As I watched the sun came up over the ocean from the deck of our ferry the size of the mountains ahead made my legs ache in sympathy. The mountains seemed to stretch the length of the coast and extend into the ocean where only their tips were visible in the form of strings of bobbing islands. It was 5:30am and already I could feel the heat of the sun and see small glimmers of heat haze on the bleached white hulls of the becalmed fishing boats as they passed through the wake of the ferry.
Arriving in Zadar at 7am we spontaneously decided to board a second ferry towards the island of Dugi Otok giving us a few hours to realise we spoke no Croatian and had yet to get a firm grip on the exchange rate. We purchased fresh fruit, local pastries called Burek and stared longingly at the overflowing fresh fish market. Around the market square locals intensely drank pre work kava (coffee) and strolled with purpose through the markets. The contrast to Italy was hard to put my finger on but it was as if everything was a bit more serious.
The ferry to Dugi Otok deposited us travel weary under a midday sun at the port town Brbinj where our plan was to cycle south towards Kornati National Park. As the intense heat took its toll on our tired bodies we stopped for lunch in a small patch of shade staring out across the stony sea drenched scenery and wondering what next. Emma had her first swim on the shore of Luka followed by an introduction to Croatian hospitality in the form of water refills and advice to get water from yacht berth taps we hadn’t noticed. Fed, watered and swum we continued to Sali where we had a grumble filled afternoon and evening as we tried to adjust to not knowing where was safe to camp, due to worries over language, local customs and landmines. Eventually we settled in an olive grove for the night only to be woken at 4am when the farmer arrived to start work before the heat of the day. The remainder of our day was filled with swimming in the Kornati salt lake while trying to avoid our lunch getting eaten by local donkeys and cycling back to Brbinj as the sun set watching ocean and mountain vistas unfold on either side of us.
Back in Zadar we arrived in the city campsite early giving us a full day of sightseeing around the old town. We visited a piece of local public art consisting of a sea powered organ and a sun powered LED light display called “Greeting to the Sun”. The organ reminded me of the sculpture we saw in San Sebastian with a groaning strangely melodious music that makes you think of drowned pirates playing piano accordion. After a quick dinner at the campsite we cycled back on sunset to watch the LED light display finding the sculpture filled with people. Children ran barefoot chasing the lights and each other while adults sat in haphazard groups watching their toes sparkle and twinkle. The sense of delight and participation in the artwork was tangible in the air and somewhere I hope the creator of this artwork is feeling quietly proud of producing something truly amazing.
Monday we cycled out of Zadar heading towards Pag Island again on a spontaneous decision we were cycling the length of the island where we would catch a short ferry back to the mainland making up a circular route. The cycling was hot and hilly as we left Zadar and crossing the southern bridge to Pag I felt transported to the moon with rocky barren landscapes around us seeming to float in gently rippling pools of cobalt ocean. Passing up a chance to stay at the Adriatic’s most beautiful campsite in favour of a farmer-agreed hilltop free camp, we spent the evening watching cars pull up and take photos of the sunset that we had as backdrop to our dinner. Our tent pitch on a bed of concrete required some creative pegging to our bikes due to the breezy conditions and credit to Emma for the perfect solution.
After a breakfast, espresso and 5000km photo in Novalja we continued East to the ferry back to the mainland. Stopping on a hill top to look around I saw a small scrawny sheep famous for making Pag cheese hunting for anything edible amongst the rocky ground. The contrast of the barren, heat soaked landscape to the rich colours of the Italian Piano Grande from just a few days earlier was intense and made it hard to believe that I had travelled to my current location by bicycle alone (oh yeah and a few ferries).