Sometime in the late April of 2013, with the summer teasing its hedonistic promise just over the horizon, I crossed the border between Slovenia and Croatia. After a relatively brief but nonetheless indulgent experience in the capital of Zagreb, I was at a loss as to where to turn next. My hitchhike to India was picking up steam, with confidence sky high and the world at my feet; yet a destination decision was pressing. My original plan was to simply turn East, but in a moment’s hesitation, I decided to see what else this country had to offer. Knowing very little about the region – I called upon the internet for advice. It was there that I first learned about a little place called Zadar.
The Maestro himself, the late, great Sir Alfred Hitchcock, visited these shores considerably earlier than I, touching down in the spring of 1964. It was in Zadar that he was heard to exclaim that the sunsets here are the finest in the world – even more beautiful than those in Key West, Florida. That’s esteemed praise indeed, and being a fan of the distinguished and indubitable movie director, I thought to myself that if Zadar is good enough for Hitch – it’s good enough for me. I then made my own ‘hitch’ sign and stuck my thumb out at the Lučko toll station outside Zagreb, sometime in early May, a full 49 years since Sir Alfred graced these streets. I arrived by the coast a few short hours later, blissfully unaware of just how much this whimsical decision would impact my life and lead me on a crazy journey of friends, fights, and feelings. And just over a week ago I returned for my fourth bite at the cherry.
And perhaps, it saddens me to say, for the final time. Once again I shall be working for a hostel I love dearly in a town that perpetually manages to hold a spell over me – even though I’ve barely made it to the bus station and back since arriving. I’ll be sharing the forthcoming months with friends old and new, as well as vivacious staff, guests and volunteers, all – I’m sure – keen to experience something similar to the best summer of my life back in 2013. I’m here to reimagine the feeling that I am still travelling. A last-ditch attempt to rekindle a love for hostel life long since jaded. To desperately cobble together as much money as I possibly can before my bank account is utterly obliterated with a big move to the USA. To have one last bang of the European drum.
However, it was something of a shakey start, as you might come to expect of me, dear readers. Those of you that have followed my globetrotting tales from the beginning will be well aware of my often calamitous socialising situations, which in the past have usually involved drink, drugs, girls, theft, robbery, hospitals, loss of eye-wear, sleeping in bars or bushes, or all of the above. That list is inexhaustive. Without the rock that is my partner, Alex, I will still – albeit infrequently – go off the rails. In the downtime of the preseason, where the weather can’t make up its mind, schedules and tours are being thrashed out while new bonds are created over several alcoholic beverages; the devil is making work for idle thumbs.
But fear not friends, as you’ll be pleased to hear that a full return to my debaucherous past is in no way my intention. I refuse to regress into that shambolic libertine of old – even though it made for some cracking yarns and I’m no angel anyway. The ship has been steadied of my own volition, most notably because of what I’m going to actually be doing here. Hiking. Outdoors. Yes, you read that correctly. Stuart Jameson is going to be hiking outdoors. Now anyone who knows me even one iota will understand that I find climbing the stairs a challenge, but nonetheless, this is the task I have been set – and indeed have set myself. I have now successfully completed two, 14 kilometre hikes in the stunning and dramatic Paklenica National Park.
It naturally took an initial kick up the arse to put one foot in front of the other, but it wasn’t too long before I found my stride and experienced a strange phenomenon. An unusual feeling began to wash over me. I actually felt quite good. It surely must be those endorphins people speak of, the poor little fellows haven’t had a day out for quite a while. And what a day out it was – or rather days out. Just before the season hits, we’ve been exploring potential new tours and hiking the Velika canyon is one very definite possibility.
It’s a famous spot for climbers, offering a number of world-class routes catering to every skill level. Interestingly, it also used to double as the Wild West, as several films about a fictional Native Indian chief were shot on location here in the 1960s, in a landscape not too dissimilar from the American frontier. The park is home to 12 species of snakes, including a particularly deadly specimen known as the nose-horned viper. You don’t want to be getting bitten by one of those. Not to scare you off too much, but brown bears, wolves, wild cats, and lynxes make up just some of the 47 species of mammals found in the area. Then you’ve got ridiculous amounts of birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles, a recorded 82 species of butterfly and silly numbers of bats. All this within 20 different habitats filled with an abundance of flora and fauna. And with a bit of luck, there won’t be that many humanoids ruining everything – even in peak season.
The cobwebs have well and truly been dusted off, and so long as I take care of myself, eat well and keep the sauce monster at bay, I should have buns of steel when the mercury finally begins to fall with the leaves; simultaneously limiting the number of times I’m floored by a vicious panic attack which requires the intervention of two, very kind new friends who fixed me with vegetables.
For the final time Zadar – forever my home away from home – let’s see whatcha got.