(Guide says 30km – 18.6miles, and we actually walked 30km!)
After getting to stay with Marlis at the Barrock Hostel for two days, I’m very sad to leave. The level of comfort, the delicious food, and the enjoyable company of Marlis, her daughter and friends was just what I needed. Thought provoking conversations while all gathered in her kitchen nibbling, feasting and drinking from the local bounty, soothed my haggard soul.
Marlis has a spirit of love generosity and compassion that will put the most restless beings at ease. This is not because she’s perfected what she does, it’s because it is who she is at her core and it just comes naturally. As the matriarch of the EPW, she’s been hosting people, loving them, caring for them, seeing to all of their needs since the inaugural walk. When Grattan Lynch, the founder, sent her an email inquiring about accommodations, she not only committed her own hostel, she also promised to find an additional 42 beds in the area.
From the second we met, I felt an instant connection with her, as if we were kindred spirits. Later, I learned that we have so many things in common it’s a bit eerie. We’re both Cancers and today is Marlis’s 47th birthday, so we’re exactly 7 days apart in birth. This is the number that holds great significance to me since I am born on the seventh day of the seventh month and the seventieth year. We also learn while talking that she was married young, had two children and ended up raising them alone as her husband struggled with the pressures of being a young husband, father and business owner. He left, and she managed to do it all, and presumably, even better on her own. While spending time with her, we had several conversations that will continue to play over and over in my head. She planted many seeds of thought that I know I needed. While I would love nothing more than to stay in Krapina for more conversations, the seeds she’s already planted need time to germinate, and walking long distances are perfect for this.
The walking today is a long and hilly 30 kilometers, but we are very happy to get another 5:45 am start and to know the day will be cloudy and overcast with only a high of 72°. As Marlis announced to us this morning, this is perfect walking weather!
The first 7 or 8km are entirely on small winding country lanes, rolling up and down steep hills while twisting and turning through small villages and woods. It was hard work, but very beautiful. My feet are feeling very good, my mind is positive and confident, and my body feels entirely different than it has. I’m beginning to feel leaner, strong, and much more nimble as I move. Powering up steep hills one after another has felt easy and has only energized me more today.
The first village of any size that we come to has a tiny little store inside a house, and we pop in to see if there’s anyway we can get coffee. The shop owner is very nice and although she has no coffee, she shows us two premixed coffee mocha drinks in the cooler. So we buy those and some of the tiny perfectly ripe apricots that I’ve grown to love while being here. On our way out of the store we bump into a gentleman named Mario who greets us English and we have a long conversation while sipping our drinks. He says that he enjoys practicing his English as often as he can, and then he teaches us how to say, “It was very nice to meet you” which is,”Bilo je lijepo upoznati vas.”
Another gentleman from the village walks over to see what’s happening, and gets involved, although he doesn’t speak English at all. It’s very easy to see that we are the most exciting thing to happen in the village all week. Mario enjoys translating to explain how far we’re walking, just to see the response he gets. The other man is astonished and insists on taking our picture with Mario, as if we’re famous. We all part ways and as we walk away, they stand waving goodbye to us and Mario says” Good luck, good walking, hope to meet you again.”
We continue walking out of the little village and back into the woods on a gravel road leading up and down throughout the hillsides. We go all the way up to the tip top of the ridge lines where the small vineyards and huts are and then we walk all the way back down again, only to repeat it all over.
We stop at one point to take a photo next to a small hut with an old, but perfect, red tractor sitting next to it on the hillside. With the vineyards behind it offering stunningly beautiful views, I just couldn’t resist. Suddenly through the morning silence we hear someone calling us in Croatian and it startles me so much that I jump. We look over to see a shirtless man who’s clearly just woken up, beaming with a huge smile and waving at us saying “Come in, come in! Schnapps or vino?” Since it was 8am, we opted for vino, because that somehow made more sense. The man came back out with a shirt on but only two buttons done and in the wrong holes. Clearly he was excited to have guests. He tells us that his name is Steph, and we introduce ourselves.
With an empty bottle in one hand, he motions for us to walk into the tiny hut, and then opens a door to a room containing four large silver drums and two oak barrels. He fills the bottle from one of the drums and then motions for us to go back out but we just stood there with our eyes bulging out of our heads at what we were seeing. He senses our curiosity and starts showing how everything is done via exaggerated charades and while speaking in Croatian. We do our best to guess what he’s telling us and then type our understanding into Google translate for him to read and verify that we’ve gotten it. If we do, he shakes his head up and down with a smile and says, “Da, dobro” which means, “Yes, good” and when we don’t, he furrows his brow, and says, “Ne. Kako to kažem, zaboravljam” which means, “No. How do I say this…I forget.”
After a bit of time, we sit down to drink the wine, and it’s incredible. I’m generally not a white wine drinker, but this is smooth, full, earthy and a bit smoky. All my favorite things. If I had my eyes closed, I’d swear it was a merlot. It’s truly so good that we just can’t stop drinking it. We stay for about an hour talking with Steph who points his house out, which is down at the bottom of the huge hill, and then tells us that he owns everything on both sides from where we’re standing all the way down. We now understand that this means he’s a very wealthy man, and yet here he is so humble in his appearance and eager to spend time with us.
He tells us via Google Translate that it’s fifth generation and that his father taught him how to make the wine. And that he spends a lot of time there alone now because his wife has to use a walker and cannot move around in the small vineyard house, so she stays at the big house. He also tells us about being in the military in Yugoslavia and how much he disliked it. After a while his giant dog, Donny appears and he tells us that the dog walks back and forth between the homes on his own. It’s several kilometers between the two and I’m impressed by the dog having this kind of freedom and space to roam.
We enjoy it so much that we drink far too much wine considering that we still need to walk another 22k, and we completely loose track of time. I tell him that we must go, but that we could happily stay with him all day if we didn’t need to walk. He gets tears in his eyes and gives me a huge hug.
We set out walking again and realize that we’re a bit more than just slightly intoxicated and it’s no where near noon even. This is a first for me, but I have to admit that I kind of like it. The need for coffee becomes even more serious, but in its absence we decide to eat a sandwich to help soak up the wine sloshing around in our empty tummies.
Almost as if on cue, it begins to rain the moment I say, “Well, at least the rain has stayed away.” This means that we get to wear our Quasi Motto ponchos, which is always an added bonus. While they do keep us dry, in the warm weather, they also hold in all the heat and sweat. This always makes me think of those silver sweat suits people used to wear to work out and try to drop weight quickly. All it really means for us is that we need to drink about twice the amount of water as usual or else we will be dehydrated. They aren’t so comfortable, but even worse is the way it enhances our odor. We already smell quite fierce, but the ponchos allow the stench to really fester in there, and it just permeates our packs, along with everything else inside. Our clean laundry will now smell like wet dog mixed with sweaty teenage boy socks. I’m adding a photo that depicts how much I love hiking in my poncho for hours. (All the wine may have contributed to the making of this photo.)
We continued winding through the hills and tiny villages until we came to one with a tiny shop. We knew the shop was there but needed to walk and additional ways away from the trail to get there, so we were standing on the path trying to decide if we were willing to do so on the off chance there would be coffee. A young man walks out of a house across the street and says hello. As we’re talking, he shares that his name is Karlo, and that his mother owns the shop that’s just up the the road, and it’s named after him. He also shared with us that he’s the youngest child of three and is planning to go to Zagreb to attend university in the city. He said he’s really not certain that he will be planning to come back and take over the shop which bears his name at any point in the future, but he thinks his mom is okay with this. We decided we needed to go to the shop to meet Karlo’s mom and see if she had any coffee. We popped in, chatted for a bit, bought a juice, because there was no coffee, and then set out again.
After climbing up two slippery, crazy steep, muddy trails through the woods, we finally arrive in the one village all day with a caffe bar. It’s called Holy Mary, which is interesting. It’s also now 3pm and I’m having my first coffee. This just isn’t right at all.
The people who own the bar have a little boy named Ivan, with blond hair and beautiful blue eyes who reminds me of my two grandloves, Ezra and Ollie. He picks dandelions to give me, but then plays bashful and turns and runs away. When I begin to eat my sandwich, he comes with his hand out and whines a little, so I give him some pieces and he nibbles on them. Then as I’m eating an apricot, he puts his hand out, and I place a tiny one in it. He puts it to his mouth, and feels the fuzzy outside, makes a crazy face like he’s eaten something sour, and immediately gives it back. He’s apparently not a fan of fruit.
We say our goodbyes to the family, and after getting about 100meters down the road, the father while laughing, yells at us, We turn to see that little Ivan, is marching off down the road after us. We turn and go back to say goodbye again, and tell him that he can walk the EPW when he’s a little bigger. His parents find this to be the funniest thing ever.
We leave feeling very good considering that we’ve already walked about 22km and have 10km more to go. Our only issue is that it’s nearly 4pm and we have at least 2.5more hours of walking left, we really don’t want to miss dinner! We ring our accommodation to tell them that we will be very late to arrive and they assure us that they are waiting and will hold dinner for us.
The next two hours continue to be mixed with steep up and down hill, but finally the last three km flattens out. We move slowly and our feet are sore with each step, but no blisters for me and my body feels strong. Our spirits are high as we arrive at 6:20pm, knowing that two of the three “toughest” days on the EPW are now successfully behind us!
As we walk into the long grassy drive of the beautiful 16th century house, we know we are in very good hands. The people we are staying with are good friends of Marlis’, and this tells us all we need to know.
Aljosa Mutic in Zagorska Sela, Croatia
25 euro per person for bed, dinner, & breakfast. 4 euro for laundry.
24 euro for bag transport per group.
Several additional favorite photos (it was a long day)! 🙂