What a day! Almost each one of 135 kilometers we passed through yesterday was filled with some amazing, fun and eventful stories; we walked through forests, surrounded with mine fields around Saborski and Licke Jesenice, went over the magnificent valley of Dabra, went horse back riding with cowboys from Lika and He Who Dances With Horses, took our canoes to Gacka, rode with guys from the cycling club “Barkan” to Otocac, had an encounter with a real, live bear and, finally, climbed up to Zavizan.
It might be best to start at the beginning. The first thing I learned was that planning a route from home, looking at a map and checking it out on Google Earth, is not the most practical way to do it. It turned out that the route I had planned to take from Rastoke to Saborski goes right through a military training ground where NATO had settled in as well. Believe it or not, we even tried calling and asking to get a pass. However, as it turns out, army and welcome are not two words that go together.
This error resulted in having to take an uncomfortable drive through the magistrala (Adriatic highway) to Rakovica, but luckily, we took a lovely road through a forest which made it all better by the time we got to Saborski. Most beautiful countryside landscapes kept changing from one turn to the next. Woods that have only just turned green, with a high density of mighty beech trees, dales and valleys with budding tree tops, wild orchards, and dark, cold, shadowy parts of tall fir trees and deep craters. I was enjoying each new scenery that presented itself to me with each new meter of road.
During this whole trip I must have seen only a few foresters, working away with their machines, cutting up huge beech trees. There was a big truck, ready to take this high quality raw wood material probably somewhere where it will end up as Italian designer furniture.
In Licke Jesenice I swapped my bike for a saddle. A team of cowboys from Lika were already up on their horses, ready to giddy-up. „Ples konja“ is an organization offering a service of horse back riding in this area, and from what I've seen, with a very bright future ahead of them. This region is just right for horse riding in this amazing, unspoiled nature. From a huge, big Holsteiner, to fiery Arabian stallion, to a quiet mare Zrmanja, of Croatian breed. As soon as they dragged me off the horse’s back and back on my bike, guys lead by Kornelije, a.k.a. He Who Dances With Horses, galloped away through meadows of Lika. What a fantastic sight to see.
Passing the notch from Licke Jesenice to Dabar is especially beautiful, but will unfortunately still be a problematic area for many years to come because of the mine fields. Numerous caution boards at every step don't leave much space for anyone wishing to wander off path.
Dolina Dabar valley is another huge discovery for me. The place called Dabar is hidden in a beautiful, green dale surrounded with forested hills. In this small and picturesque place, a team from the cycling club „Barkan“ were waiting for me with Inga Presker, a girl with a very bright and adventurous future in front of her.
It is so much easier and merrier traveling with a happy group of people. I barely even noticed 20 or so kilometers that took us to Otocac. Guys from „Barkan“ carry the name of their colleague, famous bohemian, painter, cyclist, waiter, a man who once killed a wolf with his bare hands and who apparently had contact with aliens. In any case, a very unusual and charismatic character who obviously left a big impression. President of „Barkan“, man called Marijan, is also a supervisor at the Plitvice National park, where we had spent the day before. Otocac has significantly improved its tourist service, and guys from Barkan“ take a lot of credit for that.
After lunch at the new luxury hotel „Park Ekskluziv“, Inga and I went off with Robert Labrovic – Loki, on a canoe ride. Loki is a local adventurer and owner of a private Internet television. We had a great time in the cold, crystal clear river, so clean and pure we could drink it. The scene looked very surreal with all the greenery surrounding us and swans flying over our heads.
Inga and I still had to go through the final ordeal – a climb to Zavizan. After a whole day of cycling, we still needed to find some proper strength to overcome thousand meters altitude and reach the famous mountain lodge. We stopped and had a bit of rest a few times, and during one such well deserved break I noticed a big, dark-brown, real, live bear. I thought I might go over and say hello, hoping the stories of bears being good-natured animals were true. When he heard my steps, he raised his big, furry head, looked at me and ran off disappearing somewhere downhill. I love seeing wild animals running around free in nature. This episode however was so short I didn't get a moment enough to even get scared.
The dark had already settled by the time we go to Zavizan. We were really tired by now, but still had some energy left to chat to another great legend of Velebit, Anto Vukusic – meteorologist, caretaker, overseer and a great admirer of Velebit.
Before turning in we took a peek outside, in the cold night, and stared at this magnificent and completely unique view from 1594 meters, with lights of the island of Rab and Crikvenica Riviera deep down below us, and crystal clear sky with millions of stars glistening brightly all above us.