Mar Adriatico, how long I have dreamed of reaching you. When I began studying Italian my first year in college, I picked up a map of Italy and fell deep in love with Lecce, nel tacco dello stivale (“at the heel of the boot”). Cobalt blue water, Baroque architecture, squid ink pasta. Endless trips were planned, but the money never came. Little did I know that eight years later, I’d find indescribable beauty just across the sea.
We visit the U.S. embassy and receive a briefing from a USAID representative, and though I’m literally squirming with excitement at discussing my second academic love—development—with a true professional, I can’t wait to jump in the car and set out for the coast. We pack into a tiny Euro car whose brand I didn’t know existed and set course for Orebić, Croatia. Meg killing the crazy Bosnian traffic, check. Chipsys (Bosnian Ruffles), check. Jambox, check. Amazing road trip compatriots, check. Tyson caught on candid camera singing along to Justin Bieber, check.
I now understand why Bosnia has two names: The ecological differences between Bosnia and Herzegovina are stark. The lush greenery turns quite suddenly to Colorado-esque, rocky mountains. The Neretva, a river dyed quite literally turquoise by its limestone bed, winds beside us along our drive, and is stunning. We pull off the road to stare at it. The adhan rings through the mountains as we stop, and we’re frozen by the natural and auditory beauty.
We wind through the hills on narrow, unkempt roads where you’d easily expect to end up in an entirely circumstantially-driven head-on collision, but Meg’s lifelong experience with New York drivers effectively trumps the danger. We dance—space permitting—laugh, and talk at length. A bathroom stop in a small Herzegovinian village brings awkwardness, but we pull the car door out to shield us and shamelessly relieve ourselves on the asphalt, sensitive bits being eaten alive by gargantuan mosquitos. The boys laugh. I don’t care—I’m with remarkable people, and inbound to heaven.
Four and a half hours later, we approach Orebić, and the Adriatic makes its entrance. The sun dips below the water. Pictures do not do the sight a cent of justice.
We arrive in Orebić after dark, and find our apartment, a spectacular Mediterranean villa. This must be normal for Croats…but I’m in awe. I awake the next morning to this. I’m not religious, but: God bless Dalmatia.
We hop on a boat from Orebić to Korčula, Marco Polo’s childhood home. It’s an island full of fortresses within a fortress. Incapable of understanding how something this epic can exist, I’m speechless.
We grab souvenirs, snacks, and kruška rakija, and grab another boat taxi to a small island nearby to set up a spectacular picnic lunch, swim, read, sunbathe, swim, and relax. I channel my inner mermaid, let my hair down, and swim out as far as my long-unworked muscles can carry me. The water is so salinized, I find I can float on my back in the water just as I would lie on the beach, my hands bent behind my head. I dip, I swim, I meditate. There’s a single small restaurant on the beach. I steal bites of Tyson’s schnitzel and pom frites, fresh and juicy. Paradise. Later, I munch on the freshest mussels since I’ve left Oregon.
I know posting a series of song lyrics is a cop-out, but when this one came up on my playlist in the car, it seemed not only the perfect fit for our carefree beach trip, but also for our time in Bosnia as a whole. Courtesy of The Cat Empire:
“This is a song that came upon me one night
When the news it had been telling me
About one more war and one more fight
And ‘ay,’ I sighed, but then I thought about my friends
Then I wrote this declaration
Just in case the world ends
We shot them in the things we said
Ah we didn’t need no bullets
‘Cause we rely on some words instead
Kill someone in argument
Outwit them with our brains
And we’d kill ourselves laughing
At the funny things we’d say
We had them saved for special times
When the crew would call a shakedown
We’d break down our party landmines
Women are so sexy
They exploit us with their looks
Ah, we blowing up some speakers
Jumping round till the ground shook
They were the road trips that we launched
T-t-tripping across this island
Starting missions at the break of dawn
Yawn and smile say
‘What direction shall we take?’
‘Somewhere where it’s warm and wet’
This be the route we’d always take.
Our weapons were our instruments
Made from timber and steel
We never yielded to conformity
But stood like kings
In a chariot that’s riding on a record wheel…”
Peace, love, Hrvatska.