“I’m just nipping out to the shops” just got a whole new meaning.
At home, for me, this usually means lazily driving a distance that could quite easily be walked, to a Tesco Superstore, to browse everything you could possibly ever need under one roof.
When I lived in France, it meant standing at a tall table alongside the pavement enjoying a café au lait before dawdling along to la boulangerie for my morning croissant then on to la boucherie et le marché de fruits et légumes to stock up on ingredients for dinner. In Germany, I’d hit up the local Lidl by bicycle, balancing cardboard boxes full of groceries on my handlebars on the way home.
When I was in Uganda, we picked up fruit snacks from stalls along the roadside and got our vegetables from mounds of them on the floor of an indoor market. I’ll never forget watching a mother and son walking home from school and stopping off to buy a chicken for tea. The little four or five year old scurried behind his mother carrying the feathery animal upside down by its scrawny little feet – quite different to the perfectly plucked, cellophane packed stuff we buy en masse at home.
Here in Kozarica, “I’m just nipping out to the shops” means an eight-hour round trip on foot.
Obviously the locals all hop on their scooter or drive a car, but I don’t have that luxury. I’m sure I could have asked Marin for help but I did this because I sadistically love the aches and pains of serious exercise and feeling like I have nobody to share the island with but the creatures I see along the way.
I headed for Babino Polje, the main town of the island where the majority of its inhabitants, over 1000 of them, live. It was another 32km round trip (including my usual accidental detours) and totally enjoyable from start to finish, although I did develop a relatively severe limp towards the end.
The whole day was about Aleppo pines, holly oaks and wildlife.
green rose chafer beetles
These are the most notable insects on the island. They’re the kind of creatures that dead in a glass case at the museum you would gasp and say “wooowwww” about, but in real life, when they’re flying at you one hundred miles per hour buzzing like maniacs, you cannot help but scream. They wake up with the sunrise making it perfectly impossible to enjoy a morning coffee outdoors.
I did so many stereotypical girly squeals during the first few days, the locals must have been laughing behind their net curtains. But these miniature beasts come at you with fierce intention, face on, and it’s quite scary.
Once my scream-and-run technique had worn out, I let the persistent little buggers just come at me. They buzz around your head before landing on you, sit there just rubbing their legs together then fly away. I’m not quite sure what they get out of it, but I did sit back and observe. I couldn’t help but notice their lack of logic, they’re strangely dopey things. They repeatedly fly full force in windows, doors, people, cars and their hard outer shell smacks loudly against the surface before they fly away, coming back for more a few minutes later.
After a day or two of observatory kindness I decided to start playing beetle bat and ball – minimal fatalities, maximum fun.
Another thing to watch out for on Mljet is spiders. They don’t bother you at all, and I didn’t see any around my tent, but when I went for my morning hikes I had to Edward Scissor Hands my way through countless spiders’ washing lines. If I’d look left or right to the foliage on either side of the road I’d see the most colossal, yet intricately woven webs and in the center of each of them was golf ball sized spider chomping on the prey it had caught overnight.
The prettiest creature you’ll see most of on the island is the butterfly. There are thousands of them, mostly yellow or lemon in colour but there are a few multi-coloured speckled beauties too. When I go for my morning hike to Balto, the nearest village over the other side of the Kozarica hills, they follow me and I see them surrounding me in my shadows like a butterfly aura. It’s magic.
Wasps, Bees and Hornets
When it comes to other winged and buzzing insects it’s like Honey I Blew Up the Wasp. Whether it’s a wasp, a bee or a hornet they’re all on steroids and have a quirky tradition for circling you two to three times slowly, sussing you out, then flying off. Totally harmless.
There are so many little living things to marvel at along the route; over-sized fluffy caterpillars slowly shuffling from one side of the path to the other, royal blue dragonflies the size of your hand, flying ants that look like to insects joined together, lilac lizards and slippery snakes. There are swifts and swallows doing blue arrow* performances in the sky and all kinds of other birds that live next to the salt lakes and deep in the forests. There are wild boars, mongooses, bats, goats, deer and other small mammals that you’ll more often hear rustling in the bushes to get away from you. Then there are flowers you’ve never seen before that are so perfect and so intricate that they look almost unreal.
Oh I found my new favourite tree. Its got petals that look like flamingos turned into feather dusters…