Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Being a visitor and a guide. Simultaneously.

Just a little note: Because I ended up with a ridiculous amount of photos of Croatia in just one month, I am going to break it down into four rapid-fire parts: Istrian PeninsulaCentral Coast, Southern Croatia & Montenegro, and end on a flourish with the Croatian Islands. This blog is the third installment, covering southern Croatia and Monte Negro.

Pomegranate, such beautiful fruits

Our South Coast Adventure started off with an abrupt, screeching halt. Literally. Just south of Split we drove past two red-faced, wilted people who were half melted over their backpacks by the side of the road and pulled over to see if we could help. Maja and Mariusz, two adventurous hitch hikers from Poland, told us how difficult it has been to to get a ride in Croatia and said that they want to head to Bosnia instead, despite the fact that they loved the coast and have not seen much of Croatia yet. In an instant, we "adopted" these travelers and Vinko made it his mission to show them as much of the country as possible, and make sure they leave with good memories and the desire to return. We absolutely loved our time with them and the perspective we gained from hanging out with open minded foreigner travelers. And we realised just how much of a difference it makes to have a "local" person, or even just somebody who speaks the language, to show you around a place.

Our Polish hitch hiker friends. You gotta be tough to get with us.

Zuljana. Can you imagine a more chilled out place?

Our adventure also had us staying a night in Ston,
where it was apparently imperative to protect the whole mountain,
even though the town is outside the fortress walls. Crazy.
But if you go here, make sure you try the mussels. They are amazing.

After cruising the coast, stopping at a few places to take a dip we ended up in Ston, the gateway into the PeljeĊĦac peninsula (which I repeatedly called an island and Vinko repeatedly corrected me on). It does have that certain faraway island feel to it. There are scraggy hills, valleys filled with vineyards, beautiful little coves and beaches. It's hard not to love this place. Especially when you can find a little family run wine cellar every couple kilometers where you can try the wine and other local specialties (like wickedly strong rakija). Divine.

We were sad to part with our new friends, but we were heading south into Monte Negro. First stop was the larger coastal town Herceg Novi, which is transformed into a vibrant, lively city just busting at its seams with young energy at night. There are kilometers of pedestrian paths running along the sea shore (which is brilliantly clear, to say the least) and all along this path there are little cafes, hotels, bars, clubs, swimming and lounging spots. We also headed further south to Kotor, along a spectacular coastal road, fringed on one side by a crystal clear, deep blue water and on the other by towering mountains like grey giants. It is one of the most impressive roads I have ever been on.

Lighthouse along the way

Just to demonstrate how close these gigantic mountains are to the coast

And also to show how big the cruise ship is compared to Kotor town,
and also compared to the Black Mountains

What do you know:  Kotor also has its own walled-in mountain!

For a small town, Kotor has an incredible amount of churches, monasteries and convents.
This is St. Tryphon's Cathedral

St. Lucas's Church

Compared to the small-town friendliness of Monte Negro, we were hit full in the face with Dubrovnik's uber touristy and incredibly unfriendly stance. No matter how hard we tried, people were not giving us the time of day, not even a glimmer of a smile. On one hand I can understand: Dubrovnik is completely overcrowded with mass tourists and it is daunting, if not impossible, to maneuver through the street when two of these herded groups collide. These tourists have their blinkers on for anything other than what the guide points out as photo-worthy and I imagine as a local it becomes extremely irritating to live with the masses and the ignorance every day. But on the other hand I would like to think that when you do encounter a traveler who is willing to be a one-on-one human with you, shouldn't that make you more inclined to be nice in return?

The shops in Dubrovnik all have these street lights as name signs.
It's charming in its own way.

The streets are filled with people night and day,
and I'm lucky I got this brief gap  where nobody passed by
The contrasting experience between our unique and personal time with the hitch hikers and the impersonal touristy time in Dubrovnik showed us that Travel as an industry has swung too far in one direction. It also clearly illustrated to us that mass tourism eventually ruins the very thing people come to see in the first place. Surely there has to be a better way. We think there is, and we are working on turning that idea into reality. We are talking about a travelution now.


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