I walked down to the port and found a local festival going on, with a band playing traditional music, couples drinking and kids playing on various rides. I stopped to try the local wine that was being offered, fondly named VinaKoper – I’m no wine connoisseur, but it was pretty rough to drink, with little body and a strange bitter-tangy-sour after taste, making it rather unpleasant. I grabbed some local ice cream from a small stall and walked out to the end of a few docks, with several fishing and sail boats tied on either side. The sun was setting briskly, and the air brought distant sounds of the local fair to my ears, mixing with the tones of the lapping waves. The winds were calm, complimented by a soft, fresh breeze – I sat on the edge of the wooden dock and realized this was the perfect place to relax and enjoy life, watching the vibrant sunset fade along the horizon.
I met up with my host at dusk and we drove high up into the hills – on the car ride upwards, he explained a little about himself, focusing on his interests and what sort of lifestyle he chose to live. He told me that he lived in a caravan community, with many of his friends and family neighboring nearby. I thought to myself that it would be an interesting experience by far – especially since he explained that they had no electric and no showers, and a jury-rigged kitchen if I was hungry. Even though part of me felt a curious excitement, a larger part of me felt a bit mixed – perhaps a tad worried and a little uncomfortable with the idea of roughing it, as I had not planned to spend my night this way. But with a few moments in thought, I found encouragement welling up inside of me, and I knew that I had to give it a go. For any traveler, let alone travel writer, must experience life in all forms, styles and perspectives.
The night was pitch black when we reached the camp; I could only see faint shapes and makeshift buildings that were dimly lit from his car’s fog lights. He lead me into his caravan, lighting a candle and pointing to the mattress opposite of his own, where I was to sleep for the night. He toured me around the camp, explaining how certain things worked and I was immediately amazed how little he and his community needed to live ‘comfortably.’ There was no toilet paper and no refrigeration, and no running water and no electricity.
The bathroom was a wooden box with wood planks on the top – to use it, you would first remove the middle plank and squat to do your business. I found that squatting like that made it impossible to take care of any sitting business, as it put me in an uncomfortable position which made for a difficult flow – I’m sure you get the idea, for lack of better phrasing. The kitchen was a mix of old wavering shelves and basic-made wooden counter tops that allowed one to feel as though they were cooking in a real kitchen, but outdoors. A bonfire sat outside the kitchen entrance, and there was a stream nearby that you could wash up in. For water, they collected the rainfall which fell upon their roofs, which gathered in a large rubber tank.
It was a hot and humid day, and I needed a shower, before I could relax well enough – so my host gathered a bucket and gave me twice as much water as he said he normally uses – which was about as much as a 20-ounce bottle of water. He lead me out to the bank of the stream, where he said I would not be seen. The area around me was mostly covered by plant growth and trees, except for one open section that had a perfect view of the city of Koper down beneath. The view allowed me to see the festival lights, as well as to bask in the dim lights of the stars high above. Even though it was a different kind of experience than I have ever had, it was one of the most pleasant. I absolutely loved the view, the weather was crisp and warm, with an inviting breeze that soothed, rather than chilled. Needless to say, I embraced the circumstances and found that I enjoyed myself immensely.
In America, and other Western societies, most people don’t think that a simple shower takes up to 30-50 gallons of water (for a 10-minute shower). That’s absolutely INSANE to me, and something I never really put much thought into. There are so many things like that that travel opens your eyes to, and I have to say, that the things I learned in this experience left me completely breathless, and thoroughly ashamed of myself, my way of life and my civilization. But the learning and the eye-opening didn’t stop just at water, but at the use of electric, and the amount of trash we use, and other resources that most people back home take for granted. While some of those things, I learned long ago, from different places and other situations, my feeling is still the same – it really makes me sick to my stomach at how wasteful some parts of the world are.
I sat down with my host and we spoke for hours about various subjects – extreme green lifestyles, the art of having an open community, and his work as a volunteer-holiday director who specializes in teaming up with various nations of the European Union to create new green living standards, laws, and mass-cleanup events. I was blown away by his lifestyle, his work and his perspective on life and how it should be lived. While I’ve been unable to change everything and do everything that I plan to, that he directly influenced in my life, as of yet – I have changed a lot of where I buy my food, what I do with my trash (if I can’t help but buy something with packaging), and I take much shorter showers and use much less energy than I used to ever before. All in all, I loved staying with my host, learning, and experiencing new things and a new way of life – I know many people may be skeptical of having an experience like this, but I would do it again, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend others to do the same someday!
My host was gracious enough to drop me off the next morning farther down the Slovenian coast in Piran. Piran is an ancient town that that peaks out over the sea. It’s a small place, surrounded by an open expanse of stone walkways that reach out to the water, where you can climb the man-placed rock wall and easily jump into the clear blue waters of the Adriatic. There were dozens of locals swimming in the waters, and enjoying what seemed to be a VERY comfortable and relaxed lifestyle now that the communist shackles had been cut loose. I found the town to be beautiful and nothing but a good time to be had. The inner-streets of the town were narrow and random, with no real guide or pattern – I had a nice time wandering about, but I found that the town was so small, that it was truly impossible to actually get lost for longer than a few minutes.
Since I only had 2.5 days, before I had to head back to Venice, I wanted to experience a little of Croatia, as I’ve heard SO MANY people rant and rave about how amazing it is there. I planned for one full day in Slovenia, a full day in Croatia and then enough time to travel back. I truly wanted to see Dubrovnik, but seeing as how it’s so far down the coast and I was short on time, I decided to head an hour south of Piran to Rovinj. My time in Piran was short, but powerful, and I will absolutely plan a return trip to the small seaside village, so that I can laze in the sea, along the rocks, like a Piranese local. I arrived in Rovinj by bus, where I met up with my next CouchSurfing host.
My host showed up bearing a bright smile, and dragging along two other surfers who needed a last second place to crash. A lot of couch surfers would be upset by this random turn of events, but I loved it. One of the surfers was from southern Italy – he had an arrogant look about him, but he was one of the most cheerful and fun guys I’ve met on my travels. The other was an American girl from California – she was nice, with a bit stuck up air about her, showing that she had been pampered her whole life, and swooned over by guys since she came of age. It was nice talking with her, but I kept being reminded why a lot of foreigners are less fond of American travelers by majority.
I found that my host was from Germany, living illegally in Croatia for three years – she came there because she visited once and decided to never leave, loving Rovinj so much. It wasn’t difficult to see why she loved it. We stashed our bags at her place in the old part of town and after we all finished showering and getting ready, we set out for a night on the town.
First, she gave us a quick history lesson, walking us through the streets of the old town, and finally up to the old church that peaked at the top of the hill, which the city was built upon. She then lead us to a cliffside restaurant, where we skipped right by the reception, passed the bar and through the dinning area. We exited on the other side, out to the balcony area that looked over the sea – but the balcony, wasn’t really a balcony, as we found ourselves on the jagged cliffside that swept down to the sea. The blue waters were just visible, shimmering and revealing clear, soft waves, lit from the dim light of the buildings. We took seats on the cliffs which were naturally shaped into whimsical steps and steeps, which made it for a beautiful and perfect setting to spend the many hours of the night, simply conversing and enjoying the simple pleasures of the world we live in. The fresh scent of the sea breezed upon us, complimenting the good company and the cold local brews that we enjoyed.
After an hour or two passed, we collectively felt the urge to seek out something a little more exciting – within minutes (as the town is quite small), we found some trouble to get into. Like in Koper, Rovinj had a small festival setup, with a stage and various local sea foods readily cooking on a fired grill. We ordered both dishes and took our seats – moments later, plates heaping with grilled octopus and sardines were sat in front of us. The octopus still had its meaty, yet slimy tentacles attached – with uneasy mutterings from the girls, and from the Italian, they separated their unwanted parts onto a separate plate, at which, I, of course, had to give a try. I was met with a slimy, slippery, rubbery, subtle fishy taste, along with my group’s conjoined shrieks, sharp breaths and laughs. I suppose I made a face, lead by surprise, ending in a indifferent shrug – the tentacles had a strange texture, as I’m sure you can imagine, but overall, I was quite pleased with the experience.
The music style was strange – obviously something local, and we weren’t really feeling the vibes, however I did enjoy listening while we ate. After we ate and finished off our third round of beers, we walked not even five minutes before we found a happening little nightclub. The music was blaring, the bass beats were shaking the neighboring tables and chairs from next door restaurants that had closed down for the evening, and the place was packed with douche bags and ill-dressed little girls. Immediately, I was turned off from the whole scene. I explained to them that I will join them for one drink then I’m bailing, because I used to work at a place like this, as a bartender, and no matter if you’re at a shitty, dingy, herpes-infested club in America or Croatia, they’re all the same – simply NOT my scene. I fought through the crowd, leading the charge to the bar, and after waiting 30+ minutes to be served insanely expensive and overpriced drinks, I said, f#$@ it and joined the group, dancing like an awkward white boy from Ohio.
The night ended soon after the couch host and I looked at each other and laughed at how ridiculous we both looked (as she was in her late 30’s and I in my mid-to-late 20’s – which may not seem too old for nightclubs to some, but for me, that’s TOO old for nightclubs) being in the club, trying to fit in, before we hightailed it out of there – we then sat along the water, talking and enjoying each other’s company. Overall, I really enjoyed the night out, and was sad to wake and say my goodbyes to the Italian fellow – he had a long drive ahead of him. My bus wasn’t until 4:30 PM, so I thought it was best to wander around town a bit.
Rovinj by night has a soft energy and vibrancy, but Rovinj by day is absolutely charming and wondrous. The narrow cobblestone streets lead back and forth, past restaurants, shops, and various hidden treasure locales – I found several cliffside swimming spots and old archways that took me up to local backyards, and dead-ends, and others that took me down ancient stone steps that bluntly halted at the sea. All in all, I have to say that this weekend was potentially the best of my entire trip – everything was positive, and much more like a vacation, than how my normal travel experience dictates my time. I will revisit Slovenia and Croatia again – with much more time, and at a much slower pace. Until then, I bid a fond farewell to both countries, full of beautiful experiences and wonderful people.
More travel updates coming soon! Next update from the Venice, Italy (Part II)
Travel update I – Barcelona, Spain
Travel update II – Madrid, Spain
Travel update III – Granada, Spain
Travel update IV – Ronda & Sevilla, Spain
Travel update V – Marrakech, Morocco
Travel update VI – Marseille & Nice, France
Travel update VII – Monaco & Florence, Italy
Travel update VIII – Rimini & Cesenatico, Italy
Travel update IX – San Marino & Verona, Italy
Travel update X – Venice, Italy (Part I)
Travel update XI – Belgium & Luxembourg