In order to go from Tijuana to San Diego without crossing the Mexico/United States border, I followed a perpendicular route away from the fence and circumnavigated the globe, heading 67 degrees South East. North East and South East again until I reached my departure point.; The project remained free and clear of all crucial implications beyond the physical displacement of the artist.
Our world is fascinating. A detour is always worth an effort.
A Journey to Plitvice
A penalty of 220 Euro and an order to leave the country by midnight. – the irrefutable decision awarded by the Montenegro judge for Andre’s overstay in the country. As per the EU rules, a foreigner may only stay in a EU country for 90 days within 6 months. Montenegro is not part of the European Union, yet it certainly aspires to be, and was among the first countries to adopt Euro as soon as it gained its independence, likewise some provisions regarding foreigners, in a rather selective manner. Once I was taken off the plane here too. I was flying to Belgrade then, and had a work permit whilst my living permit was still being processed (local authorities are not devoid of a sense of humor, apparently, and are particularly creative: you can work in a country, but you can not live here – try to put together That puzzle), I have overstayed a legitimate one month period by a couple of days. They stopped me at the passport control, the work permit was deemed redundant, the plane was delayed as the police had to take my luggage off it. Later on the passport control officer whispered to me: you should have been nicer to me… I had my lesson. Paid my fine and had to leave the country – for Croatia, purely to cross the border and have my passport stamped.
Court decisions are not to be questioned, even though Andre’s overstay would only have happened in the next twenty days, he packs his life into three compact bags, I pack mine – for a few days (in the bags of similar size – it still seems like a long way for me to learn to travel light), just in case (you never know), and pick up Andre. I’m taking him to Croatia, that is going to be his haven for the next few weeks or so, he doesn’t plan, nor do I. There is something forceful and arrogant about planning. Life is ever flowing and unpredictable, and that is the beauty of it, which I do not want to dismiss by scheduling my life and trying to pursue the predetermined agenda, assuming it really depends on me. Or shall I say I do not want it to depend on me. I love the spontaneity of encounters, be it with a person or a place. A never ending discovery, a journey unraveling in front of me as I trust it and follow its guiding path. It never fails to fascinate me.
On the way to the border, we are deciding whether I just drop Andre in Dubrovnik and head back - Dubrovnik is only 3 hours away, or we go to Plitvice lakes. I learnt about this stunning nature reserve protected by Unesco from my Israeli friends. They came to the area last year and travelled far and wide, apparently, having discovered some places within two weeks which I haven't within 5 years. I’ve been planning to go to the lakes ever since. It’s about 500 km from Dubrovnik, as we checked on the Internet whilst driving to the border with Croatia, there is a new highway starting half way from Dubrovnik though, which shall definitely precipitate the journey. Shall we go? – Yes, we certainly shall, says Andre. And the decision is made. I admire Andre. He’s the embodiment of all the ideas I read about and support, but hardly ever meet implemented in life, nor by me, either. Those of love and quietness of mind, of genuineness, free of the noise of thoughts and futile emotions of the ego. Conscious living and serenity. Simplicity which can only sprout from deep wisdom. There is a lot I can learn from him, if only I manage to silence my own mind and listen carefully.
We stop at a supermarket on the way – to buy some food, and leave it with a bunch of chocolates and fruit (same scenario will repeat throughout the journey - if only chocolates get replaced by marzipan bars). Shortly we cross the border with Croatia, the officers at the passport control are remarkably nice and welcoming. We take it as a good sign.
Right away the car starts stammering as we go on a dirt road. This is the main road between Croatia and Montenegro. The Croats started road works right before the summer and, therefore, the start of the tourist season in Montenegro. I wonder if people will ever learn love. How much hatred does it take to teach us.
‘When in St. Petersburg, in winter I used to wake up at the early hours of the morning, when it’s still pitch dark, to a scraping sound. I’d look out of the window and see an elderly lady, bent double, toiling the dark cold hours away, shoveling the snow aside making a walking path, all wrapped up in an old military coat and a woolen shawl –up to her eyes. There were a few of those ladies who cleaned the streets off snow each day, from dawn till dusk, I used to meet them at a nearby shop, so I’d greet them, and they always smiled back to me, toothlessly, open and warm. I admired them’, - tells me Andre.
I watch refuse collectors where I live in Montenegro, they travel standing on the steps of big garbage trucks, every now and then the truck stops and they get off and empty the garbage bins into the back of the truck, step back up and continue their journey, from one garbage can to another, day after day, be it rain or sunshine, scorching heat or cold. They are always dressed the same too – in bright blue uniforms. Only once I saw them wearing rain coats in the middle of the winter, when it rained for weeks and went really cold here. I watch them sometimes – it’s often that you get stuck behind one of the refuge trucks, in one of the narrow streets of Budva, unable to go round. They always smile to me, apologetically, and I see them scurry, as if embarrassed to be a predicament to me. They smile a lot. I also watch them sometimes when happen to be driving behind. It hurts me to see them. Once I was in a shop buying some food and one of the guys – it’s not only by the uniform that I recognized him, I could remember his face - was in front of me at the cash desk. He was buying bread and sour cream. My mind rushed - willing to offer him some money or buy more food for him –but it was a wrong thing to do, I knew that and my body stayed where it was, behind that humble man, watching him counting the coins, paying for his food and leaving. Nothing, no days of attending to people’s shit can compare to the degrading of a hand-out, albeit good intentions.
When I watch them, I only wonder what gives them energy and will to smile. I admire them for these smiles and the humbleness I feel about them when they wait till I pass sometimes to attend to the garbage. I admire them for the humanity which is so rare among people far more fortunate, be it karma-based or pure luck of birth, in a different, more fortunate place and time, to a more fortunate family.
Whenever I want to complain or feel sorry for myself –I shall be thinking of a man dressed in a bright blue uniform, soaking wet , caught by a sudden rain, perched on the rear of a moving garbage truck blown over by the fumes of its inside – smiling.
The road works last for kilometers, up to the airport of Dubrovnik, thereupon the road runs smoothly. Soon we approach my favorite place in Croatia. It’s a suspension bridge. Every time I see it – it takes my breath away. It’s strong and fragile, graceful and robust, a fascinating fusion of the seemingly incompatible. The whole construction seems to float in the air, tall slim beams rise up to the breathtaking heights, as if supporting the sky. This bridge so harmoniously agrees with the stunning nature around, with the river flowing under it, falling into the sea and the patches of green islands dotted with the red of the brick roof tops, that it feels as if it’s always been here, and is not man-made, but part of nature. Generally, I find bridges fascinating, their graceful proportions and a beautiful mission of joining two shores, two parts together, a mission of love. Interestingly, the early precursor of a modern suspension bridge were the bridges built in the 15th century in Tibet and Bhutan, by the Tibetan saint and bridge-builder Thangtong Gyalpo. One of the first and the longest suspension bridges and also the first suspension bridge I saw in my life is the Clifton Suspension Bridge (designed in 1831) in Bristol, the culture and music heart of England. I’m fairly sure Clifton Bridge has inhaled life in a lot of art works, inspired and attracted artists to this beautiful city. It is alive, as any bridge is. Ivo Andric, made a bridge of the town of Visegrad in Eastern Bosnia the main character of his Noble Prize winning book of “Bridge over the Drina”, written by him in wartime in 1941. I remember of this remarkable book as we cross the border with Bosnia, entering the city of Neum. The short Bosnian coastline near Neum dates back to the 17th century. The part of Croatia that lies East of Neum used to be the Ragusan Republic, with the dominance of Dubrovnik. Back then west of Neum was controlled by the Venetian Republic. When the Turks first occupied Bosnia in the 15th century, they also held large territories of the present Croatia. Towards the end of the 17th century, Ottoman Turkey was weakened, while Austria and the Venetian Republic became stronger. In 1699, Turkey was forced to sign a peace treaty in Karlowitz (near modern Novi Sad), and accept the fact that most of Hungary turned into Austrian (Habsburg) hands, while Venice took firm control of the Adriatic coast and made important inroads further inland. The current Croatian-Bosnian border dates back to this period. And this peace treaty allowed Turkey a short exit to the sea near Neum. Later Turkey had to abandon Bosnia-Herzegovina (1878, Berlin Conference), with Austria-Hungary occupying the area. The little exit to the sea remained. Remarkably, that it’s only the land which belongs to Bosnia, the waters are Croatian. I wonder if Bosnians are actually allowed to swim here, or need a special permission to do so.
The road keeps going up and down the mountains, and there’s not a sign of the long-awaited highway yet. I peer into the darkness as I’m getting increasingly stiff and aware of my driving. I don’t see well generally, and the darkness certainly doesn’t help. Once I went on a journey with my friend Lena to Bosnia and Herzegovina (with an aim to see the famous bridge of Mostar -I saw a picture thumbing through a travel magazine on the plane), as we passed the first border leaving Montenegro, I was so happy it went smooth (as for a Russian person, it’s always been a challenge to cross any border), and whilst chatting away to Lena, saw a policeman in the rear mirror jumping up and down and waving his hands as if trying to send us a Morze-encoded message. It happened that I passed the border into Bosnia without stopping at the check point. The bar was up - I didn’t notice it. I’m not the best driver in the world, especially when it comes to reversing. The only excuse which came to my mind, when I eventually swayed my way back as if imitating the wave movement, and seeing the face of a policeman red with a wide range of emotions (indignation apparently prevailing), was: ‘Sorry, I don’t see well.’ Attention: whatever you do, don’t come up with that excuse when you are stopped by the police.
The road we are travelling now is deserted and we wonder if we haven’t lost track yet. We spot a petrol station sign and stop there shortly for a twenty minute nap. Andre says that this interval is just right to regain your energy. We have a nice coffee thereupon, confirm we are in the right direction and continue our journey. I love coffee at petrol stations. It might sound weird, as you’d expect a better coffee at a place which actually specializes in coffee, but I’d much rather stop at a petrol station during the road trip. Those little intervals enhance a sense of travelling, like a pause in time, letting me linger and saturate the vibe of the Road.
It may also hold extra advantages:
It takes a couple more hours of driving before I feel that I shall have some rest. We take a turn off the main road to a little town and around for another hour looking for a place to stay. It’s about 3 am in the morning, and there’s not a place open. The moment we decided this place is not welcoming us to stay, a couple on a motor bike appears out of nowhere, and stops few meters ahead. I park next to them, and ask if there’s any hotel they know of which might be open. A young man refers us to the hotel we’ve already been to and found closed, he then suggests to contact his friend who rents apartments, and despite my protests as to the inappropriateness of timing, he contacts his friend, and then we follow their bike to the place. A sleepy woman opens the door to us with a smile and takes us to a two-bedroom apartment, nice and neat.
It’s verified. Relax, stop searching –and you will get what you need, It will find you.
At 6.00 am we are back on the road before the heat sets in.
Lo and behold, the beseeched highway is right ahead of us! Dear Croats, I love you! It’s a four lane luxury, hardly any cars, and I surge forward at full speed, to the happy chattering of Andre, making his little dance to the sunny reggae playing on the local radio. The kaleidoscope of gorgeous sceneries exchanges one another, at one moment it feels like we are in Andalusia, at another – in the mountains of South Africa. We pass the range of wind generators perched on top of the hill, slender and seemingly fragile, on average, those wind farms are of 500 MW. The energy of wind has been used for centuries, but as a result of global warming effects, growing opinion against fossil fuels and subsequent dependency, it is now becoming economically beneficial to get involved in the renewable energy field. Furthermore, an innovative concept of offshore wind farms placed on floating platforms at depth of up to 500 meters is now being implemented allowing to curb the wind in a more stable and manageable manner, addressing its unpredictable nature; whilst located ‘out of sight’. (Hexicon Floating Platforms).
We pass by Split, the largest Dalmatian city and the second-largest city of Croatia. Split is located around the ancient Roman Palace of the Emperor Diocletian. It is also one of the oldest cities in the area. While it is traditionally considered just over 1,700 years old counting from the construction of Diocletian's Palace in AD 305, archaeological research relating to the original founding of the city as the Greek colony of Aspálathos in the 6th century BC, establishes the urban tradition of the area as being several centuries older. Split is also a home town to Marko Marulić, whose most acclaimed work ‘Judita’ written in Split and printed in Venice in 1521, is widely held to be the first modern work of Croatian literature.
We take a detour for a glimpse of Zadar. The district of present day Zadar has been populated since prehistoric times. The earliest evidence of human life comes from the Late Stone Age, while numerous settlements have been dated as early as the Neolithic. Before the Illyrians, the area was inhabited by an ancient Mediterranean people of a pre-Indo-European culture. They assimilated with the Indo-Europeans who settled between the 4th and 2nd millennium BC into a new ethnical unity, that of the Liburnians. Zadar was a Liburnian settlement, laid out in the 9th century BC, built on a small stone islet and embankments where the old city stands and tied to the mainland by the overflown narrow isthmus, which created a natural port in its northern strait. At present it’s a modern and vibrant city, a hub of night life and international music events.
Our next stop is the city of Šibenik. Unlike other cities along the Adriatic coast, which were established by Greeks, Illyrians and Romans, Šibenik was founded by Croats. It was mentioned for the first time under its present name in 1066 in a Charter of the Croatian King Petar Krešimir IV. For that reason, Šibenik is also called "Krešimirov grad". Here the river Krka falls into the Adriatic and the beautiful Krka Nature Reserve is just a few km away, with its cascading waterfalls and invigorating springs. Leaving Šibenik, shortly we see a sign to our final destination - Plitvice Lakes and take a turn off the highway.
Thereupon we find ourselves in a whole new world. The heat and exuberant sunny joy of the Adriatic seaside are replaced by the coolness of the pine forest and cloud chilled skies. The air is a fresh mix of springs and pine trees, wild flowers and wooden huts. Those forests are a habitat for dears and bears, wolfs and rabbits, and us, for the coming three days. We haven’t booked any accommodation beforehand, and stopping now and then at the signs of apartments for rent, shortly find, undoubtedly, the most beautiful place – a wooden hut with the attic, off the road, right in the forest, 9 kilometers away from the lakes.
I wonder if bears ever come over here for lunch or dinner, but they say, there’s enough of food for them in the forest, and they are not particularly attracted by the scent or a sound of voice of a human being.
Here we chance upon the old fortress of Dreznik, which has been abandoned and destroyed and recently renovated. A young man welcomes us in and gives a tour around the fortress – he’s volunteering to watch the tower four hours a day, having participated in restoration of this historic site, he’s proud and conscious of the history of his country.
The road takes us further to the Caves of Barać (Baraćeve špilje - http://www.baraceve-spilje.hr/spilje_eng.html). According to a legend the caves bear the name of the victory of Barać against the Ottoman. The upper cave which is open for tourists is closed by the time we arrive, so we take a stroll in the forest, up the mountain. Andre says: there’s nothing compared to Cango Caves…and my mind takes me back in time, to South Africa deeply entrenched in my heart, due to the past and the present –my best friend is there. I am back to the Garden route, and the renowned Cango Caves. Me, my boyfriend and our friend Ron take an adventure tour, sign a disclaimer which I find rather disturbing –not unfoundedly, as I discover later, and enter the Hades. It truly is an adventure. Our tour consists of crawling through narrow passages and climbing up steep rock formations guided by small lights. At some point we need to make a choice whether to take a challenge or an ‘easy’ route. I and Ron opt for the latter, and my boyfriend, ever ready to face a challenge, disappears into the darkness of a narrow stone pipe, he’s got to push his way up it to find himself in a further narrowing horizontal space where you have to crawl you way through on your back or stomach. We reach the exit point to find him stuck at the exit. His chest does not go through. He did manage to get out. I, on the other hand, for long regretted not facing the challenge.
There are some experiences in life when even the most eloquent are lost for words as none seem to be powerful enough. That is the most fair way to describe the Plitvice Nature Reserve. Once you enter it - you are in a different dimension, in a fantasmagoria of colors that dazzle, reflect and fill your eyes with all taints of blue and emerald green, opalescing in you in a rainbow; of sounds which entrance and take you in, make your whole body sing and reverberate to its music, of feelings which enter your body, heart and mind, languidly, yet powerfully, and unfurl beautiful dandelions and chamomiles inside you, set the blue dragonflies flapping their winds and gold fish splashing in the deepness, which is you.
There are no borders between you and this enchanted forest, it embraces you, and you can’t but dissolve into it, become one with its waterfalls cascading down and spraying you with the purifying coolness carried by the fresh breeze; the mirror-like emerald waters reflecting you in a way you do not know any longer which is the real you; it saturates your mind with peace and serenity you didn’t imagine exists within you.
The path weaves itself through the enchanted forest reflecting in the mirror of the waters, swarming with fish of different colours, the bright green of the leaves dazzles enhanced by the myriad of water colours.
This is the kingdom of sirens and fairies, they turn into emerald-blue dragonflies and golden-back spiders during the day, flying from one leave to another, whirling and waltzing in the air. If you listen carefully, you can hear them sing along with the falling waters, drunk with its freshness. At nights they go back to their underwater castles which during the day appear as trees in the transparent water depth.
I met an old and wise man Dragan, who told me this secret. He is the guardian of this enchanted forest. As I saw him there I knew straight away he’s got a handful of secrets to tell, his modest smile and hundreds-years-old eyes. Dozens of years ago he built a wooden path for us to walk and saturate the beauty of Plitvice; every day he takes a stroll down this path making sure every wooden part of it is in place, and no one is going to fall into its waters. As once you do – there is no coming back. The sirens will keep you, and you’ll stay in their underwater castles forever. During the day you will appear as a beautiful gold fish, or a duck. That is why it is not allowed to swim here too.
How do I know? A fish confided in me. Yes, they can speak, everything does, it only takes one to listen – very carefully. We come here with Andre at the early hours of the morning, when the world is awakening and is most tentative, we sit and listen, and it all opens up to us and takes us in. No space or time applies.
There is no end or beginning to this place, you can walk its labyrinth forever and keep on discovering it anew, as it is, indeed, ever changing.
Time-wise, we spend at Plitvice three days. Those three days feel like forever, and it truly is so. I can tell my eyes are of a different color now.
The magical waters reflect in them, I will take care not to spill it.
I thank Dragan for his beautiful mission and wave him good bye as his image disperses in the circles of azure water. I thank the Universe and Montenegro authorities for giving a boot to Andre and precipitating this miracle, forcing us down this fairy path.
Andre said if you watch the waterfall intently, you’ll be able to see the rainbow. I’m on a ferry now taking me back to the old town of Dubrovnik, watching the waves generated by the movement of this formidable boat, now and then I catch a glimpse of a rainbow. The moment is transient, yet I know it’s always there. All miracles are. Just keep your eyes, ears and heart open.
A journey from Split to Dubrovnik takes 4 hours by car, or 11 hours - by ferry. The ferry’s approaching the island of Mlet, it looks deserted by comparison with the other two stops at Trat and Korcula, I cycled all over those two islands, through the enchanting wine yards of Korcula and the steep hills of Trat, but I’ve never been to Mlet yet...Shall I take a little detour? I know what Andre would have said. See you later.