When I travel I’m usually a blended version of Karl Pilkington and Bill Bryson. Today I started off as Karl, had a lovely normal day wandering like Bill then reverted back to Idiot Abroad status around five o’clock.
You would think after Thursday’s cycling escapade that I’d learned some sort of lesson, but people have always said I really do have a brain cell missing. I see a shortcut on the map and think it’s a GREAT idea.
It was 5.30am and I started cycling alone down the dirt track, in a valley of thousands of trees with absolutely nobody around. I thought it would just be a five minute thing until I got back onto the main road but it took a whole thirty minutes, which is quite a long time when you’re petrified.
The track was no wider than a car and lined with dense forests on either side, thick bushes that almost looked like Christmas trees covered in angel hair – except this wasn’t angel hair, it was spiders webs and in the center of every one was a spider the size of an easy-peel mandarin (first thing I could think of as a comparison).
I had to ride with one hand and make axe chopping gestures with the other to cut through all of the spiders webs, ducking down so none of the ones above would end up in my hair. I didnt want to ride too close to either edge but I also didn’t like being in the middle where the grass had grown quite long and it was a potential hide out for snakes.
My vivid imagination wreaked havoc.
I had visions of castaway cannibals lurking behind the trees just waiting for that naive lone cyclist to pass on by, before jumping out and chopping them up for dinner. I’d also read that they’d imported mongoose to the island in the 1800s to reduce the number of snakes. I wasn’t even sure what a mongoose is, but I pictured an elk like creature with a fierce face and enormous antlers barging out of a bush at me. What would I do… freeze and hope it doesn’t see me, attempt to run away or attempt to fight it? What would be my weapon of choice – should I launch my bike at it, spray suncream in its eyes or find a rock? Yep. These are the type of thoughts that tormented me for the first part of my journey.
Thankfully though, I did reach the road and this is when everything went to plan for a while.
I was cycling to Pomena to return the bike and hiking it back, a 32km round trip but I had the whole day to do it. It was so much more enjoyable without the 25kg bag on my back and I arrived at Polace so much quicker than expected.
It was only 6.30am and Polace was just waking up – I decided to pitstop to do the same. The locals were up and about preparing for their guests; men jumping into their boats to go catch their fish of the day and women cleaning down tables and opening up shop. I sat dangling my feet over crystal clear waters next to a stray cat, enjoying my first Croatian croissant.
Polace, is Mljet’s largest bay, with perfectly still waters that are sheltered from the ocean waves by four small islands. It was given its name, which means palace, because centuries ago it was invaded by Romans who settled and built a palace, fortress and church. They brought with them the Catholic religion and also two crops that have made Mljet what it is today: the olive tree and the grapevine.
I wandered around for a while then set off for my final destination. There were inclines at times but nowhere near as steep as I’d remembered, it was like experiencing the journey for the first time. I loved every second of it. I sped down the slopes and tootled along the flat bits, passing the famous turquoise blue salt lakes on my left. A final downhill slope and I was back in Pomena.
Pomena is much more quaint with only a handful of dockside eateries and a much smaller bay. Three millionaire yachts were moored up with their flawlessly dressed passengers lounging about on top while breakfast was being served. I returned the bike and plonked myself down for a caffeine treat listening to a guided meditation.
The hike back was hard-going but totally worth it. This is one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever been and all I could keep thinking was how the term breath-taking is overused when really it should be saved for spots like this.
I finally got back to camp around two o’clock and headed straight to the marina for a rest listening to the sounds of the waves…
And just when I thought I’d managed to turn the day around, the Karl facet comes back…
Having not long oiled myself up to lay in the afternoon rays, I stood up to leave and my phone slipped right out of my hand. It somehow jumped out of its case, skidded about two feet along the pale grey stone, hit a rope and almost stopped just before the waters edge but decided to carry on that little bit extra and plop right into the ocean.
I give up.