Four Days Up the Coast of Croatia.
The McDonald’s employee sees my littler sister and me sleeping on their red bench seat. She continues to sweep under our empty table, waking me up. It was hard to fall asleep anyway, what with the terrible Spanish music and cold draft in the Barcelona airport at 2 a.m. It’s just Chloe and me now, in transit overnight to Dubrovnik, Croatia where we will arrive without reservations—literally without lodging plans, but also without expectations of this southeastern European nation between the Balkans and the Adriatic Sea.
Fortunately, getting around with English wasn’t a problem, because we definitely couldn’t speak Hrvatski, the official language. We found a hostel called “Marko Polo” at the top of Dubrovnik within a few hours of landing. A cab dropped us off on the side of a highway and pointed to the other side of the road. Across that road, we could then see the belly of the city, a honeycomb of houses and secret gardens leading down to the old town by the Adriatic Sea. Luckily, the nearest woman sweeping her balcony porch was the owner of Marko Polo.
Dubrovnik is nicknamed the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” perhaps because the city is built out of thick white stone and terracotta roofs by the translucent sea. The houses and city walls were stained with character and history, and overgrown with lush vegetation—pomegranate trees, apple trees, ivies, all different colored flowers. We meandered down the narrow staircases comprised of hundreds of steps until we reached the fortified old town, where we treated ourselves to a platter of fresh seafood by the port. Looking across the table at my 22-year-old younger sister I realized, after decades of imagining, this is what it looks like for us sisters to be grown up.
Quick on our path, Chloe and I were on a five-hour bus ride along the rugged Dalmatian coast to the city of Split. The rocky countryside was beautiful by default, for the high water quality that glittered by the small, sand-colored towns. I’ve never seen water so pure. And with the sun beating down on us through the window, it was all I could to do to think of the island coves and waterfalls I hoped to explore near Split.
When we stepped off the bus, a flock of middle-aged women approached us passengers with laminated flyers advertising their apartments. We’d been warned about this Croatian soliciting, but, as fate would have it, we stayed in a hostel instead, where we met Javier and Laura. Argentineans. Sometimes it happens that we cross paths with individuals with whom we’re instantly and deeply connected. Within the half hour Chloe was having an Amy Winehouse sing-a-long to Javier’s guitar; and by the end of the night the four of us secured a special bond within the Ghetto—a 2,000-year-old building renovated into a bar—exchanging stories of our countries, cultures, upbringings and travels.
There was a day spent traveling to Krka National Park to play in its emerald waterfalls. The clarity of the water continued to impress me as I watched each fish swim around the turquoise pools of water in the flowing forest. However to my disappointment the park was flooded with tourists and manicured for that purpose.
On our last day, the four of us took a ferry to the largest of the Dalmatian islands (there are over 1,000 islands) called Brac. On the ferry ride we played music and sang songs like “Blue Ridge Mountains” by Fleet Foxes, humored by applause once the ferry reached its destination. No one told us we’d have to hire a cab to make it to the beautiful beaches on the other side of the island, one that would cost us our wits. Poor Chloe began to cry, holding my hand in the back seat fearful for her life as the driver whipped around the mountain roads. Eager to jump out of the cab, we didn’t notice that we’d been dropped off at a nudist beach until an old man swam by, backstroking in the sunlight. A naked woman started yelling at us to take off our clothes! Only a couple of us ceded.
Peering over the Adriatic to the mountains in the distance, shoulder-to-shoulder with our brethren, each of us had our chance to contemplate the precious moment at hand and the next day’s journey. We weren’t ready to say goodbye to each other that night as Chloe and I boarded our bus to Pula, but when are we ever ready to say goodbye? At the end of the day, sandwiched in the last row, on a 10-hour bus ride, between a young Croatian guy and a passed-out, farting hobo, I knew how lucky I was to have a sister I could travel with.