The weeks before I flew to Croatia to begin section hiking the Via Dinarica were mad. We did a lot of socialising, Aaron was working really hard and I was trying to finish up my teaching and marking for the term, and make sure I had sorted my church commitments for while I was away. I was also spending what felt like an inordinate amount of time trying to plan this holiday. Maybe it was a little ambitious to plan to do this kind of long-distance hiking for the first time in a new-to-me country, alone, when we didn’t yet have much gear or know anyone with any experience of these trails. But that’s what the internet (and all my free time) is for, right?
So it was busy.
I landed in Zadar late at night on the last flight of the day. I usually love travelling alone, but I ended up spending most of the day working from the train, the airport and the plane so I felt under-prepared and out of the zone when I arrived.
There were just a handful of staff members hanging around to close Zadar airport after we all cleared out. I got my bag, hit up the ATM for kuna and caught the last bus into town. Tired or not, there is no feeling like landing in another country, figuring out the lay of the land and then sitting on a bus letting it sink in that you are really, truly, physically in the place you’ve been daydreaming of. I love it!
I had booked into an AirBNB (search Roki and Diva in Zadar) and Roki met me at the bus station, even though it was midnight, and even though her apartment is basically opposite the bus stop. She is undoubtedly a lady with a gift of hospitality and she is putting it to excellent use through AirBNB. She gave me a quick midnight tour of the neighbourhood, set me up in my room and left me to sleep.
I had originally only planned to stay one night in Zadar and catch the 8am bus to Senj the next day, but by the time I arrived I had bailed on that plan and given myself a full day in Zadar for jobs: exchange dollars to kuna, find and buy some kind of gas that would work for our camping stove, buy and set up a Croatian SIM card, visit mountain rescue to buy maps and/or check my GPS map sufficiency…oh and finish my marking online!
On my quest to complete these tasks, I got my first (and hopefully last) blisters of the trip – not from my walking boots, but from walking around Zadar in sweltering heat in my flip-flops! Compeed plasters, highly recommended by my more experienced friend, were the saving grace. Those things are like a second skin. Still, so annoying!
Getting the gas was probably the least straightforward of my essential tasks. I couldn’t find any “camping-fuel-in-different-languages” guides that list Croatian, and Google translate wasn’t specific enough. I didn’t want to resort to using petrol, although the stove can technically handle it, so I walked around looking for the kind of place that might know about or sell fuels, using my one word of Croatian (thank you!), gestures, my Google translate app, my empty canister and the stove instructions to explain what I wanted. An older man in a tiny car repair shop took the time to try to understand and then gave me directions to Mikeli – a hardware store. I was nearly turned away there too, until the lady serving me called her colleague over to help with the language gap. He was a determined problem solver and after reading through all my options in all the languages I had, he suddenly had a brainwave: “Petroleum! Yes, we sell that, for illumination.” He explained that a lot of people used to have petroleum lamps, and, as we used to have kerosene lamps growing up too, this was familiar to me.
Given the language gap – and despite this very knowledgeable dude’s assurances that this was my best bet – I wasn’t confident enough to just pack the fuel without practicing running the stove on it while I still had access to help if I needed it. This turned out to be quite the job as liquid gas stoves can be quite fiddly until you get the knack, and kerosene is harder to handle than white gas. So instead of wandering down to the old town or the beach as Roki recommended (and as I badly wanted to do), I spent a good chunk of the afternoon on my balcony making fire.
Tips for future travellers:
Camping equipment and cheap international flights aren’t necessarily a totally straightforward combo. I was fine flying RyanAir from Stansted – my tent was in my bag, I managed to squeeze my trekking poles inside the rucksack, I took my lighters and matches “on my person” as instructed, and I showed my stove and TOTALLY empty (no fumes, no vapours) gas canister to one of the security personnel who was happy with that. Phew! Be sure to check the regulations before you fly – I’ve heard of people having stoves confiscated, or of having to pay to have their expensive trekking poles checked in separately.
I got petroleum (kerosene) in Zadar from Mikeli hardware store – it isn’t far from the main bus station and they sell it in 1 litre bottles for use in old petroleum lamps. Having said that, though liquid stoves are really good, if you are just buying a stove for use in Croatia, get one that takes gas canisters. They are readily available and easier to operate.
Most of the people I approached in Zadar spoke English, or knew someone who did. Still, I’m a big believer in learning as much of the local language as you can – and I’m working on it!
I highly recommend Roki and Diva’s place if you’re travelling through – it’s super convenient and Roki could not have been more helpful.
Oh and if you, like I, go on an hour’s round walk to pick the brains of the mountain rescue team based in Zadar, they are apparently based in the basement of the building, with flats above. I never found it but I later became friends with a mountain rescue volunteer who knew the place well.