During the winter of 2016/2017, between the end of January and the beginning of April, I hitchhiked from Salzburg, Austria to Athens, Greece. Starting in a beautiful snow covered Salzburg on the 30th of January, and longing for Greece, spring and higher temperature, I had planned to visit one city in each country, for one week. My plan was to arrive in Athens by the beginning of April, my final destination being the ‘Free and Real Community’ in the village of Aghios on Evia, an island close to Athens.
During my stay in Split, I spent an evening with Simon. When I hitchhiked from Ljubljana to Zadar in the first week of February, I had a wonderful ride with Simon and his wife Katiya from Zagreb to Zadar.
Now, two weeks later it was heartwarming to see Simon in his hometown. We ate the local Ćevapi, a traditional dish with sausages and had a great evening in Simon's 'man cave', a basement space he rents as a working place near the old town of Split.
Simon is a trader in health supplements and holistic and energetic health cures. He has a small shop in Split by the name Bioritam. In return for the ride with him to Zadar, I proposed to Simon to make a promotional video for his shop.
The next day we went to meet Rahela, the lady who runs the shop. A few days later Rahela and I recorded the video, my first production in Croatian.
I left Split Saturday early afternoon, so I had almost two days to get to Dubrovnik, 200 kilometres from Split. Rahela offered to take me to a good starting point to the highway to Dubrovnik, a toll entrance some 15 kilometres outside of Split. Around two o’clock, she dropped me off at the parking space before the toll barriers.
During my days in Split, February had turned into March. This afternoon was sunny, warm, yet very windy. A toll zone was new to my hitchhiking experience, I had no idea how long this would take for a first ride. I went behind the barriers and found the optimal spot in the area where five toll gates narrowed down to a two-lane highway.
After two hours the first car stopped, a cement truck with a grubby driver in a greasy shirt. From the little Croatian I could grasp and his gestures I understood his destination was not far enough to persuade me to get into his truck.
Another two hours passed. The sun headed for her shelter behind the mountains too fast. Soon it would become dark, though I estimated my chances would be good to hitchhike in this well-lit toll zone. I looked passed the barriers back to the buildings on the outskirts of Split, an industrial zone with predominantly office buildings. In the twilight, on one of the buildings, a red sign turned on: Katarina.
As darkness fell, the red sign became clearer. I realized this was a hotel and in the cold windy darkness of the toll zone, the idea of calling it a day and spend the night in a warm bed pulled me in Katarina’s direction.
During the last three days in Split, I had experienced a relative luxury. An advance payment of a workshop I was to give in the Netherlands in April had enriched my bank account. For the first time on my journey, on Friday evening I had the opportunity to have a farewell dinner in a restaurant, to honour the city where I had spent time.
Being able to afford a hotel room, take a shower and sleep in a bed was a welcome change to the four weeks that laid behind me: sleeping outdoors snow covered Salzburg, icy Ljubljana, on the fresh beach of Zadar and in the beach park in Split.
Sunday morning I entered the restaurant for breakfast and saw heavy rains pouring. Today I could take my time, as hitchhiking in a heavy rain like this is not an option. After lunch and working time in the café, the sky started clearing. The rain stopped around four o’clock. I would have another two hours to take my chances. With a complete freshness makeover, I retook the position I had left almost 24 hours ago.
I got a ride just before dark, from a Bosnian guy on his way to Mostar. After some 100 kilometres he dropped me off at a petrol station near the city of Podgora. In the dark, I discovered the station had a nice recreational area and put up my tent.
I woke up with the warmth of sunshine on my tent and got out with a gorgeous view of rough mountain slopes. I heard chatter and saw the first people at picnic tables having coffee and breakfast. Good morning, Monday …..
Half an hour later I was in the car with an older man going to Ploče, which would bring me 45 kilometres closer to Dubrovnik. With a trailer and a small boat, the man would take the ferry from Ploče to Trpanj on the famous peninsula Pelješac, where he owned a summer house. Just before Ploče, the highway turned into a winding two-lane road, leading to a stunning view of the sea coast. The contrast between the beautiful coast and the city of Ploče couldn’t be more profound.
The man stopped at a small petrol station in the middle of town and I walked some 300 metres back to a bridge in the narrow road to Dubrovnik. From here I had a view of a supermarket and a block of apartment buildings. Structures like these reminded me of what I had seen in the former Soviet Union, in Petersburg and Moscow in the early nineties. Above that, these apartments had a unique architectural style that can best be described as ‘post-bombarded’.
No chance I was to leave Ploče today. At the tiny petrol station, I had already vaguely sensed what now became stronger: the feeling that this town was a destination, not a passage. Nonetheless, I remained at the bridge for one hour, trying to bend faith.
I bought food at the Tommy supermarket, had lunch and found a place for putting up my tent in the evening. In a remote zone behind a parking lot for trucks, I hid my luggage in the bushes. So much for a green backpack and a brown leather bag. I went into town and found a pizza restaurant to sit and do some work.
Wednesday morning, after my first night of camping in Ploče nature, I went to look for the library. After asking around in a rainy Ploče, I found the library on the ground floor of an apartment building. The lady in charge told me they had Wi-Fi and a place to sit with my laptop. I followed her between bookshelves. This library was the smallest I had seen on my journey until now. It had the size of the school library I knew from my elementary school.
In the back, two small tables were placed against each other. A woman with a MacBook was at the far end table. The library lady showed me the only available place and smiled. Being placed opposite the woman almost like in a speed dating session, a conversation with her was inevitable. After I introduced myself as a travelling documentary maker, it turned out she was a filmmaker as well.
Vanja was from Ploče, originally and was arranging to move to Zagreb. She had studied literature in the United States and got a degree in filmmaking. She had just returned to Croatia after making a documentary about refugees in Greece. Apart from having a field of work to exchange, I sensed the pleasant feeling that I didn’t want to stop talking to Vanja. After two hours she had to go, leaving me somewhat disappointed, but not without her email address.
I left Ploče Thursday early afternoon. Like my journey from Zadar to Split, I experienced again that hitchhiking in Croatia is taking the snail trail.
From my spot at the bridge, a local guy took me 5 kilometres to the main road to Dubrovnik. After two hours, a man who took his son for a ride brought me to a beautiful spot just over the Mala Neretva river, after a 15 kilometres' ride. He stopped the car just before a hotel, suggesting I could stay there if I didn’t get a ride. I spend Thursday night in hotel Merlot.
Friday early afternoon, after four hours opposite hotel Merlot I got a ride. And finally, after two more rides, I arrived in Dubrovnik around 8 o'clock Friday evening.
I stepped out of the car on a parking place just before a magnificent bridge with a great view on Dubrovnik. Walking across the bridge I resumed that travelling from Split to Dubrovnik altogether had taken me a full week.
In the dark, my instinct to search for the sea and a beach led me to a walking trail along the sea, just outside the city. I found a boathouse and estimated this to be a good and safe place to spend the first night.
After being woken up by the grumpy owner, in the daylight of Saturday morning, I found the perfect place. A small beach in a nature reserve just outside Dubrovnik would be my sleeping place for the coming days.
I spent the whole Saturday to explore Dubrovnik. At a 20 minutes’ walk from the beach, I found a café with a good atmosphere to spend my upcoming working week.
In the Fashion Café, two cool bartenders and two beautiful girls on alternating shifts made good coffee and served a nice wine. Above all, this café had the best TV screen and sound system in town, undoubtedly.
During the first working day in the Fashion Café, Monday late afternoon, one of my favourite songs was on the screen and on impressive volume: “Beautiful People” by Chris Brown.
Triggered by the lyrics, I looked back on five weeks of hitchhiking and the people I had met on the way. I realized again the greatest value of this unpredictable way of travelling: Getting connected to great and interesting people.
Check out ‘Beautiful People’ here ……