I have really been enjoying travelling in one direction – we haven’t yet had to double back on our route (apart from a trip to the shop).
This has its ups and downs. I like to know a little about terrain that lies ahead, using info from our new app Galileo, our paper map, and Ride With GPS. I’m not a fan of knowing exactly what every hill feels like, exactly where it lies, and what to dread on the return trip.
We had booked two nights in Anita’s Apartments in Sobra when we arrived on Mljet. We are hoping to catch the once-a-day 6:30am catamaran to Dubrovnik on Thursday. Even though their rules forbid bikes on catamarans, we spoke to one of their staff who we spotted on the street yesterday and he said “no problem”.
So, today we rode 30km out and 30km back, from Sobra into the Mljet National Park, which takes up most of the western half of the island. The ride starts and ends at sea level, but in between the road crosses the middle of the mountainous island a couple of times.
A real advantage of having somewhere to sleep for two nights is having somewhere to store our panniers when we go for a ride. It’s incredible how much lighter the bikes feel and how much easier it is to climb when our 22kg of baggage has been left behind.
Not that the climbs are easy, but the difference is noticeable.
The New Pollution
After a very steep start (3km at 10% grade), we discovered the market we were looking for was in the shadow of the island’s garbage dump.
On this beautiful clear morning, it was in the process of incinerating its riches. We’ve been used to seeing smoke rising from distant fields as farmers prune and burn olive branches, but this plume was toxic and low-hanging (reminding us a little of LA). The smell gave the indoor market a certain cancerous vibe.
With all the natural beauty around us it was a stark reminder of the waste we create daily and the need to dispose of it. It also made me wish I had my air filter mask with me on this ride.
One Hill Begat Another
We rode through Babino Polje, a hillside town that was likely there when Odysseus stayed in a cave nearby centuries ago. We stopped to take pictures along the way, constantly amazed by the beauty of the landscape as views of the cliffs below and the Adriatic beyond came into view at almost every turn.
As we climbed each hill Jane began a mantra: Polače, the town in the heart of the park, must be just over the next hill. I wasn’t using our GPS mapping as the island essentially has one road, so we weren’t exactly sure how far away the park was, but we knew one thing for certain: it’s at sea level. So, with each climb, followed by a too-short decent we anticipated the final downhill that would roll us graciously into town.
Yet the hills kept coming. Many were signed with the length of climb and the grade, which I like, as it gives me a clear goal.
But there was a point around Blato (a real town name) where I thought Jane had forgotten how to read a map. Really, another hill to climb?
(Jane’s note: The map I have for Croatia doesn’t have nearly as good elevation markings as the one we had in Italy, hence my inability to predict how many and how steep the hills.)
We finally reached the park and the final decent and sped into Polače, picked up a few essential ingredients for lunch (me: beer, Jane: ice cream), refilled our water bottles at the town fountain, and made our way to the main attraction of the park.
Many moons ago some Benedictine monks set up shop on an inlet at this end of the island, building an impressive monastery where they could be all pious, study God, etc. They realised that with a little bit of engineering they could widen the inlet, creating two salt water lakes – the perfect place to build a mill. The shores of the lakes also make the perfect place to sit, catch the sun, and have a picnic lunch, so we did just that, gazing across the lake to the monastery.
After lunch we went for a walk around the edge of the bigger lake, through the town of Babine Kuce, and found a quiet spot for an afternoon nap along the shore. With the sun shining down and the beer in my belly I lay down on the rocks with my feet just dipped in the lapping edge of the lake and dozed off.
No Alarms And No Suprises
Waking from our nap we knew it was time we started heading back, before the sun set and before our lunch fuel wore off.
Knowing what was to come at times was fantastic: “Oh, this hill is only 300m.” And at times, awful. “Here comes that 10%, 1500m climb!”
One advantage of a return trip is that you’ve seen all the vistas and villas (from a slightly different vantage) so you don’t stop nearly as often to take pictures. This meant that our return journey was a lot faster and knowing exactly what to expect made it all seem a little bit easier.
We got back to our seaside apartment and I prepared dinner while Jane posted a blog. Our dinner tonight included ingredients freshly pulled from Anita’s garden. When we checked in she showed me around the garden filled with greens, broccoli, onions, potatoes, citrus, olives and more and said, “If you are cooking, feel free to pull what you need.”
A perfect end to a perfect day. Now it’s early to bed, as we’ll be getting up at 5am for the catamaran. We hope when we get to the dock they actually let us on with our bikes.
Soundtrack: Gorillaz, Gorillaz | Brakes, Give Blood | Spirit of the West, Go Figure ♥