Rijeka / Split / Hvar / Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia (June 13-22), Part 2

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Hitchhiking is full of faces, and most of them from the past few years we’ve forgotten. Or they are faces without names, or faces with names along with a few basic personal details and nothing more. Or sometimes much more. Hitchhiking brings into contact a full spectrum of people. Mostly we live in homogenous circles that we create or enter into. People who stop for hitchhikers are certainly a type (The mean ones don’t stop.), but they are almost always other than whom we typically choose to live among. Hitchhiking doesn’t allow for much choice. A car stops and you encounter another human, take it or leave it.

There are no givens in hitchhiking. A driver might take you a short distance or a long one, or might make a short distance long by running personal errands en route. He or she might not say a word or may talk the whole way, in a shared or not shared language. He or she might drive fast or slow, might make you feel at home or awkwardly uncomfortable, or might, as often as not, listen to American pop music the whole time, which gets you thinking about the Anglosphere’s influence on contemporary world music culture (at least it does for me). Or you might get into a car in Split, Croatia and one-car it all the way to your doorstep in Bratislava, spending the interim with two simply wonderful people and their cat who help you find a new way home, one that contains a wealth of conversation, good food, waterfalls, and rainbows.

After a great week in Jelsa, Hvar, a short ferry ride left the island and our honeymoon behind us. Again in Split, we received some help from the bus control guys, who were more than glad to help us get to a hitchhiking spot, even going as far as making sure we got on the right bus and writing down instruction to show the bus driver. The Croatian bus system might be inefficient, but the drivers and control guys have a notable kind of camaraderie and nonchalance. After being dropped off, we found ourselves between a ‘No Autostop’ sign and a tollbooth. The sign may have said ‘No Autostop’ because it was warning hitchhikers that, no, you didn’t really want to try here because it wasn’t the best of spots, or maybe because there was too much else going on. Too many Croats stopping cars to pick up friends, conduct business, or just hang out. It was like a small asphalt village that happened to have a tollbooth.

The initial interaction with drivers is a bit like bartering. He or she stops, I run up to the car as the window rolls down, we exchange hellos, and I say something like ‘Zagreb’. The driver says yes or no. If it’s no but in the same direction, I ask how many kilometers. If it seems enough to get us out of town a bit and to a possibly good spot, we get in. If not, then no, I say thanks, and the driver goes on. Outside of Split, since we hadn’t been waiting too long and the weather was nice, I said no to two drivers who offered rides of ten and forty kilometers respectively. Another driver responded to ‘Zagreb’ with ‘Dubrovnik’, and I didn’t want to say no, but we were heading north. If we had somehow ended up in Rijeka again that night, I would have been saying ‘Dubrovnik’ over and over in complete regret. But I didn’t have to. Dubrovnik would have been a good deal, but we held out and the car that stopped for us, after forty-five minutes of thumbing, made an even better offer. I said ‘Zagreb’ and the reply was ‘Plitvice Lakes’, about two-thirds of the way. But the offer continued. The driver suggested we come along, visit the lakes, and continue north with them. Sounded good, so we got in. It got better, both because they had their cat with them and because they’d be driving through Vienna the next day on their way back to Poland. The driver was Latvian, his wife Russian, and the cat an English shorthair. Within a few hours the divide between hitchhikers and drivers had vanished, and we were simply people on vacation together. The following day and a half contained a lot of time in the car, but more importantly plenty of good talk, food, lakes, and waterfalls. It was much, much more than the typical hitchhike. Nino and I spend the night near the Plitvice Lakes in our tent in the yard of the guesthouse where our new friends were staying. Shortly after waking, they informed us that they’d found a better deal on a hotel room in Bratislava than in Vienna, so they’d take us all the way home. Yes, we’d done it – the one-car hitchhike. The hope and goal of every hitchhiker.  Point A to Point B in one car, and this wasn’t a small one either. This was almost 800 kilometers (500 miles). And we made friends. And they said we could come stay with them in Poland. And we could join them on another trip in early August. And it feels good just writing about it.

Hitchhiking on this trip saved us more money in travel costs than we spent total on our honeymoon (the week at the resort was a gift from a generous family friend). We honeymooned, we one-car’d it 800 kilometers, we saw yet another double rainbow, this time southwest of Vienna, and we made two friends, three if the cat’s included. Hitchhiking is confusing. Some days, you end up a few cars and a few countries in the wrong direction. On other days, someone stops and offers to drive you to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and then all the way home.

Return, Day 1: Ferry – Hvar to Split; Hitchhiking – Split to Plitvička Jezera (Plitvice Lakes National Park)

1st Car: Split to Plitvička Jezera – Split-Dugopolje Tollbooth (E65/E71/A1); WT: 45 minutes; Driver: Latvian / Russian

Day 2: Hitchhiking – Plitvička Jezera to Bratislava (Same Car)

Total Time / Distance: 1½ days / 795 km (494 miles)

Tips:

  • To hitchhike from Split in any direction: From the city bus stops near the ferries, take the bus towards Sinj. Show the bus driver a piece of paper with ‘Na Autocestu Dugopolju’ written on it. He’ll let you know when to get off. Once off, walk towards the left under an overpass and then towards the right, where you’ll see a tollbooth. Traffic goes pretty much everywhere in Croatia as well as to other EU countries. If you get stuck, from here you can flag down buses going to Zagreb and elsewhere.
  • For hitchhiking north from Zagreb to Maribor, Slovenia and Austria, hitchwiki.org puts you in a great spot.
  • Plitvice Lakes National Park costs money, but the only riding boats and maybe the buses are monitored. There are no fences and plenty of paths and even roads that go unmonitored into the park. The park itself is very beautiful and very much worth seeing. It feels like the set of the Jungle Book, with wooden walkways through numerous waterfalls and water-lilied ponds.
  • Jelas, Hvar is less full of tourists and slightly cheaper than Hvar (the town) or Stari Grad (and in my opinion, far superior in every way). The Fonatana Resort, where we stayed, has rooms that are still cheap through the summer. We were in a deluxe apartment, so that’s a different story. You can barter at the lavender stalls if you’re stubborn enough.
  • While on Hvar island, rent a moped. It’s fairly inexpensive, and most of the island can be seen in one day. Make sure to go through the kinda dark and scary one-way tunnel to Zavala. By moped is the best way to find the many hidden villages and beaches of the island if you don’t have a car.
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