(Guide says 14km – 8.7 miles, and we actually walked 14km – 8.7 miles! This is a really difficult 29km day and we decided to split it into two days.)
We started walking much later than planned again, and this is supposedly the toughest day yet. So the guide tells us, with up and down hills the entire 29km, and the last 14 km being muddy hills. We made it out of the door at 5:45 am when our goal was 4:30 after having hardly any sleep for no apparent reason. The accommodation was nice, quiet with only us, and had air-conditioning and comfortable beds. Still, it was a fitful night of rest on the heels of much confusion about the accommodation situation.
We arrived with no one present and a message taped to the door to contact the owner, Tatjana, via telephone which we did. We were told that she had just had a baby and would not be able to work, but that we could still stay there and her husband would bring us dinner at 6pm. It was fine with us, and honestly, there were no other options. This accommodation is out in a remote area with no market, stores or other restaurants anywhere nearby and only a few scattered houses in the hills. Had we known ahead of time that she had just given birth, we could’ve made plans to walk to another village, but we arrived late after getting lost, and were just too tired. We had been looking forward to this accommodation because we heard others say that it was a really neat place to stay and a great experience overall, so we’re a bit bummed, but completely understood. Babies do happen, after all.
Tatjana was very apologetic and super nice on the telephone, however, once her husband arrived it was pretty apparent that he was not happy to be filling in for her. He told us several times, “This is not my job.” We all made it through with a great deal of frustration and a lot of hemming and hawing on his part. The Wi-Fi was down so there was no option to pay with credit card which we had previously been told was no problem. This alone seemed to make the whole experience very frustrating for him, even more so than us I think. Rather begrudgingly, he agreed to drive Gary 1 km up the road to the nearest ATM to get cash to make the payment, it was again the only option unless he wanted to wait while Gary walked there and back. Eventually we sorted the money out and Tatjana’s husband left with a smile. All total, because there are just the two of us now in a group, our stay was €100 which seemed outlandish compared to what we thought it was going to be. This is twice what we’ve paid for a single night stay with meals so far. Still, we try to consider how much an overnight stay with meals would be in Hawaii, and this always helps.
We start by walking through the village which we had already walked a good bit of the day before, so it was familiar territory. We walk the road for a couple of kilometers before beginning to climb up into the hills. We climb through the woods and up-and-down several hills that are quite steep but not too long and then we come to a house with a large gated field. The arrows direct us through the gate and into the brushy field. After climbing through the wet brush higher than our heads for a hundred feet or so, we realize that the directions tell us to look for red arrows painted on trees and that we need to be headed up hill rather than down. We turnaround and climb back through the wet brush and sure enough, find arrows on the trees directing us to a nice, clear wooded path. We are hoping this will be our only blunder for today.
Other than the wet brush experience and some nettles that were hiding in the brush, the morning is a lovely walk through gentle rolling hills with sites of villages in the distance and grape vines everywhere. We’re very happy to be in the hills and out of the hot, flat farmlands for a while.
We pop out of the woods at one point onto a small paved lane and meet a gentleman also coming out of the woods from the other direction caring a single large mushroom. We stop and talk with him to the best of our ability with his Croatian and our English and then bid farewell and walk on with no better understanding of what the mushroom is or what he plans to do with it. In all of my mushroom foraging days, I’ve never seen anything like it. It doesn’t look like anything that I’ve ever hunted or anything that I know to be edible, so I’m curious as to why he’s collected this. My best guess is that he was near 80 years old. I find it doubtful that he was headed home to trip on shrooms, but who knows.
Soon we come up on the Biba Caffé Bar, which is surprisingly open at 7am, and we stop in to find a very cheery man. He makes us two lovely cappuccinos each with smiles and throws in a few lessons in important Croatian words. We now have a vocabulary of about ten useful words: please is molim, thank you is hvala, good is dobro, day is dan, good day is dobra dan, dobra juterim is good morning, yes is da, water is voda (vāda), dobojenia is goodbye.
We walk out and we carry on down the road through the remainder of the village and it doesn’t take long before we happen upon another man with two dogs carrying a bag full of the same mushrooms. We stop and try speaking with him using our little bit of Croatian and he speaks a little bit of English. He tells us the mushrooms will be sliced and dried in the sun, but we can’t figure out if he will eat them or sell them and we don’t know if they are hallucinogenic. I make a mental note to Google the mushrooms and figure it out once and for all when we get to the next place with Wi-Fi.
We made a decision today to go to half of the distance and call a taxi to take us ahead to the accommodation in Krapina for the night. Then if we can arrange to stay a second night, the next morning we will take a taxi back to complete the hilly, muddy last 14 km. This way we can do the entire walk without destroying my feet, which seem to finally be on the mend. We can also stay two nights in the accommodation that is known to be the best on the EPW. Jenny has also confirmed that it has been her favorite place, people, and meal so far. We are super excited after last nights debacle. I’ve already learned one thing about being nomadic, it’s no fun to feel unwelcome. If you have a home somewhere and you have a bad accommodation experience, you can always say to yourself, “It will be so nice to be home again.” But when you’re nomadic, each place you stay is essentially “home” or you are counting on it to fulfill that “home” need. If you don’t feel welcome, you don’t feel comfortable, and then you can’t relax. I can’t sleep when I can’t relax. I’m certain this is why I was awake almost the entire night.
I no sooner utter the words to Gary, that it has been such a lovely walking day, possibly the best yet, and all of a sudden swarms of horseflies come out of nowhere to attack us. Not having our pant legs on yet, because in the mornings when it’s cool we like to let our skin continue to breathe and that way my rashes get a little additional healing. The horseflies had us running, jumping, and slapping ourselves to get them off while at the same time, trying to balance on a steep hill to put our pant legs on as quickly as possible. If anyone had been watching us, I’m certain it must have been quite the site to see. The thing about encountering horseflies in the woods, is there’s really no way to get away from them and there’s nowhere to run that they can’t follow you.
This reminds me of yesterday when Tatjana’s husband was driving Gary to the ATM. Gary asked him if he had ever completed the EPW, or thought about trying it. His reply was no, that he had never really had much interest, but added that one day he would like to do only the section from Klovenik to Krapina because he’s heard it’s the most difficult section. I’ve got some news for him, the challenge of the EPW is not in doing one section, no matter how difficult, and then being done. The challenge is continuing day after day after day, when your body is worn out, and your feet are swollen and blistered. Maintaining the mental endurance to continue, while you are tired and in pain, and knowing you could just throw in the towel and go somewhere to have a regular easy holiday instead. So far my mind is still iron clad and fully committed and it seems my feet are finally trying to come around to the idea as well.
We arrive in the small village of Bednja at 10am feeling pretty fabulous, even with our new horsefly bites. One of the first things we see is a caffe bar with a bakery attached so we stop for cappuccino number three! This alone has me over the moon, the fact that we’ve already walked 16km by 10am is just added bonus! While there, we realize that we have several of the biting bugs smashed on our clothing, and they actually look like some type of bee and not horseflies at all.
Gary calls Tatiana to see if her father has made the baggage run to Krapina yet, thinking we can possibly catch a ride over with him since we’ve already paid 40 euro for our bag to catch a ride. She’s very apologetic but says that he’s just returned. We contact Marlis at the next accommodation and share our grand plan for splitting the day with her. She says we are fine to stay an additional night and that she is happy to drive us back to Bedjna to finish the walk early tomorrow morning. We were so excited that this has solved all of our problems but we forgot about one; how to get to Krapina now.
It was about that time that Gary noticed a group of gentlemen sitting together and said one of them reminded him of his uncle. I said, “Hmm…suppose any of them live in Krapina?” and with that he walked over to speak with them. It turns out that one of them did live there, however he had no plans to return until much later in the day, but another man, Ivan, the one who had reminded Gary of his uncle, said in perfect English that he would be happy to drive us there.
We hopped in the car with him and he immediately began to tell us his story. He was born in the village of Bednja, but moved to Sydney, Australia in 1968. There, he worked for a printing company for 30 years making a good salary until he retired. Now he has a house in both places and splits his time between the two. He shares with us that he learned English when he went to Australia, by going to night classes. He has also traveled the world, but tells us that things have become so frightening with recent terrorist activities, that he’s not as comfortable traveling any more. He tells us that flying anywhere makes him very nervous now and not because of a fear of mechanical failure, but rather a fear of bad people.
We enjoy talking with him so much that we hate it when the 25 minute ride ends. He takes a couple of photos with us and gives me his email address before he goes. We all vow to stay in touch and see each other again to continue our conversations.
Our accommodation in Krapina, Hostel Barrock is just a few steps around the corner. When we arrive we are greeted with warm smiles, shown to a beautiful, peaceful and colorful outside lanai area, and offered cold, fresh elderberry water. Not like a tiny glass of it, two large glasses and the entire pitcher full. We instantly feel completely at home.
Marlis the owner and Ivona her niece, both sit with us and talk in such a relaxed, unhurried manner for about 35 minutes. The gift of someone’s time is always something I truly appreciate. They are both so interesting and enjoyable to talk with, I feel completely relaxed and comfortable in their presence. Marlis shares a wealth of knowledge about the EPW and its founder. She was one of the original accommodation sites from the initial walk that the founder, Grattan, led himself. She shares that he has many good intentions for the EPW in the future. He plans to shorten the distances slightly each day as he’s able to gain more support and accommodations along the route.
She also shares with us that he was working for Google when he founded the walk, something to do with the Google Maps division. Also that Google Maps was integral in the development of the route. I find this to be wickedly funny, as we’ve relied on Google Maps throughout, but only when we’ve been utterly lost. Marlis turns out to be a wealth of information about Grattan. She is honestly better than Google because none of my queries about him offered much of anything at all.
Marlis and Ivona leave us to shower and settle in, but take our laundry to be washed in an actual machine for the first time in ages and for only 2 euro, unbelievable! We are so excited not to smell like farm animals any longer! They also suggest that we take a trip to the museum just up the street to see Neanderthal bones that were excavated near here. We stopped at a giant Neanderthal statue to take some photos on the way into town, but didn’t even give any thought to why it was there. I’m excited about going, but a bit concerned for Gary. He has recently shared with me that he doesn’t believe in evolution. He believes that God made man as a pretty close version of what we are today, without all the monkey business, so to speak. I don’t believe this at all. I am about as pragmatic as it gets about how we’ve all come to be and my thinking is always aligned with what science proves to me. This doesn’t, however, mean that I don’t believe in God, because I do.
Have I mentioned that Gary is a pastor? He’s actually a Japanese minister, even though he’s a six foot tall Anglo American. He attended seminary in Tokyo and is fluent in Japanese and reads and writes in Kanji. As you can probably imagine, he’s a lot of fun to travel in Japan with. He knows the ins and outs and all the really good secrets.
Even though some of our core beliefs differ, we are always able to have good conversations, and I like that. It’s really important when you’re travel partners walking 5-8 hours together every single day. It’s safe to say that there’s probably not much we haven’t discussed over the past eleven days. But one thing I really like, is that we can also walk for hours together without talking at all. He is content to walk in silence to think and pray for most of the day, and even though I’m quite chatty much of the time, I love to just be alone with my thoughts too. We’ve found a nice routine of talking a little each morning and then having several hours of quiet, without talking again until we are near the days finishing point. Gary generally walks ahead of me quite a ways as well. His legs are so long that it takes me three steps to make just one of his strides, so I basically have to jog if I want to keep up.
This walk has come very easily for him physically, although he is losing weight rapidly and doesn’t have much to lose. But mentally it has been a challenge. This is likely because walking the EPW was my bright idea, and not his. I’m fairly certain he walks along for hours every single day asking himself how on earth it is that he was persuaded to do this. I talked him into doing the Honolulu Marathon with me last year, and it was a very similar situation. You’d think he would’ve learned by now, right!?! No matter what he’s thinking now, I’m certain that he will be very happy and feel a huge sense of accomplishment when we finish. (Or at least I’m hoping and praying that’s how it goes!) 🙂
Barrock Hostel (Owned by Marlis)
26 euros per person for bed, amazing dinner, breakfast, and pack yourself lunches from breakfast left overs. This is such a great value as Marlis is so generous in all that she does. She was constantly giving extra at no charge during our stay.
Laundry 2 euro per person
Bag transport 40 euro for the group
This is also the strongest wifi you will encounter on the entire EPW if you need to get some work done.