Back on the right track, I saw an odd thing. It was the top of some grass (like a teasel, but skinnier) moving. I wondered at first if it was being carried by an ant – but no. Then I saw it had a caterpillar head, and I was astonished to think that a caterpillar could look so like a teasel – a perfect disguise. THEN I realised that it was in fact a fairly ordinary caterpillar WEARING the teasel, like a snail has a shell. The caterpillar was pulling it along behind it, with its body inside it, like a fancy frock. One can do this kind of thing on a solo bicycle tour – stop and look at a caterpillar for ages without worry that one is holding someone up or going to be late for supper again.
Having got to Sardik, and found it to be a place of beauty but also a huge tourist town, with yachts and catamarans filling the harbour, I decided to spend a fortune (€15 to see a waterfall felt extravagant anyway) on a visit to the Krka National Park instead of just hiding out in a café somewhere during the heat of the day. The waterfalls put Slap Virges to shame – but then, walking to that one was free.
The Park and the falls are beautiful, and heaving with crowds of people – there are boat trips and excursions to the falls from all over Croatia. However the Park has been sanitised and made safe – with wooden walkways and concrete steps up to fenced off viewpoints, and a barrier preventing swimmers from coming too close to the actual waterfalls. I prefer Slovenia, and Bovec – with permission to kill myself in any number of ways, thank you very much, including goat paths with sheer drops to one side. (In view of what came later, I KNEW I would live to regret writing that!).
After crawling my way up the steep hill from Sardik, I stopped for a really tasty prawn risotto for supper and a check of my route. To avoid the motorway, there seemed to be only one road, which ran up into the hills and was supposedly paved according to Kamoot. It gave me pause, when I saw the road sign pointing that direction had a placename which had a line drawn across it. But I carried on – and then found that the ‘paved’ road was little more than loose gravel and rocks with deep ruts where the rain had washed the mud away. It was like pushing the bike on a scree slope – no purchase for my feet or wheels. Ever the optimist I continued on, up and up, slipping and sliding. The view was quite astounding – with the hills in the distance and the lights of small hamlets dotted about. A mountain biker passed me, headed back where I’d come from, which was reassuring (even though he nearly fell off when he saw me). As it got later and the road climbed higher and seemed more remote, the screwed up cigarette packet lying in the ditch was also a reassuring sign that other people had been this way before. I wondered what the alien, pulsing “whoosh, whoosh” sounds were then realised I had climbed up amongst the wind turbines. I could just about see their arms windmilling as they crossed the red light on top of the tall pole. I used the stars to navigate as I couldn’t find my compass (which was buried at the bottom of my bar bag I later found): I could see the Plough and Casseopia easily enough – both pointing out the North.
When I reached the top of the hill and could see 360˚ all around – there was a network of gravel roads. According to the map, I could see that the right track (that should take me downhill) went to the right of a hill and in a southerly direction. The most promising road ended in a dead-end/carpark with a few portacabins strewn around. I must have picked my way along most of the other tracks only to be frustrated when one went too far along a ridge in a northerly direction, or was very definitely just leading to one of the turbines. The wind was picking up alongside my frustration – I even had to get my down jacket out of the bag, it was blowing that much. I could SEE where I wanted to be, I just couldn’t see how to get there in the dark. It was gone midnight when I admitted defeat and decided to camp anywhere where it wasn’t too rocky – which wasn’t easy.
I am very impressed that I not only managed to pitch my tent in what seemed like a gale force wind (though was probably a mild breeze) – but that the tent stayed in place with me inside it all night! I used rocks to weigh down the guy ropes as it was hard to insert the tent pegs into the dry and stony ground, let alone get them to stay in place. One rock I picked up exposed the skeleton of a spider – I could see where a large one had shed its skin. I looked at the bottom of the rock – no sign of the actual spider. After placing the rock on the corner of my tent (which was flapping in the wind) I went to pick up the tent bag –and there, looking at me balefully, was the biggest wolf spider I’ve ever seen – brown and grey with hairy legs. Now I used to run screaming if ever I saw a spider – but I’ve improved slightly as I’ve got older. I wanted to run off screaming, but resisted the temptation and instead used the folded tent pole that was in my hand to flick the spider off in the direction of the surrounding scrub. I spent the rest of the night wondering where exactly it was… and made sure I checked the inside of the tent carefully after zipping up the doors. Surprisingly, considering the scary spider experience and the whooshing of the turbines and the wind tearing at the tent, I slept well. Probably exhaustion.