As little time as I ended up having in Split, I almost had much less. There was an early train leaving Zagreb which would have gotten me into Split around midday, giving me plenty of time to explore the city a bit before catching the last ferry to Hvar where I already had a reservation for the night. It meant getting up around 5:30 in the morning (as near as I can remember it), but what’s a little sleep compared to the breath-taking splendor of the Croatian coast? No one who knows me will be particularly surprised that I slept until 10 o’clock that morning.
It is a well-known fact about me that I have trouble getting out of bed. Everything seems so simple the night before. I set my alarm, consider that all I really have to do is stand up and give myself a good shake until I’m awake and ready to go. The sad thing is that at 33 I’m still able to fool myself into believing that this will actually happen. I’m a loyal friend, and I keep my appointments. If we’re on for breakfast at 7am, I’ll be there. I’ll grumble a bit, but I’ll be there. If, however, I have no external commitments and the only person I could possibly disappoint is my own sleepy self, it takes a good deal of motivation to get me up before I’ve had a good night’s sleep. That’s on a normal morning. The morning of my journey to Split arrived only a few hours after I had finally shut my eyes, having roamed the wet city of Zagreb in pursuit of a hostel with a free bed.
You see, after the fiasco with the overnight train, I returned to my hostel to find that there were was no more room. Well, of course there wasn’t. That would have been too easy, and I would have learned nothing from my ticket purchasing experience the day before. The next couple of hours taught me that there’s nothing wrong with clarifying a ticket purchase, even if it means admitting you don’t speak the language. I happen to be one of those ridiculous travelers that learns to say certain phrases in a foreign language and then tries to stick to them and pretend that they somehow understand the language itself. Anyone who learns how to ask, ‘Where are the Nunobiki waterfalls?’ in Japanese knows that the question is almost useless unless the person you’re asking can use body language, is willing to show you on a map (should you even have one!) or speaks a language you understand. Otherwise, you get a polite stream of what might as well be gibberish for your trouble. When confronted with this gibberish, I do not plunge forward and try again, but instead I nod and tell myself that this was a meaningful response, wandering off wherever my momentary interlocutor’s head seemed to be pointing last. It is not a tack I recommend taking, and I am currently trying very hard to break myself of this habit.
My hostel was actually very concerned for me and went to the trouble of calling around to find me another bed. Thanks, Funk Hostel, Zagreb! But it being 2am by the time I got to the place, checked out train schedules online and made sure that I could still catch my ferry, it was no surprise that sleep took me deep down and didn’t let me back up. Having succumb to my more primitive needs, I arrived in Split just after my ferry left. Okay, it was more like an hour after the ferry left, but it sounds way more dramatic the first way. In any event, there I was in Split with no place to stay and without even a map. A bar at the ferry had pay-per-minute internet, so I was able to find a hostel and write out basic directions for how to get there, but considering my ineptitude at finding my way anywhere, it’s a good thing I wrote down their number.
Let me tell you some more nice things about Croatians now. First, as I said, I had no map. The information center was closed, but the people in the post office tore a map out of their phone book to give to me. Was the map especially useful? That’s not the point. They mutilated their phone book for me. Awesome. Then came the wanderings again, and although this is something I enjoy, there was no doubt that this particular wanderer was, in fact, lost. I called my hostel, and the man who answered very kindly and in great detail instructed me how to get to his place. After ten minutes, when I had somehow managed to completely screw that up, he called me. He was worried and told me to make my way to a shop I told him I’d just passed so that he could pick me up. The man got in his car and came to get me. And you know what? This happens often in Croatia. Could it be because of the fierce competition from people with rooms for rent who hang out near the ports? Well, my cynical friend, I suppose it could be, but Croatians are also just damn nice. And did I mention what happened when I called my hostel in Hvar to tell them I wouldn’t be coming until the next day? No, I didn’t, but I can tell you now that they were very understanding and didn’t even charge me for the night. Big.Win.
Winding my way through the old town streets back to the market, the buildings were splashed with colour as the sun bid them farewell. It was twilight in Split, and it was gorgeous. I wished that I could stay a bit longer and walk around while it was still light enough to see, but I was not about to make my host wait. We packed my things into his blue Clio and puttered on up the hill to The B & B Three Turtles. I can definitely recommend the stay, and the price was very nice. The service, as you already know, was outstanding. Despite all of this, however, there is something that will stick in my mind even longer than the proprietor’s kindness. As we walked up to the gate leading back to the guesthouses, the man turned to me, key in the lock, and said quite solemnly, ‘There are live turtles here.’
I would like you to imagine that someone has just seen fit to tell you that there are ‘live turtles’ in the vicinity. What would your reaction be? I chose confusion. ‘I’m sorry?’ I said. To be honest, I’m fairly certain that no one had ever connected those two words in my presence, and they didn’t seem to belong together at all. Why was this man informing me about them? Surely I had misunderstood.
‘We have three live turtles,’ he replied, his face as stony as ever, ‘so do not be alarmed.’ Do not be alarmed?
‘You said turtles, right?’ I asked, now a bit dubious.
‘Yes,’ he confirmed, ‘so do not worry if you see them. And they are quite small.’ I decided to let it go.
‘That’s cool that you have turtles,’ I nodded, thinking that the conversation had reached its natural, if somewhat overdue, conclusion.
‘Yes,’ he repeated, ‘three of them. Live turtles. I just tell you so you know, so that you will not be startled if you see them.’
It was at this point that I began to wonder if there was some breakdown in the communication here. Did turtles have a different meaning for Croatians that was getting lost in the English translation? Was there some other prehistoric-looking creature he was trying to warn me about? Was he really saying: ‘We have three live velociraptors, quite small. Do not be alarmed.’ ? I decided not to investigate and steered clear of the garden that night just in case one of these ‘turtles’ was hungry. I was pleased, although somewhat disappointed, not to encounter whatever creature it was that the man was trying to warn me about.
The next morning I was off again, and Split sank away behind me as my catamaran propelled me on toward Hvar. All in all, it had been quite an adventure, and as usual the mishaps along the way had made it all the richer. I had learned some valuable lessons about communication, witnessed nature’s power over the puny humans that scramble across the earth, eaten some delicious food and met a number of generous and helpful people. It was only my second time in Croatia, with six years in between, but I’m already planning the third. Despite my bad luck where Split is concerned, I’m determined to make it back there and give it the attention that it deserves. And who knows, maybe in the daylight I’ll be willing to seek out those turtles after all…