Meeting Hvar, an Old Friend
Where does the sun go when it leaves the continent, waving goodbye to the long continental summer? This is the question that was following me when I was departing for Hvar in the middle of the night on September 1st, 2017. It felt kind of weird walking the empty streets of Maribor with some of my lightest summer dresses in my backpack, when the fall wind had already swept away almost all of Maribor’s deciduous trees.
My partner Aleš and I would be spending the whole night on the bus, departing from Maribor and traveling via Zagreb, along the coastal line crossing the cities of Zadar and Šibenik towards Split. All of my romantic expectations of sleeping tightly on the bus evaporated shortly after arriving on a stuffed and smelly bus. The bus had come straight from Bratislava (Slovakia)!
Yes, here it is. The sun. And the summer. And the travellers from all around the globe! It struck me in one single moment. Dalmatia, Split, speedboat’s destination: the island of Hvar. I found it all. Or it might have been the other way around. The memories of my childhood summer vacations. Small Alenka swimming. Snorkeling at the Pakleni islands. Hungry, more hungry, the hungriest at the Amfora hotel (now Amfora Hvar Grand Beach Resort). New friends turned into pen friends. All of this felt so alive and exciting again. Hello, Hvar, old friend!
What a privilege it is to know the nature of the land you are visiting. What is dangerous. What poisonous. What edible.
It is worth traveling to Hvar for its smells alone: the power of the salty smell, mixed with lavender, rosemary, sage. Is it possible to smell the strength of the long summer’s sun on the island’s rocks? Yes. Sensual proof: You can feel this most intensely in the evening, walking the town’s main square with the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, or the riva (the waterfront). Factual proof: Hvar is definetely the sunniest island in Croatia (with around 115 sunny days per year). Some even claim it’s the sunniest island in Europe!
What I have always admired about Hvar is its original mix of nature (wild) and culture (man-made). This mixture is actually balanced, yet each of its components is driven right to its extreme. Let me firstly describe its wild side.
Diving deep into the vast Mediterranean Sea and becoming one with it. So simple. So pure. So pristine. Not a single thought crosses my mind. Just emptiness of mind and full presence in my bodily movements. The Pakleni islands on the horizon on one side and nothing, just an empty vast horizon on the other. I choose the latter and follow it. When my body starts to remind me of its barriers I change my direction and start to swim towards the coast. Finally I reach the shore. I climb the stairs. My feet have an instant urge to move. Barefooted I reach a carob tree on the hill. Mmm. Its pods are a delicious snack mixed with the salty flavour in my mouth. Thumbs up for knowing the treasures of Dalmatian nature!
It is worth traveling to Hvar for its smells alone: the power of the salty smell, mixed with lavender, rosemary, sage.
But this is not always the case. A couple of hours later we very lucky enough to witness what I call ”the phenomenom of the unknown in a foreign land”. Yes, now it is time for the cultural side of Hvar. Multicultural in fact. We encountered a group of young people from India. They asked us if we could give them directions to a nearby pharmacy, since a young man had stepped on a sea urchin. Filled with pride of knowing the flora and fauna of Hvar I advised him to use vinegar to melt the sea urchin’s needles. “It is a simple chemical reaction: base (sea urchin) and acid (vinegar). It will help. It is not a serious thing, really. My mother also solved the problem in this manner.” I really tried to help the scared young man, but the group looked at me with a hint of surprise and a huge portion of distrust. They preferred to talk to a doctor.
Waving goodbye and wishing him a good recovery I realized: No opinion or even practical advice from a local, or in this case semi-local, can take away the fear nor solve the mystery of ‘the phenomenom of the unknown in a foreign land’. Only one’s lived experience counts. What a privilege it is to know the nature of the land you are visiting. What is dangerous. What poisonous. What edible. The many uses of it. This is how you cultivate the wild, with care and respect. My dear Hvar, you taught me this. See you soon.