Dave the motorhome is comfortably parked in Camping Borje, a 3 star camping cheque campsite (N44.76533 E15.68946) about 20km south of the Plitvice lakes in Croatia.
We spent much of today heading towards the haphazard epicentre of a war. March 1991, and rebel Serbs living in the east of Croatia had declared independence from the rest of the country. For some reason, possibly to gain control over a nearby road, the Serbs had occupied the Plitvice National Park buildings, an area of outstanding beauty and a most unusual place for a war to start. Although, where is a usual place for killing to begin? Croatia didn’t have an army at the time as they’d just declared independence themselves from Yugoslavia, so their police units were the ones called in to take the park back. On Easter Sunday 1991, the first fighting started, with Croatia destined to descend into bloody chaos for the next four years. Eventually Croatia won out, defending the borders they had in 1991 and booting the Serbs out; officially they are all allowed to return but only half of them have. We’ve seen many empty houses and the odd bullet-ridden one, although we’ve had to look hard; all is back to ‘normal’.
Last night our rocky perch served up a concert. As night fell, a harbour-side crooner entertained a small group of sit-down-meal revellers. It would have been perhaps the most romantic of settings, but for the Elvis ‘Vegas Years’ style of singing, with none of the hits. Not a word did we understand, but lit a fire and watched on nevertheless. We weren’t alone in our free-loading, a few boats cruised across the smooth bay and anchored up just off the harbour wall, getting closer than some meal-eaters, and out-cheeking us by a wide margin.
The drive to the lakes took us south along the coast road before launching itself left and up into the hills. Immediately upon losing sight of the sea a feeling of entering wilderness grabbed me. The kind of wilderness that has a road and power lines that is. Like Slovenia, Croatia feels new. Trees dominate the rolling hills around us as though man hadn’t yet invented the saw. The lay-byes are all occupied though. Each with a small table, shaded by a beer-garden umbrella and mounted with honey jars surrounding stacked cheeses, alternating light and dark like draughts pieces. Each is the same, no effort’s made to differentiate, no signs with prices, no descriptions of what’s going, just the same little table with a bored attendant reading the paper or texting.
A 3rd gear col brings us up and over into a wide valley. Finally the trees have been spread back from the road, not far, just wide enough for small fields of wheat and grass to be laid out and tended by small, doddering and ubiquitously red tractors. We’ve the road to ourselves, cruising along in the sunshine. Where we do acquire a tail, it’s patient, no crazy overtakes, happy to wait for us to pull over and let them pass.
For reasons unknown, SatNav thinks the last 10km will take an hour; that thing’s spent too long on the M1. We easily make the lakes in time for a spot of lunch. A couple of car parks are signed; we randomly picked one, which filters you straight into the barriered area with no indication of the ransom to exit later. We’re getting a bit wise and pull over, blocking the road a bit, and Ju leaps out. 7 kuna (about 80p) for a day’s car parking, excellent. Ah, but you’re a motorhome, that’ll be 70 kuna. Huh? Dave fits in a car space but we have to pay ten times the amount of a car? We’re in wilderness, we pay up. We later find some crafty locals had parked up practically in the park and just walked into it.
The Plitvice Lakes are a wonder, and yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. A perfect spot for a Timotei advert, or for filming a scene or two of Jurassic Park. 16 impossibly clear blue lakes sit with the natural walls of a valley, each pouring water down into the one below. Not just timidly sloshing it over, but through a myriad of waterfalls, large and small. The tourist till started to ring with the first hotel in 1896, and with the brief hiatus during the war, haven’t stopped since. Signs indicate something to do with bears, not knowing exactly what we’re supposed to do with this information we photo the signs and sidle on, paying the this-time-more-that-worth-it 110 kuna each to get in. The lakes are long, 18km of paths, so electric boats and a bus-cum-train thing is included in the price.
Once again, Charlie’s unimpressed. The paths are made up from tree branches crudely planed and nailed onto wooden supports. They’re grippy and feel beautifully natural, often just inches above the falling waters below, sometimes soaked with splashes. They’re see-through though, the natural shape of the branches meaning they don’t butt together, so the mutt can both hear and see the water beneath. Result: 10kg of dog has to be carried around much of the park, muddy paws dirtying clothes and giving us away for the tramps we are.
Being a hot Sunday, Croats are out in force. There’s a small army of nations to balance things out: the cars sport American, Japanese, Polish, Italian, United Arab Eremites, Latvian, Slovenian and British (Dave) registration plates. Charlie’s stroked by a league of nations, his being-carried nature both building his desirability and bringing him to an easier head-rubbing height. He pants his way through all of it. Despite the large numbers of punters, we often find ourselves alone stood on a walkway or lakeside eye-balling pushy fish: “give us some bread mister”. After four and half hour’s walking, with a boat-based interlude, we get back to Dave and head here. We’re hot, tired and rather sweaty. As it’s a camping cheque place, it’s a freebie in our eyes. Time to go get some grub and a pivo, or two.