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Trip Report Trip report: Kayaking, Riding and fall in Split, Croatia

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Europe has always escaped me, so this fall I plan to remedy that problem by kayaking the Adriatic with Jammin' Adventures and the Konjicki Club Horseback riding out of Split. The first was an adventure offered by The Clymb, the other I found on line, and the other I found by researching horses on line.

I would love to hear any thoughts from anyone who has either kayaked or ridden in these areas. Notes about October weather from those who've been there would be priceless. I will be back with stories when close to wi-fi!

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    It's always good to travel with a sense of humor especially when it comes to plumbing and radiators.

    Zagreb was overcast and cool, lowering grey clouds and a bit of rain had hit before we landed. When I fly east I get nasty jet lag. I tottered down the stairs to my rooms in a fog. No one was there. Rang all available door bells. Nothing. Eventually my landlady showed up with an armload of groceries, and she got me settled in to my perfectly nice rooms on this perfectly nice side street and I collapsed face first onto this perfectly nice bed and snored hard for about an hour or so before my screaming empty stomach declared war.

    A trip to the main drag gave us a McDonald's, no thank you. Fruit market preferred. I found a lively bottle blond apple purveyor who grabbed my map and commenced to pantomime directions until she had me in stitches. I didn't understand her at all. I'm sure she thought I was addled, and her gyrations and hand gestures got increasingly exaggerated until I was beside myself. She was rescued by two Croatians who pointed me down a main drag, where, two blocks later, I found the open market I sought. Under bright red umbrellas were laid out acres of fresh fruit and veggies, muscat grapes and pineapples, smooth yellow bananas and mandarins, all for ridiculously low prices. One enthusiastic proprietor loaded me up with nearly ten pounds of fruit for four bucks.

    As the evening pressed on, the temperature dropped. There is a fine radiator in my room, but I am quite unable to sort out how it works. However, having traveled Vietnam in winter where heat is unheard of, I brought layers. But bath first.

    There's a massive tub in the toilet, a fine old fashioned thing too, which takes up most of the room. The hot water supply is very generous and for once I really can fill the tub nearly full, so I do. Lobster cooking hot. Ease in. Fall asleep. Ahhhhhhh. Heaven. Thirty minutes later I ease out and stand on the thin towel next to the tub to dry off. Pull out the plug.

    Suddenly I realize my feet are being covered with waves of water. I leap off the towel and push it aside. Sure enough, there's a drain on the floor, where the water from the tub is gushing up as quickly as the tub is draining. Apparently some wag of a Croatian plumber decided that what goes down must come up. And up it came, every drop of it.

    Now the other part of it was that this drain is on a high point on the floor, so after pouring forth all the water from the tub, water doing what it does, it settled happily everywhere but back down the drain. So for the next thirty minutes I spent coaxing cooling water with my foot up to the drainage point. And getting cold.

    Those wily Croatian plumbers. Bring a sponge.

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    The lovely landlady at Kvatric rooms- and she really was- made sure I had a taxi at 4:30 in the morning and not only was she there to make sure I got it but was assisting me with my gear to boot. It was chilly and overcast, and Split was too. My guide at Jammin' Adventures picked me up and off we drove along sweet winding roads through the hills and white houses with red roofs that lined the harbors along the coastline.

    We arrived at Murter shortly before lunch and he settled me into my shared digs, a nice apartment surrounded by fruit trees and a lovely view of hills, houses, harbor and sunshine in every direction. We'd have seventies all week. He toured me through the small town, now left to its own after the huge summer crowds had finally left. The town's small streets are shared by pedestrians and small cars, people stroll at night down to the nearly-deserted pizzerias and relax in the cooler breezes. Daytime is busy with the sound of repairs put off til fall. Everywhere greenery spills over walls, the sunlight casts brilliant butter onto flowers of all kinds and the pomegranites grow heavy on the trees. In all, a simply lovely, charming, beautiful place.

    My guide sped off to collect more adventurers and it was time to visit the local Konzum to get supplies for our kitchen. By 6 that evening our small group had gathered to talk about our kayaking itinerary. We were mostly from the States. Only one couple, Liz and Jeff, had landed without luggage, so they were going to brave the waves with what they had on their backs. From all we could see, the Adriatic was smooth as glass and looked to be that way the next day by mid-morning.

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    Our group launched off in slightly cloudy skies but perfect temperatures on the azure Adriatic, and made our way south along the coastline. Jammin' provides good, light kayaks and all the gear, the islands do all the rest, and the recipe results in a magnificent day of paddling along excellent coastline where you can peer deeply into the crystalline waters to see all kinds of wiggly things below. As we paddled, we saw dolphins which didn't normally come into that area, all kinds of leaping silver fish, and magnificent sailboats, the few who stayed to enjoy the warm October days.

    After about three hours of paddling, we turned a corner past our lunch spot for a climbing break and beached our kayaks to do some exploring. Our guide promptly found some local denizens to share, including a cuttlefish, in the shallow waters. The rocks along the shoreline are chalk white, pockmarked and a bit crumbly to the touch. They make for some fascinating formations on the islands and sometimes questionable footing, but we climbed to a spot where a number of us took up the challenge to dive off the cliffs into the turquoise water. John, clearly one who loves a challenge, provided us with Kodak moments by performing flips and swan dives from the high rocks while the rest were happy with feet first.

    By this time we were all famished with our guide's discussion of calamari so we loaded back up to round the corner and paddle to Stella Maris, where that was the order of the day. This sweet little spot sits at the back of a small harbor, protected by trees and rocks, and is clearly a local favorite. As we enjoyed lunch, we watched one local boil up the hill (not walk, boil- with several heart monitors, timing devices, the whole bit) and with great cheer greet the proprietors. He wasn't the only one to use the narrow walking trails for exercise. As we paddled north to our pickup point there were many swimmers and walkers along the rocky shoreline.

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    What I didn't confess to and will admit to now was that all day yesterday in all those hours of kayaking I inexplicably kept tracking left, for a reason we never sorted out. My bright red kayak was determined to crank left despite changes in paddling style, body position, putting an edge on the right, exaggerating my movements to accommodate. I spent the whole summer on the rivers learning white water, which of course is a very different animal. But I have sea kayaked, and have never had this happen. So the guide and I went through every idea we could think of and ended up with my pushing with my right hand to put more into the left paddle. It helped.

    Well unfortunately that did several other things. Instead of being able to hold the paddle like a delicate raw egg and simply move through the water, the effort it took to compensate for this lefty kayak (or some bad habit I've developed, more likely) left me with a right angry right elbow. I dunno about anyone else but I usually end a kayaking day on a high. Yesterday I climbed the stairs and did a face plant, fully dressed, on my bed, barely waking up four hours later to get ready for nine more hours. The kind guides are putting me in another kayak. If it also tracks left I know darned well it's pilot error- but at least there's Roc Tape, which now festoons said right elbow and helps a great deal.

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    I'm sorry you're hurting, but I am so enjoying your report. I would love a trip like this! We sea kayak every chance we get (which isn't all that often). Hope you have a better day tomorrow!

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    This morning began with Tylenol and a very early yoga session. If anyone is familiar with Shiva Rea you can understand why I'm a fan, great solver of flexibility issues. Sent down the waiting van in a great humor and our group headed off for a mountain biking trip to explore the islands and nearby falls.

    Now being a Colorado native, people assume you mountain bike. I rode bike. So my first time on this much heavier beast(oh sorry the shift's broken, you'll learn to feel it) was shall we say, awkward. Paul the guide watched me do a few turns and grabbed a second bike whose gears do work, so my only problem was being able to read them during the ride. (Note to self: next time, bring the bifocal sunglasses). We headed off, and my education began immediately, as within about twenty yards we had our first hill.

    Ever have that dream where you're trying to move really fast and going nowhere? I WAS that dream today. I was doing just fine on the flat wind in the face, ahhhh, and then up we go. Uh right, this one, no, crap, that one UP no DOWN no so suddenly I'm halfway up the hill pedaling FURIOUSLY and going absolutley nowhere, and in fact standing so still that I'm pretty much about to go over. If anyone happens to remember that guy from Laugh In? That's the one.

    I did, however, manage to stay upright, thanks in no small part to very fast footwork and very luckily finding the right lever, which I promptly forgot on the next hill. And the next. It was actually very funny. I'd get to the top, race like mad to catch up, do just fine, we'd all head down hill, I'd downshift and dammit if I didn't find myself madly pedaling halfway up again while the rest of the crew merrily disappeared around the corner. Non, my Vietnamese friend, kindly stayed back at one point to make sure I knew everyone was heading a sharp left.

    I finally mastered the gears right about the time we made it to an utterly charming town that surrounded a 12th century fortress. Below it were lovely quiet streets (it was a Sunday) and we set up our bikes in a quiet alley to do some exploring.
    The whole day we were delighted with sunshine and low to mid 70s temperatures, so we were in heaven. We climbed past centuries old buildings, crumbling walls that were perfect photos just of themselves and backdrops for each other. The top of the fortress had a lookout over the town, the harbor, the swans leaving wakes as they swam out to the clippers, and the clay topped houses below.

    As we began our ride through town, we passed a couple getting married, the bride in a flowing white gown and the groom in light summer jacket. The photographer was scowling at us to get out of his shot, an the couple was completely besotted with each other.

    We then rode our bikes to the Krka waterfalls, which entailed some entertaining biking down some mushy gravel at rather high speeds. Since even attempting this on my road bike would have had only one outcome, being able to not only stay seated but enoy the heck of the trip down (including speed bumps!) was a gas.

    The falls are quite a show of terraces and forested areas which you can access by raised walkway. Warning, if you want to use the bathroom it's 5kn, or it's the woods, which isn't easy with all the traffic. It's always nicked me a bit when someone wants nearly a dollar for your right to pee in private but that's how it is here.

    The falls provide a thorough misting an the varied views all provide a wonderfully different experience of the different colors that rangee from white to green to cobalt and everything inbetween. While it's touristy, it's still worth going to see, especially on a hot day when those mists are so cooling.

    Our final work of the day was back up the hill over the speedbumps, through the mushy gravel, and back into town where Paul et al settled us into a little restaurant where everyone was eager for roast pork off the spit.

    Tomorrow at 9 am we are back to kayaking, and with my booties and gear dry from that sweet island sun, I'm good to go. Jammin' Adventures has so far been very good about balancing a good bit of exercise and knowing just when to give walkaround time, or to throw the bikes or kayaks on teh van. The result is that we all feel as though we're getting an excellent workout and we also aren't so beaten up that we can't eenjoy the next day.

    What I also have valued so far is that where there's been a learning curve for someone- whether it's a mountain bike for me or something for someone else, there is just enough instruction and then you take it and put it to work. They don't make a big deal out of it, nor do they treat you like an imbecile. You just figure it out. That so works.

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    Still going. So the last two days were both kayaking, this time first to paddle a considerable distance across a mild Adriatic Sea to Vrgada Island. Since the guides took pity on me I was now in a heavy 17 footer, which turned like the Titanic but by god she was straight and true. I also had a slew of new ideas and methods and applied them, and in doing so landed in the middle of the group (a vast improvement indeed). Blessed with another stupidly gorgeous day I settled into a fine rhythm and my girl and I slid through the water kinda the way it's supposed to happen.

    It was about two hours of solid work to get to what was a tiny, distant, now slightly larger, bigger now looming orange cliff. The blonde sand welcomed us and we unloaded our snacks and snarfed down a bunch of calories. (Anybody know those German Bueno bars made with whipped hazelnut? Yah well. I am REALLY GLAD when people don't take the pieces I offer them. So good.)

    Paolo led us over the limestone crags and pools along the north of the island where we looked for wildlife and took our time enjoying the brilliant waters and few boats off shore. This time of year, the island is mostly closed up but a few cafes remain open. The boats still come but they sit quietly and doze while their owners sip wine and wave at us as we make our way.

    The harbor is sleepy, with little activity but for some boat repair on some vessels which have seen many better days As we stroll along we pass an original, and still active church. Here the very old graves still are tended with fresh flowers.

    The town features castle walls that are architectural masterpieces, despite the rude graffiti. The town itself is a postcard of narrow winding alleys leading to sharp corners and more alleys, always festooned with bright flowers, slanting sunshine and potted plants. Every turn, another visual treat.

    At the top of the hill was a fifteenth century church, just a big square white building, with a bell tower next to it. No decorations, plain and simple. The town's houses had the same white walls and clay tile roof design we've seen everywhere.

    We made a necessary stop at the local cafe filled with, you guessed it, locals, and made our way around the harbor back to our blonde sand beach. In all a quick round trip hike, a tiny town, fast asleep and recovering from tourist season.

    I had forgone my dry suit for this day of paddling, largely because it's wicked hot and also the water just isn't that cold. I am trusting the stability of these kayaks and haven't rolled one yet. The only part of me that gets wet are my sunglasses and hat, and of oourse my camera which sits high on the bow. So far so good.

    Our long trip back was a little choppier, the water darker blue, but still warm and sunny above. As we loaded up, all of us notied the waxing moon, which is going to be full soon. Oh let it be clear....

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    Dry. Yeah right. Okay.
    So, our last day of kayaking (tomorrow we may have rain) we load up early and head out on a boat for three hours. By 10:30 we are offloading our boats from the little fishing boat into the water, in Kronati National Park. Oh what a gorgeous day. A person could get used to this fast.

    The islands are many and rocky, we passed a lot of them but didn't see them as most of us were passed out in some form on the deck. Now I don't imbibe, but I stay up too late, and thank god for an empty bench and a life jacket out of the way of the cold breeze!

    The skipper and guide eased our boats and us gently into the water fully loaded with lunch and goodies. From that secluded harbor we set forth to paddle out and around the islands, past the tall forbidding cliffs with wind-hewn faces blown out of the rock making Halloween gargoyles.

    Today, after a consult with Paul, the owner, on the stairs, I had yet three more techiques to try. Damned if I wasn't suddenly sailing along right up front, even ahead of the group, that is, until they all turned left behind me and I had to madly paddle back to catch up. Difference was today I could.

    So we explore these islands with their black and white sheep, their karst formations along the shores, their sweet shallow harbors, their ancient stone buildings. Nearing lunch we angle around a corner where two white clippers are anchored and the resident folks are taking a swim in some of the prettiest light turquoise water I've ever seen

    Utterly puffed up with my newfound confidence in my Blue Girl, I build up a head of steam, meaning to come up on the bank and confidently climb out onto land, conquering hero style. Right.

    Well, I built up a head of steam all right, and went right up the rocks, and when I loosed my skirt and began to stand, Blue Girl slid backwards into the water and unceremoniously dumped me out of the cockpit.

    So now I am soaking wet down to my underwear,and am about to get a very quick lesson in just how quick dry REI's pants really are. I have to disrobe down to said undies while everyone else ( who kindly did not NOT guffaw) got out their lunches. I wrung out my pants, and looked longingly after my group as they headed up the hill to lunch.

    Hell with it, I figured. The pants will dry just as fast on me as on this bush.

    I put the soggy pantss back on, grabbed my hiking poles and headed up the hill after them. And boy was I glad I did.

    It wasn't just that I dried off up there faster due to the wind and the sunshine and warmth, but the view was astounding. From where we were we could see the two houses below, the brilliant blue pools of sea changing to lighter turquoise and then green. More sailboats came in and we shot them inbetween the cairns at the top of the hill where a cross stood.

    I headed down early since I wanted to get my skirt on, now warm and dry. I loaded up my boat and set her up to go back down to the water, got in, and pushed off, like the knowledgeable and experienced kayaker I now was.

    Blue Girl slid down the rocks, hit the water and promptly dumped me right back into the sea again.

    What part about put the boat in the water did you not get the first time?

    Well now I have wet pants, wet underwear, wet shirt and full booties for the ride back, and this time I am laughing, because I can't help myself, and I do get in the boat, dump out my booties (about a gallon each) and about the time I got that stupid skirt on the rest of the crew was nearly out of the harbor.

    But I caught up.

    Learning curve's a bitch, ain't it?

    We paddled the islands through choppier water and stronger wind, which made me right grateful for the life jacket. Water poured up the arm of my wind jacket and down my back which frankly didn't need more moisture but it adds to the romance of the story. My wonderful new paddling skills kept up with the fast boys on the block but when it came to getting lifted back onto the fishing boat, well, wait your turn. The system is slow but effective. But if you're holding your water (more than in your clothing and booties) the smile you're aiming at the cap'n becomes more of a rictus until you're on the ladder and bowl downany poor bastard who is between you and the loo.

    Long slow three hours back, guide pours beer, we enjoy sunset and subsequent moonrise, my clothes are drying out for our big hike tomorrow. At least my boots made it back dry, thank you for dry bags!

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    Okay, so has anyone else on here ever learned a really key lesson about dental appliances and tile floors?

    They don't mix well. So last night I took a LONG HOT SHOWER fully clothed - look, I was soaked with salt water top to bottom, I just got in and scrubbed the duds, worked for me. Rolled 'em up in the towel, festooned the room to get them dry. Then I sleepwalked through the nighttime routine.

    As anyone who wears a dental appliance knows, you gotta take ''em out to clean 'em right? But it's also helpful to hang on to the damned thing and not fumble them onto a most unforgiving tile floor.

    In a place where one is miles from the right kind of dentistry.


    The pieces sorta fit back together. This morning I'm going to head over to Konzum to check out their Superglue supply.

    I guess almonds are off the menu....

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    Yep, there are, BB, and I am eating many of them. However I just repaired my dental appliance with a small tube of Loctite, which I am most hopeful will hold long enough for me to get home.

    The grate was good enough to hold through my first bungee jump, at 61, but I'm ahead of myself.

    Our group gathered up today at 8 am to load into the van- they come from everywhere, usually on bikes from an early morning run to the store, or to a high spot to watch the sunrise. I hide out in my room and do yoga so we all have our am routines.

    This day we headed off to the Paklenica National Park, scheduled so that we could visit the cave at the top of one particular hike as it was open only certain hours only a few days a week after summer. The potential rain never fell, again, so we loaded up a few layers for the cave and headed up the mountain. A lot of other folks were out with us too (hey let's hike in the pristine woods! Wait, let's smoke a couple cigarettes to clear our lungs out first! Great idea! hack hack hack...)

    The hike was a sweet one, a gravel switchback up the mountain with lovely views to a saddle across the way and some nice streams and falls to keep things cool. As we climbed, it warmed up nicely and periodically we'd stop for water, snacks and panoramic shots. The guide at the cave, one of several locals named Nikolas Tesla, speaks at least four languages and greets us at the door as the last group of the day. A warm and enthusiastic man, he infected us with his love of his job and welcomed us into his deep cave.

    After a few minutes of adjusting our eyes to the darkness, Nikolas takes us through the labyrinth of stalagtites and stalagmites which drip from the ceiling like folds, forming toothy arrangements and almost human forms. Floor to ceiling there are many formations fascinating for the eye, but hard to capture on camera unless you have the right shutter speed. Non did, and she came out with gorgeous photos. The tour wasn't long, and the cave, a steady 10 degrees C all year, not as cool as I'd expected, even damp after our sweaty climb.

    At the top we reconnoitered, gathered our things and headed back down. It was now approaching two pm and many of us had growling stomachs so we picked a switchback on the way down to lay out a picnic. Everyone spread out a feast of salami and sausage, three or four kinds of cheese, and dipping sauces of all kinds. We invited other hikers to join u s but only Nikolas joined in, grabbing a hunk of the hearty bread and a big piece of the cheese. The rest of our trip was a quick walk.downhill and soon we were back at the car.

    John, our climber, mountaineer and all around athlete had signed up to do a bungee jump, so we drove to the tallest bridge in Croatia to do just that. As we got there, a young woman was being strapped in for her jump, so we gathered nearby and waited. This gal, who had a spiky blond cut and wore a Batman T-shirt, was definitely not feeling very super hero today. She barely made it to the top of the stairs and the stood there, gripping the two instructor's hands so tightly they turned white. As she looked out, as instructed, over the river, she then looked down and started to hyperventilate. Not a smart move. Sweat broke out on the back of her neck, she shook all over and backed down the stairs, to light up to calm herself down, which of course the two instructors did, too.

    All right. Once again She turns around, climbs back up, fortified with nicoteine and the encouragement of her friends, makes it up to the top of the stairs, and then.....and then.....backs down and gives it up. The boyfriend jumps up and does his thing, not pretty, not graceful, but he screams happily all the way down. He lived.

    John of course is raring to go and in the meantime I'm flustered because I only have 200 kn and the jump costs 380. So I bum 200 off our guide, whose eyebrows raise and he runs around telling everyone I'm also going to jump. Now I'm the oldest fart in this group mind you and nobody else has lined up. No matter.

    John, who has already done some lovely swam dives off the island cliffs, launches himself off the platform and proceeds to banshee scream all the way down.

    Minutes later it's my turn. They put me in gear, I ask a few questions about where I'll feel the torque, and I'm up the platform. Our guide, who is set up to take sequentials, asks me just before I go off the damn stair if I have any last words. Butthead.

    Well hell. I just did a swan dive, smiled, and sailed off and kept my form all the way down, even through the bounce, because if there is one thing this chick can do is be graceful in the air. I love to fly, this is my element.

    So the guy in the dinghy comes underneath me after I grab the rope and hold my body curled for a bit and is grinning at me, and says (I'm not making this up because I wish I had it in writing) "one of the top three dives this summer."

    That made up for the two dumps in the sea yesterday, the pedaling my patootie off halfway up the hill on the mountain bike, and a host of other things that I've done on this trip to remind me of how human I am. It was really, really nice to nail that bungee jump, especially my first ever. Definitely going to do that a lot more times.

    En route back, which was two hours total, many of us slept but I got to rewind that lovely jump. Right now I'm dealing with a nasty cough and am taking the night off to recover for tomorrow, our one day off to do what we want. There's a barbeque downstairs but this is a good night to take it easy. And oh yes, Non got photos. She's going to bribe me for copies, and I'll happily pay her.

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    Yeah, me too.

    You get one nice pat on the back, just once, get over yourself and move on.

    Today we have a tourist day, our guide is taking us all around. Our choice. What fun. After all that wonderful hikin' bikin' paddlin' jumpin' funnin' it's time for some serious wanderin' time.

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    After the big party I heard going on well into the night (hey I'm trying to get over a cold here) the departure time today was for 10 am, so all of us got on board the van. This time Pero (god help me I finally got the man's name right) and Paul both joined us for the day. We headed off to Sibenik, about an hour away, bypassing once again the restaurant with the pigs roasting on the spit outside. Tonight. Yep.

    We drove through the lovely old town then out past the awful tall buildings from the 70s, 80s and 90s which all but ruin the town with their industrial look and run down paint jobs. Happily that doesn't last, then we find ourselves at a 4.4km hike which will lead us along some gorgeous views and to a huge fortress. Along the way we'll find a tiny hidden church that even Paul hasn't found yet, and spend time exploring a short blocked off waterway, and again enjoying an even warmer bright blue sky day than before.

    The fortress is damp, and we take guesses at the rooms and their uses. Here for cannons, there for toilets, here for storage. Fascinating.

    By now it's 2 pm and we're all ready for some midday food, so our guides ferry us back to old town. This allows us to wander the steps, churches and purely touristy part of the city, which since it's October has only a few tour groups going through. We weave in and out of them and find uncrowded ice cream shops and small bakeries for snacks to hold us until spit pork time. We find a few small things, for me a bracelet to add to the growing collection on my left wrist (turquoise and blue cotton to remind me of the islands) stamps, postcards. I eyed a Klimpt cup, too delicate for the trip home. Won't use it. It stays.

    Finally, one more ice cream stop down we head to pork spit spot and load up. A few of us take photos of these animals doing ring around the rosy, tongues hanging out. Everyone orders but me (the real reason is TMI to my mind and I've been on soft foods for nearly three days now). This is a manly man's place, and I have nice soft eggs back at the apartment. And nice soft yogurt right here in my bag. Hey, what can you do.

    So yes, candied almonds are no longer on the menu, nor is anything else that has to be bitten, chewed, chomped, or otherwise manhandled by one's grille, so I'm relegated to a lot of bananas for now. Hey, if you can't laugh, don't travel.

    I wonder how duct tape might work? Seems to do everything else....

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    Hey Julia-t thanks for your comment. You are most welcome. Even with the busted appliance it's a gas. I'm posting reviews over on TA as well of the various attractions like the bungee jump outfit too. Right now people are up and out of here in stages to catch planes and buses out of town, and I'm in mid pack. Today I am off to Split at 10:30 and tomorrow at 4 pm I join my riding group for seven days on horseback. At that point, it's all handwritten notes for a while, back to basics, and I will have a lot of catching up to do.

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    Oh- and as an aside, for anyone wondering about bungee jumping with dental appliances, especially busted ones, well. The thought DID occur. I wondered, briefly, before I tossed my skinny butt over the railing whether I'd be watching two four thousand dollar pieces of bright pink and white acrylic dislodge and go sailing gently off towards the guy in the dinghy, and if so, should I say something, or would I be laughing too hard (probably) or, on the other hand, would the poor guy even understand me if I tried to say something with my appliance out in the first place?

    Ahh. Questions to ponder in the deep dark of the night.

    Happily they are still lodged. Love that Loctite.

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    Yeah, but what a funny story that would have been.
    Here finally at Diocletan's Palace, what a tourist trap they have made out of this magnificent building- but I am in a fine, fine little room with a fine, fine shower and tub. I might as well go out and explore, at the risk of never finding this place again, buried as it is among the many warrens and alleys of the palace. But I can find the restaurant, and from there, they can always lead me back.

    And that's always fun. Getting lost, I mean.

    Now--soft food!

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    What a great reminder that so much of what happens in our lives has nothing to do with us. Yesterday while getting intentionally lost around the shops in the castle I walked into a small souvenir store and met Martino, a young man in his later twenties. He made some comments about the wording on my hat (Life is Good) and the embroidered boot. One thing led to another and I found myself telling him about the jump. Turns out it was precisely the right thing to do. See, Martino has been thinking about doing this for a long, long time. His father committed suicide two years ago, and he has thought long and hard about that, about life, and about doing something to break him out of his funk. One thing after another comes up, and the jump doesn't happen. We spoke deeply for about 90 minutes (my brother took his life two years ago so this I can relate to). We spoke of life and opportunities and joy and living and choices and perspectives. At the end of this very emotional discussion for us both he wrapped me up hard and hugged me and asked me to come back today before I left. I did, and brought him my travel copy of my book, which is all about how we talk to ourselves. We hugged hard again, and my money is on Martino to go do that bungee jump, and a whole lot more. He has promised to write me as soon as he's done it. Stay tuned.

    This is why I really do believe that stuff we do has a reason- and it's rarely ever what we think it is. What an amazingly humbling gift he was.

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    Monday the 20th, so happy to be in sunny Zagreb, the day before going home. About 9 days or so up in the high hills, valleys and gorgeous countryside north of Split, and much to report, the highlights follow. They come with a disclaimer.

    Anyone who has become pretty good or especially really good at a sport and who pays a considerable investment to go on a journey that says "advanced only" has, I think, a perfect right to expect that no beginners are going to be on that trip. Now you readers already know I have fun taking myself to task wherever I can, and while I was on a learning curve with sea kayaking and mountain biking, I am a pretty good white water kayaking and a very good road cyclist. So it doesn't take brain surgery to make the leap to sister sports.

    Here, on a horseback riding trip in high, isolated country, where people and horses can, and did, get hurt, this is no place where two lovely pretty but clueless girls who (and I am not making this up) put on the bridle leaving the bit dangling beneath the horse's chin and head off to go to other things before someone points this out. Now while this is funny, and all of us who have ridden have done this ourselves, THERE IS NO PLACE FOR THIS CRAP ON AN EPIC RIDE.

    We had two blond Dutch sisters, 36 and 27 who were sweet, loved each other dearly, laughed a lot, ate everything not tied down and in all ways were lovely company. On foot.

    On horseback, as beginners tend to be, they were unprepared, fearful which is normal, terrified of blood, speed, surprises, other horses, drama, and the perfectly normal and expected uncontrollables that any experienced trail rider would expect to happen on such a trip. After all, you are out in BFE, and even though our lunches are getting driven in to us, if you fall off or get hurt you're gonna hafta hang with that for a while. Our guide hardly even had bandages, which wasn't very smart.

    So these two girls couldn't stand the sight of blood (now there's a good partner on an adventure trip!), their last rides were decades prior in the ring. Those of you trained in the ring remember what it takes to learn how to be good on the trail? Yeah, that.

    You have to give up any notion of the Great Grand Adventure for the moment you embrace rookies you have to ride to the lowest common denominator, although we did have some drama in places, and certainly at my expense, which I will happily share because that's more fun anyway. But fair warning. If you do ride with Equestrian Club Split by all means call ahead and vet who's going. Tut their claim to "advanced riders only" is,'ll see. Truth is I wouldn't change one bit of this trip, it was a gas, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat, although I might invite the girls to stay at the ranch this time around.

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    Ivo is the male half of the Ivo/Isobel partnership. Grizzled, a bit grey, crinkled eyes, four day growth, always complaining and storytelling, always making jokes. For the life of me I have no idea what the arrangement is but we learn over time that Ivo has been through three far...and as Isobel is Swedish she is here...part of the have no idea. This is the last ride of the season. We are picked up and carried off about an hour north of Split (read: very small villages, smaller villages, REALLY small villages, prettier and prettier).

    You arrive at the farmhouse and are immmediately greeted with great enthusiasm by three great huge yellow working dogs, mostly young, and two Black Lab mixes named, respectively, Poppy I and Popppy II (that took some thought). Another, older, larger and very cranky grey dog guards the door, you look into his eyes at your peril. This is NOT a joke. You go towards the door, you die. You come out of the door (you may have food) man you are his best buddy, love love love love love. But you look in his eyes for one second too long, and I did, this 200 lb beast is across the porch in a half second, paws planted on your knees and roaring inches from your face. PISSED OFF.

    Quite enough to make you poop your Pampers right there.

    I nearly did. And i did not look at that dog again.

    Well then. Now that we have the doggie rules set forth, the other dogs, who are marvelous, affectionate, constantly giving belly for rubs, make up for Crankypants.

    You go upstairs, which happily for all of us is an outside stairway not past Mr. Joyful, get your private room or shared room, and we all share a bathtub. BYO towel. No worries.

    Meals are local and homecooked.

    We go out to see the horses which are all goodnatured, friendly and curious. There is a line across the pasture which I didn't recognize. One blue roan foal approaches me, nuzzles my hand, and I am playing with her when my elbow touches this long white piece of fabric.

    KA-POW ZAP ZOWIE, my elbow explodes, poor baby goes flying off in one direction and I've got zingerss going up my arm to my shoulders and down to my fingers and damn, that HURT.

    Okay, guess that bit of fabric is electrified. Didn't see that coming. The girls, who were with me, both heard the POP and they were looking around for the source. Frankly I was looking for the hole burned out of my elbow. It took me a while to coax my eyeballs back into their sockets but they came

    Next thing you see is bread. Everywhere bread loaves. Half eaten mostly eaten some wet some dry, piles and piles and piles of bread loaves. We come to find out that this is one of the ideas that Ivo is so very proud of. There are a lot of them. Ideas that Ivo is proud of, that is First thing that comes to my mind is plaque on their teeth and decay due to bread sticking to their teeth and the sugar in the bread. But hey, I'm not from Croatia. Not my horses. Ivo is delighted that everyone in their valley is doing it now, no longer feeding feed, and angry that the price of bread has gone up. "What you do?" he shrugs.

    Tomorrow we have a local ride up a mountain, get used to our assigned horses, get ourselves sorted out. Can't wait.

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    Day One I got a little mare named Fan, who was a fine little tourist trail horse. You know the type. The kind who knows the trail but has put up with every idiot, moron, reins pulling hard kicking have no clue rider out there. As long as she can put her nose into the butt cheeks of a horse in front of her she is fine. She had a nice canter, though. Quite all right, I can ask for an upgrade, that is what today is for.

    We get to Ivo's local mountain, which if you climb to the top, you can see the lake where we will be in three days' ride. The girls want to climb, although the younger of the sisters has decided to wear brand new paddock boots, not broken in, which of course brutalize her feet. The older, who is a superb walker, shoots up hill at warp speed. I stay about in the middle, I love to climb but you don't leave people way the hell behind.

    AT the top, there's another hill. We do that. At that top there's another hill. Younger sister's feet are fried and she informs me that her ankles are also very very bad. She quits. I stay. Older sister says, I'll do this for you BOTH! Okay. Whatever. This, she is very good at. Let her be. That's important here.

    So big sister takes flying off downhill and little sister starts to struggle down. I get about 8 feet in front, wait. Go, wait. I've got a walking stick of sorts, it finally occurs to me to hand it over. I may have a cranky knee but this kid is in far greater need than I am. So we make our way down, slowly, and of course big sister is at the lunch table by the time we get to the bottom.

    That night I put my supply of six of those really, really good blister plasters on the girls' door.

    Next morning she tells me that "she's waiting til she gets a blister to use them." Okay.

    Those of you who share the West with me or who have come to Colorado, who live near really big mountains will appreciate that what Ivo called a mountain, we in my back yard might call a speedbump. But this is Croatia, and to Ivo it was terribly important to challenge the older sister and prove that she had actually made it all the way to the top. This woman is a serious climber and she was kind enough not to point this out. It's Ivo's mountain and it will stay Ivo's mountain. Given the very rocky nature of the ground, it was tough going coming down for the younger girl, and she paid the price.

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    Crankypants met me the next morning all love and kisses and landed squarely on my right foot, planting his entire weight there, looked longingly up and me, head forced against my belly. Houston we have a problem. I don't dare touch this creature, look at him. His corkscrew tail is whipping around in happy little circles. For now. He shifts his entire weight against my shins and I nearly topple over (he is two of me,I'm 115 lbs) and I struggle to stay upright.

    Part of me thinks this is funny and the other part of me is frankly scared shitless of this dog. Normally I love them but I've already seen his mercurial nature. Happily the other four come to the rescue and the next thing I know he and I are both swarmed with wet dog hair and everyone wants attention, and for the love of God he finally picks up his bulk and plants it at the front door again. I am left to lift one of the Poppys into my lap and commence belly rub in the slanting sun that cuts butter across the big porch table.

    Luggage for five days into the Jeep, we are off for the adventure. I had asked for, and gotten, a new horse. Isobel had kindly given me Pharos, her big, black, muscular, proud, magnificent, words fail me here, gelding. However she failed to give me a whole lot of information about his fondness for running like a mad banshee every time a horse in front of him looked as though s/he might start to trot. Mind you, I asked, and was told he was one of the ranch's best horses. He was. We did find out about the propensity to put on the afterburners, to my combined chagrin and delight. I say both, because this horse made my trip, beat the holy crap out of me, was two rungs over my pay grade, made me work like hell to earn his respect and bend him to my will.

    Which I did, but boy did that cost me. And it was worth every torn muscle, ripped nail, whiplash injury, migraine headache, two hour morning yoga session from 4 am to 6 am just to be able to move again, my entire supply of get it. Riders get it. I dreamed of riding such an animal. You rarely get to ride a creature like this, but then, where there are rookies, there is fear, fear and more fear, and letting him have his head was out of the question. But he had his moments on my dime. Because I am not an expert. And a smart, fast, witty, crafty horse is going to do what he can, and he knows when he's got someone on his back who doesn't know what he's going to do. God love his evil beating heart.

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    What established itself very quickly is that the girls came dressed for the part but clearly had not tacked up, or been around horses, or certainly done trail riding (if ever) for a very, very long time. Now everybody, me too, has gone through the putz stage of figuring out gear. But when you are out in BFE and we are all responsible for our own horses, well guys.

    To wit, one sister puts on the bridle and starts to do something else, she's done, right? Only the bit is dangling under the horse's chin. Now. What do you do. Rude to laugh, but I'm sorry, this is comedy. The horse is looking around his compatriots like, "hey guys, got a live one here!"

    One day both of them try to saddle up one horse at the same time. We clean hooves, curry and brush, saddle blanket and saddle up and then bridle up. This takes Pharos and me about six minutes tops. This one morning the girls are back and forth back and forth looking like two drunk monkeys throwing turds. It took far longer, but was much funnier, but you cannot say or do anything.

    However, I had my share, too. Two whiplash injuries, two runaways (more on this later), four eight hour days of keeping this big horse (close to 17 hands) from eating when he pleased and from jerking the reins out of my hands and not being able to eat (broken denture, remember), I am beat to crap. I am festooned with RocTape. Loaded with drugs for pain. I am dragging patootie. Next to last day and it's our longest. Isobel is short tempered and in a hurry.

    I get Pharos and am cleaning his right rear hoof. Tired, nearly blind. Quite literally didn't see his rear shoe, too much clay, who knows. No excuse. So of course I tell Isobel, who shouts at me to walk the pasture and find it. I go march around the horse apples, prep comes to a stop, people are angry.

    Twenty minutes later they're even more mad when Ivo yells out at me "Is right here Yuliya! Shoe on foot. You come see!" I'm sorry, this is just funny. Nobody else thought so, but nobody else knows about the whiplash or the busted denture or anything else. None of their damned business. My job to get ready.

    It still takes me six minutes to tack up and I sit on Pharos and wait for the Keystone Cops. Ivo winks at me. God love him. I wink back. Smile. At my own foibles. Because we are all so achingly human. And it is all just not so important in the long run. Just another story.

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    Now let me be fair here. These sisters were a joy in so many ways. They were tall and pretty and funny and sweet natured. They were helpful and did their level best to be there on the other side of the horse when you were getting on board. Like all of us they were eager to help out. Funny because they were always last to get their gear ready, last down the steps or out of the tent. Unfailingly polite. And the single most endearing thing about them, which was truly a delight to be around, was their love for each other. They laughed and talked constantly all day every day. Until they got mad or frustrated or fearful, which is when they were mounted, and that's where the problems began. Otherwise there was absolutely everything to appreciate about them both. Frankly I'm sure they could say the same about me for much of the same reasons but I'm not privy to their thoughts, only their behavior and what I kept hearing them say.

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    This is making fun reading!

    I no longer ride (was never a trail rider, we don't have those in the UK, but I did event and ride racehorses), yet I can so imagine Pharos and what a challenge he posed; I am pleased and proud for you that you relished getting the best out of him. You'd have hated to be on a slug, kicking along, getting no reaction when you gathered the reins. Plod, plod, plodding along.

    Looking forward to more!

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    The short version of it was that it began when one of them overhead me asking Isobel for an upgrade. That led to a Major Discussion in the Hallway about danger and Wild Horses Getting Out of Control and What if What if What if.

    The other piece, and you have to keep in mind there were seven days of this all day long, six to eight hours a day. I am now on a lead horse who must walk behind Isobel's horse. She lets her mare, who is in heat, eat anytime. That causes us to have to stop. I am doing my best to keep a powerful lead horse who wants to run all the time at least two lengths behind her because my money is on that he was cut proud. Every time he gets close he bites her on the ass and she kicks him. So I have to constantly control him which is a little like being on a rack having your shoulders pulled out of your joints all day. My keeping Pharos back pisses the younger sister off, who complains to me that I am getting in her horse's face (you are a lousy rider in other words).

    Wait. I cannot seem to find my rear view window. Is there one installed on this horse?

    Or, perhaps, you could pick these little pieces of thin leather that we call REINS that you are leaving on the horse's withers, pick them up, pull on them, and say this magical mysterious word we use to hypnotize our horses called (whoaaaaaaa) to slow or stop him to get his nose out of my horse's butt. Otherwise Pharos will continue to kick him. And no, I am not going to speed up because the precise same thing will happen to Pharos and Isobel will rightly bark at me. I was asked to move here, move there, my horse doesn't like your horse, please move. And I did, without complaint, and then it was someone else's turn to opine about Pharos and my inability to control him.

    Now some of you might ask why I didn't bite Dutch head off. Well, because I have to live with them for seven days on the trail, for one. But far more importantly, it's not my job. We have a guide, it's her job to instruct them. Their horses eat at will. The girls bark at me if I move Pharo off to the side when a horse is riding up my butt. You wouldn't like it if some guest decided to make themselves second in command and start instructing, managing, pushing people around. Isobel would be rightfully furious. It would certainly annoy the heck out of me.

    If Isobel didn't choose to do it then that's what we get. We have beginners on the trail who should not have been, they have no trail manners, and they are so busy riding other people's horses for them they are not riding their own. Which makes them far more dangerous to everyone else. What this means is that not only do you have to watch out for your own horse you also have to watch out for theirs. This isn't something I suspect either sister considered, but I had to, because while Pharos was largely bombproof, he was damned impatient, and I was learning him. You don't know what you don't know. Which leads to my story about getting caught out big time.

    You have to remember, you have to live with everyone, so you just keep quiet. I am the journalist, I get to keep the stories. Everyone is taking things so seriously, so personally and this is precisely what makes this so funny. You cannot laugh at it, you must hold it until you can go pee in the woods and giggle.

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    So Miss julia_t this entry is for you, who ride racehorses,which I never have. The first time we had set up to gallop all I knew about Pharos was that he was eager, wiling, and muscular and beautiful and I couldn't wait to feel him run. A little faster. Yeah right.

    So we reach this open field. What I didn't know as that Ivo (whom we could all see was around somewhere nearby) was set up to take a triumphant photo of Isobel the Conqueror on Pandora, her Anglo Arab mare. Pandora is very swift, and she is to be leading us across the field. Well, that was the plan. How the hell am I supposed to know this?

    Isobel tosses a comment over her shoulder, something to the effect of "keep behind me and don't pass." Frankly I think she knew full well what was about to happen. Pandora takes half a step and before I have gotten my heels down that black giant monster has, in three massive strides, overtaken her, Isobel screams at me, and all I can concentrate on at that moment is the incredible, intense, overwhelmingly ecstatic feel of nearly 1600 lbs of pure sheer power surging forward so fast that everything is a green blur. I nearly tore off my arms to stop him while at the same time everything in my being is screaming at me to yell at him GO YOU BASTARD Gooooooooooooooooooooooo!

    Ah. Well. For about three seconds. For anyone who's ever lost a main parachute, and I've done it twice, you have about a split second to figure out what to do next. We had a huge field off to our left. Isobel had plenty of room. I grabbed the rein right next to the bit, curled his head in towards his shoulder, and stopped him. He tried to take off again coming back and I curled him around himself again. And then we cantered quietly back to the group.

    He had me there good to rights for about five to six seconds. which Isobel gleefully pointed out. However- that will, and does, happen to us all. It's whether you regain control. Or panic, or go stupid, or hit the group like an out of control bowling ball.

    OMG well now the sisters are utterly beside themselves. Julia this. Pharos that. Dangerous this. Dangerous that. This sets the stage for the rest of our ride because it happened on the second day. Man, I was happy as a pig in poo. Here I finally had an animal that was pushing back, that tested me harder than anything I've ever ridden, and who would NOT jump at a chance to ride such a being? SIGN. ME. UP.

    I was delirious, expressed that to Isobel, who was surprised, and to her credit, she let me continue to ride him. At this point I pushed her to kindly make some suggestions, and this time she did, which I gratefully put to use.

    It took one more takeoff, same thing, the next day, before I sorted out what I needed to do to get his package of sinew and fire under wraps. And it wasn't hard either. Once I could read the land, and Isobel's body language, I knew within thirty seconds we were going to canter. That gave me just enough time to get in position, gather up the reins, have a conversation, and force him to hold back those three critical leaps before I angled him to get in line. Every single time it was World War III. But he did it. And I was mad crazy passionately in love with this animal for besting me and making a fool out of me and making me work so hard that some days I cried to lift my arms to take my Tylenol with Codeine.

    Worth it.

    God bless that horse. I know some of you think I'm mad, but other riders, especially julia-t, will understand that there are times when all you can do is exhult, breathe in the air that is being forced into your nostrils, the mane whipping tears into your eyes, your body moving in rhythm with this raging, pounding, extraordinary creature who tolerates your presence on his back, and your heart rises and rises and rises and you throw your soul and love to this animal with everything you've got. That's what I signed up for. That's living out loud. Pure sweet fire and joy.

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    A side note here, julia_t, I typically ride bareback saddlepad, including to do dressage work. Being on a saddle again was just a bit awkward for a few days. Trust me, stirrups are handy, but you have to get used to having all that leather between you and the horse again, but it all comes back fast enough.

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    So one late afternoon we are heading into a camp, which is where Ivo meets us at nights. He sets up an electrified perimeted (yeah-that white ribbon stuff) and we take everything off the horses and they go hooves up and over. Then we either camp (once, next to a romantic stone quarry which pounded most of the night) or to what were really, truly nice rooms and a little hotel.

    All the horses know this drill, and they can get eager. So we're cantering, and I'm second. The light's going down a bit and I can't quite see the ground but there are rocks. Pharos is right on Pandora's tail and he's reaching out for that nip so I pull him and give her room. Next thing I know he stumbles and my head snaps forward hard, then back, THWAP, and I am seeing stars, and the pain is mighty. I hold my breath for about three strides and damned if Mr Man hasn't made up the different and he's got his neck stretched out to take a piece out of Pandora again. We're not seven strides along and the same dammned thing happens, he goes forward, my head shaps back and this time I nearly pass out, but I gorilla gripped Mr. Man and just held on.

    Over the July 4th holiday I was visiting my friend Jill in Canada, and while there, picked up two bottles of Tylenol with Codeine. Somehow I got them over the border. My best friends after this, those and my Imitrex for migraines, which I get anyway but when you pull that kind of stunt on your vertebrae, well. Something is going to yell back. Pretty much every day after that.

    The lineup of bottles, pills, muscle creams, RocTape, lotions potions and other agony reducers made my bathroom look like a football locker room. Felt like one. Smelled like one, too. Well, the menthol cream anyway.

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    Ivo would bring in food that he bought at local markets and what was available at local stores, so every day was something different. Some days there would be a huge bar of chocolate. Uvo ate the chocolate. Uvo. Oh yah, Uvo.

    Did I mention we had a German man named Uvo with us? No. That's because he was THAT quiet. Wordless, patient, not an advanced rider but competent enough. Often rode in great pain because he had a bar of steel up his leg into his pelvis. That was all we knew. Otherwise we only knew he wasn't doing well when the Leaning Tower of Uvo, riding ahead of me one day, canted so far to the left, making sounds that one normally hears only in cheap bordellos, that Isobel and I simultaneously made a move to see if Germany was about to fall. Indeed he was.

    He of course said he was fine, his normally very ruddy cheerful face was the color of old silly putty, and we had to call Ivo immediately to come pick him up. Another twenty five minutes away.

    Uvo, being enormously stoic, resettled himself on his big black with the Roman nose named Arab, and held onto the horn of his Western saddle. We spotted the plume of dust in the distance approaching us across rocky high plain( no trotting or cantering on this) that was Ivo, and Uvo pinballed from saddle to shoulder to horse butt to Ivo on his way to the Jeep. Whereupon he sat hard in the front seat.

    The next time we saw him he was lying quite comfortably on thick foam pads next to the big cool blue lake where most people swim, but not this late in the year. He looked much better. He told me he also had Codeine. It kept him in a pleasant mood.

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    Well now of course, and understandably so, I have a rep for not being able to control my horse at all. The sisters are furious at me. You really can't blame them- they're not aware of what goes on when I'm riding, the signals and legwork and rein work and effort that goes into keeping this muscle mass from tearing off in front of the pack and it's none of their business. Uvo hangs on to the saddle horn and very quietly does his thing and enjoys the scenery every day until his leg gets the better of him and he starts making those late in the day bordello noises.

    So the one day that we make it to the lake, Uvo had been carried away by Ivo and rather to than to the clinic here he is by the lake taking his comfort and here we all come clopping along. The horses, who are accustomed to taking a swim, make a beeline for the water. They've been on the trail working hard for four hours, are thirsty, hot and want to cool off. You can see this coming a mile away.

    All the animals crowd in together and start drinking, then energeticially pawing the water. I was photographing this and the only reason I knew what to expect next was because it had happened to one of my Swedish friends on safari in Tanzania last year. He said, as we all let our horses drink at the water hole, that his impression was that his animal had at first stepped in a hole, and then he realized that he was going down and about to be rolled over on in the water. At that point he jumoped off. Had I not both watched and heard that story I'm not sure I'd have recognized Pharos' next move.

    Sure enough, he buckled his left leg, precisely as though he had stepped in a hole, damn the rider, saddle, gear, everything man, I AM TAKING A BATH YOU DON'T LIKE IT GET THE HELL OFF. I scream NEIN at the top of my lungs (his owner speaks primarily German) and hauled back on the reins, and to my blessed relief he hauled himself back up. I did not have another set of dry clothes.

    Everyone else wants to know the trick, I share it, for their horses are still pawing away, and I urge Pharos out of harm's way and back on dry land before I find myself snorkeling among fetlocks.

    The weather, which had been smiling a perfect sunny 70s grin since arrival on October 1st, continued to do so this day. Ivo tucked us all in his Jeep, we unhooked the trailer (full of hay, gear, grooming supplies and water for the horses) and drove off to the local spring.

    On the way we passed a church so ancient that the stonework was blurred- in that way that masonry gets when it is centuries and centuries old. The structure was gutted, roofless, but beautiful in its way for its sheer age, its stamina over the years. Only a few hundred years AD, and here it stood, watching over a small cemetery.

    The local spring was a cobalt pool that colored to green at the edges. A horizontal map to one side showed where divers had gone down as deeply as possible- and some had died- in an attempt to map out the entire set of channels. It was quite impossibly deep. The waters were crystalline, sweet to the taste and absolutely pure. Naturally, companies have come to bottle and sell it abroad, which is hugely amusing if not annoying to the locals.

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    I forgot to explain why Uvo had been carried away by Ivo. That would help. You know he has a bum leg (the result of being thrown from a horse and landing on a camera that happened to be right on his right hip). Okay so this makes Uvo ride slightly canted to the left. We ride four hours in the morning and sometimes up to three more in the afternoon. By the end of the morning ride, Uvo is making noises, he never ever ever complains, but depending on who is in front of him, or nearby, we're well aware of how close he is to the end of his strength.

    So lake day I was riding behind Uvo for a change of pace and we're on very rocky high flats, no place for a trot or canter and a very long way from help of any kind. Been riding rough ground and doing long trots and canters for a while. I am hearing those groans and growls, and I note with some dismay that the Leaning Tower of Uvo is canting far more than usual to the left. In fact this looks like an emergency about to happen.

    Isobel and I apparently have the same conclusion right about the same time because just about the time I’m thinking about riding up next to the man (and do you do this? Is it polite, or acceptable, or welcomed, or rude, or intrusive? Who knows?) she turns around and is shocked by how gray he is. Uvo of course says he’s fine, but in her powerful Swiss/German way she takes issue and promptly calls Ivo, thank god for cell phones, and arranges a pickup, which is about twenty five minutes away. He has to hang in there, which he does, stoic that he is. Another consideration when you look at what is really an epic trip when you have a healing injury like this as to whether this is such a good idea.
    Nearly half an hour later we see the rising plume that is Ivo’s Jeep approaching. A careful slip off the horse, bounce off his shoulder, pinball off some horse butts and assisted by Ivo, Uvo lands hard in the front seat of the Jeep. Off to a clinic, we thought.

    As it turned out, as you read above, he landed at the lake, probably codeine enhanced, most certainly well fed by then which always helped, ruddy faced and smiling at us all. One tough, smiling, uncomplaining guy. I really liked him as we all did.

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    The villages we ride through are nestled in the gentle curves of these low hills, which tend to be quite rocky. Sometimes we cross a river or stream, often we are riding through fields past the last of the season’s crops. In some cases the corn is festooned with highly colorful scarecrows. The church is always the dominant structure, the older houses low. There is a mixture in each town of the old and the rebuilt, as the war blasted out many a roof while the government is helping to rebuild. In almost every town amidst the shops and laundry-decorated houses, crumbling dwellings many centuries old form the basis of the original structure and people have simply added on. Or the gutted ancient home adds character to the center of the city where very old cobblestones form the streets coming out from a square where there is a statue.

    Gardens are everywhere, and this time of year the crop is cabbages. At one of our last stops, as we left our little hotel in the last village we pass a cabbage purveyor who had a line, next to him was a man who would strip it clean and chop it up for sauerkraut or salad for you right there.

    Because perhaps of the remarkably warm weather, many of the gardens still sported bright and lovely flowers, gladiolas, roses, gardens still bloomed prettily on doorsteps.

    In the forests, the ground cover was turning bright red and orange, but only a few trees were showing the first yellows. For the middle of October, which for this traveler from the Rockies is when we see the high color in the city after the aspens have long shattered weeks before in the high country, this is a warm fall indeed.

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    Ivo informed us two days before the end of our trip that our streak of good luck with the mid-seventies weather was going to break, and he was right. We’d all brought rain gear including breech covers. Now mine were breech covers like a second pair of breeches, zipping from hip to boot top on the outside of the leg and securing with Velcro at the top and bottom. When I’d bought them they were a good four inches too big in the waist, and on the sides, so I took them to my (usually) very trusty tailor to take in the extra slack. Natch I wore breeches the day of the fitting, assuming that would prevent any problems.

    Okay you know what happens.

    So I pull said newly adapted britches out of the bag and put them on and MAN ARE THEY SNUG. Look I am a skinny chick but these things would fit a whippet and be tight. I barely zip them up, and the fun starts.

    First, getting on a nearly 17 hand horse ( and I don’t use, and we don’t have a mounting block) is already a hoot. Now I’m in uber tight no-give double nylon breeches. Urrgggghhhh and introduce jackass jump. This is when some poor person is on the other side of the horse holding down your stirrup, you are attempting to lift your left foot into the stirrup and big black bastard, who is aware that you barely have hold of three mane hairs, begins to walk off. You commence to jackass jump with one foot up, the girl on the other side cursing at you and Pharos, ears pointed forward always to the far distance, is saying LETS GO MAN GET ON GET ON LETS GO YOU DOLT GET ON HURRY UP YOU ARE IN THE WAY MAN THE TRAIN IS LEAVING WITHOUT YOU.

    Of course after a while nobody wants to be on the other side so you go find rocks or ridges or whatever might be handy.
    But here’s the other thing. Bush time.

    So we’re out there riding and it’s raining. I am drinking oodles and oodles of juice, largely because I can’t eat much and that leads to the obvious. Well what’s happened is that the cheap zipper along the left leg has busted open in the middle (made in China thank you) and now, after you already have to pee, it’s raining and people are waiting for your sorry ass, there you are behind a big bush, struggling to repair the zipper (updownupdowncatchupdownupdowncatch AUGH) while your bladder is screaming I HAVE TO GO NOW YOU MORON so you finally get it all down and you promptly squat in a thorn bush.

    I am not making this up. I laughed so hard the first time I did it I LANDED in the thorn bush.

    This by the way went on for two days, this busted zipper, as the rain did not abet. At times it was, as we say where I was born in Florida, “comin’ day-own.” That of course made it get cooler, although we did not get big winds, so we were layering up, which made getting to that heinous zipper even more cumbersome. But you keep your counsel, and people are just mad at you for taking so long.

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    By the third morning I had a routine. Wake up. Coax arms to lift. Find pain pills. Go potty. Now comes the fun part. Between sips of juice and fruit I had spirited into my tent at camp or into my hotel room, I spent the next 90 to 120 minutes going through a series of yoga movements – not poses- but movements those of you who follow Shiva Rea will be familiar with. While painful at first, the slow and graceful dance flowing movements very gently coaxed blood flow here, there and everywhere, while stretching out angry back, angry shoulders, angry neck, angry, well, angry body. I have a 92 yo friend who has been doing yoga for seven decades and these quiet mornings were proof why. She has no arthritis whatsoever, she’s a lifelong athlete, still works out three times a week and climbs and runs. I didn’t start seriously until this August and now, as many enthusiasts kept pointing out to me, and they were right, I’m hooked. The morning sessions, along with the menthol cream and RocTape, were key to being able to get back on, grinning broadly every day, and finding the enthusiasm to spend another six plus hours having Pharos fight me for control. My guess is that perhaps most people wouldn’t sign up to deal with a horse like that, but my Swedish buddy Ewa who was with me in Tanzania on Kaskazi Horse Safaris had a challenging horse just like that. Ewa, my age, was our best rider, got a doozy of a horse. As a result we became fast friends and are still writing each other about our horse adventures. When she got to the end of the day, she could hardly lift her arms. And never said a word. Because crazy people like Ewa and me, this is where real riding begins, not as Julia-t mentioned, plod plod plod plodding along. If you end up covered from one end to the other in bright orange tape and stinking of menthol, that was your choice, and no one else needs to hear you complain about it. For the sheer love of riding, you came back to it the next morning full of verve and ready for more. Because eventually you get better and better, and your skills grow, and the next time you get on a horse like Pharos he is far less likely to take off on you. Hah. One likes to think.

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    Shortly after we headed out on our last day, Isobel took us alongside a walled (with rocks and wire) pasture where a herd of horses and what I take was their stallion were pastured with a herd of cows. Now why she didn’t let us know that we would be rushed by big boy, as of course they are going to do, keeping in mind our beginners, I have no clue. But she gave no warning, no instructions until the animal had already rushed our line and many of the horses were upset. Pharos, who is bombproof, was under tight rein, prancing but going nowhere. And there was nothing being telegraphed that he was going to rush the fence, cause a ruckus. He kept his eyes forward after seeing this horse, and I kept him there, and I took my camera out of my right slicker pocket.
    The older sister- and I’m not a mind reader- but behavior is telling, broke line and made a beeline for Isobel informing her that she ”needed to speak to her privately. She had an issue to discuss. “ Had an idea what it was but may not have been. Now her horse has disorganized other horses because she broke the line, Pharos and I are sitting there calmly, I took some great shots. Handsome little stallion. Ewa and the rest of our safari are still waiting for me to send them the photos I took at full gallop on the African veldt right next to a herd of giraffes and wildebeest. One handed. So holding a horse at a dead stop and taking a photo, without a raging herd of wildebeest close by, seems kinda tame to me.

    I love input and feedback and tips and ideas from fellow riders. That’s how we get better. I love riding with better riders. It’s humbling and wonderful and life affirming to have someone who really IS good say, “well done. “ Do I have empathy? Yes, but you can probably understand that by the end of this trip I was bowing out of dinners entirely. I needed to be able to laugh at the day, without having people feeling as though they were being laughed at. People are funny- we are ALL funny, and that especially includes the stupid nonsense I do- but the sad thing is that most people take things so personally that they cannot see the funny, and get terribly, horribly offended. And sometimes, that's the tragedy- the inability to see God's laughter in our own humanness.

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    So our very last morning we had a four hour ride through some valleys and canyons, most of it through the rain, some lovely canters, and a big barbeque coming up at a house belonging to a friend of Ivo’s. Now some of the arrangements that Ivo and Isobel have organized have evolved over time by accident or necessity, and some of them are incredibly charming. For example, the rooms we stayed at for two nights, run off the grid by a sixty-ish widow, tall and blond, friend of Isobel’s. You have your own room, shared bathroom, and this lovely woman cooks from her own garden right out back, such luscious dinners and breakfast. She is like having a mother on the trip, and so kind to boot. One of the girls fell in love with one of her homemade marmalades and bought a jar to bring back to Holland. The shower had plenty of hot water, and it was a chance to hand wash a few essentials and get them dry in the middle of the journey.

    This day however was a big last lunch, to launch us for our last two hours or so home. Ivo’s friend , an athletically built white haired man in his mid forties, was out front cooking chicken on the grill. As we lead the horses into his small yard, Isobel instructed us to watch out for his good grass, so we led the horses out back and put them in what looked to me like a very flimsy set up. Fruit trees, bushes. I could hardly make out a perimeter fence. Hmmm.

    Pandora, Isobel’s horse, and Pharos, well these guys, all of them, are tired and they know the way home. You can imagine how they feel. The saddles and bridles are off.
    The plot is afoot. Meanwhile the soup is out, and we all tuck in.

    Now all I remember is that Isobel was screaming at Ivo about how he didn’t put up fencing and she told him to, and he was shouting something back at her, but the next thing all of us know is that we have three escapees heading up the road and Pandora has ripped open a huge gouge on her right back leg and she’s mad with pain. We jump up to help but in the meantime, the other two horses have panicked because their buddies are gone, and this is a herd mind you, so they are forcing through fence, causing cuts, and tearing off in all directions. Traffic on the road. Yelling. Accusations. What an unholy mess.

    Ultimately we get all the buds back together, but now the girls cannot deal with the wound. Can’t deal with the sight of blood.

    You’ve got people with no experience on an adventure trip where we need all hands and folks basically can’t deal with blood. We were just exceptionally lucky this happened at a house where the girls had a place to go be away from it all.

    Isobel, whose raincoat is drying on the fence out front, is standing with the herd, and we are all ordered to go in and eat. (who's hungry at this point?). She has to stay with Pandora, hold her tail so that the tail hair doesn’t whip the wound, hold the halter, and somehow find a third hand to swat away the flies. Right. By herself in the middle of a tight herd jammed together, anxious horses who want to go home.

    We go in the kitchen with the picnic, for now it is raining. Girls are terribly bossy with me about making sure ALL the food and utensils inside. Honestly this is not high on my list of priorities at the moment. At the table we have three German speakers and me. Everyone is speaking in German. This goes on for a few more minutes (I’m sorry, did I mention before how often this happened?) so I left the table.

    Frankly, sitting inside eating lunch is probably the safest place for them. Isobel is outside in her fleece getting wet, while Ivo gets a replacement horse, and we are waiting for the vet. I grab her raincoat and spell her at the horse for about twenty minutes (and it is mighty uncomfortable being in a very small space with five skittish, wannagohome, recently panicked horses who have very little space, are tired and prone to kicking one another, trust me) but you do it. You keep yourself quiet and calm around them, because the injured horse is more important and her safety is paramount.

    Just then Isobel returned and the vet drove up. He is NOT a large animal vet, you can see that he doesn’t want to be in the middle of that anxious herd either. And we gave him a minus two on the bandage job. Our girl did get anaesthetic, taping enough to get her home. Ivo arrived shortly afterwards to replace Pandora, and take her safely back to heal over the winter. The cut was down to the bone. Sure it was butt ugly. But when you spend time around horses who kick and bite each other, get injured in the stalls, get tangled in wire, this is what you see. It’s part of riding.

    I walked back in the kitchen I offered to help dishes, whatever needed doing. The girls were happily chatting away.

    We now had to get the horses packed back up, ready to go, and the good man who was hosting us, god bless him, who had no knowledge of horses and wanted only for us to enjoy his excellent food and good hospitality, was rushing about helping us as our horses utterly ruined the beautiful grass in his sweet front yard. My heart went out to him, it truly did.

    I asked him to take a photo of me and his handsome German Shepherd, as by this time I had photos of everyone but me and had long stopped photographing the girls. That sweet man. I have a Very Close Up photo of his kind face as he had the camera backwards, and took a great photo of himself concentrating terribly hard to get it right. What that might have been funny, at the moment it was just so sweet. I just loved the man for what he had to put up with, what he gave us, how he did his best to help us clean up, and forgave us for how we ruined his house. What a generous, generous soul, and I am going to recall him most of all that last day. He ran up to every horse, every girl, and proferred his hands to help us get onto overly eager, agitated horses as the traffic came by (Isobel did not respect cars at all) and in his big hearted way, to me he saved the day for all of us. That shot of his face is a treasure. He was a pool of calm in all that chaos, and we left his yard totally trashed. I remember his smile as he waved to all of us as we rode away- so happy to have been our host despite all that. He showed us all what a good host was all about. He remains among my favorite memories of all of Croatia for his generosity of spirit and patience with a war going on in his yard.

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    Pharos has bent his will to mine at this point at considerable cost, and I am elated. For now these last three days I can bring him to heel for a canter, maintain the safe distance as requested by Isobel two to four horse lengths behind her, or the younger sister, even when they speed into a gallop, he is under my command. And this is pure white joy for me. I can enjoy the movement, the power, the speed, the wind in my face, the landscape flashing by; I don’t have to fight him. I can talk to him and watch his ears swivel back in response. We are having an Exchange rather than a battle. Does he still pull my arms out? Yes. But every so often, after the first quarter mile, when he has relaxed and we are conversing, he is rewarded with more reins, and he no longer takes this a a signal to take advantage of me. We are working together. I could scream with joy.

    As the mud and dirt and stone fly up from the lead horses to smack my cheeks and glasses- and trust me, Pharos is not accustomed to this and doesn’t care for it at all- I can laugh internally at the victories big and small of learning to work with him, the hours I spent in the makeshift corral rubbing him down, rubbing his neck, talking to him, taking the time to scrub behind his sweaty ears when the bridle came off. Off saddle and just standing, he is immensely gentle.

    Now I always loved to think that when the bridle came off and he immediately rubbed his head and eyes on my legs and chest that he loved me. No, you dolt, it’s because you’re the closest thing to a tree he has handy, and he cares about you about the same amount as the tree. So much for projecting foolish fantasies on someone else’s prize animal. Truthfully, I just wanted his respect, and the honor to ride him. I believe I got both. And that is enough.

    Love, you earn time in grade, time in service. He’s not mine, never will be, and does not love me. The best I can ask for is respect.

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    What a lovely report. I've really enjoyed reading it. You write so well, such great descriptions.

    I am happy for you that you and Pharos came to an understanding. No doubt you also gained the respect of Isobel and Ivo, and as for the others, well if they didn't have a sneaking admiration of the way you handled that big horse, they will always just be casual riders rather than horsemen or horsewomen.

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    You are so sweet. Thank you for that. As for Pharos, he humbled the hell out of me, which I appreciated very much, for if nothing else, he forced me to use everything in my tool box, and as a result, I hope that the end product is that I'm a better rider for it.

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    So here we are, mostly walking our way home. Uvo, who is very tired, and likely at the end of his strength, is hanging on to the horn of his saddle riding behind me because the older sister’s horse annoys mine and she barks at me regularly to move my horse. The younger sister is in front of me, and she is playing bobble head ( watching Pharos instead of her own) , and her horse doesn’t like Uvo’s horse Arab either. But Arab, as he has repeatedly during this trip, trots forward and wants to butt ahead. This of course disrupts what little harmony we have developed in the line, upsetting the older girl who now has to deal with horse she cannot/does not ride; Arab pushes past me to get in behind the younger sister’s horse which causes kicking, I move the hell out of the way to watch the fireworks which always happen because for whatever reason Uvo isn’t managing his horse either, and one of the sisters reminds me that I MUST STAY IN LINE.

    Does any of this really matter in the large scheme of the universe?

    I feel at times I’m in kindergarten. What it reminded me of what how people can be so polite on the ground but they can be such rude drivers. Perhaps it’s the need to look good, or look in control, or feel authoritative when you’re on horseback. I have absolutely no clue.

    I was filthy, fragrant, my hair was matted with sweat and dirt. I had spent seven days plus on the back of a mythical creature. Croatia had rolled out her hills and mountains and lakes and valleys and kind people and good foods and lovely villages and ruins for us. It was deeply satisfying and Pharos had his great proud head held high, ears forward, eager and striding. My big man. This was the ending of our trip and I was thinking one, terribly important, overwhelming word:


    Hey my hair is all the way down my back. I braid it, and when it gets THIS sweaty and dirty, comes a point when you think about lopping it off, because birds and small rodent like creatures are considering nesting in it. But BFF likes it and so do I. I waited til everyone showered, the hot water recovered, and I sat in the tub and watch a lot of unthinkables come out of my dome. Then I clear cut Krka National Forest off my pegs. Ahhhhhh.

    Feeling like a girl again, it’s time to head down to dinner.

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    Dinner was a Macedonian vegetable stew in a thick tomato broth with spices, no pasta, no potatoes, soft vegetables. OMG. I was through four bowls before beginning to slow down. This was food I could eat. There were four cartons of yogurt. GONE. Bananas. GONE. Ivo, who did not know about the busted denture, was ecstatic to watch me inhale this dish- and if someone hadn’t grabbed the pot likely I would have. Oh so good. On the trail were deep fried foods and hard sausage and cheese and bread and more bread and more bread and more bread. And deep fried potatoes and fish. Ivo brought me bananas and mandarins, which I would stuff in my saddlebacks. I drank juices and sneaked a German Bueno bar (soft chocolate and hazelnut mousse) when I could find one, and I had the remnants of an old chocolate bar I could suck on at night. Now on trips like this, as I did for this one, I bring my own bars and chocolate and almond butter and energy foods. Problem was I couldn’t chew them. That just made it funnier. I mean come on, you have to have a sense of humor about this stuff. When your Plan B breaks down, you deal with what’s available.

    The other thing that greeted us when we got home were more injuries. This time brave young handsome Odin had pushed the big bad boy’s buttons just one too many times. Odin had the unfortunate habit of invading the older dog’s space every single night and they would circle and growl menacingly. It was just a matter of time before this would escalate into all out battle which apparently had happened while we were gone. Odin limped out to greet us on three legs, clearly in a lot of pain, and spent most of his time sleeping and staying under the long porch table, chastised by his experience. He is younger and fitter, but the other is bigger and more experienced. And like with old quarterbacks, that will often win the day.

    I coddled Odin where I could touch him and he laid his big huge head in my hands, and we would sit for a while contemplating the unfairness of life, sigh, and then I went upstairs to pack.

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    Now for some reason unbeknownst to me, at some point during the trip I had corrected the date on my watch. You know how sometime when you travel your watch can be ahead and change days by twelve hours so that you’re on the wrong day?


    Well I left with bang, that’s for sure. My paperwork had me staying at a hostel in Split on the 18th, but my clock said that when I woke up it was the 19th, so crap I had to go the airport with the rest of the group and my flight was first. So we had to hustle a bit to head out on time.

    Ivo, as is his way, took us a more scenic route to Split. He told us funny stories the whole way, as he always did, and complained about Isobel, as he always did. The night before we’d had a big rainstorm and I’d been prepared for wintry weather. Instead it was another brilliantly sunny day headed into the low eighties, and we were in the third week of October already.

    Ivo crested the top of a hill and Split was laid out below us, a lovely town from on high. We got to the airport and everyone lets me go first. Because of course I only have an hour.

    Get to the counter.

    “This is for the 19th.””

    "Right. Today is the 19th.”

    “No, today is the 18th.” She gives me that LOOK that says, “parentheses, stupid.”

    I look at my watch. Back at her. Back at my watch, as though by doing so this is somehow going to change the date. So I don’t feel so stupid.

    Everyone behind me laughs. I can hardly blame them. I do too, and promptly run over to the counter, pay my $30 and get on the next flight to Zagreb which is mid-afternoon. We have time.

    Ivo carts us over to Split, where the girls have not been, and Uvo did not want to go, but did. He complained that time.

    We had lovely quiet time in old town Split with Ivo as our guide. I get ice cream. They get pizza. We see a castle- and gorgeous ships and handsome guys working on them and sunshine and sunshine and sunshine. In other words, a perfect restful sendoff from a perfectly lovely city.

    Isobel calls and complains to him about where he is.

    Ivo sighs, argues, winks at me, and explains about my ticket snafu and the stroll around Split. Hey, what can a guy do?

    Ivo tells me things that put a lot into perspective, and I suggest that sticking to what the website promises- advanced riders only- is a good strategy. But….what a great trip. What a great horse.

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    The information folks inside the airport call the Rooms Katvric in Zagreb, and they are happy to give me an extra night. A few hours later I’m face down in my new room not the same bathtub) and in recovery. There I slept, wrote, ate and rested for two days. While purists would argue that I wasted those two days by not touring Zagreb, I would argue that given the state of my body, and the fact that I had a month of riding, hiking, kayaking and more coming up in Argentina in November, rest seemed like a pretty darned good idea at the time. If nothing else, age has taught me that recovery is A REALLY GOOD IDEA.

    I did however have a wonderful moment, shared when I ventured forth on a Sunday to find the local Konzum and find soft food.

    It was mid-afternoon, the sun was out in full and the day lovely. Not 45 seconds out of my rooms I was halfway down my side street when I noticed a chubby pug walking his owner and heading towards me from my left. I stopped, and gestured to the man for permission to pet his dog. Permission granted, I squatted down to rub the pug’s rolls of fat. He was happy to oblige.

    The man offered a few words of English, a halting conversation followed. After a few moments I stood, the man pointed up and said, “My vife in da sky.” I expressed my genuine sorrow for his loss. He fumbled in his shoulder bag and took out a laminated card with a photo of a younger woman, memorialized. She had died at 58, in 2012. He was clearly still in deep mourning. What do you do? Her name was Julia, like mine.

    We stood there for a moment in the bright sunshine. I reached my arms out to him. He hesitated, then reached back and we hugged. “Good voman,” he said. “Good man,” I said.
    He fumbled around the card back in his shoulder bag, and then stood, at a loss for a moment. The sun was warm on his patterned sweater. I touched his back where it was strongest.
    “The sun.” He nodded.

    “That is Yuliya’s love,” I said. He nodded, ears bright in his eyes. I squeezed his arm, he smiled at me, and his pug continued to lead him up the street.

    You stay inside all day and 45 seconds after you leave the house you’re hugging a grieving stranger. Most important minute of my day. You absolutely never know what’s going to happen when you walk outside. Incredible gift.

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    Croatia wasn’t through with me yet, even though I was primarily concerned at this point with recovering from bruises, strains, sore muscles and catching up on writing. My landlady kindly organized a taxi driver who showed up at 6 am to take me to the airport. He was there right at 5:55, and I recognized him from before. A young guy with good English. He was mildly interested in a few stories but he was fuming about something, turning on the radio right in the middle of our conversation.

    He finally revealed that he was mad at his boss, and I challenged him (and Eleanor Roosevelt fans can relate) that he had to give his boss permission to ruin his day. This was a brand new concept to him. We had quite a lively discussion about the idea of choice, the choice to not be a victim, and to find the funny in situations instead of always being angry. While he struggled with much of this, he was genuinely intrigued.

    This young man was so gutsy. It’s hard enough to embrace radical new ideas when you’re in a good mood. But this guy was angry, yet he was still willing to consider these notions. That speaks volumes about courage- moral courage- when one part of you wants to be righteous and the other part is hearing some really different ideas, and staying open to what could amount to emotional freedom. All I know is that the ability to find the funny in situations gets me through just about everything.

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    My living room is currently spread out with gear again. Kayaking for the Valdez Peninsula for looking a whales. Riding gear for four different estancias from Buenos Aires to deep down in the high country in Patagonia. I'm watching my Tivo'd Broncos games, high as a kite on Manning news. I have just a few days before jumping the plane for heading south, to spend most of the month on horseback in the high country, herding horses at full gallop, and adventuring in the early spring in some very remote country where the winds are going to be brisk and people are going to be sparse. Sounds good to me. My thanks to all who bothered to read this, and from here, I am shifting over to my Argentina thread. I appreciated the input and hope that you were entertained, informed and were intrigued enough to make plans to go to Croatia, which was by any measure, a treasure.

    Happy Halloween to all, and may you find plenty of Snickers in your knickers.

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    When I was planning my trip to Croatia, I had a hard time deciding which type of vacation would give me the wanted experience: sea or mountain oriented. The decision was easy once I found out about an intimate ranch holiday destination, hidden in a valley of Velebit Mountain that offers a real cowboy adventure. Linden Tree Retreat & Ranch impressed me immediately.

    Not only have I experienced horse riding in Croatia and beautiful green vastness of Velebit, but I also had a chance to get to know the history and culture of the region through hanging out and spending time with ranch owners and participating in various carefully organized nature excursions. All horse riding activities are guided in the presence of their trainers, and all horses are trained for novice riders, so there is no place for fear.

    Another great thing about Linden Tree are their other nature activities like canoeing, cycling, hiking or simple walking. The accommodation is authentic cowboy styled, and the food is organic and all natural. A beautiful experience of nature, culture, horseback riding and the real connection with nature that is usually forgotten in our everyday rushed lifes.

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    Dave this is very helpful and thanks. I'd love to return to this country, and especially have a better experience riding. While I'm an advanced rider I may have to work with them to find the right horse, this is usually pretty easy to to. At my stable in Denver I get what's called the "barn sour" animals, those that haven't been ridden for months, if not years. This means they buck, shy, rear, walk backwards, refuse to move or otherwise give the rider fits. These are my favorite horses. Not for novices. The reason I love this is because when I do get a challenging animal overseas, nothing surprises me any more. A runaway, a buck, rear, angry animal doesn't matter. Any fool can ride a well trained horse. You don't know if you are a rider until you get on a banshee. I like riding banshees.

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