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Dark Nights of Plitvice: Croatia, Europe

My stories of sheer stupidity needs documenting. This one needs to be a blog post for when my memory wouldn’t remind me of the glorious night that kept from an epic trip to an epic failure within minutes, this post would always be there to remind me of my experience.

It was all going well – as planned. I met Vibhor (Dhote) in the Zagreb Bus Terminal on an early morning to reach Plitvice by noon. Of course we had some trouble finding each other in the terminal because I had no internet connection and I went to the wrong shop at first, but my memory doesn’t aid me with those details for what entailed in the evening was far more chaotic. In a nutshell, we met each other just in time to catch the bus Dhote had booked. Yes, the credits of planning the trip goes to Dhote for I love it to just show up and go with the flow. I remember the previous evening at Zagreb, all I did was ask the hostel receptionist to tell me about the important spots, take a map from him and just walk wherever I wanted to and see whatever I felt like till I could no more.

It was our first trip together and just from the moment we met, we had a lot to talk to. From his stories of theft to my stories of loss, the four hours long journey was probably short to tell everything. Anyone who has been to Plitvice Lakes National Park, and mostly in early October, would know that it is a land so close to nature you almost think it is unreal, you’d believe you’re almost in a different world – a world made of magic, crowded by fairies or witches or other magical creatures you read about in books or see in movies. I remember a person I met later in Nimes, France saying that at that time of the year, the habitation in Plitvice had more than 60 different shades of colour. I didn’t count for myself, but I sure hadn’t seen so many colours at one time at one place.

It was raining so we had our raincoats on even when we were on a ferry with a roof over our heads. The chilly wind made us stop for coffee and by the time we emptied our cups, the sky cleared to let us finish the rest of the trail, witness seven waterfalls meeting together and climb our way back to find the train that would take us to the exit by the time the park closes.

It was at around half past six, and we reached the exit well on time but the only issue was that our bus from Plitvice to Split was at midnight. The beautiful sunset made us stop for some more time to take pictures of the surroundings. After all, how many sunsets do you get to witness without a crowd blocking the view?

At around half past seven, it was pitch dark and we realized it wasn’t a great idea to wait so long there. The buses stopped at entrance 1 and 2, and we were close to the second one. The first bummer was that when we reached the spot, there was no one else there. It was just us waiting beneath a hill that had a thick growth of some unidentifiable wild plants, on a dark highway that saw some light only when a vehicle passes by. The bus stop looked like some wooden planks kept together where no one ever came or probably someone comes twice a year to put the bus schedule up. Dhote appeared tired and I was scared - For me, it was a scene picked directly out of some horror movie. After spending some fifteen minutes there, we realized no one else was going to come there. I was in no mood of waiting there and being fed to ghosts so I insisted we keep walking to Entrance 1.

“It’s more than 5 kilometres than from here. And we have our backpacks to carry,” Dhote probably hadn’t heard of ghosts as much as I had for he was in no mood of walking so much. I remember following a couple till a certain distance until they either walked away too fast or disappeared in thin air. I was scared out of my wits. Suddenly I was strong enough to carry my backpack and walk slowly but surely to Entrance 1 and hence, meet more people there and be safe.

“Don’t worry, Sanhita. There are no bears,” Dhote exclaimed when he had hardly climbed some 300 metres uphill.

Bears? Amidst my thoughts of the moonless night we were in (because it was too cloudy to see the moon) and the ghosts I had imagined in my head, I had forgotten to worry about something more possible – being eaten by wild animals. We had no internet to check the facts and I still am not sure if it was a joke that he said, but I did start thinking about our ways to fight or escape a bear. Playing dead was not one of them.

After we climbed some 2 kilometres and when it was around half past eight, we saw a restaurant and hotel we could never afford to eat in. But a foreign country and a freezing night means we at least check the place out before forming our conclusions. We go inside and sit on the sofas in the lobby, relieving our shoulders of the heavy weights we carried all the way, waiting for us to be thrown out.
 Surprisingly, it was more than ten minutes and no one blinked an eye lid to ask us what we were doing there without looking for a stay or ordering something to eat. Being thankful and delighted, we pulled out our chargers to charge the electronic devices we were carrying. But Dhote checked his bag to find his Kindle missing, utterly dejected.

 It was then that I showed him the distorted balloon-shaped tattoo on the back of my hand.
“Let it go,” I said.

The bus was supposed to come at midnight so we decided to kill some time staying in the lobby of the warm hotel like drenched people waiting outside the extended roofs of shops to protect themselves of rain, without buying a thing.

At around ten in the night, we ordered the cheapest thing they had- some hot chocolate, just before leaving to finish rest of the journey till Entrance 1. It was another long walk on the same dark highway but this time, we were rejuvenated by the warm break we took in the restaurant. Some of the clouds gave way to the moon and to some soulful conversation as we walked slowly to the destination- just a few more steps and it’s all going to be okay.

We reached the place to be delighted – there was light, there were people, there was a bus. We talked to the driver and he said that bus was supposed to leave at 11.30 and then ours would come and we would hop on it. And everything would be okay.  We saw people boarding the bus one by one and the bus driver smiling at every passenger who would climb in. In front of our eyes, the bus left and with it left all the people we saw there.

Once again, it was only the two of us waiting.

“But there’s wi-fi,” Dhote sees the silver lining. I shiver in the cold. Our bus was at midnight so that we reach Split right at eight in the morning and hence, have a good sleep during the journey and be ready to check out the city in the day time. From Split we would leave in the evening to Dubrovnik where our stay was booked. Dhote had it all planned just right.

But the midnight never came on time. So we waited in the cold night some more. It was half past one now when I started asking for lifts from strangers. One vehicle stops offering us a lift, but he would only go till a certain distance, drop us at a certain place at around three in the morning from where we had to again ask for a lift from someone to reach Split. There was no other way.

Dhote was okay with the arrangement, but I had other ideas on my head. What if it’s a bad guy? We carried all our important stuff with us, we don’t want to be taken somewhere we don’t want to. What’s the point when we can’t sleep while hitchhiking? We are just going to be tired when we reach Split and we won’t be able to enjoy. What after he drops us somewhere at three in the night? What if we don’t get any lift from there, even this time anyone hardly stopped? Haven’t we lost enough of our stuffs already to take this risk?

 My heart said yes, but my mind said no. Dhote wanted to follow his heart. But like most of the times in life, the mind wins over the heart. So, we argue a lot and then settle for the fact that we either wait a while longer or search for a place to stay.

It was getting darker, scarier and colder, making us more tired than we already were. We started looking for a place to stay. The bus never came.

P.S. The next morning, we caught the first bus from there to Split.


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