THE ROAD TO CRES: Saving the Vultures of Croatia~Part One

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This is the first of small series of posts describing a volunteer holiday I took to Croatia back in 2009. Travelling alone can get dull and even when you are with people, visiting countries as a tourist can seem unrewarding. Back in 2009, I had spotted an article about a griffon vulture colony, the last in Europe, and its attendant rescue centre on an island off Croatia. The Eko Centar-which sadly has since moved to the mainland, was based in an old Italian villa on a hill facing a picturesque village, which was barely populated, in the wild and untouristed north end of the island of Cres. For a relatively small fee one could stay there, working half days for room and board. The work involved a variety of chores;showing tourists around the interpretative centre and the aviary which contained recently rescued vultures, monitoring the comings and goings at the vulture colony or helping local farmers build dry stone walls or pick olives. I jumped at the chance. I turned out to be the holiday of a lifetime. The island is the closest I have been to the Corfu of the 1930s described by Gerald Durrell in his famous books which have been  favourites of mine since I was a child. I began a diary at the start of the trip and though entries became sparse as I became more busy there are plenty of observations to be going on with. Let us start at the beginning…

Dublin airport, grey corridors, grey floors, chairs, walls, a pale grey nun rumpled in the corner. A minutes walk further along, a young, western, Buddhist monk in orange squats on the floor searching his orange bag, a bright flame in all the greyness. 

Most volunteers would travel to Rjeka by air or road and take the short ferry ride to Cres but I flew Ryanair to Zadar and booked to stay two nights there before I continued north to Cres by ferry so I would get a good look around.

June 3rd

Pansion Albin. Western prices but not quite western standards. Forgot to bring my damn kettle. Can’t believe it.

I do love my tea…

The only thing to watch on TV are girls fudding themselves silly…

..as Kate Winslet so memorably put it in Extras…

 I imagine the remote control grasped in a meaty, sweaty, Austrian hand. I decide to read instead..

Too bright. Too dark. Croatia so far, on the drive from the airport at least, and here, seems to have lighting issues, dim lights, whole banks of flats in darkness. Maybe it’s a hangover from the war.

PANSION ALBIN, ZADAR, CROATIA

Pansion Albin, oil on canvas

June 4th

Sitting in the evening on the end of a wood silvered jetty. A pine cone floats by, swallows skim the surface. This place-Borek/Diklo-is supposed to be touristy but it seems to be out of season right now. A few people but no noise, no music and the loungers are stacked up near the pebbly beaches. There are a lot of trees and it does not seem to be too built up.

Zadar is a nice little town, very walkable. The old town is paved with marble, lots of beautiful churches. The waterfront is lovely, pale sandstone pier. The sea organ there is amazing-the movement of the sea produces constant music via organ pipes set into the stepped pier. Waterford should have one.

Unfortunately I have lost a lot of the photos from my time in Zadar…

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Zadar

Sun is setting. It will go down fast now, better get going. Later…after black risotto, sitting in my room listening to rain on the tin roof outside my window. The walk back through the trees reminded me of the Grand Canyon campground. I still hear the sound of feet on a wooden jetty. Thunder. The mossies have eaten me alive. Forgot my insect spray as well as my travel kettle. Doh.

The ferry journey was a day long trip and would arrive at the southern tip of the small chain of islands which Cres is a part of. As the bus services were limited I booked into a hostel in the small town of Veli Losinj.

June 5th

Ferry from Zadar to Mali Losinj. Too warm to stay on the deck for the whole trip, seven hours. Feeling like a crock. Bites have come up bad all over, two look like they might turn into cellulitis. Five on my face. This time seven years ago I came up like this in Scotland. I am taking anti-histamines but I just want to lie down. Kept waking in the night scratching. Argh.

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Dream or reality…

I took a LOT of pictures of the water, could not get over the colour…

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View from the ferry is nice, blue sea, green islands, some red tiled towns. Strips of pale gold divide the green from the blue. Would be nice to sail around if you landed a lot. Can’t imagine I’d like being stuck on a wee boat though. Tired now.

Veli Losinj. What a beautiful little town!Tiny narrow streets, beautiful little coves and rocks. Went out for a swim as soon as I got here. Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

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Swim spot…

Put my name down for a hostel meal and ended up being walked to the meal with a German family-mother, grandmother and two kids and I had to eat with them…

I am not the most social of people, mostly because of my bad hearing. It doesn’t stop me throwing myself into social situations like the volunteering holiday though. I guess my curiosity always wins out over my awkwardness but I was nervous about arriving at the centre the following day as well as tired and a bit ill from the bites. Add in the fact that I can’t hear anything when I am eating and a language barrier…excruciating..

We were joined very quickly by another couple and their two kids. I raced through my moussaka and left. The sores on my face are weeping so it can’t have been nice for them either.

I get gross reactions to bites occasionally. The last time I came up in such bad bites I was working on a theatre job in Scotland and staying at a B&B for three days. My face and hands were literally covered in red sores, some which were weeping pus, as well as being swollen but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why the landlady kept suggesting I’d be more comfortable staying somewhere else…it took me a while to realise she thought I was suffering from the plague. I still didn’t leave though…

Next Post:The Eko Centar at Beli on Cres.

Veli Losinj

 

Veli Losinj

 

Veli Losinj

 

Veli Losinj

 

Veli Losinj

 

Veli Losinj

 

 

 

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21 responses to “THE ROAD TO CRES: Saving the Vultures of Croatia~Part One

  1. Oh matey, that’s horrible to suffer from bites, it happened to me in Thailand so I know what a pain it is. But great great photos, it looks a lovely place and how brilliant to be saving vultures. I am agog that they need saving in the first place! I am now certain we are astral twins with our teeth clamping, shaky hands, propensity for being bitten and love from childhood of Gerald Durrell books, I read the trilogy under the covers in torchlight when I was a young’ un but got caught by mum as I was laughing so much! Love the bed painting of course 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What an experience! I enjoy your wry tone and straightforward approach to your landlady possibly thinking you had the plague! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this post! I feel your pain with the bites. I often seem to swell up after meeting the little blighters. 😦

    Apart from that, this sounds like an amazing adventure! I am addicted to photos of blue sea like that! We visited Loutro on Crete on our honeymoon and I ended up with hundreds of photos of the varied colours of the sea!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Oooh if you do ever make it to Crete, head South. Most tourists go to the Northern side of the island, but Greek tourists go to the southern side… so it is more authentic with stunning food. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

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