On the road again

Back in the saddle, back to the old routine. I knew I would miss Myla but I was also excited to get back to the wild places and to earn the sights I saw by the sweat of my brow. I was also looking forward to being thrifty again; the last week especially made a mockery of the title of this blog. I would eat bread and soup, forage fruits and sleep under the stars.

Happily, I achieved all these things on my first day cycling. A pretty ride along the coast of Hvar island was highlighted by vineyards running right down to jade bays of shallow waters and beautiful towns with narrow streets of old stone houses. Heading East the island was thick with olive trees and grape vines, great swollen, purple bunches hanging tantalisingly on the other side of low walls (but I have been told off for scrumping before). Olive oil and wine was arranged on tables outside many houses for sale. I did manage to wrangle a few figs however, which I have recently discovered to be God’s own fruit.

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After dried sausage with a beer outside the shop for dinner (chocolate milk for desert) I felt enormously satisfied but a little anxious about finding a camping spot. Wild camping is quite explicitly illegal in Croatia and even out here in a true rural area now I had seen a warning sign pinned to a tree. Regardless of trouble if I was caught, the limestone landscape of the islands and coast together with the dry scrub this end of summer makes for few agreeable sites. Just as the sun shrunk behind the horizon I settled for a patch behind a wall, just about hidden from the road and barely hidden from the gravel track, so that I would have to squeeze myself against the wall when cars went by until it was dark. It was not ideal. When darkness fell I unrolled my mat and sleeping bag (no need for the tarpaulin tonight and nothing to tie it to anyway) and lay down. The night sky was brilliant with stars. It was so clear that there was even the lighter mottle of indefinable stars from further galaxies. A swarm of mosquitoes whined in my ear, something scurried and squeaked in the neighbouring bush and when a passing car woke me up I even heard something snuffling nearby but I was too tired to care. I’m used to these things by now!

I rose at dawn the next day, cycled to the end of the island and took a ferry back to the mainland. My challenge for today would be Sveti Jura; a climb from sea level up Croatia’s tallest paved road that would wind all the way to the mountain’s 1700m peak. At the top there is a monastery and a TV tower that looks like Tintin’s rocket. The climb was exhausting and the thinning air as I gained altitude did not help but at the top I was rewarded with a magnificent view, over the mountains, the sea and the islands. On a clear day you can see Italy from here, apparently.

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As the sun fell and I became confident park rangers wouldn’t show up and kick me out, I unrolled my sleeping things on a strip of flat concrete by the edge of the monastery, the mountain falling away to my other side. A view for dozens of miles rolled out before me, the lights of distant cities and towns twinkling below and the stars shining in a dome above, as if I were in a planetarium.

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