I see how all the pieces fit. Ah, of course. About 300 m to the first intersection, then came the 500 m to the signpost… It’s also much easier walking back down the hill.
We reach Gračac and it’s a tiny place. So quiet. An empty four lane highway runs through the middle. We wander slowly across towards the river, past the supermarket. It feels like it’s been gutted. Half-destroyed, abandoned houses line the streets, roofs buckling, stones scattered, windows broken. The way to tell which houses are still lived in is not by the damage however, but by the flowers. The gardens of Gračac are filled with the most beautiful selection of roses in orange, red, pink and yellow, mingled with daisies and purple wisteria. There are grape vines, cherry and pear trees, lavender. Potatoes too, and leeks and herbs.
We have to resupply here, and don’t want to break up the next two days… so despite the fact it’s only midday, we need to find somewhere to stay. The local pansion asks for almost 400 Kuna per night, so we wander on to find an apartment, instead.
I’d never stayed in an apartment before coming to this part of the world, but it’s the cheapest option here by far. There are very few campsites and even fewer hostels, at least in the places we visit. Back at Skorpovac sklonište, I was speaking to Goran about this apartment system. For many people, owning an apartment and renting it out to tourists during summer is their sole business. The places we’ve stayed so far have been beautifully looked after. We’ve had books lent, washing organised, passports photocopied. And you get to shake someone’s hand at the end, and thank them personally.
So we while away the afternoon. Callum is really good at relaxing and starts teaching himself to sketch. I’m a fidgeter. I do lots of things, but none of them are particularly relaxing.
So, an easy day today! We seem to do it like this, turn by turn. Easy day, hard day, easy day…
Tomorrow will continue the pattern. We have to make a start along a 53 km section of main road, heading towards the town of Knin. The walk should take two days. It will be long, exposed and water will be scarce. Not dangerous or anything, but I’m not exactly looking forward to it.
Time for me to get some relaxing in…
Croatia, Stage 20
Start and end points: Crnopac skloniste to Gračac
Approximate distance: 12.5 km