Two cyclists sit on a bench outside a house where an old man is watering his vegetables with a hose. We’re walking along on the other side of the road. One of the cyclists, with a small beard on his chin, calls to us – where have we come from?
“Peručko jezero, the lake, today,” I call back, “But we have walked from Slovenia.”
“Slovenia! And where are you going?”
“Albania! On the Via Dinarica.”
“Another one!” He exclaims. “Come, come!” So we go over and have a chat.
Želkjo, the cyclist, turns out to belong to a local hiking club. The club leader, Ante, is also on the Via Dinarica, but a few weeks ahead of us. Želkjo shows us photos of the mountains ahead in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Rocky and wild, with bright green grass, they look fantastic. The highest peak, Maglić, is just on the southern border between Bosnia and Montenegro. We should be there in a little over two weeks.
Želkjo shakes our hands three times. Where are you staying tonight? He asks. As with many nights, we’re not actually sure yet. Again, resupply is the issue – neither of us really want to trek it off route to the city of Sinj, where the cheapest place to stay is 40€ a night… But it’s brimming with supermarkets, and we’ve run out of vegetables. Eventually we discover it also has a bookshop, which pretty much settles it (I may have mentioned that Callum and I both finished our books about two weeks ago and have been searching for replacements to no avail. We both love reading. It’s getting quite desperate.) But for now we tell Željko that we’re not sure. If we end up needing somewhere to stay, he presses us to give him a call. He and his hiking club network, the N.O.P.D. Koćari. They could definitely help us out! We thank him profusely and head back off along the road.
Ah, yes. Back onto the road. A day of roads… Again. No matter how many lovely people we meet, or lovely mountains we see, or nice things I find on the roadside, it comes down to the fact that most of our last week has been spent on roads. One foot after another, one car after another. I sometimes have this perilous feeling when hiking – what would happen if I just stopped walking? Never took another step? Hiking is not something you ‘endure’ when it gets hard. You have to consciously take step after step, and keep taking them, or you won’t make progress. Sometimes, in the hard bits, distracting myself only works so well. I used to have a similar feeling doing exams, seeing the white page at the beginning – I could write nothing! That’s a possible ending to this day. The feeling always passes, but perhaps one day I’ll sit down by the side of this road and refuse to walk another step, just because it could happen, because my walking anywhere is not a given. I’m not sure. I’ll let you know how it goes if I ever try it.
But in time, we reach Sinj. A big, empty town. It has a ludicrous number of supermarkets and convenience stores. We make for the bookshop but today is Saturday, so it’s closed early, and tomorrow is Sunday, so it won’t open. This is a big blow. I’m pretty sad, but I think Callum might cry.
So, having ended up in Sinj with nowhere to stay, we message Željko – any chance there’s somewhere we can crash tonight? As we wait for his reply, we visit the supermarket and buy our daily rations. Ah, food! It would be so much easier if we could just photosynthesise… We laze away the rest of the afternoon in the park, hoping to hear from Željko, drinking blessedly cold drinks.
Eventually we hear back from our new friend – and everything is going to work out! He has a place we can stay, on the house, a few kilometres away. He’s coming to pick us up now with his colleague Maya, also from the hiking group.
We have a sudden crisis.
Callum and I haven’t been in a car, or a bus or train or anything, since we took our first step in Slovenia. Are we about to break our stretch now??
Yes. We are.
(With the resolution to walk back the 3 km into Sinj tomorrow, so we can make sure we really walk the whole thing. I’m not sure if this is a great idea – is it just for pride? For a sense of completion? But you know, whatever helps us sleep at night.)
We hop in the car and it’s a slightly terrifying ride to the room, on the outskirts of town. Gosh, those big machines really do go faster than I can…
The little hotel we’re taken to turns out to belong to a man who runs cycle tours (also in the hiking club I think, but I’m not sure). After a drink, Željko and Maya wave us off. We head upstairs and collapse in the cosy room for a few minutes before heading downstairs again to check where the local shop is, having neglected to sort out anything for dinner tonight. I honestly feel like my life revolves depressingly around food some days.
Downstairs we meet two guests who are on a cycle tour with the owner – and they’re Australians!! Leanne and Caille are their names, from Brisbane way. Caille has a beautiful, soft Australian accent, an elegance and a smile which remind me of my great auntie Marilyn. They even know the small town of Uki, in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, where Callum grew up. It’s lovely to have a chat, and especially to hear the phrase ‘bloody long way’ used in conversation again! I feel a lovely mix of happy-sad, where I’m so glad to be seeing these different parts of the world… but also so glad to know home is waiting.
We eat our dinner of bread, tomato and cream cheese on the balcony, much to the amusement of the boss’s kids, who muck about outside and giggle. We head to bed. A day of mixed emotions, like most of our days are! But a bloody good one nonetheless.
Croatia, Stage 24 (alternate route via Sinj)
Start and end points: Inlet north of Dabar at Peručko jezero to Sinj
Approximate distance: 23.5 km
Villages: Rumin – Sinj