Once upon a time, there we were 3 youngsters hanging out together under the sunshine, below their own roofs, inside their houses, chatting over the internet, casually agreeing to a bike trip to the infamous Udruga Amazonas Summer Camp in Lošinj, a Croatian Island. Little did they know what awaited them.
DISCLAIMER: This will be a long story, so make sure you have time and patience
As if we were back in school, in every project, usually there is this one person that does nothing but somehow manages to still take credit: Me!, and ofc I have an excuse. Basically I screwed up at work for a previous task and had to make up for it in a really short amount of time, eating up any prep time I had for this trip . Luckily my trip mates were awesome and they got my sorry ass covered! Hurray to them.
Funny fact: We agreed to a bike trip without even having enough bikes!
Vesna is kind of a superwoman who is really good at being a producer and is able to pull sh*t together. In 1 week, she was able to borrow 2 bikes, and one of them forever FOR FREE! Plus, it was the best one out of the 3 we had.
A bit of promo material: There is a Facebook group called “Sharing is caring Zagreb” where people share things they have or give what they don’t need. It is quite an active group, and instead of buying or throwing possibly useful things to the trash, giving this a try wouldn’t be a bad idea.
In one intense week, we had everything we needed: Bikes, tent, sleeping and cooking materials plus new swimsuits! Vesna and Maria agreed to prepare energy bars and healthy snacky food the night before departure for the trip, and I was still not finished with my previous task until the very end of the last day (shame on me)! Everything done and said, we were ready to cycle, or so we thought, as everything started to derail from the very beginning.
The plan was to go from Zagreb on Friday, 10th of July at 07h25am to Cres by bus, with the bike trip being only 30km to the camp, where we would be staying for one week. Everything assumed to take one day. This trip ended up taking three and we arrived at the destination on Sunday evening.
We all met at 7am at the bus stop. Maria and Vesna hadn’t slept that much, as they were preparing food for the trip until late. We had arrived with our bikes and full of bags. A total of 5 bikes plus a bunch of other people were waiting for the bus, and worry about whether we would be able to take the bus start to cripple on us.
It was around 7h27am that the bus arrived, later than expected, and the bus drivers in a hurry packed people’s suitcases and did not let the biker’s in, saying that there was no space. One girl that was also denied entrance with bike complained that these things happen according to who the driver is. She claimed that there was more than enough space for the bikes and that the drivers were just lazy.
The three of us decided to go for a coffee and make a decision on how we would handle this. In the end, we decided to refund our tickets, buy new ones to take a bus at around 11am that would drive us to Rijeka, and from Rijeka we would hop in the ferry that would sail us near Cres. Upon the verbal complaint of the bus situation at the agency, they let us put the bikes in the bus even before it started packing luggage. The only requisite was that we took of the front wheel from the bikes to have a better fit inside the bus. This is where the first bike accident happened: I somehow managed to lose the nut that locked the wheel in place, but… This was not that much of a problem. We could simply buy a new one easily, and that’s it.
Smooth riding until Rijeka, the bus driver told us we had a bike shop nearby the bus stop, just a block or two away. To our surprise, no matter who we asked or where we searched around, no one knew where this bike shop was, so we decided to go further, and further, and further away to one somewhat remote bike shop still in Rijeka.
This bike shop: KOROZIJA-SERVIS, was technically closed, but the vendor was still inside and she was nice enough to still sell us what we needed without bills. Problems solved, extra stuff in our bags, let’s go!… For lunch! Yes, it was that time of the day where our hangry stomachs were growling for something. Bla-bla-bla chit-chat, food & beer, water refill and now for real: Let’s go!
It’s time to buy ferry tickets and sail to Cres from Rijeka. There we were, in line with the other passengers, looking at the no-bike sign, with a feeling of uncertainty, even though we had seen a bike go up the ferry… We approach the guards aaaaaand we get denied entrance. Bikes not allowed for real (how come another one passed through though? Maybe because I’m black to Croatian standard (this is another story hehe)). Someone said we needed Vitamin D for that.
Our new destination was 43km away: Brestova, where the car ferry lays. Without any other option, believing we would simply sleep with our hammocks after the car ferry trip, somewhere nearby, in a Cres beach, we started riding. Off we were, going round and around the globe (in a very short way), going through a road with tramlines. At one moment, not far from where we started, I fell off my bike (gracefully), for not noticing the height of the said tram lines, bent my bike crank, and the bike speed was reduced to a mere 2-5.
Well… nothing extreme so far, so let’s move on, slowly. We realized that the road we on was blocked, so we had to start coming back and go through a steep and curvy uphill, that moved us from an industrial area to a residential one. This steep heel was probably possessed by a demon or something that decided to snap in half the back gear-shifter in Maria’s bike. Now we were kinda doomed for sure with the bike trip, but I still laughed it off!
We walked to the closest bike shop we could find, but they were not operating repair services. The guy gave us some tips on other problems Maria’s bike, such as too much weight on the back wheel from the amount of luggage, making her regret her purchase and her free bike repair service. Besides hinting us to these problems, he also gave us the location of one shop that would be open on a Saturday, because these ones were not. Well…. time for a beer!
We went to a nearby park, have some beer, and started to think about solutions to our traveling and accommodation problems. The park visit ended up with Maria leaving some of her stuff behind. Vesna started to look for connections, ending up in failure. Me and Maria researched some Couchsurfing hosts in Rijeka, failing as well. We ended up choosing to get to a hostel right before it closed, and after a reaaaallly nice warm shower and new clothes, went to sleep like babies.
The sun shone and the sound of cars rang in our ears. This could be said to have been our passive alarm, that was slowly waking us up to reality, although each other’s alarms did the actual job hehe. In the morning we met this biker guy, fully equipped with OP gear, looking like a bike god, and he said he would cycle almost 300km that day. Respect for that! We had trouble to even do this 43km, we hadn’t even started!
Fast-forwarding our 1h walk to the bike shop, through ups and downs, singing, and reflecting on our experience, we arrive at the bike repair shop: Ri-Bike. We had a nice chat with the people there, we went to a beach bar while we waited for Pilar’s bike to be fixed, ate stuff from a bakery, went back, hang out with the staff, learned a little bit about bike brands and materials, and in the end, the young bike mechanic even repaired my borrowed bike crank problem which was nice and allowed us to move faster.
We found a nice beach nearby and stopped there for a while. It was our first swim of the trip.
Back on the road, through up & down hills, one of the things I noticed was how Maria’s gear was really low and her chain was skewed with the gears, and she was changing them a lot, which is not good the bike, considering the previous problems we had hehe. I was warning her of these things, and we had a little fight of how I was pestering her with these little things. Later I learned that she was hearing some chain noises and she was testing the waters, and going slow to avoid problems. In the end, we were thinking the same thing but from different perspectives. In the end, we just apologized to each other, and everything got nice. We had stopped by a market, bought some snacks, beer and refilled our waters and chilled out by a nearby church. Good times.
Continuing the trip, we arrived at Moscenica Draga, after a challenging uphill where I exchanged bikes with Maria due to her bike weight. Moscenica Draga is a very hearty and touristic town by the seaside, in the middle of nowhere. Perfect spot to break Maria’s bike chain! She had suspicions about her chain, but she forgot to mention it at this Ri-bike, and one ‘retired’ biker, who tried to aid us, looked at the chain and told us that this chain was not good at all, rotten and over lubed. This ‘retired’ biker was German and didn’t speak either Croatian or English, but we were still able to somehow have a conversation. He was trying to guide us to his friend’s garage to see what could be done, as there was no bike service/shop nearby. It was around 18h00 and even if we had a shop nearby, it would probably be closed. We were not hopeful for a solution at this garage as we were looking for a new chain, so we didn’t take this opportunity and decided to go forward with the trip walking instead, aiming to get to the last ferry to Cres!
On our way, just outside of this small town, Vesna and Maria were discussing hitch-hiking solutions, but I was somewhere else, going back to this thought of garage, where maybe we could actually try to repair the chain. At the top of the hill, I saw a car mechanic garage and discussed this option with Vesna and Maria. We decided that I could go take a look as there was nothing to lose to try it out, but they would continue the travel walking and I would catch up to them later with the bike.
Dashing with the bike, I found this garage, and the Želko, the car mechanic, was still working, drinking his wine meanwhile. We didn’t have a common language, so explaining the problem to him was a challenge, but a funny one. Once he understood the chain broke, he said he could take a look and see what he could do! Hopeful, I dashed back up the hill, meeting Vesna and Maria farther away from where I last saw them and took the broken chain with me alongside a cellphone to call them in case he could actually fix it. They waited in a nearby spot while I dashed downhill again, and met with Želko, showed him the chain and he was at a loss at what to do with it.
Close to losing hope, he remembered something he could do and went away from his garage, gesturing me to wait. It was a huge surprise when he brought up a bike of his and started to take out the chain from it. A saint had come by our way, I thought. I didn’t try to refuse his act of kindness and simply accepted it. I called Maria and Vesna and started explaining the situation, and both of them were incredulous with the event.
For a while, Želko and I were alone, trying to see how to actually take out the chain, as we were both ignorant to the ways of the bike. Funny was the moment when we arrived at the conclusion we actually had to break this chain in a careful way to actually take it out. So we did, by trial and error style! Meanwhile, Vesna and Maria arrived.
Vesna was able to speak Croatian so things started to flow nice and easy, maybe not so much for her as she was translating things between everyone on how to go about things. Putting the chain back was a bit messy as none of us knew the proper way to do this, but Želko the Car Doctor did a good job considering the situation, and we helped as we could, even if it meant having 3 people holding and turning a bike just so he could hammer a piece of the chain into place.
We had our bike repaired. We were feeling in heaven, and a stormy rainfall started. Under Želko’s garage, we started to feel really thankful the chain broke, otherwise we would have been soaking wet anywhere we went. Ufffff.
Želko and us had a really long conversation over really good sweet home-made white wine he offered us, talking about life and experiences, and he told us some common Croatian sayings about women, like “if you don’t take care of your house bushes, your neighbor will”. Wise man. He told us one of his solidarity stories about when during a family trip, his car broke with a very specific piece, and a stranger that found them, drove 200km to get him this piece, and that when I approached him, he remembered this. He also talked about how his wife wanted to get rid of the bikes they had as they were not using them anymore and were old and rusty, but he refused to do so, as he saw the potential for some other use later on. We were lucky that he decided to do this, making it feel as if this story was bound to happen.
The storm was still pouring down, and we hadn’t agreed where to stay. Želko offered us to stay with his mother-in-law, as she was renting rooms. We took the offer and for 250kn, we got one room with 3 nice beds, a private toilet and breakfast included. The beds were great and the window in our room had a glimpse of the sea. We felt relieved we did not have to stay outside, and cherished this bike trip experience with its ups and downs, looking forward and stronger to other adventures we might encounter in our future.
Waking up fresh in the morning after a good night of sleep and a shower, we felt happy and ready to start the day, with free breakfast! We chit-chatted and reflected on our experience with the company of Želko’s mother-in-law and Želko himself. As a token of our appreciation, we gave him a drawing, picturing the first contact that initiated our story with him. Surprisingly, he was also into drawing as a hobby and he showed us some of his works. Each of his drawings had meaning and they were reflective on certain moments of his life, mostly about his family and events surrounding it. He didn’t let us leave for our trip without the typical Croatian day starter – Rakia! We cheered, said our goodbyes, and thanked him for everything. We promised to send him a postcard to his address… eventually. We went back to our bike trip with a nice looking day ahead of us!
The uphill by the sea awaited us as we went toward Brestova, where the car ferry was. We were not all able to continue forward to the destination, and a rest was needed. We stopped by a cute small village, that had a nice view to the sea. There was one small open market where we got food supplies for our morning snack, or second breakfast if you prefer to call it that way. We chilled down a bit, shamelessly used the toilet of one restaurant bar there. Put backpacks back on and continued the trip. The way was still uphill, and I went ahead at my own pace. By the intersection that lead us downhill to the car ferry, I stopped to wait for them. Ten minutes had passed and there was no sight of them: “Did perhaps something happen? Were they unable to continue and had to rest or maybe they just walked? Did the chain break again?” I thought. I went back to check on them, and the distance went on and on without sighting them. Eventually, I spotted Vesna coming uphill as the lone survivor of this uphill challenge with Maria not lagging so much behind, and we went together uphill.
We felt relief after arriving at the intersection, leading us on a complete downhill trip towards the car ferry that would lead us to Cres. As usual, I went ahead without much care for the speed and enjoyed the downhill breeze down to the ticket retail. I bought the tickets in advance, and we continued downhill to where the actual ferry stop was. A group of men on Vespas arrived not long after we did, while we were locking the bikes down. Because of this trip, I felt some “similarity” connection to this group, but probably they had it much easier to get to this location as the Vespas did the uplifting.
We stopped by a bar, had beer/coffee and ice-cream later and the ferry arrived meanwhile. The power felt from the ferry was tremendous and astonishing at the same time, and the number of cars coming out of it was surprising, like a magic hat without a bottom. It didn’t seem there would be enough space for all of that. We went inside the ferry chose our seats and chilled down. It was my first time on a ferry and the experience of the sea breeze was a pleasant one.
The sun was high, and the heat probably higher, and after arriving in Cres, the huge uphill was just too much for us, so we proudly wore the “Bike Walkers” badge. After 8km of switching between walking and cycling uphill, the fixed chain broke again, with my feet, during an attempt to carry most luggage while cycling uphill. It was a relief as now our real only solution in the middle of nowhere was to call our superheroes in camp.
While waiting for an answer, we stopped by a village to eat our packed food and rest. This village was so small, they didn’t have a bar, so we went to another village called Filozići in hopes to find a bar there. The way there seemed magical with a nice proportion of trees, grass fields and rocks, with the occasional mysterious tree sculptures. After we arrived, we learnt that this village was only inhabited by one family of a couple with two kids, running an art farm together. The place was wonderful, full of home-made stuff, and somewhere I would be proud to live. There was no bar though Ahah. They served us water and wine, we chit-chatted and went around the place. After one hour or so, our galloping companions from camp arrived to pick us up.