Miracles do happen, lightning strikes the same place twice and the wildest dreams come true. The bus from Rijeka to Split was ready to roll long before the scheduled time. An on-time departure seemed probable. There was even the possibility of an early departure. For a few minutes, hope triumphed over experience before reality intervened. At noon, the bus was still stationary. The time for its departure came and went with the bus drivers assigned to shepherd us down the coastline looking confused. The one providing receipts for the storing of luggage was delayed when his machine ran out of paper. This delay signaled that timeliness was not of the essence. And it also caused me no end of consternation.
Living On The Edge – Impossible Obstacles
The bus was the second and last one leaving for Split that day. Considering the journey was scheduled to take more than eight hours, adding what turned out to be a half an hour at the start of it was extremely irritating. When boarding finally began, the growing crowd of passengers surged forward. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the bus was not sold out. This was a first in our three long journeys covering the Croatian coast. Unfortunately, everyone soon discovered that the bus company had sold the same seats to multiple passengers. This led to some edgy conversations that were as much about frustrated expectations as they were seat assignments. Thankfully, there were enough open seats to satisfy those whose seats were already filled. Despite the initially frantic enthusiasm to board once seats were claimed, low murmurs of conversation gave way to grim stoicism.
Everyone knew what was ahead, a long and tiresome journey along the Adriatic Highway. The stunning scenery that would unfold across hundreds of kilometers of shoreline would be offset by the insanely serpentine D8 motorway. The road winds its way along a seemingly unending series of life threatening precipices and narrow, rocky defiles. Doses of Dramamine were in order, even for those with stronger stomachs. Nothing less would do for such a daunting journey. I already knew what to expect since I had done this journey in the opposite direction a week earlier. An hour out of Rijeka we would be entering a no man’s land of spectacular scenery and forbidding landscapes. This was the roughest, most rugged part of any journey along the Croatian coastline. Considering the competition that is impressive or depressive depending upon one’s perspective. It would certainly prove unforgettable for all the right and wrong reasons.
It was not long after leaving Rijeka that the dreaded curves began. The bus began to snake its way through a never ending neverland. I felt like we were chasing our own tail time and again. From the town of Kraljevica until the Maslenica Bridge nearly 200 kilometers to the south, the bus navigated an unending succession of s-curves, switchbacks on steroids and abyss hugging highway. I have no way of knowing how many times the bus made ninety degree turns, but I would put the number at well over a hundred. To say that this journey was a combination of dizzying, withering and head spinning would not quite do it justice. On the landward side, the Velebit Mountains formed an impressive natural barrier. An awe inspiring reminder of the rugged inland areas to be found east of the Croatian Littoral. The mountains were beautiful and forbidding, they looked like another impossible obstacle in a region filled with them.
Terrifying Beauty – On Hostile Ground
On the seaward side, the Adriatic seemed to be taunting those of us who looked out upon its serene waters with thoughts of what might have been. The scene was enchanting and maddening. If only there had been a ferry between Rijeka and Split. Thoughts of this only made the bus ride worse. On this day, anyone fortunate enough to be taking the sea route would have been enjoying smooth sailing. There was no rugged terrain to navigate, only a sheet of glass stretching to the shorelines of various islands or flowing towards an infinite horizon. I was pretty sure that everyone on board this bus would have gladly taken the opportunity to sail the Adriatic. Such thoughts only served to make this journey more difficult than it already was. Staring longingly at the sea did little more than remind me of what I was missing. I did derive a bit of solace from the fact that we would be taking a ferry from Spilt to Dubrovnik the next day, but first we had to make our way through a maze that was part natural and part manmade.
Just as on our initial journey along this road a week earlier, I was impressed by the terrifying beauty of the region. Those consummate pirates of the Adriatic, the Uskoks, came as close as anyone ever did to controlling the Littoral. Truth be told, they did not so much control it, as it controlled them. The hostile nature of the landscape molded them into ferocious warriors, ones who were feared even by their allies. Their capital of Senj was a sort of midpoint marker for the bus journey. A place to stretch the legs and for me to experience a deep and abiding empathy for anyone who lived on this forbidden shore. The town was hemmed in all sides by nature. The difficulty of traveling to and from Senj would have warned many people off the place. I imagined its inhabitants either enjoyed their isolation or were living out their lives in a sort of blissful self-imposed exile. Staying in Senj meant surviving it. There was comfort in the remote, a sort of seductive solitude with an allure all its own.
Beauty & Brutality – The Opposite of Hospitable
On this journey, Senj was little more than a bathroom break. The same could not be said for the towns and villages either north or south of it. Anyone who thinks Europe is getting crowded need not look any further than the mainland shores of the Littoral. Villages were quaint, but hardly memorable. The dream of everyone who falls in love with the Croatian coastline is to live along it. That still did not make me fancy this region. It looked the opposite of hospitable. Senj was the region’s largest population center with only 7,000 people. All the others were proverbial wide spots in the road, or put more aptly, wide spots in the coves. Tucked up against the shoreline, preserves of the hardy or foolhardy dotted the highway. They were scattered along it at regular intervals. Each of them made me wonder what it would be like to live in one of these villages surrounded by beauty and brutality.
Click here for: Land of Extremes – The Karst: That Other Croatia (Traveling The Croatian Coastline #50)