With oversized backpacks, Emily and I stepped off the bus. The first welcome to a new city, new country, new location always, ALWAYS brings with it a sense of bewilderment, and this time was no different. Throughout our seventeen days of travel together, Emily and I had a common exchange that went something like this:
E: “Kara…do you know where you’re going?” (calm)
K: “Yeah!” (accompanied with a nod for assurance purposes),
E: “Are you sure?” (slightly alarmed)
K: “Yeah” (double nod…thinking: She’s really trusting me with directions? Roll my eyes. Whatever).
(Most of the time when I travel, I don’t really know what I’m doing. So, if you want to travel with me, don’t say I didn’t warn you).
The two-hour bus ride had brought us to Plitvice Lakes, a beautiful national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site, located almost equidistant between Zagreb and Zadar. The lakes are staggered and stair-stepped, connected by waterfalls and accessible by boat taxis and wooden walkways. The three toned turquoise pools are stunning, only marred by the masses of tour groups and guides that wave large umbrellas dangerously in all directions.
We arrived late in the afternoon and were immediately approached by a short statured, Croatian man with a soft, kind face, and toes that turned out when he walked. “Do you need a room?” he asked, one side of his lip mis-matched by a cleft palate. “Come with me. I take you in my car. I drive you. Come with me.” Emily looked at me with her large brown eyes that I didn’t know could possibly get any larger, but they were, registering her alarm. “uhh…how much?” I stutter, the man’s english better than my own at this point. “Where is the room?” I continue. “Can we just walk?” In the good ol’ U.S. of A. my mommy taught me never to get in a car with a strange man. This would be the situation where I should probably listen to that mantra, right?
But this is Croatia, a country where being approached at bus stops, train stations, and airports, by people offering rooms for rent is the norm. This is Croatia, where it is more common to find accommodations in this manner, than staying at a hostel or large hotel chain. This was something that I had read about before arriving in the country, but I had forgotten to mention any of it to Emily, who by now had a look or anxious resign, giving me full control over the decision to be made (not that I really cared to have that responsibility).
My questions continued for a few more minutes. We learned that his name was Joseph (pronouced YO-seph). I don’t really know whether it was a good idea to go with him or not, but I did know that we didn’t have any other options
So, I asked one more question.
“Do you have wi-fi?”
“Yes, I have wi-fi.”