Being inbewteen jobs has some serious advantages. Like being able to go on vacation on a whim. We had done so much long distace travelling in the past few years that it was a welcome change of rhythm going to a place we we’d “just” have to sit in a car for six hours to get there. And then take a ferry and drive for another hour. But hey! we didn’t have to to the driving ourselves and a small stone house right by the sea on the Croatian island of Cres – Otok Cres – was waiting for us!
As a child I always thought Northern Italy is where all Germans go on vacation – or at least very many of them. The town that I spent my childhood summers in alone hosted three other families from my hometown each year and all of my friends have been to Lago di Garda one time or another. As much as Munich is the northermost city of Italy, Lago di Garda is the sourthernmost region of Germany.
This trip I learned, that there’s more such places. Besides picking a place that’s warm and sunny and has access to a lake or the sea, people just chose their go-to summer vacation spots based on how easy it is to get there, how cheap it is and whether it was decently nice last time they were there. Croatia is one of those go-to spots that has so far been a little overlooked by the Münchner population, but people from Rosenheim, Austria and Ljubljana certainly found a little go-to summer vacation gem. We met people that have been coming to that same campground there for the last 35 years!
I had never been to Croatia before – and we certainly didn’t get to see all that much since we spent most of the day lying in the shade, swimming or going for the occasional walk. And what we saw on those walks is best summarized as: spiders, rocks and caravans.
Caravans apparently are a bit of a remainder from communist times. When travelling was limited and hotels were rare people just stayed in caravans on one of the numerous Jadranka campgrounds. Through a quirk in the Croatian inheritance law, many people have inherited tiny properties all across Cres. Some are old olive orchards, other stone oak groves or completely overgrown meadows. Mainlanders who had such property on Cres would somehow find a way to haul their caravans there as vacation shelters. Over the past decades, many have of those caravans have become forgotten and neglected. Some of them now look like odd rocks in the brushes, overgrown with blackberry tentacles, faded colours and collapsing porches. Newer ones are still appearing on other properties here and there, especially because getting new building permits outside of town is close to impossible.
The island of Cres is very rocky and there’s little soil for agriculture. People lived off fish from the Mediterranean and its thousand little bays, and the sparse fruits that they managed to grow on the land, like olives, figs and cactus figs. Over generations they must have cleared the fields of the worst of rubble and rocks and piled them into walls and walls alongside the fields. Despite the sheer endless network of walls, when you peek over them, the fields are still grey with stone and only few seem to provide a noticeable layer of topsoil. It’s cool to see how many people now seem to remember that they own bits and pieces of land on the island and replant olive trees. One of our neighbours had planted his lot with olive trees a few years ago and still has to water them. His lot – like many others – has to hook-up to the water system, so every few day he carts in as much water as his little trailer holds and then hikes up and down the hillside all day watering the young trees with buckets.
The stone walls weren’t only used as a way to dispose of the rocks, but also to keep the sheep inside the meagre meadows and deer out. Now that many of the walls are tumbling down neither deer nor sheep seem to care about where they should or shouldn’t be munching on anything edible they can reach.
I like spiders. Little ones, no more than 5 mm big, with short legs and pin sized butts. We saw some of those. But the real rulers of the island are big fat spiders with butts the size of marbles spinning webs the size of a hammock. And those guys where everywhere. You could see them up inbetween the tree tops. In some places four or five spiders had spun their webs in a row so that even the luckiest insect would have gotten caught had it been blown that direction. On our walks my mum bravely took the lead clearing away the webs that were spun across the overgrown paths.
We even got to see a close-up fight for life. A beetle had gotten caught in one of the webs and the spider had already diligently wrapped it up in a neat bundle. But the beetle started moving again. At first just a little, then stonger and stronger. It managed to peel itself out of the cocoon, dropped a centimeter and took flight. Unfortunately, it took off in the wrong direction and got caught it the very web it had just freed itself from. The spider had retreated a little, now patiently watching its prey getting more and more tangled as it tried to free itself once again. The spider started crawling forward and the beetles struggle seemed to get ever more franctic. And just then the beetle dropped again. This time it was so surprised that it forgot to spread its wings and dropped all the way to the ground, regained it’s orientation and was free at last.