Thursday, 19 May 2011

Chilling out

Location: mountains I can’t pronounce, Central Croatia
Weather: Heavy rain, nearly freezing
Day: 32nd
Total mileage: 2700

I’m sitting in a little hut somewhere in Croatia, fighting the cold mountain breeze while trying to dry my wet socks. It’s been a long rainy day and I could hardly imagine that it actually had started on the coastline (and why didn’t we stay there...). There is an electric socket in this hut, which means that I can finally charge the laptop and write about the last 3 weeks of our journey.
During the last 3 weeks we were constantly reminded that even down the road, in Europe, unexpected adventures can pop up at any given moment. It’s probably because it is Europe. This little continent is so diverse – but packed – that behind every curve the scenery changes, cultures blend and different people appear. Everything is possible and whatever happens, happens rapidly.

So the last 3 weeks were full of stories. For example, we discovered a little beautiful country called Slovenia. We’ve been (twice) in the hospital (but met new friends). We served as food critics and reviewed selected French cuisine. We washed in a glacier river and camped by a waterfall. We climbed, we fell, we trekked, we slept, we got lost, we got stuck and yesterday I even nearly killed a German for insulting my Land Rover. 

But now I’m going to tell you only one story (if you want to hear other stories from Europe, come and meet us – or buy the book!). This story is about the lonely tree that saved our lives. It’s not a tragic-touchy story and it’s not the most heroic, but I’m going to tell it anyway.  There’s a message in the end, a good message. Let’s begin then, as usual, with a long introduction.

It all started with my mum. She decided that there’s no way that her eldest son would be going for a long journey around the world without her first checking that he has a good warm jacket. So she came to meet us in North Italy and brought the whole crazy family with her.

I have 3 brothers. Ayal; the intellectual, sharp philosopher. Amit; the charmer, funny adored one and Yoyo, the sweet natured younger brother. It’s a good team to have in Italy, or anywhere.

We spent the days before the lonely tree incident enjoying the best of Northern Italy, namely, consuming wine, gallons of espresso and piles of pizza.

On the day before the lonely tree has saved our lives we climbed a huge mountain. It was hard. First we’ve had to hike through the dense forest, then to cross frozen rivers, scramble up the rocky sheer cliffs and finally, just before the peak, we needed to improvise ice axes to pass through a slippery icy wall that stood right on our way. By the time we were back in the valley, tired and hungry (for more pizza), we already promised ourselves that tomorrow will be a truly chilled out day and we wouldn’t risk our lives for at least 24 hours.

A new day had risen, the promises of last night were forgotten and a new silly idea came up: let’s all ignore the sore legs and walk around another mountain, this time avoiding the ice fields or any other death traps, by crossing through the forest.

We went into town and brought a ‘light’ supply: 3 loaves of bread, 7 kilos of cheese, 2k ham, 4k fruit, jam, honey, butter and a bag of local handmade chocolate.

The trail was indeed much safer (and boring) than the one from the previous day. But then we came across the lonely tree (Play Mozart in the background please): It was all alone, standing bravely in the middle of a forest clearance, waiting for a fat Italian axeman to finish it off and send it to join its fellows trees in the next life as an electric pole.

It was well worth a picture so we stopped and took one. Suddenly it happened: further down the path, a huge tree fell. I’d never seen a tree fall. A tree is a large mass of wood and when it falls it makes a load booming noise, clouds of dusts and it can crush any poor human being that happen to wander underneath. Like us.

It was a spectacular sight, a brilliant display of power of nature. I was very impressed. I was also grateful, as I was not underneath that tree, crushed to the bone, seeing my life flashing quickly in front of my eyes. ...Or not seeing a thing at all.

The point of this story is not to tell you dear readers that I nearly died – that’s easy and happens too frequently – but to stress the need to stop. Stop whenever something slightly different is there, right ahead. Stop and observe, smell and hear, take a picture, enjoy the moment and wait for the big ass tree to fall nearby. Stop and then continue.

So there you go, a short story with a simple but important message that can make our journey much more enjoyable and much less brain-crushable.

Next on our journey: saying goodbye to Sus & Denis (“how cool was that!”), checking a couple of Museums in Kosovo, tracing history in Dubrovnik, Rafting down the Tara River in Montenegro and Tracing Jewish heritage in Sofia. Stay in tune!

Jen & Noam