(Holy Krapina! Guide says it’s a TOUGH, yes in all caps just like that, 16km – 10 mile hike….and it was! We did it in 17.4km – 10.8 miles, because we gleefully missed our turn and had to backtrack once.)
Marlis happily agreed to drive us back to Bednja at 5 am the following day. We are so apprehensive about the second half of this hike that we decided we needed fresh legs to tackle it. Committed to walking every step of this thing, this was the only plan I could come up with. But, from the moment we stepped foot in Marlis’s accommodation, she has taken such good care of us down to every fine little detail. We are more than happy to stay an extra night and find ourselves wishing we could stay even longer.
Since we split the walk and finished so early yesterday, we decided to work for a couple of hours and then Marlis suggested we go to the Neanderthal Museum. We really enjoyed it and made it back in plenty of time for a wonderful evening meal. The dinner Marlis prepared for us last night was something literally out of this world. Fresh vegetables sourced from her friends gardens, were used to make a sausage and vegetable type of Brunswick stew that I wanted to climb in the bowl and roll around in and after I finished. As if that wasn’t enough, there was a pasta with marinara sauce of tomatoes, garlic, basil, and parsley so simple, yet so wholesome and flavorful. Literally unlike any thing I’ve ever had. I need a larger vocabulary just to describe the perfect balance of tart, yet sweet and garlicy goodness. Considering how many times I’ve traveled to Italy and have eaten delectable marinara sauces, it’s amazing to me that something like this, which blows all the others away, is being made in the world without being mass marketed. But I’m so thankful it’s not, because it would surely be ruined.
We hop out of the car at about 5:40 am with Marlis waving and blowing kisses as she yells, “See you later.” It feels as if our mom has dropped us off for the school day. She even packed us with fresh little baby carrot snacks to help get us through the hike. On the way she tells us that if we survive today we can borrow her car to drive the 20 km to the nearest thermal baths. This will likely be my motivation for the entire day.
We wind through the remainder of Bednja for a bit and then crossover onto a road to start a steady climb, which quickly becomes a steep climb. We don’t even have a thought of moaning about it, because the views are the most beautiful we’ve seen so far. Tiny little homes perched on the tops of the hills with their hillside vineyards containing rows and rows of grapevines that are perfectly groomed. The sun is rising over the mountains, casting different colors through the sky, and the fog settling gently in the valley. We climb silently, just taking it all in. I find myself feeling sorry for the walkers that missed this section due to fear or logistical problems.
After climbing for about 3 km on a road straight up, we have a gentle downhill and then come to the portion that the guide describes as “goat tracks up a hill”. We’ve wondered for a few days what exactly is meant by this. Is it rocky? Is it muddy? Steep? All of the above? Well, we now know that “goat tracks” means climbing through brambles straight up the side of a muddy hill with little to no visible trail that can be made out. We finish this difficult portion with a small celebration when we get to what we think is the top of the hill and then carry-on for a little while only to find that we’re climbing straight up again. Today is supposed to be entirely up-and-down through the hills so our celebration was seriously premature. The drive with Marlis took us about 35 minutes via car this morning, it sure seems like that should be a fairly easy walk. This is actually supposed to be day one of the three toughest days while on the EPW. My thinking is that if we can survive this, we should be able to make the next two straight through without splitting them.
We get to a portion that’s on gravel road, still with steep up and downs, but manageable, and are feeling quite relieved when all of a sudden, we hear great explosions in the distance. First we think it’s possibly thunder and lightning headed our way, then we think for a while perhaps it’s gunshots in the distance, before realizing that they are actual explosions in a nearby rock quarry. We can see the quarry through the trees in one little spot and see the puffs of dust and smoke go up with each explosion. So much for our peaceful morning. At the very second we figured this out, I heard what sounded like a giant truck barreling towards us. But it was confusing because we were on a tiny gravel road out in the middle of nowhere, surely there were no speeding trucks in these woods. Unbelievably a huge red logging truck that took up every single bit of space on the tiny road came flying around the corner, the driver smiling and waving and wishing us a good morning as we climbed into the brush to get out of his way.
As the day progresses, the clouds build in the sky and nearly every single thing we see seems too beautiful to believe. Not making much progress as I’m taking photos every 5 feet and then when I look back at the photos, they don’t even look real. I’ve just seen the view with my own eyes, and I’ve taken the photo myself, and yet it’s hard to believe.
I have to remind myself periodically to stop and look back, rather than only facing forward. This allows me to see the view I’ve just walked through from an entirely different angle. I think it’s funny that I have to make such a conscience effort to do this. I’m so focused on moving forward and not missing anything that’s ahead of me, that I sometimes fail to fully appreciate where I just came from. This reminds me a lot of life and our daily perspective. While we don’t want to spend time and energy going backward in our lives, we definitely need to stop periodically to look back and reflect upon where we’ve come from with a slightly different lens. Sometimes the memories, experiences and places in our lives, provide beautiful scenery that we didn’t actually appreciate as much as we should have in the moment. Maybe we couldn’t at the time because there was something else happening. A stressor of some sort that made the beauty of the moment hard to see. This reminds me of the movie, “Collateral Beauty.” I’ve found that something as simple as needing to pee, can render me completely unable to appreciate beautiful views or interactions with people on this journey. I’m certain it has happened throughout my life for various reasons as well. I’m hoping that I will be able to carry this thought with me in the future and not let simple stressors distract me from the beauty in my life.
After we foolishly thought we had been through the most difficult part of the day with the goat track debacle, we find ourselves climbing straight up a very steep logged hill. Climbing over all the logs and debris as we go along at a crazy angle, we had to cut our feet in to the side of the hill and make our own switchbacks while at the same time, leveraging ourselves with our trekking poles. We pushed them down into the ground to keep from falling down hill as if we were in deep snow on a mountainside. When we reach the top, we realize that the logging road was literally running right next to the hill the entire way. At this we feel pretty darn silly. The red arrows, however, saw fit to give us a more adventurous climb, and climb we did quite mindlessly. We have joked about walking off a cliff side if the red arrows told us to. You get so accustomed to looking for and following them that you forget to question them.
We find ourselves at the three hour mark for the day and with no real idea of how much ground we’ve covered because I moved so slowly getting up the logging hill. We’ve spent so much time climbing straight up that we feel like we’ve probably only managed about 5 to 7 km at the most. Yesterday we walked 16 km in the same amount of time. Terrain makes a huge difference.
After a while we happen upon an older woman and a young boy trying to push a wheel barrel full of giant squashes uphill. Gary rushes down the gravel road to assist them and actually takes over pushing the cart for them. It’s easy to see that they are very amused by this. Gary continues to push it and we all walk along on the paved road together, until we get past a crucifix and the woman stops and says, “No!” and she points in the other direction telling us that we needed to be going the other way but she needed to carry on with her squash. Her grandson, who is 10, spoke a tiny little bit of English and with that and our tiny bit of Croatian, we told him that he has beautiful eyes. Also that he was a good boy for helping his grandmother in the garden, which makes him blush, and then we all said goodbye. As we watch them walk down the small paved lane together with their wheelbarrow full, we realize that it is about a 6km round trip from their garden to their home.
It strikes us as funny, and probably did for them as well, that Gary felt so compelled to push their wheelbarrow all of two measly blocks for them. It was such a tiny fragment of their journey, and yet, they did seem pleased by the break and the generosity behind his attempt to help. As Gary and I sat and talked about it, we tried to think of anyone we know who would make such a journey each day without using a car or some other motorized vehicle. Maybe there are some, but we certainly couldn’t come up with any, ourselves included.
Near the crucifix, there is a small bench and beautiful views in all directions. We decide to stop and eat some lunch and air our feet and socks a bit. After eating our lunch we get up, and set off still talking about who builds and pays for these elaborate crucifixes out in the middle of nowhere and how big and lovely these mountain top gardens are, and we immediately get lost.
High up on the hill, we can see Krapina in the distance, so we know it can’t be that bad. We end up backtracking about 1 km and find the turn we missed. Not such a big deal, but I’m really ready for the day when we can walk without adding extra kilometers. Getting lost and walking extra distance always irritates me.
From this point on it’s a long, slow winding downhill walk into Krapina. When we arrive in the edge of town we see a huge church and know that we are at the far end of the town from Marlis’s place. We’ve seen this church in the distance several times. It was a tough day, but it was eased by splitting it in half, and knowing that we get to stay and eat at Marlis’s again wipes away any frustration at all.
We arrive to find a whole new group has arrived, and we enjoy getting to know them over another one of Marlis’s amazing meals.
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.
Some additional favorite photos from the day: