26 September 2007

First impressions, Tribunj

My short-term memory plug can only withstand the pressure of fresh volumes for so long, and soon the new will push old vacation dreams down the drain.

For now, I’m winking back inside that first day, in and out as the sun runs its fingers across tree tops so tall I thought our bus might have slipped the space/time continuum to enter Northern Saskatchewan.

But if the Great Plains are a Monet then Croatia is certainly a Gauguin with its chunky, varied landscape of scrubby trees, blood-orange fists of stiff-leaved crops, green and red earth, the whole of it choked with rocks, rubble, and broad, spiny plants.

Broke back houses, kneeling or simply caved-in, are oddly interspersed with those that escaped the bombing but still bear signs of economical hardship. An unintentional communism seems to be at work in Croatia’s urban planning, as affluent facades of sunny balconies and vine-wound columns stand resolvedly beside the ghostly grey shapes of homes once whole and inhabited.

Trubunj has the essence of a shanty town, barely disguised by constant renovations, though its Mediterranean charm is undeniable and one only needs to turn a corner or lift a leaf to discover some delectable gem, breathtaking in its visual or tactile potency.

The Adriatic sea along the coast of Dalmatia is one of the purest bodies of water in existence, a radiant and clear-eyed indigo hovering coldly above its own visible floor. In late September, the water is all teeth and claws, but if you grapple with it for a few minutes, you can swim comfortably for hours (well, someone could).

A daisy-chain of industry faces the coast - restaurants and cocktail bars and ice cream stands with themes like Cocomo, Nautica and Paradiso, poised festively along the water’s edge - and just inside, few shaded and winding passageways of climbing, stone apartments. Some of these will stand empty for decades, collecting dust and wind and cobwebs, due to unresolved legal disputes among family members after a deceased owner neglects to write a valid will.

Our host, Bojana, tells us her grandfather’s apartment has been abandoned this way for over a decade since her uncle claimed legal ownership and then permanently relocated to Australia. Her father can’t do much about this, but in any case owns a home topped with two private apartments on a quiet road further inland.

Bojana gives us the 15 minute tour of the fishing village she grew up in before we retire to our respective abodes for a nap. We meet up later for salty pizza and Ozuisko Pivo, a beer loved by travellers and locals alike. She will travel back to Sibenik later, a larger coastal village where she lives and works, located a half hour away by car. She will come in and out of our holiday like a well-timed angel, taking us to all the best restaurants, sites and expeditions.

More on that later.

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