Monday, 29 October 2007

STEPH Banici to Zaton 26/10/07

Some days are for climbing mountains and others . . . well, they’d be hard work even if you stayed on the flats.

Today I could have lain down beneath one of those old olive trees and slept for a thousand years.

My pack felt like it was weighed down with boulders and every step was like walking in tar. Bugger of a day to misread the map and head up when we thought we’d be heading down . . . not that we’d have chosen any different had we known.

Strangely, physically I’m in good shape. My feet and shoulders are fine. It was the spirits that were dragging the load . . . the weight of obligations, the chattering mind telling stories – there’s nothing like a good pilgrimage to get acquainted with the voices in your head!

The Sound of Music’s theme song might have picked up my spirits on days previous, the hills are alive etc did nothing for me today. Indeed, it was a fifth grade recorder tune that thrummed my beleaguered bones, it’s a long way to Tiperary . . . or Dubrovnik, over and over.

Thunder rolled as we left Bocini and walked into the highway traffic beneath a darkening sky. Five kms later, all thoughts of breakfast in Slano were abandoned when we met our turnoff into the mountains just before town. It wasn’t an easy call . . . a few mandarins, a ball of old bread and three mouthfuls of chocolate in supplies . . . versus a) sticking to the highway for the rest of the day or b) retracing our steps back to the turnoff after the possibility of finding brekkie.

We head up. And up. And up. We are high above the blue islands off the coast, dormant dragons, protectresses of an ancient tide. We wander through the passes between the fertile lowlands and the spotted hills. Through villages lucky to escape the summer fires which have scorched the landscape all around. For me, it’s one step at a time. It’s agonising. It’s even pathetic. Ben is incredibly patient, waiting here and there along the road for me to stagger by.

We pass through villages that haven’t seen a stranger walk through town for at least 200 years. We’re so high up in the spotted hills that we’re not walking through them so much as we are them.

The villages are gorgeous. Well-kept and productive, alive with flourishing vineyards and olive groves, vegetables and newly turned fields. No rubbish. No people either for that matter, no more than you can count on one hand all day. And even fewer cars. We walk the rims of spectacularly lush and fertile valleys on roads that ought to have been goat trails. We reckon we’re half a hill away from Bosnia.

I walk into the wind, making a game of surrendering the purposeless thoughts weighing my spirits. I let the wind blow through me, separating all of that which holds me together. I am the spaces between the strings.

Walk-wise, this is the worse day of the pilgrimage. Ironically, visually and tranquilly it is among the most stunning.

We hold out all day for a decent meal. Ben does his usual routine of believing that each village is about to feed him, specifically pig on a spit.

No dice.

No food all day . . . nothing but a ball of dry bread, some chocolate and a bag of tiny mandarins thrust into our hands by the old woman who rented us the room last night.

We make it back to civilization. On the way, Ben talks of finding food in the village that meets the highway. I tell him to be more specific. He says no need – any food, anywhere will do.

It’s my turn to paint a miracle. I tell him that we need an establishment, somewhere overlooking the water where we can relax and enjoy a great meal. A tall order in post-summer Croatia.

We walk the backroads into the village, where there’s a bar that doesn’t sell food. A bus turns into the street and all the cars have to reverse out to let it pass. We walk on, into the rising darkness; over a headland, avoiding the highway yet climbing too high for comfort. We head down, down, down, for the second time today, eyes peeled for a campsite. We meet the highway and I’m done. I sit down on my pack and refuse to walk another step – and there behind me is the miracle, the Restaron Babilon with its lights on and tables set and its mussel risotto and fresh tomato and mozzarella salad dripping in olive oil and its fabulously fine wine overlooking Adriatica.

And when we finish, we roll out the door, across the road and down a small laneway to bed– a freshly mown lawn walled on three sides beneath scraggly tall trees right beside the sea.

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