Sunday, October 11, 2015

Being Brave: Zip Lining in Croatia and Solo Travel in Bosnia

This trip has been all about me challenging myself and moving outside my comfort zone to grow as a person and learn more about myself. As a result, I’m trying hard to say yes to new and different experiences. So when Aussie G decided to organize a zip lining trip in Omis, I thought why not? He and English M had already gone the week before, and said it was amazing. I wasn’t too worried about it as I’ve gone zip lining a few times in Manitoba and loved it.

So a couple of important differences between Manitoba and Croatia zip lining: Manitoba has big hills and stringent safety regulations. Croatia has mountains and a “survival of the fittest” attitude in place of safety regulations. We drove up into the mountains and the views were breathtaking. We got our gear on and had a steep uphill hike to our practice zip line. Another important difference? Croatian people don’t sugar coat anything. They’re very to the point and quite abrupt. So when I had some confusion over when to brake on the practice line, I was told in no uncertain terms, “Brake or don’t brake. What part of that don’t you understand?” A further hike into the mountains followed, ending with climbing a ladder over a cliff to reveal our first zip line. It was a bit scary but the views were absolutely breathtaking, and I did great on my first 8 zip lines.
 Climbing the ladder to get to the first zip line
Aussie L and I looking cute in our helmets

Optimistic that I was going to be able to handle it!
Stunning views!
I got the hang of the whole braking thing and loved both the long and steep lines. Things were rolling along nicely until night began to fall and everything got a whole lot more scary. On the second last line, we had to clip our harnesses to a rope and pick our way down the side of a cliff. I felt like a very terrified mountain goat as I tried to navigate my way down the cliff—other than the skinny rope I was attached to, there was nothing keeping me from falling off the mountain hundreds of feet to my death. I finally made it to the zip line which passed over a highway.
The zip line I almost wasn't able to do
At this point I was completely rattled and basically done with the whole experience! The final zip line was also on the side of a cliff and I could barely make myself walk along it. One of our Croatian guides decided the Canadian girl needed some babying (wow, couldn’t believe it) and took the rope attached to my harness and led me along like a dog. It was kind of demeaning but it got me to the tenth and final line.
We returned to the boat just in time for supper and our pirate party. Several large glasses of red took the edge off my frayed nerves and we donned our pirate costumes. I looked more like a sailor, but we had a great time playing King’s Cup (Sociables) and visiting the other boats docked beside us who were also having pirate parties. Things shut down pretty early, so English A, Aussie C, and I decided to head into town to see if anything was happening. We found a few other pirates at a nearby bar and proceeded to order our drinks. We were certain the bartender was one of our zip lining guides, and when he said our drinks were free we thought it was because we had zip lined earlier. Either we were super confused or the guy was messing with us, because the night ended with him chasing us down the street demanding we pay for our drinks. Oops.
 More cruise ship than Pirates of the Caribbean.... 
Some of the ladies of Ika getting their pirate on
We had to wear this pirate mask if we drew a certain card during King's Cup. In addition to spreading lots of germs, it made it impossible to drink without a straw!
Aussie C, English A, and I before we did the runner on our bar tab

For our final day on the boat, we sailed into Split. After an orientation walk with Naomi, we had free time. Since I’ve already been in Split, I decided to do some shopping and browsed through the markets, Guess, Zara, and Bershka, buying nothing but having a nice afternoon with a latte in hand (the best one I’ve had since I left Starbucks in Greece).
Naomi had recommended a wine bar called Zinfandel, so I hung out there and sampled Croatian wines and cheeses. Wow—absolutely fantastic. After supper, the Busabout crowd headed to Charlie’s Backpacker Bar which I had already visited last week. Aussie H (who is a news reporter from Sydney, how cool is that), Aussie L, and I decided to visit some cocktail and wine bars instead. I drank a delicious Lavender Kiss cocktail (gin with soda and lavender syrup, lavender is produced in Croatia and you see it everywhere) at our first stop, then we decided to visit my afternoon wine bar, Zinfandel. There was live music and we shared a fantastic bottle of wine and a huge Dalmatian cheese platter. We all agreed it was our favourite night of the trip!
Aussie L, Canada (I barely remember my real name after two weeks on Busabout), and Aussie H

Goodbyes were sad the next morning as I had met so many great people—this girl, Aussie J, definitely broadened my vocabulary of Aussie slang (which I’d better not repeat in polite company at home) and the constant banter between her and Aussie M (Madison Carter Official to her fans) kept me laughing the entire trip!
Aussie J operates the camera for selfies... because she has a good side in pictures, and besides, no one does it better than a safety manager!
Going to miss these days on the top level of the boat!
And now it was time to really strike out on my own. The pictures of Stari Most (the famous old bridge) in Mostar, Bosnia, beckoned me to travel there by bus, so for $20 Canadian I set out on the 4.5 hour bus ride into Bosnia. It rained almost the entire way, and still hasn’t stopped. The bus trip was uneventful and I slept a lot of the way. A midway bathroom stop ended in me NOT going to the bathroom as the toilet was literally a hole in the floor. Thank goodness that as a kindergarten teacher I’m used to not peeing for hours at a time! Solo travel was going reasonably well until I got off my bus in Mostar. The bus station was dingy (I think they all are) and it was pouring rain. I was directed to a taxi line to catch a taxi to my hotel and I stood there forever as no taxis appeared. Then this creepy man missing many crucial teeth approached me saying “Taxi? You come with me.” I ignored him as even this small town girl knows that you never get in a car with anyone who approaches you, but he continued to persist. Then throw in several begging gypsy children who would not leave me alone and I really started to become unnerved. Fortunately a nice Bosnian girl approached me and informed me that all the taxis were busy in this torrential rain, but she had one coming and I was welcome to share it with her. When a legitimate taxi arrived in a few minutes and the creepy man and gypsy children were still there, I decided that was my best option. It was all good, and I ended up at my hotel within a few minutes and things really improved from this point on.

I stayed at Hotel Pellegrino, which I booked on Expedia for $45 Canadian a night, and it was highly recommended in my Lonely Planet guidebook. As soon as I arrived, I was escorted into a beautiful lobby and presented with a tray and told to help myself. There was a bottle of homemade plum brandy (in a Canadian Crown Royal bottle of all things) and Bosnian sweets. After several restorative swigs of plum brandy I felt much better and more like myself again.
My room was absolutely gorgeous and huge—two queen beds, a little kitchen and dining area, and a nice bathroom.
I spent the afternoon exploring the old part of Mostar, umbrella in hand as it was still raining. Sadly, most of Mostar (a Unesco-protected heritage site) was destroyed during the Yugoslavian Wars 20 years ago. However, the bridge and old town were painstakingly restored using stone from the original quarry and centuries-old building techniques. There are still many bombed out and crumbling buildings, and many of the gift shops sell all kinds of art made from bullets and shell casings. I had a wonderful afternoon exploring all the little shops in the bazaar, wandering along the cobbled streets, walking over the bridge, and hearing my first-ever live Muslim call to prayer. I ate an early supper in a Bosnian restaurant recommended by my hotel, and for $15 Canadian I had a local beer, delicious tomato soup and bread, and chicken schnitzel with creamy mushroom wine sauce. It was delicious.
The iconic bridge, Stari Most, in the background
View from Stari Most
The shops and streets in the old town were beautiful at night
Delicious meal!
My courage was exhausted by this point, and I decided the most prudent idea was to return to my room before it was dark. I had a relaxing night in my room enjoying Bosnian wine from the mini-bar ($9 Canadian, what a high roller) and planning the next few days of my trip. A hot shower in a proper bathroom and a great sleep in a luxurious bed were fantastic after two weeks of hostels and boat cabins! The only bad moment was loud yelling from the streets and what sounded like gun shots. I did some googling and discovered there was a soccer game that night, so I told myself that no doubt it was rowdy soccer fans and fireworks. Or a car back firing….a lot! Breakfast the next morning was huge and included in the cost of my room. I couldn’t believe it when I was offered shots of cherry brandy at breakfast! By the way...I declined!
As I write this post, I’m riding a bus to Sarajevo where I’ll spend the day and night. There’s a group of Aussies behind me so I feel very much at home! Now time to enjoy the scenery as this is meant to be one of the most beautiful routes in Europe!

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