A beautiful place you have likely never heard of...
05.06.2009 - 05.06.2009
The drive from Budapest was Beautiful and sobering. Once we crossed into Croatia the full evidence of the turmoil in the area just 15 years ago was easy to see. Common was the sight of a house with it's roof blown off and windows blown out. A shell of the safe haven it once was for a family. The yard and gardens in ruins. The stucco riddled with softball size divots made by bullets. The family, still owning the property not yet returned from where they fled in self imposed exile. I tried to get some snaps out the bus windows.
Beautiful green fields edged with dark green trees filled with grass red poppies, blue salvia and yellow flowers all behind signs warning that the area is full of land mines and you should stay out. The war pitted families against families, family members against family members. A complicated situation I'm still not 100% clear on. Stable now, the countryside is lush, green and quite inviting except for the occasional mine field.
The inland area is dense with forest. Deciduous mostly. The surrounding hills almost look like they are covered with Jungle. If I had been shown a photo and asked I would have guessed Jungle. Villages here and there with nearly every house having the most tidy gardens I have ever seen. Poles set for beans, potatoes, corn and pepper all in even well kept rows. You would see the occasional local out tending their gardens, often a woman in a skirt with a scarf on the head. Every so often you would see a land owner cutting tall grass with what I thought was an obsolete long scythe - the kind "death" uses in movies - or is it a sickle? Then we drove buy a couple plowing with a hand plow...the bicycle style metal wheel with the handles behind. No animals in front. While it made for lovely memories and pastoral views as we headed to Plitvice I couldn't help but think how "difficult" and different their lives are from mine. As we whiz by in our air conditioned luxury bus replete with bottled water/Soda, iPods, digital cameras, laptops and snacks I imagine what happens in those villagers lives after the breeze and noise from our bus passes over them. They continue blowing with that old metal plow - at least a couple acres or finish cutting a huge swath of grass with their sickle, finishing up to wearily sit at a dinner table - serving what I wonder? The woman tending her garden, standing up working the cricks and kinks out of her back because she has spent the morning tending her acre(s) plot of veggies. She has to go in and tend to the laundry which she hung up to dry - even though it's raining. We look forward to vacations. Time away from our work. Their very existence seem to be all about work but do THEY ever take vacation? What do they look forward to? Then I wonder if I am projecting too dismal of existence on to them. They might want for nothing and be happy as can be. A simple life but a happy one.
Ever since I saw a documentary on the Plitvice area I have wanted to visit - I think that must have been 5 years ago or more. I was so happy it was included in the Eastern Europe tour. It's a UNESCO protected site and a national park. You can Wikipedia it for more info.
We reached Plitvice in the evening after a full day of driving, stopping just across the border in Croatia for lunch. It was pouring rain and foggy. Matched the way I felt. My cold was in full swing and I felt crappy. Some of the group ventured out. I didn't. I figured we had the day tomorrow to tour the area and why get wet now. My REI water resistant coat is not. The second any moisture gets near it it wicks the dampness quickly to the seams. So even if you use and umbrella it manages to get clammy and cold - I'm going to return it if I can. I'm disappointed in it. But I digress. Dinner had been arranged for us that evening in the Hotel. Lovely local foods starting with a traditional cheese spread, some skewered meats and a local concoction that seemed all the world to be Spanish rice but we were assured it wasn't. I am sure there was dessert but I don't remember what it was. All the food has been great on the trip.
Our hotel had chartreuse hallways. Really quite weird. Coupled with the florescent lights everyone looked quite dead. There isn't much to do there at the park after dark so everyone just went to bed.
The next morning we were greeted with sunshine...THANKFULLY! Well it was bright crisp and cold, overcast and not raining. It was a challenging photo day with the flat bright light. At least it was for me.
Plitvice is a lake district that has several levels of cascading lakes. The area is full of sink holes and porous limestone (I think it's limestone) so there are many underground rivers and caverns. The rivers erupt and form lakes. The water is full of calcium carbonate (I think) so the water is brilliant blue green BRILLIANT and anything falling into them become covered with this solution forming dams. The water flows over these dams and voila you have Plitvice. A steamy wonderland of rushing water, green pools, green lush vegetation and potentially treacherous paths for the unwary or unsteady.
First thing in the morning we took one of the park buses to the top of the park and began our walk back toward the main park entrance. The park is full of paths taking visitors by the lakes, pools and waterfalls. Wooden poles laid down side by side. They are a bit wobbly and have no rails (would never happen in the US). I'd guess about 4 or 5 feet wide. They graduate the elevations so every once in a while they will throw in a drop of a few inches. The way the logs are arranged the steps are quite thoroughly camouflaged. For the first half our guide wanted us to at least be able to see that someone from our group was ahead of us so we would somewhat stay together. I felt very rushed during this part. There was so much beauty I was frustrated that I couldn't savor and enjoy it. So much beauty and I was just marching through. But I tried to focus on the beauty laying before me and was the last person during this leg of the park. At a point you have to take a boat across one of the larger lakes to the next set of lakes. We piled on and then I saw a serpent in the water heading toward our boat. I freaked out and stood on the bench in the boat. I really dislike snakes. This one looked deadly and I know it was after me. I quite unintentionally made a few folks laugh shrieking and squatting with my feet on the seat of my bench. shudder....
Once on the other side of the large lake there were a couple food places and a gift shop. It was around 11 and this was our Lunch break. We were then able to continue on on our own as long as we were back to the bus by 1. I was glad the sprint was over.
The lakes themselves are beautiful. Vegetation is lush and thrives at the lake margins. The blue green water is crystal clear and you can easily see fish swimming and often the bottoms of the shallower bodies. White cliffs jut out of the water making delicious contrast with the aqua colored water. The sound of falling water was everywhere. It was such a treat to see this special site. I was so thankful it wasn't pouring rain. At the end (the beginning for everyone else) i hiked up this lookout over the highest falls. I realize now you can't tell I was almost equal with the height of the falls...but I was.
The closer we got to the main entrance the more people we ran into heading up to where we had just come from (starting at the top and working down is a way to avoid the crowds). The first half we were basically alone. By the end you were sharing the narrow paths with hoards of school children pushing and shoving. The "work backwards strategy was brilliant" and we avoided this for most of our time there.
I can't remember if I mentioned this but apparently the schools around here (Eastern Europe maybe Europe in General) are required to have a certain number of outings per year. They save them up and after exams they en-mass all the school children do group tours. So at the main entrance there were many many many hundreds of kids.
By the middle of the park I was way too hot - between our light jog through the first part of the park and the sun coming out all the humidity from the rushing and falling water I was roasting AND sweating - both very much like a hog. I had worn every long sleeve layer I had with me (it was quite cold in the morning) and by the time I finished the park had stripped down to just one. I looked like a Bedouin in need of a opium hit with my many skirts and sweat pouring down my face (coats and shirts tied around my waist and sweat...well you know what causes that) With the plague of school kids swarming like locust in a wheat field all I could think was "thank god we were leaving." I bought a $5 bottle of water and me and my flop sweat and skirts got on the bus leaving the beauty behind for another visit.