From our previous trip to Croatia, some ten years ago, we remember that people were genuinely friendly and everything cost tri kuna. Although nowadays tri kuna will only buy you a bag of salt, people still greet strangers with a smile.
Now we’re zipping along the Drava river, through the northern, pancake-flat part of the country. First the Drava presents itself in the form of the Dravsko Jezero dam. Later, as it meanders further, we approach it several times. The time for a final goodbye comes around Osijek. There, we take a peek of the Kopaĉki Rit Nature Reserve, where the Drava joins waters with the Danube.
Since in many countries, Croatia included, wild camping is forbidden, long-distance cyclists advise on their blogs to pitch tent away from prying eyes. We’re not fond of hiding in the bushes, so encouraged by the warmth of the local inhabitants, upon arrival to towns or villages, we began to ask if and where we can pitch our tent. The answers we’ve got were all in the positive and the recommended places included a field behind a football stadium (quiet), by a blue-green pond (heavenly), or in the middle of a village (which way to the toilet?) In cities we’re able to find incredibly hospitable hosts and this allows us to glimpse everyday lives of a car mechanic or the cutest math teacher you’ll ever meet. Lima gets a treat as well, in the form of a big friend named Brundo.
While backpacking, we always wandered how to avoid the well-treaded, Lonely Planet sponsored paths. This problem has now alogether dissapeared because while cycling a convenient route became a priority and it matters little if it overlaps with a touristic highway. It’s the first time we travel without a guide and we’re filled with a mixture of excitement and uncertainty when approaching a camping site designated by placing a finger on a map.
By the time we were leaving Hungary, we began to feel we’re going in the direction opposite to the flow of newcomers looking for happiness in Western Europe. Yet, and despite the media storm back home, the cities and towns we pass appear peaceful. A few of our hosts even seem oblivious to any extarordinary circumstances. Neither do we meet any migrants, apart from seeing people on buses convoyed by police cars. Nevertheless, the Croatian-Serbian border is closed and we have to spend a few days waiting for it to reopen. When we find out the border crossing at Tovarnik is open, we set out full of hope. Yet in Vinkovci, in a matter of just a few hours, we recieve contradicting informations. Finally, our host call the official at the border who declares “Madam, it’s open now. Is it going to stay open for an hour, a day or a week? I can’t guarantee.” We get moving, though uncertain, and get a flat tire right in front of a police checkpoint. The town of Tovarnik is effectively empty: the Red Cross tent occupied only by the wind, with two medics standing outside, obviously bored. Surprised by a lack of a queue to cross, without a hint of trouble, we cross to Serbia and score a first. We camp in the middle of a city, by a… tennis court.