My upcoming trip to South America a.k.a. the reason this blog exists in the first place, was this year’s birthday present to myself, a tradition I started a few years ago having grown up in a family environment which didn’t really go in for an annual celebration of ageing. Over the past ten years or so, I’ve treated myself to a foreign escapade around my birthday in October, one of which was a week sailing along the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia.
My friend Neil had mentioned in passing that he was thinking of booking such a trip, so I naturally invited myself along. I had never been on a sailboat, nor to the Balkans, nor on a holiday where the vast majority of my fellow travellers would be strangers. We booked our trip with G Adventures; mainly because it was reasonably priced, they had availability on our desired dates and, probably most importantly if I’m being brutally honest, they mentioned that one could do ‘as little or as much’ sailing as one liked which immediately led to me envisioning a reenactment of the ‘Rio’ video by Duran Duran (yes, I’m quite old). This ‘no mandatory sailing assistance’ didn’t entirely eventuate however as we were all given a task to perform when it came to docking or setting sail, although in fairness, when we were on open water, it appeared a similarly lazy disposition afflicted most of my crewmates as the skipper – a delectable Scot called, um, Scott – pretty much did everything.
Our trip began in Split, although it wasn’t the best of starts when the bus driver looked at me rather strangely when I insisted on paying the fare with Czech Koruna, before it dawned on me that, indeed, I had exchanged £300 worth of useless currency at Gatwick. Having gotten over that hump thanks to a stray five euro note I found lurking in my wallet, which was accepted with less chagrin, we spent a couple of relaxing days in Split, drinking cheap beer on the beach while watching the native men playing ‘picigin’ in the tiniest of speedos and wondering how this sport was not yet part of the Olympic programme. I soon realised I would love Croatia.
We made our way to the harbour to step aboard our home for the next week and meet the rest of our crew; everyone – well, nearly everyone – was lovely and bonding didn’t take very long. The first day we were taught how to tie the “relatively simple” knots which were necessary to secure the boat when docked in the harbour each evening. I subsequently spent the next hour getting entangled in what I can only describe as a supersized game of cats cradle (if you don’t know what that is, you probably spent your formative years in the 90s or later). I’d like to think I’m a relatively intelligent person, and I was surprised to discover that knots are my achilles heal, along with saying no when my boyfriend suggests we have our ‘pizza Sunday’ tradition on Tuesday. And Wednesday.
We sailed along the coast, pausing for breaks in glorious bays where we would sunbathe and eat lunch, before heading to an island to drop anchor for the night. For the first couple of days, neither Neil nor I partook in a spot of swimming, mainly because we were both embarrassed to mince around in our rather skimpy swimwear having spied board shorts on our fellow male traveller, a strapping, married Australian called Zak. However, in Hvar, there were some nice shops so I wandered around looking for a pair of swimmers which covered rather more of my nether regions than those I had packed. I soon happened upon an amazing topaz pair, festooned with pink octopi (octopodes? I always get it wrong!). The price tag, however, was not quite so amazing at EUR 400! FOR A PAIR OF SHORTS!!! Resigning myself to not swimming for the entire week – although I’m more of a frolicker than a swimmer anyway – I headed back to the boat to get changed for our first big night out to celebrate the 60th birthday of another shipmate, Christine from Australia. This trip was her birthday treat to herself which made me feel warm inside; a kindred spirit.
We all shared an amazing dinner before heading to a bar for more drinks and dancing. The dancing, at least on my part, didn’t last too long as I sprained my ankle doing the running man on the cobbled floor. What kind of bar has a cobbled dancefloor?! The kind of bar located in a country where there obviously isn’t a claim where there’s blame! I headed back to the boat alone and left the others to party. I had not long hunkered down in the tiny cabin I shared with Neil when the door opened and I felt someone get in the bed and put their arms around me. Turning around to remind Neil that we didn’t have ‘that kind of a friendship’, I was confronted with the drunkenly grinning face of Zak who had wandered into the wrong cabin, followed in the morning by the sight of him wearing the teeniest pair of black swimming trunks I’d ever seen. Praise be! I could now frolick to my heart’s content.
Over the course of the week, we sailed to Hvar, Korčula, Mljet, Ploče, Brač, Solta and Dubrovnik. We all contributed to a kitty to buy ingredients for meals on-board the ship, with each person taking turns to cook for the others. I celebrated my birthday in Mljet, wearing a sailor’s outfit which my shipmates had presented me with earlier that day.
My new friends presented me with an amazing chocolate cake after dinner, one that a nearby Australian took a fancy to and – having drunk my fair share of vino – to whom I said could have the rest if he showed us his willy. Without hesitation he started unbuttoning while both dining parties and the waiting staff guffawed. A deal is a deal so after the dining room gave him a round of applause, we proffered the rest of the gargantuan gateau. His girlfriend returned from the bathroom and, having learned where the cake came from, turned to congratulate me. We heard her ask her fellow diners ‘so what? He just gave us his cake?’ to which her boyfriend responded with details of the bet. She went mental and we soon scarpered, which is hard to do with any grace on a swollen ankle.
There are many things I’ll remember from that trip: sleeping under the brightest stars I’d ever seen, on an island called Lastovo which, thanks to its location, has the darkest night sky in all of Europe; being awoken on my birthday ridiculously early, only for my morning grump to immediately dissipate when Michelle pointed out the group of handsome Croats dive-bombing off their boat wearing nothing but their birthday suits; spending ten minutes convincing a Croat that I was indeed competent enough to rent a moped despite having nearly stacked it when turning the key in the ignition for the first time, before whisking my fellow crewmate, the lovely Peta (another Australian), up the local mountain for some breathtaking views; and being persuaded by Skipper Scot to be hoisted up the mast while the boat is moving in order to take a group photo because ‘each trip someone does it’, only to later find out that nobody does it because they’re not stupid!. But most of all I’ll remember the never-ending giggles that accompanied every moment of every day. A few years later I stayed with Peta for a few days when I visited Sydney and we picked up right where we left off. I think that’s the thing I love most about travelling; the people you meet along the way who, in turn, open up a whole new world of travel possibilities.