21.06.15 – 29.06.15
Wow. What a week.
Having had nothing but glorious sunshine in Croatia for the best part of three or four weeks we were almost completely confident that the morning we woke up to leave Dubrovnik would be like any other, just another day in paradise to begin this week of sailing. Nope. Guess again. We awake to the dreariness of drizzle, which pitter-patters against the windows as a smug way of telling us that the sun is well and truly hidden behind a blanket of grey. We say our goodbyes to Dario and with our backpacks in tow we walk about 15 minutes down to the harbour to find our Busabout sail boat –home for the week.
Busabout is an Australian travel company which specialises in Hop-On/Hop-Off bus loops, but also offers organised tours such as their Croatia Sail, Italian Adventure or even Oktoberfest packages. It’s a really good middle ground for travellers who don’t want the rigidity of something like a Contiki tour, but still want some of the hard work taken out of it. I would say it’s also great for solo travellers because it’s such an easy way to make friends –mainly just other Aussies though! When we came to Europe two years ago we used the Busabout bus loops, but this time we’re opting to give it a go ourselves; but we have booked this sail trip as well as Oktoberfest through Busabout. Watch this space for a post comparing the pros and cons of using travel companies for transport and tours.
When we find our boat, the Madona, we are greeted by our guide for the week, Georgia. She’s from the Gold Coast and has been working for Busabout for several years, spending most of her time in Croatia – sounds like the dream!
Basically the plan for the week is to make our way from Dubrovnik to Split, stopping at different islands along the way. Day one sees us en route to Sipan, a tiny fishing island. Thankfully only an hour or so into sailing the weather clears up, although it’s still a bit frisk for swimming. Nonetheless, when we pause for a swim stop, a lot of people don’t miss the chance for their first jump of the boat into the sparkling waters below. I know I said I was nervous about spending a week with a large group of Aussies, but so far it seems like it’s going to be a pretty epic week. Georgia explains that we spend the morning sailing, and then stop for a swim, have some lunch on board and then keep sailing onto the island we will dock at for the night. And the week follows as exactly that. Tanning on the deck of the boat and jumping into the sea to cool off, plus a lot of watching people trying to perfect the backflip off the top of the boat.
The second day of the sail was memorable because it was Daniel’s birthday. We’d originally booked our sail for a few weeks before but Daniel couldn’t pass up the chance to celebrate in style sailing through the Dalmatian coast –so of course we pushed the dates back. For his big day we were on the island of Korcula, where we stopped briefly on our way to Dubrovnik only a few days before. It’s a really lovely little island, and I wish we could have had more time there than we did. Of course the Birthday Boy was in fine form, not having to pay for a drink all day, even when we headed out for the evening after dinner. Drinking cocktails overlooking the beautiful harbour while the sun sets in front of you –definitely not a bad way to spend your birthday.
The next day we were en route to Hvar once more, and I think Daniel was enduring the consequences of having a birthday in the midst of a Croatia Sail –a hangover on a boat. Ooof. Thankfully, the best thing for that is to jump head first off the boat straight into the water and drown that hangover. To be honest most people partied like it was their birthday every day while on the sail! Docking in Hvar felt nice and familiar, having said goodbye not less than a week ago. One thing we didn’t get to do then though was hike to the fortress on top of the island. I say ‘hike’ but it’s really not very difficult at all, it takes only 15-20 minutes maybe. The views from the top are second to none, as expected. A big group of us walked up there and easily spent half an hour just sitting at the base of the fortress, soaking up the perfect panorama.
On the walk back down from the fortress, the most bizarre and random thing happened. I was walking past a steady stream of people, when all of a sudden two people caught my eye as they went straight past me on their way uphill. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I called out ‘Ray?!’ and it was who I thought, my old boss Ray and his wife Karen! Statistically, I don’t know what the chances are of bumping into someone you know from back home, especially on a small Croatian island at 4.30pm in the afternoon, but I’d really love someone to work it out. Of course we took a photo together and discussed each other’s holiday plans, turns out their large boat was parked next to us all afternoon while we moored for a swim. It was really nice to see some friendly faces so far from home, and hear our respective journeys that lay ahead. For dinner tonight, instead of following the group to a local seafood place, we head to Fig restaurant where we dined last week while staying at Earthers Hostel. We bring with us a small group of people from our boat, who were sold with our stories of fresh salads and spicy pulled pork. We also again bumped into Ray and Karen, as I had recommended Fig as a good spot for dinner. We were starting to feel enormous pressure for the food to live up to all this hype we’d been creating! Not surprisingly, everything was great, and we even got to catch up with a number of people from Earthers who came down too. Bonus.
So after the first few days of Sipan, Korcula and Hvar, the rest of the week really flew by, the halfway point of the week marked by waking up to the force of the boat violently rocking from side to side as we were stranded in the harbour as we waited for a storm to pass. Aside from those few hours, it was mostly smooth sailing and I think this was my favourite part of every day. Sitting up on the deck and soaking up the views from left to right, up and down, taking a breath and feel pretty blessed that this is your life for a whole week. You also take a few more breaths to steady yourself from your probable hangover. Practice this routine for a few hours, and by then you will have worked up a sweat and the boat will stop soon enough for everyone to jump in and have their morning ‘shower’.
Markarska was also a really worthwhile stop, especially the day we arrived. The clouds were sitting really low over the rolling hills, making you feel as if you’ve stumbled on some sort of mystical hideaway. Of course, it’s not a hideaway at all, but rather a very popular coastal resort town, full of people wandering up and down the main promenade covered by the shade of the gangly palm trees. Our night here was probably one the most memorable and fun, as we ended up at the infamous ‘rave cave’ –a one time weapons depot during the Second World War, but now lives on as a club, a literal club inside a big cave. Daniel and I managed to stay there until around 4am, left a few stragglers still going, and shared some pizza as we sat at the harbour and watched the sunrise. Perfection.
So between all this, a pirate party, a few too many shots of Rakia, a lack of wifi, a truly excellent and welcoming crew, plus our fab guide Georgia it really was a week to remember. I’d recommend anyone to do the Busabout sail, especially the One-way –it gives you a lot more freedom and time flexibility than the Island Hopper trip which is the same length of days but tries to cram a lot more in.
The group, of about 25 people, sort of split into two halves early on. At the time I suppose this was disappointing, but looking back now it doesn’t cause me any angst or regret. Everyone still spoke to each other, got along and while it took a little while to learn everyone’s names, when we departed on the last day there was nothing but good vibes and tired, hung-over smiles between everyone.
We’re here in Split now for a few days of well-needed recovery, staying at a guesthouse with two friends we met on the sail, Erin and Lily. I know they’re going to read this, so I’m giving them a shout out to say thanks for making this week even more enjoyable. You were the best below-deck neighbours we could have hoped for! Plus they also made great people to double date with, and we enjoyed an amazing meal together at a small restaurant called La Spiza on our first night after the sail. They change their menu every day depending on what they can source at the local markets, so of course everything is super fresh and the menu is written daily simply on a few pieces of A2 paper.
This is our last stop in Croatia unfortunately, although now we are excited to start this next chapter of our European adventure –heading further East. First stop, Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina.