The contact with another human being had grounded me a bit, so having eaten some food, I got back on track with my priority – getting to the mountains. Two different sources had told me that a bus ran twice daily from Senj to Oltari, from where I could begin my hike, so I headed back into town to figure out the timetable. This proved to be an amusing endeavour.

Here’s how it went down:

Step 1: Check out an encouraging map of the Senj at the (closed) tourist info office which marked both a bus station and an internet cafe – boom!

map of Senj - getting to the mountains

Step 2: Attempt to follow my photo of the map to figure out where things were. Fail to find much correspondence between the map and the streets.

Step 3: Revisit the map. Take a more detailed photo. Walk along the harbour front again, following the photographed map and comparing it to Google maps. Find the building marked as “internet cafe,” which shows no sign of being an internet cafe.

Step 4: Decide that local knowledge may be an improvement on this map. Go into a butcher to ask about the internet cafe. Figure out that the internet caf either doesn’t exist, or is currently closed. Decide that the tourist map is an optimistic version of the Senj I am seeing and head for the layby where I got off the bus.

Step 5: Look on both sides of the road for any sign marking the bus stop which may have a timetable. On discovering nothing, enter the corner shop that sells bus tickets.

Step 6: Explain what I want, to a woman who clearly understands what I want, and is nonetheless adamantly explaining to me that there are no buses to Oltari today or tomorrow, or, as far as she is concerned, ever – and nor, she seems to be claiming, have there ever been.

Right then. That could be an issue.

Step 7: Watch and smile as the bus-stop/corner-shop woman talks to another person who comes into the shop about what I want, and as this woman calls a third person, the outcome of which is: nope, no bus to Oltari.

Step 8: Ask the women about a hiring a driver, and watch and smile as the maybe-a-customer-maybe-a-relative in this non-bus-station calls her uncle-or-someone and asks about hiring him-or-someone to drive me (or…something…) – the outcome of which is: nope.

Step 9: Smile and nod as they suggest that I could maybe get on the school bus going back to Oltari mid-afternoon on Monday. It’s Saturday, so that’s not exactly…ideal. Say thanks and leave the shop.

Step 10: Get ice cream.

Step 10 was a good call. By this point I’d been on holiday for a couple of days already and I hadn’t yet done much except remote-work and logistics-organisation. It was starting to look like more logistics organisation was in my future, so I decided it was high time to sit down, enjoy the sunshine, eat some ice cream and consider my options for getting to the mountains.

Before I had even got as far as the ice cream, a strategy began emerging in my mind: be assertive. I would ask anyone and everyone who I interacted with, “Do you know anyone who could drive me to Oltari? Koliko – how much?”

I began with the ice cream vendor. “Maybe…” he said, but then he left me and I wasn’t sure where we had left it. Eventually, he called his son and daughter-in-law over from the town square to translate. The upshot, at the end of an uncomfortable conversation, was that someone they know could take me that night, but it would cost me.

I nearly went for it, I really did, but after getting away from the pressure-y conversation and looking at the map again, I decided that I would rather hike along the road. Senj and Oltari are only 24.5km apart, by road. I felt like I was being taken for a ride – and not in the way I wanted.

Senj on the water, Croatia - - getting to the mountains

I spent that night in Senj as planned, finished my marking in the studio and made friends with the cleaner who came to clean the room after me (after cheekily hanging around way past the check-out time). Applying my “be assertive” strategy I asked her about getting to Oltari.

“Oltari?” she asked. “Are you sure?” before agreeing with the rest of Senj – there was no bus.

“Could I pay you to drive me there?” I wrote into the Google Translate app.

“Sure!” she replied warmly, quoting a price that came in at about a quarter of what the Ice-Cream-Family had quoted. She continued typing and hand-gesturing: “You’ll have to wait till this evening when I’m done cleaning. Oltari – there’s nothing there. Are you sure?”

I pointed to my pack and my poles, used my hands to communicate that I have a tent, that I have water, that I’m going walking.

“OK,” she said, raising her eyebrows, before asking me again a few hours later.

made a friend - getting to the mountains

When the time came to set off, my new friend ramped up the questions, and we laughed together as we tried to converse. “I’d never do it,” she told me. “All alone? Are you sure?” When we turned off the coastal road, she waved goodbye to so-called civilisation, looking over the gears at me and laughing: “Are you sure?” I laughed too, feeling exhilarated, as the setting sun caught the mountain around us and the air began to chill.

When we got to Oltari, my friend was very reluctant to drop me off. “See?” she pointed, “there’s nothing here!” She knew I wanted to hike to Zavizan, which she thought was a good place to go, but she was torn – she didn’t want to drive me that far but nor did she want to leave me in Oltari.

She spotted a sign that said “mountain villa 7km” so she told me she’d drive me on to there. Slightly flustered, I agreed, but we didn’t make it all the way as she didn’t dare turn off onto the unpaved forest road.

She pulled into a layby and demanded my phone, typing a final message into Google Translate.

a final blessing - getting to the mountains

Moved, I got out of the car, made sure I had all my stuff, and gave her a big hug. Then I turned, waved, and walked off towards the forest.

My adventure had finally begun.

enter the forest - getting to the mountains

Featured Image of the road from Senj to Oltari from the author’s personal collection.
Image of Senj’s waterfront by Grant Bishop and used under this license.
All other images in the post belong to the author.