Thursday, September 5, 2013

AWF Balkans - Day 5

Day 5
The group awoke eagerly for the day’s events, because they had been so mysteriously concealed the night before.  We walked them down to the harbor after breakfast and onto the pier, where they were met with 3 military grade speedboats and their captains.  The reaction was a mix of fear and excitement, but all were surprised.  Never have we done something this extreme on an AWF trip, but thanks in large part to our friend Bojan from Belgrade, we were able to make this possible. 

The plan was to take the group island hopping out in the Adriatic, hopefully finding some cool places to climb and cliff jump along the way.  Our guides began by giving a brief safety demonstration, then we were out on the water spinning donuts and speeding along at 30+ knots.  It should be noted that while these boats are very durable and extremely fast (they have large rubber tubes on the outside and run up to 600 horsepower engines) they leave a little to be desired in the shock absorbing department.  As the waves got bigger towards the middle of the sea, so did the impacts and the spray, leaving some among us with bruises on their legs and soaked to the skin.  Small price to pay for what was in store.

Our first stop was the blue caves, a tourist attraction the likes of which can only be seen in 1 other place in the world: the island of Capri.  Until 1:00 pm the sunlight beams up from underneath the water and casts the entire cave in an electric blue.  A few meters beneath the surface you can see natural rock bridges connecting the walls.  Apparently you used to be able to swim in and around these but it has since been outlawed in an effort to better preserve this treasure. 

After the blue cave, we shot across to the island of Vis for lunch.  This place is only accessible to tourists in the summer because of the inclement weather that pounds her shores in the winter.  The waves crash so high in the colder months that the population drops to a mere 200 people.  Thankfully for us the harbor was still readily accessible and we were able to find a restaurant within walking distance.  There couldn’t have been more than 30 buildings in the whole town, making this the quaintest experience we’ve had thus far.  The whole group ate local burritos, filled with beef, rice, peas, beans, pepper sauce, and cheese, then washed them down with waters and beers.  Impressively enough, this place was serving my favorite beer: Leffe Brown.  I took it as a sign and ordered one.

When everyone had had their fill we re-boarded the boats and made our way along the coast of the island to look for places to climb.  You really can’t go anywhere in Croatia without noticing the cliffs, but this stretch was particularly riddled with them.  Soaring rock faces that extend vertically from the water were everywhere we looked, bringing to mind every movie I’ve ever seen about ancient Greeks and Romans sailing through these waters. 

Our guides assured us that there were better places to climb and took us to a secluded beach tucked back in a cove away from the wind.  As soon as we entered the cove I knew we were in the right place.  2 enormous yachts had dropped anchor in the perfect water, along with a handful of sailboats and smaller craft.  The beach itself was made of smooth white rock, and partially enclosed by the remains of an ancient cave wall that had since fallen away.  High cliffs surrounded the main cove and dropped straight down to the water below.  We eyed up one that looked suitable for jumping, dropped anchor, and started swimming towards it.  Denny and I were the first to make our way to the top and took our time scoping out the best place to jump from.  As always seems to happen, the view from the top was a little different than the view from below.  But with such a clear shot to the water and such beautiful scenery around, there was no turning back.  I took the first leap, and was followed by Denny, Sunny, Sven, and Ryan.  Soon after the line of people climbing the rocks grew longer and longer, until it seemed like our whole party was up on the cliff waiting for their turn. 

Perhaps the most impressive jump of the day was turned in by Marlyn Morris.  She and Erica were the first women to make the climb, and I thought there was no way in hell they would jump.  This is a 60 foot cliff we’re talking about here, not your average diving board/cannonball spot.  But Mar got out to the ledge, gently let go of Sunny’s hand and did it.  She bobbed up a mixture of shock and happiness, and, aside from a few bruises, unharmed.  Erica followed her off less than a minute later.  I was dumbfounded at what I was watching.  I’ve probably seen 50 girls with more jumping experience than these get to the edge, panic, and back down.  The same goes for equally as many guys.  Something about the situation we found ourselves in today lent itself toward an increase in the bravery and/or trust of our group.  Maybe it was the location, maybe it was seeing so many others jump before, or maybe it was the momentum of what we’d already done to that point, but something was enabling these people to take risks they otherwise wouldn’t even consider. 

After a brief spell on the beach and climbing on the rocks, we pulled out of the cove and continued down the island towards “Green Cave.”  This was the most spectacular rock formation I have ever seen in person.  With a single column running down the center, the cave appeared to have 2 entrances.  Each of these were elegantly arched about 40 feet above the water, almost as if they were planned or built.  Inside the cave there was a single hole in the roof about 3 feet across that allowed air and sun in like a skylight.  We spent the next hour swimming in the water (under the water the contrast of dark inside the cave and blue outside the cave was incredible), jumping off the arches, and taking pictures of both.  Jenn and I even made a tandem jump to close things out. 

By this time is was nearly 4:00 and we still had an hour boat ride back to Brac across an increasingly choppy sea.  I won’t waste too much time describing that ride, but suffice it to say that it was a test of fitness to stay on the boat and in one piece.  What it must take to be a sailor in these waters, I’m not sure I want to know. 

We wrapped up day 5 with a private dinner at a secluded restaurant called Moby Dick’s.  Here we ate pizza, pork loin, and hamburger steaks, followed by crepes for desert.  Definitely not our healthiest meal of the trip, but it was delicious and well deserved after the day we’d had. 

It’s hard to believe that the trip is only halfway over at this point.  So much has happened that it’s difficult to process how anything else we do could top or improve upon it.  But that, as they say, is why they play the games!!!

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