Hvar, Croatia

Hvar, Croatia

Serendipity is a crafty creature. It pulls you off your intended path and reminds you that the world is wide and anything – anything- can happen. Serendipity prompts us, often in not-so-subtle ways, that listening to our hearts instead of our heads can take us places we never would have dreamed of, if we let it. My self-imposed timeline of when I have to be where has flown out the window, and I couldn’t be happier about it. I am supposed to be in Greece right now, and I have only just arrived in Korcula, with Dubrovnik still to come. Here’s why. By what seems to be my new modus operandi, I landed on Hvar and crept through the net of sobe renters. Armed with my Lonely Planet guide, I once again struck out on my own to track down a recommended guesthouse. Now, the guide does also warn that it’s amazingly easy to get lost in the maze of steep stairways and narrow streets around the port, and given my (ahem) keen sense of direction, it took me all of about 4 minutes to accomplish. Hvar is such a small town and everyone knows everyone, so they don’t really bother with street names. I learned later that I could quite literally address a letter to “Giovanni who owns the water taxi / Hvar, Croatia” and he would receive it directly in hand. Stopping the next passer-by, I asked with hope-filled eyes if he was local and might know where I should be going. Lucky, lucky me. Damir, who lives in Split but summers on Hvar, not only offered to call the guesthouse for me, but insisted on waiting the 5 minutes with me for the owner to come and collect me from in front of the school. When after 20 minutes she still hadn’t shown, (Damir informed me that much like in Italy, 5 minutes could mean 30, and 20 could mean an hour), he suggested I check out the guesthouse where he stays when on the island, owned by his childhood friend Nikse and his mother. And here begins an adventure I couldn’t have made up if I had tried. Nikse and his mother Maya run a fabulous abode 2 minutes from the town centre, complete with a sea view (as you already saw), olive, pomegranate, lemon and lime trees, a pool, and a ready-made family. My spotless and large room had a private (joy!!) bathroom, TV (absolutely no interest), heating and air con (didn’t need either). A whole gang of Nikse’s and Damir’s friends also stay/live at the guesthouse, most of them owners or captains of water taxis that run back and forth to the Pekleni Islands during the tourist season. Ten minutes after dropping my pack in my cheery room, I was sitting at a portside restaurant with Damir, Nikse, Ante, Giovanni and Jure (twins), and Mario, having a lovely lunch. After some knockout sightseeing (which you also already saw), we all gathered again for dinner. Talk quickly turned to the grape harvest the following morning, and the next thing I knew I was rising with the sun, knocking back strong coffee with Giovanni as we prepared to head up the hill to Nikse’s vineyard. Fueled by awesome jelly-filled donuts, we set to work with our knives and clippers, freeing the vines of their fruits. On we worked with the sun moving higher overhead, bees buzzing curiously about, all framed by a sailboat-dotted sea, olive groves and barren fields. It was somewhat solitary work, as only Damir and the twins speak any functional English. They laughed and joked in Croatian and the boys would occasionally fill me in if something was particularly noteworthy or humorous. When all was said and done we had gathered about 20 x 20kg bags of grapes for red wine (a small harvest, about 300L. White wine had been done a few weeks before). After a hearty lunch made by Maya back at the house and a quick icy dip in the pool, It was my turn to shine. Tradition has it that the women of Croatia do the stomping of the grapes, and since I was the only woman there, well….you saw for yourself. The process reminded me of another time not so long ago, when I threw myself into the simple pleasures of cottage-building. It was, however, at the same time a surreal experience. On one hand I was just stomping grapes – something that has been done countless times over thousands of years by billions of other feet. But on the other hand, I was in a vineyard in Croatia, stomping grapes – you know? It was almost meditative, squishing the fragrant little orbs (and unfortunately more than a few bees, earwigs, flies and spiders) into a frothy, sweet mixture. For about an hour I marched through the stew, until Nikse (by some unknown calculation) decided it was ready. After a brief visit by the “doctore” (a highly trained wine specialist), a first glass together and the addition of a few mysterious ingredients to the vat, it was done. The gang and I had become fast friends the day before, but this was a truly bonding experience. When language is a barrier, many subtleties – humour, sarcasm, details – can be lost in translation. But some things, like smiles, camaraderie and a common goal, are universal. In Split, I gained a second mother. In Hvar, I gained 6 new brothers. I was humbled when Damir informed me later that Nikse and his mother refused to take any money from me for my stay at their guesthouse, and that I could stay on as long as I pleased. That should give you a good idea of what kind of people these are.

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