‘Caretta Caretta!’

This is the rallying call for a turtle sighting in Turkey. You may be on a boat, beach or on a rickety old wooden pontoon, but within seconds everyone will be gathering round pointing at the water and trying to get a glimpse. They’re magnificent creatures and each one has battled significant odds to make it. Even in favourable conditions there’s just a 1 in thousand chance that a hatchling will emerge the egg and make it to a fully grown adult. We’ve been watching these magnificent creatures of the sea for several weeks and have seen multiple sightings… we don’t get tired of it. The Turkish coast is a rich source of interest for visitors; the Turtles are the jewel in the crown.

Baby Turtle spotted in Göcek

Turtle sightings are common around the Dalyan and Göcek areas. They never fail to inspire.

I’m sitting on the boat in a beautiful bay in Göcek writing this piece. The boat is gently swaying side to side and we’re both on a bit of a high. We’ve been very privileged over the last couple of days to be parked up next to a big old turt, we’ve called him Albert the turtle, which then got shortened to Alberturtle. He looks pretty old. He’s also quite tame. Most of the time we see Caretta Caretta, they swim away as fast as possible. Not Albert. We’ve just swum up to him and he doesn’t seem to mind. Amazing!

Swimming with the Turtles

Albaturtle was obviously used to human interaction. It didn’t swim away when we were near.

The first time I got a sighting of Albert I thought he was dead. I passed over the top of a shell that was almost completely buried in sand. I could see a fin but there was no movement at all. No sign of a head. I’ve seen dead turtles before and it’s always sad, but this puzzled me, the turtle was still underwater. Usually the dead ones are floating or washed up on the shore. My attention was quickly captivated by another Caretta about ten feet away. To my surprise this one doubled back and took a real interest in, what I thought, was the dead turtle. It then bit the motionless fin! What erupted was a clash of the shelled warriors, the likes of which I’d never seen. I’d always thought turtles were such placid creatures, but it was kicking off here. I motioned over to Bern, who was on the paddle board and handed her my mask. so she could watch the show.

The fight lasted a while. I managed to swim to the boat and get the underwater camera then swim back and capture the tail end of the battle on video (see later). To be honest I don’t really know who won. Maybe it was Alberturtle. He seemed to be quite happy just to hang around in this part of the bay after the fight, but the other turtle scuttled off.

Turtle Sleep

Alberturle back in his favourite spot.

A closer inspection of Alberturtle reveals a block on his back.  This is a satellite tracker that is fitted to turtles that exit the ‘Sea Turtle Rescue Research and Rehabilitation Centre’ in Dalyan.

Having a rest

You can clearly see the transponder in this shot.

We paid the place a visit. It’s located on Iztuzu Beach, a hugely important nesting site for turtles. The significance of nesting sites like this can not be overstated. It’s an amazing fact that a turtle born here will venture many thousands of miles in it’s early life. If the hatchling makes it and survives to sexual maturity- sometime between the ages of 25 and 30, it will find it’s way back to the beach where it was born. There are only a handful of nesting sites globally for Caretta Caretta.

Iztuzu Beach

The amazing Iztuzu Beach. A truly beautiful place and an important breeding ground for Caretta Caretta – the Loggerhead Turtle. The rescue centre is located on the Southern end of the beach.

At the tail end of the 1980s the Iztuzu Beach was a battleground between conservationists and developers, who wanted to construct a massive tourist resort on the site. The resort would have likely destroyed the beach as a nesting area. There were many organisations and people involved in the struggle to save the habitat, our own David Bellamy and Prince Philip were among the influencers. However, there is one lesser known figure who spearheaded a campaign to save the beach and has left a lasting legacy in terms of Turtle Conservation. She goes by the name of ‘Kaptan June’.

June Haimoff first visited Turkey in the in the 1970s on a boat she purchased in Greece called Bouboulina. It’s worth noting that, at that time, Turkey was most certainly off the beaten track, making this quite an adventure.  Her voyage took her to, what was then, the small fishing village of Dalyan. Coming to Dalyan was ‘love at first sight’ for June and she started to live in a simple hut on the south side of Iztuzu beach. She became well known by the locals who christened her ‘Kaptan June’. Being that it’s hard to spot a female Turkish boat captain in 21st Century Turkey, one can only imagine how much of a novelty she was for rural folk of Dalyan back then.

Kaptan June's Hut

This is where Kaptan June lived when she first visited Dalyan. She’s 90 now and has some more comfortable accommodation in Dalyan, but the hut remains to tell the story.

Kaptan June first got wind of the plan to develop the beach when an order came through for locals to dismantle their beach huts and move out of Iztuzu. June led the resistance. To cut a long story short, this was a rare win for conservationists and the beach is now an officially protected area. Obviously, there will be some who view Kaptan June as a figure who stood in the way of the economic development of Dalyan, but many people, both locally and globally, are grateful for her efforts. Today, Dalyan does thrive as a tourist resort, but the tourism is sympathetic to conservation. It could also be argued that the presence of the turtles has actually helped attract more visitors. People come on day trips specifically to see ‘Turtle Beach’ and to get a glimpse of Caretta Caretta.

To this day Kaptan June’s work continues. The ‘Sea Turtle Research Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre’ she founded still continues the conservation effort. This establishment is part turtle hospital, part research centre and part guardian of the Iztuzu breeding ground. The centre’s volunteer staff and students patrol the beach throughout the summer, all night long, ensuring nests are not disturbed and making sure there are no impediments for new hatchlings to return to the sea.

Sea Turtle Research Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre

The Sea Turtle Rescue are is Iztuzu Beach and is free to enter. Donations are greatly appreciated.

Visiting the centre is free of charge, but it’s good to make a donation before you leave. You can see the patients in various states of rehabilitation. Warning. If you do visit be prepared for some uncomfortable truths about humanity. One of the turtles we saw there had a head injury which the staff believe was deliberate. This isn’t the first one. Who knows what could possibly make a person injure one of these peaceful creatures, but there are a few wrong-uns out there. Thankfully they are the minority and it’s fortunate that there are volunteers like the staff of this centre to counter the impact.

Rescue Turtle Biogs

These signs tell you the injuries sustained. Tüker has a head injury. We were told it was most likely a deliberate action. Very sad.

As well as fixing turtles and patrolling the beach the staff are on hand for visitors to answer any questions you have. They talked through the process to us. The aim is to get these animals healed and back into the wild which can take many months for the worst injuries. The turtles start off in shallow tanks so it’s not much effort for them to come to the surface to get air. Later, when the prognosis looks good, turtles will be moved to deeper tanks to ensure they can cope with diving to a greater depth.

If everything goes well the turtles can be released back into the wild. Out of the 188 turtles that have been taken in: 9 are in rehabilitation, 84 have been released and 64 didn’t make it. With these efforts and the ongoing stewardship the centre provides for the nesting sites the Caretta Caretta have the best chance of thriving in this area alongside Homo Sapiens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Zümrüt is the odd one out at this centre in that she is a lady. It’s usually the boys that get into trouble – sound familiar! She has an eye injury and is now in the last month or two of rehabilitation. All being well, she’ll soon return to the wild.

After visiting the Turtle Rescue Centre I looked at some of the info and found a contact. I mailed a picture of Alberturtle to ask if he was one of theirs. I got a nice mail back to tell me the turtles name was Mirayka and that he didn’t stray far from the Dalyan / Göcek area. I also received a map showing the track points over the last two weeks and Mirayka had visited quite a few of the places we stopped at, maybe he was following us!

Albaturtle

Mirayka posing for the camera.

Conservation isn’t something we have to leave to the enthusiasts, you can help too. I’ve put some simple things that you can do if you visit areas where turtles live (foot of page). The main rule, which shouldn’t need to be said, is take you’re rubbish with you. You could go one extra step and,if you see other peoples discarded plastic bags floating in the water, take them home with you. Turtles can’t distinguish these (particularly the translucent ones) from jellyfish which are a source of food.

Rubbish pickup

During our stay we cleared a load of rubbish from the sea and from on the sea bed. We felt it was a bit of an offering of thanks to the turtle. Throwing stuff in a bin never felt so good.

We’ve started removing items of rubbish from bays we visit, try it, it feels good. If everyone who cared just took one item of rubbish home with them for every day they visited the sea, just think what a difference we could all make, for very little effort.

Save the world one piece of crap at a time. Long live the turtles!

Finally, I’ve made a bit of video with a few shots of Caretta Caretta in the wild and at the rescue centre.

Info

The Turtle Rescue Centre is located on Iztuzu Beach, Dalyan. Their web page is dekamer.ord.tr

What can you do to help conserve the turtles when you’re on a boat or on foot:

  • Motor carefully: When you enter into bays in Turkey, be vigilant and keep an eye out not just for the swimmers, but for turtles too. Avoid them and if you think you are going to collide with one then stop the prop (if it’s safe to do so).
  • Don’t Feed Them: Many of the injuries sustained are believed to have happened because the turtles associate people and boats with food. This unhealthy interest leads to propeller injuries. You may want to get a close glimpse of the turtles, but don’t tempt them with treats.
  • Be Clean: No one should have to say this, but each time we pull up in beautiful places on the coast, there’s always rubbish around. It doesn’t take much effort to be clean. Occasionally, it’s unavoidable when you’re on passage, that something ends up getting blown off the boat. In these circumstances take our teacher Sticky Stapleton’s advice: go back and try to get it. It’s not only environmentally friendly, but it will sharpen your skills to retrieve people out of the water if they fall overboard. It might actually save you some cash too. Do this in all types of wind conditions and seas and you have essential practice for man overboard. We’ve done this on several occasions for a variety of items that have knowingly gone overboard and there’s only one Musto hat that we couldn’t save – RIP my favourite hat. We’ve also acquired some items too!
  • Pick up other peoples rubbish if you can: I’ve only just started doing this and we make a particular point of retrieving plastic bags out of the water if we see them. To a turtle, the bags look no different from a tasty jellyfish, but they play havoc with their digestion. I’ve got a pledge to myself now that for every day I visit a beautiful bay, I’ll remove at least one piece of rubbish. Imagine if all the nature lovers of the world did this. We’d clean up our favourite places with minimal effort and counteract the small percentage of messy morons out there.
  • Follow beach regulations: If you visit any beach that has turtle nests familiarise yourself with the regulations. They usually define a zone in which you cannot lay down your towel or insert parasols into the sand. You can walk over these zones but  don’t leave holes that could impede a hatchling getting to sea.
  • Help for Injured Turtles: In Turkey you can call in to get assistance for an injured turtle if you spot one. The centre’s number is 0090 252 0077. Alternatively, the centre advises calling the Coast Guard (158) or Police (156).
Leave a comment

“This beats a dreary morning at Kingsthorpe Waitrose” I cheerily say to John as I walk down the pontoon. It’s a sunny start to the day in Tersane Bay and where are we heading? The supermarket of course!

Walking to the shops

Morning in Tersane Bay. An easy stroll to Carrefour.

Every time I visit one of the floating shops I still can’t quite get over it. We’re in the Bay of Göcek, an area of outstanding beauty and unparalleled convenience for sailors. Run out of toothpaste? No problem, just visit the next shop that effortlessly glides into your bay. No milk for the morning? No worries, just hail the supermarket on your VHF (that’s a radio to all you non boating types). You can use a mobile phone too. It’s all too easy. Carrefour will also pull straight up to your boat. Simply let them raft up, hop aboard and do the shopping run.

Rafted up next to Carrefour

The shop comes to you! Rafted up next to Carrefour at sunset in Tomb Bay.

This does make a nice change. Usually we arm ourselves with rucksacks and shopping trolleys and head off to the nearest land based supermarket. Fully loaded up we heave it all back to the boat, sweating profusely in the Mediterranean sun.

List in Hand

List in hand. Let’s go shopping!

We lazily step off the pontoon and onto the boat. It’s all there: bread, cheese and booze… well it is a French supermarket after all! The amazing thing is that the prices are not that different from the mainland. It’s a great place to meet your friends too and exchange some tall tales of the sea. Today John is perusing the aisles with us.

Inside Carrefour

No John, the Melons are in Aisle 1!

Checkout with a view.

Checking out the groceries next to the ship’s wheel!

There are lots of small independent vendors over here too providing a range of services. You’ve got to hand it to the Turks, they are incredibly entrepreneurial and very hard working. In the mid-day heat the Gözlume lady will pop round in the ‘Pancake Boat’ and cook you a feast. Just when you have a craving for just one Cornetto, you hear the purring of an engine and a cheery voice hollering “Ice Cream!”. Does life get any easier?

Pancake lady

A hungry customer looks on while the Gözleme lady cooks lunch.

The real show stopper round these parts is the Migros boat. The first time we saw it was from a distance when we first rounded the corner into the Bay of Fetiyhe. A large cruiser just sitting there in the distance.

“What’s that?” inquired Bern “Is it the Coastguard? It’s big!”

“I’ll get the binos”

“It says Migros on it! It can’t be?”

But it is. This is a wonder boat. A giant of an online floating superstore.  What’s more, when you hail them, you get a super fast rib ride thrown in to get you from your vessel to the store which adds to the fun.

The Migros Boat

The Migros Boat – one of the seven wonders of the sailing world!

We’ll leave you with a short movie to get a flavour for the Göcek shopping experience on Migros. We’ll never make actors, directors or editors, but we hope you enjoy. You never know it might encourage you to come to Göcek and experience it for yourself. We’d highly recommend it.

Leave a comment

In the early days the at-sea editorial team would ask departing visitors to Ios if they fancied making a contribution to the blog. We gave up after a while because there were no takers. We can understand why, we find it hard enough to leave a meaningful entry in a visitors book! Finally we decided to pay Fraser Houchen huge sums of money to say nice things about us and here is the result, our first guest blogger! Fraser joined us on a multi-day passage from Cagliari in Sardinia to Messina in Sicily. It was a distance of 350 Nautical Miles. The first part of that trip to Volcana was a slow going, two-nighter, heading straight into wind. Without Fraser as a safe pair of hands to help us it would have been really tough and knackering for just the two of us. We had some great times on and off the boat so thanks Mr Houchen. Without further interruption here is Fraser, in his own words…..

It’s not often that you get the chance to take time out from normal life, to take part in a real adventure, I guess that’s why these things are called once in a lifetime opportunities.  This little blog entry describes an adventure shared with Dan and Bernice off the Western coast of Italy.

Tuesday 1st July 2014: 

The mini adventure starts: a poor man’s James Bond heading out to blue skies and bluer seas. The Easy Jet flight EZY3203 gets me to Cagliari, Sardina on time. An Italian taxi rides ensues, no horses are spared as we bump along unevenly paved roads to meet ios and her intrepid crew.  Jumping out of the taxi, I say something suave (in Spanish probably), and head to the rendezvous point.

The mania of travel and fast cars subsided, as Dan sauntered to meet me at the marina gates. He oozed calm – the kind of calm that is found after weeks at sea dealing with situations that make the printer running out of paper seem like nothing. A calm born of freedom and adventure.

Team Ios

Fraser joins Team Ios. The start of the passage in Cagliari, Sardinia.

I arrived at ios where Bernice welcomed me aboard.  After a catchup and fine Mediterranean style lunch we readied the boat and headed out to sea.  The afternoon’s sailing was fabulous – we tacked our way along the Sardinian coast, stopping to anchor off a lovely little beach, a relaxed swim before sailing to the unpronounceable Marina di Villasimius.

Sardinian Coast Cruising

Fraser and Bern cruising the Sardinian coast.

On calling the Marina Dan fell into such a fit of laughs in trying to pronounce the name I felt convinced that we would be greeted by the Policia.  That night we hit the town and made for a little restaurant with lovely views of the harbour. The food was superb and would have been even better if I hadn’t mistaken the salt for parmesan, still a shake of the pizza and you hardly noticed.

Wednesday 2nd July 2014:

Next morning we headed out to the shops to get a few last supplies, Dan came into his own with a little known language technique, ‘Perroni Italian’ – Simply add ‘oni’ to the end of any word and the Italians will see you as one of their own – For example cheese becomes cheeseioni, bread – breadioni – simples, having impressed the locals we had a relaxing coffee, then set about readying ios for departure.  During the morning the wind had strengthened to just enough of a degree as to make the short trip over to the refuelling berth a slightly adrenaline fuelled experience. Still we made the stop without incident, filled the tanks and headed out to sea.

The Sardinian coastline continued to offer stunning views as we headed away from land, bound for Sicilly.  The wind was against us and the first call for ‘onkers on’ was made – this was the start of the passage proper, the coast disappeared behind us, the sea and the horizon beckoned, night started to fall and the last glimpses of land fell away. It felt to me as if we might be in a gold fish bowl with water all around us.  Heading now into the somewhat choppy sea with a rising easterly breeze I found myself starting to feel a little unwell – Sturgeron (sea sickness pills) for supper and a forkful of Dan’s delicious spaghetti bolognese was all I could manage before heading below decks for a lie down.  Dan & Bernice navigated us through the night in uncomfortable seas, showing that they were more than a match for the conditions.

A rough departure from Villasimius

A rough departure from Villasimius

Thursday 3rd July 2014:

My early morning watch – which with calmer weather included the remains of my spaghetti as a breakfast starter – was brilliant.  With easy company and a good mood onboard we spent the day travelling, mostly under motor against the breeze, as the day closed we made ready for night. This would be my first night watch (In the dark).  To begin with my mind was full of the rules of the road. What to do if I saw another boat?  What it’s lights would mean?  After 30 minutes on watch I was more taken with the incredible world around me. The sea was filled with lights of its own, effervescence surrounded us, created by propeller wash and the movement of the boat.  Stars shone, boats moved in the far distance and land based lights started to become visible.

Friday 4th July 2014: 

By sun up we were starting to get close to our first sighting of land – the small island of Ustica. A beautiful verdant little island with houses clinging to its steep sides. As we drew closer Dan recommended that we test the water, a refreshing swim was most welcome after 2 days at sea.

Tyrrhenian Sea Sunrise

The sunrises over the Tyrrhenian Sea en-route to Volcano

Ustica Volcano Cruising

Fraser takes the helm. Morning time on day 3 of the long passage from Sardinia to Volcano. Ustica lies in the background.

The rest of the day we continued to make passage to the island of Vulcana.  Arriving mid afternoon we anchored ios and made a trip ashore on mini ios, rowing madly and singing / humming the  Hawai Five o theme tune (as you do).  The island was amazing: a volcano and holiday hot spot for the Italian lethario in tight trunks, covering his bronzed form in volcanic mud whilst chatting up the more attractive lady tourists. Bernice fell prey to these advances. Dan and I giggled from a steaming hot rock as Bernice received offerings of mud from just such a man.  We soaked up the methane rich gases, bathed in hot springs and fitted in with the Italian set.  Later that day we reccied the Island for tourist opportunities and retired to ios for a lovely meal onboard.

Vulcano - tourists stuff

Fraser and Bern in Volcano. The backdrop is comprised of volcanic rock that oozes sulphur.

Mud baths Volcano

The author in the mud baths. Feel that mud!

Weirdoes at the volcanic rocks.

Why did I get on a boat with these people. Weirdoes!

Fraser and Dan Contemplating

Fraser and Dan had, in the past, contemplated the great remaining architectural questions of the digital world, but they realised their work was not complete. There were far more important real world issues to deal with like, “When should we start drinking?”, “Should we eat out tonight?”.

Saturday 4th July 2014:

After a hearty breakfast onboard we made for land, once again Dan broke out his Peroni Italian, negotiating on the short term hire of a Mini Moke.  Dan then folded himself behind the steering wheel and we headed for the hills, after a short blast driving duties were handed over to Bernice who maintained perfect control through the somewhat exciting mountainous roads.  Stopping off for a coffee at a pleasant road side eatery we set the world to rights and discussed the next leg of the journey.

Mini Moke

Bernice and Dan in the Mini Moke

Volcano view to Lipari

The stunning view from Volcano – looking North to Lipari

Island of Vaolcano

The Island of Volcano… no shit… it really is a Volcano!

SWORDFISH SALESMAN

Lots of attractions in Volcano. One is the Swordfish Salesman. It looks plastic, but that really is the head of a swordfish. If you zoom into the tattoo you will see a dolphin swimming around a woman’s arse.

Plans made we headed to ios and got under way, by now we were operating like a well oiled machine, making course for Sicily.  The voyage was made more exciting by kind winds allowing us the opportunity to raise the cruising chute, I don’t know what is is about this flamboyant sail, it sort of makes you feel special, like a real sailor.

Ios Cruising Chute

The Cruising Chute on Ios.

As the day started to turn to early evening we entered the Strait of Messina, stopping briefly for a refuel, we finished off the day mooring in Messina itself, a quick wash-up and we headed out for a night on the town, the streets bustling with locals enjoying a Saturday night, we had a lovely farewell meal as the Tyrrhenian crew and a few last drinks to celebrate the adventure.

Straight of Messina

In the Straights of Messina. The passage almost complete

Sunday 5th July 2014:

Rising horribly early I walked into town to catch a bus to the airport in Catania, the route out of the Messina took me past ios, a final glimpse of my home for the last 5 days, it felt like a wrench to leave, I guess that’s the true mark of a fabulous adventure and a testimony to the kindness and generosity of Dan and Bernice, who made me feel truly a part of their fabulous adventure and for that I owe the crew of ios enormous gratitude.

Fraser Cruises the Sardinian COast

The Author looks mighty chilled while cruising the Sardinian Coast

Leave a comment

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a place like Masouri- the town that is the climbing epicentre of Kalymnos. If you visit this place outside the main holiday season you will find yourself sitting in a restaurant or bar surrounded almost exclusively by other climbers.

Climbers love Kalymnos, because of the good weather, the abundance of climbs, the easily accessiblity and the fact the routes are equipped very safely. To put the icing on the cake, Kalymnians love the climbers and you’ll get a warm welcome here. It’s easy to see why. Climbing has been a lifeline for this part of the island. It’s ‘extended the season’ as one bar owner explained it to us. Climbers like to visit outside of the main summer months when it’s cooler and this allows the islands businesses to open shop earlier and shut down their businesses much later in the year.

 

Push Your Limits Safely

The Kalymnos climbing communities ethic is to make this the safest sport climbing destination in the world. Maybe this is because they don’t have great hospital facilities! Whatever the reason, it’s refreshing. You can get on a route knowing that it’s going to be well bolted. This was great for Bernice. She managed to push her leading grade up a notch to 5b on the longest pitch she’d led to date.

Bernice in Kalymnos

Bernice pushes her grade on the lead. Her hardest and longest lead to date on the route “CU at the Wall” on the Belgian Chocolates Sector.

Bernice also managed to climb her hardest route on top rope at this sector too. Nicole (6a) had a tricky delicate crux and a sustained finish. A great route.

Some other highlights for me were:

– Hello Baby YOYO (5c) on Palace Sector. An almost Yosemity like flake. Nice climbing for me. This wasn’t Bernice’s style, but she hung in there and completed the route and was very pleases.

– Kastor (7a) at Ahri. A short overhanging pump. Long reaches from jug to jug. Awesome, fun climbing

– La Mouette (6c) on Belgian Chocolates Sector – a gorgeous face climb, pure joy. Looked really tricky and blank from below, but had some surprise handholds, always nice!

La Mouette Kalynos Name Plate

In Kalymnos you will find rock art dating from the 21st Century. This was a plaque to denote the start of the route La Mouette. The climbing on this route is as beautiful as the name plate.

 

La Mouette, Kalymnos

La Mouette. A nice route that looks really hard from below, but gifts you with suprise holds when you need them

New Friends

Kalymnos has to be easiest place for a climber to find new friends. We met a number of climbers who had come out to the Island on their own. They managed to get hooked up with partners in no time and had a great trip.

We had a very sociable time and ended up hanging around with a bunch of Brits we met at the cliff on our second day. It turned out most of them were from up the road in Oxford. We ended up sharing a a meal out one night and a few drinks the other. I hatched a plan with one of them to visit ‘The Wild Country’

 

The Wild Country

I’d been desperate to do a long and exposed multi-pitch route. Fortunately, I found a partner in climb who shared the same vision – Ian.

So, early in the morning we headed to the ferry at Myrties to take us to Telendos (a very small Isle West of Kalymnos) and it’s towering South Face. Getting a ferry here is superb. The ferry man will take you exactly where you want to go on the isle (for an extra fee). Our destination was the a small rock below the South Face that acted as a natural jetty. We did a stop and hop then it was a short walk up the hill to the start of the climb. This beats a 1hr 30 min hike any day and is well work the extra Euros.

Wild Country itself is just short of 300m. It has 9 pitches, most of which are quality grade 5 euro-slab and a couple of steeper pitches of grade 6. Ian was pretty much climbing at the same standard as me and we moved up the route like a team who had been sending routes with each other for years. It’s nice when it all comes together like that.

Wild Country Kalymnos

My partner in climb Ian. Here we’re at the top of the second pitch.

The Wild Country - Kalynos

The ground disappears below. Ian throwing some shapes on the Wild Country

If there ever was a multi-pitch route for indoor climbers, this is it! It’s not so much the ‘Wild Country’, but the ‘Pretty Safe Country’. The route is almost too well bolted.  This is great of you’re a nervous leader, but I was working comfortably within my grade and I found it slightly interrupted my flow. It only dawned on me later in the day that I didn’t actually have to clip every bolt. I can honestly say I’ve never seen so much metal work on one climb, but then Ian pointed out it was a sponsored climb that one of the big climbing companies had funded, so I guess the bolter had a bigger than usual budget.

Very quickly the sea disappeared below us and before we knew it we were at the top. We made it in just under 3 hours, which also included 20 minutes chilling in the cave half way up to contemplate the sure footedness of the mountain goat. Amazingly the cave was covered in droppings, evidence that there are 6a+ climbing goats.  Well it doesn’t matter if you’re a goat or not, the route itself is a fantastic climb to get you into exposed positions safely. The views from this part of Telendos are breathtaking.

The Wild Country

Top pitch of The Wild Country, the views and the exposure are fantastic.

 

Wild Country Summit

Ahhhh, beautiful. The joy of coiling a rope. I love the feeling of putting the rope away when you’ve reached tera firma. It’s even better when you’ve got a sunny day and view like this.

We’d opted for the ‘Alpine’ approach of taking hiking boots and the day’s supplies with us on the climb so we could walk out the other side. Another pair doing the climb chose to abseil out. Take your pick. The walk out covers some impressive scenery, but the descent does jar your knees a bit. Maybe that’s my age showing. Fortunatley there’s a bar waiting for you on your return to Telendos’s port. We were met with a

‘G’day Boys, can I geet ya something’

It turns out our friendly bartender had spent much of his life in Australia. His parents had moved down-under when Kalymnos went into decline during the collapse of the sponge industry. The decline resulted from a disease that affected the sponge and this had a massive impact on the islands economy. Over half the population left. He came back.

Fortunately our bartender was also the ferryman. This meant he was quite happy for us to delay the 3pm crossing and wait for us to finish our pints. Gotta love laid back Greece!

Telendos near Kalynos

View of Telendos from the ferry. Telendos is a small island which is home to some mighty fine multi-pitch routes as well as a few other sectors.

If you like multi-pitch routes, I highly recommend you give The Wild Country a go.

 

We’ll be Back

We were on a bit of a schedule to get to Turkey, so we had to cut our stay in Kalymnos short. I could have stayed there for ages. It wasn’t just nice to climb in Kalymnos, it was a beautiful island in it’s own right. Throw in the added bonus of the hospitality of the islanders and it really does make for an excellent trip.

Walking Kalymnos

Beautiful Kalymnos – Bern and I go for walk around the Island. There is spectacular coastal scenery if you like a walk.

 

Kalymnos Ruins.

Kalymnos has it’s fair share of archaeological sites too.

Kalymnos Trip Tips

– If you can, make sure your rope is at least 70m, some of the routes are long.

– Make sure you’ve got loads of quickdraws. The bolts tend to be closer together than you may be used to.

– If you need kit or guidebooks, why not buy them on the island? This is a win / win for everyone. There’s great choice from 5 different climbing shops in Myrties and you’ll be helping them out and ensuring you preserve those essential retail distractions for rest days.

– The guidebook is excellent and 10% of the proceeds go back into the bolt fund (most of which is now used to re-bolt the popular routes with degraded equipment). An updated pamphlet with a list of the new routes can be obtained in the local shops for a few quid.

– We ate out a few times in Masouri. Our favourite was the Aegean Tavern on the South side of the town. I can totally recommend this for anyone, lots of choice at different prices. Great food and great hospitality.

– If you want to go to the multi-pitch routes in Telendos you can pre-order your ferry trip, there’s a number on the back of the guidebook. This is a superb way to minimise your walking time.

– If you go to Kalymnos via Athens (which you have to do out of season), why not spend a few days trying out the climbing in the Athens area, it’s great quality stuff supported by a fantastic guidebook in English . I was particularly enthralled by the Marble climbing (don’t worry it’s not slippy). Climbing marble is a bit like climbing Grit or Sandstone, but with the added bonus of having bolts. Add to that you have all the touristy stuff there too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

‘You’re the only English voice I’ve heard since I arrived here 9 months ago’ said the only English voice we’d heard since being in Albania. It’s easy to see why. The country has a bit of a reputation.

‘Don’t leave you’re boat unattended in Albanian waters’ says the Mediteranian Almanac.

‘Be careful there!’ says a Facebook friend

‘Gulp’ says another on hearing our intended destination.

The man we ended up chatting to had come to do contract Customs and Excise work. Albania is trying to get a grip of collecting taxes so it can invest in it’s infrastructure. Apparently many of the Albanians, particularly the gangsters, don’t like paying import duty. They definitely don’t like getting their shiny new sports car impounded when they refuse to pay the bill. The result is our fellow Brit had to have an armed body guard with him when he’s on the job.

Despite the dangers he was very upbeat about the country and expounded the delights of the southern coastal region.

‘It’s pretty safe in the south’ he said. ‘The far northern rural regions are a little more worrying’

Not many Brits go to Albania. I’ve never heard of anyone from the UK who’s done a holiday here, but the country has a tourist industry that is growing exponentially. If you ever wondered where Kosovons go on holiday, wonder no more, it’s Albania! It’s popular with the Italians as well given the easy access by ferry.

Albania was on our route down south to Greece, but we might have sailed past this gem if it hadn’t been for a lone positive voice- the  ‘777’. The ‘777’ is a must have guide for yachtsmen in the Adriatic It’s not very well known in the UK, but it should be. It beats any of the Brit guides hands down. The author has Albania Mania and expounds the virtues of the South coast.

Given the widely accepted reputation, we played it safe with the start of our trip.

Orikum Marina – First Port of Call

We headed for Orikum Marina. It’s Albania’s only marina, guarded by a man with an AK47! Needless to say, we felt pretty safe leaving the boat there to explore.

Orikum Marina

Orikum Marina in the beautiful foothills of Llagora

Going into Orikum makes life pretty easy. They have a Port Agent that will do all your Customs entry procedures for you. You pay slightly over the odds for it (80 EUR), but it’s convenient. It also has Luigi, the Marina Director, who will happily give you info about the best local places to eat and visit. He knows about good food, he’s Italian! He also sorts out Car Hire for you. This is where our explorations began.

Orikum itself has very few tourist attractions. If you go to the Naval base on the Northern shore the military will let you in to see some well preserved Greek / Roman ruins. I’d like to show you some photos, but we made the mistake of visiting this place in the evening, at which time it was swarming with mosquitos from the adjacent Lagoon. We literally ran back from the site with a cloud of the evil insects chasing us. There was some consolation to our otherwise marred excursion. On the drive up to the ruins I rounded a corner and saw something in the road. After slamming on the anchors the tyre stopped literally a foot away from a Herman Tortoise. He reminded us of our Herman – Mr Murtle back at home.

Mini Murt

He’s followed us! A mini Murt (that’s what we call our Herman) narrowly misses being run over by us. Thank God. A squashed tort would have totally ruined our week.

 

Orikum is within spitting distance of a number of other places to visit.

 

Llogora National Park

The Llogora National Park is only 30 minutes drive from Orikum.

Llogora National Park

Llogora National Park

Driving in Albania is quite interesting and our drive up was no exception. There is a feel that this country lives in a different era. You’ll be on a main road and see a horse and carts, cows grazing on the hard shoulder. Add to that, there’s an almost lawless feel to it. Boy racers rev past you on high-powered motor-bikes dressed in shorts and t-shirts wearing no helmets, their girlfriends gripping them while dressed in a similarly unsuitable style.

“I wonder what the mortality rates on the road are?” I say to Bernice as we survey the scene.

The crazy bikers have an extra danger to contend with; the highways are in quite a state and need a lot of investment. On our way up to Llogora we noticed how some of the road had just slipped down the side of a hill. Perfectly acceptable in Albania, you just repaint the road lines to go round the void!

Albanian roads

Transport through the ages. Albanian roads provide an entertaining drive.

Ignoring  the road quality, the Llogora pass has to be one of my favourites roads. From sea level at Orikum you climb up to 1000 meters. The road was built by the Italian Army’s “Alpini” division on their occupation of Albania in the 30s. It’s said that a mule was sent ahead by the construction team to use it’s senses to get the best line. To be fair to the mule, he did a pretty good job.

When you get to the summit of the Llagora Pass, you see the high peak of Cika at 2000m and there are remarkable views to the coast around Himre, which include the large fan like Delta of the Rio Palasa. We even got a glimpse of Corfu in the distant haze.

Rio Palas Delta

The impressive Rio Palasa Delta as viewed from the Llagora Pass

We tried to do a hike here, however Natioanl Parks are not quite what they are in the rest of the world. There’s only one obvious trail / dirt road, no marked tracks and no information about walks. We followed several dead ends, although it was very pleasant. Next time we visit we’ll get a bit more organised and get a guide who knows the area.

Walking in Llagora

A walk in Llagora. This is one of the rare, well trodden trails.

We settled for good lunch at the top of the pass, accompanied with a stunning view down to the sea. We left the restaurant and a very shiny new Mercedes pulled up to the door. The driver got out.

“Was that my imagination” mused Bernice “That driver looked like he was only 12”

I concurred, he was indeed, very young.

Food with a view. Eating at the top of the Llagora Natioanal Park

Food with a view. Eating at the top of the Llagora Natioanal Park

 

Apollonia

For one moment I was transported back to my home country and I was standing in the New Forrest. Bracken, daisy’s, thistles, black berries. It was spooky, but then I looked around and there was some Roman ruins in my view with some Aloe Vera plants on the periphery of my vision. I really was somewhere else. To be fair I should have realised that given I was feeling very warm while stood in my shorts and t-shirt on a cloudy mid-October day.

Apollonia is a magical place. Even if it wasn’t an archaeological gem, the site occupies an idyllic high point that overlooks vast coastal plains to the West and beautiful rolling hills to the East. The restaurant on top of the hill is possibly one of the nicest setting to dine in. This meal was typical of the food we experienced in Albania, standard simple Mediterranean style cooking, fresh ingredients and cheap.

Apollonia, Albania

Even without the ruins, Apollonia is just a beautiful place. The Restaurant at the top of the hill is behind the camera. You get to eat your lunch with a stunning backdrop.

The Apollonia site is located near Fier, to the north of Vlore. It’s just over an hours drive from Orikum marina. I won’t go into the detail of the ruins here, but they were initially excavated by a combined French and Albanian team. The city dates back to the Greek civilisation, but most of what you see here is from the time when the settlement flourished under Roman rule. If you are going to visit and you want deeper info on the place, I’d advise you to do your own digging around before you go. The info onsite isn’t that great. It’s a shame really, because the 13th Century Monastery here houses a museum that has some great stuff in there, it’s just hard to understand the context.

Apollonia archaeological site

The Apollonia Site as viewed from the hill. The Roman remains in the foreground with the 13th Century Monastery of St Mary

 

The Land of 700,000 Bunkers

The bunkers give you an insight into the paranoia of the communist regime, who seeing the fate of Czechoslovakia, feared a similar Soviet invasion into their homeland. Approach any part of the coast that’s not a cliff, i.e. has potential to land an army on, and you’ll see what look like a scatteringof concrete R2D2s half buried. It’s the rectangular slot that ‘cemented’ the likeness to me.

Albania bunkers

The hills have eyes. Bunkers will greet you all along the coast

Bunker

Is this a statue paying homage to R2DT? No it’s another Bunker!

There are many parts of the Southern Coastline that give you an insight into how heavily militarised the area was. The evidence is underwater too. We went snorkelling and saw quite a few shells. Not the one’s we were expecting to find, but the unexploded variety.

Sea Shell

A different kind of shell than we expected

 

Getting Braver – Going Down South

Given some of the bad publicity, our original plan had been to just go to Orikum and explore the country from there, safe in the knowledge that we were protected by rule AK47. However, we had had a pretty good experience with everyone we’d met. It was time to venture out and explore the coast South of Orikum. The plan, to go to a remote anchorage and then do our exit procedures at Sarade. We said goodbye to Luigi and ventured out.

Our confidence on the journey down South was only slightly marred by the patrol that RV’d with us after lunch, they were very friendly and just asked for our vessel details and our names. This patrol rib was working in tandem with a large Navy vessel and they were literally combing every bay of the coast. It was bitter sweet.  On the one hand we knew people were keeping the waters safe, but there was a little voice in the back of our heads that wondered if there was something  about to ‘go-down’ , or maybe shit goes down here all the time.

The Albanian Patrol Rib

The Albanian Patrol Rib

The Southern Albanian Coast is stunning! A lot of it is so remote as well. There are numerous bays with beaches that have no roads nearby, the only way there is by boat. Here’s a selection of the bays we saw.

 

Gjipie's Beach

Gjipie’s Beach. A stunning canyon which continues inland for miles.

Rio Palasa Delta

Rio Palasa Delta as viewed from the sea.

Kakomea Cove

I’ll have a sandy beach, bordered by nice cliffs with turquoise waters please. Oh and can I have that all to myself? Only in Albania – Just North of Kakomea Cove.

Our night time anchorage was the beautiful Grama Bay. It was the perfect remote anchorage until the swell built up considerably. This coast is not great in any winds that have a southerly aspect. Even the South Easterlies can yield a swell that creeps into bays that look sheltered. We had to make an early exit having had the smallest amount of interrupted sleep.

Albanian Sunset

Albanian nights – a stunning sunset as we settled for the evening in Grama Bay.

 

Grama Bay Albania

Grama Bay. We left early after an uncomfortable swell had disturbed us most of the night. It was a dull morning and the photo doesn’t do it justice, but this cove is just beautiful. We definitely want to come back. I can see some excellent Deep Water Solo Climbing potential too.

Exit Albania – Sarandë

Sarande isn’t a pretty city. It’s a bit like the Albanian equivalent of Benidorm. However we wanted to do our exit procedures there, because it’s the furthest point south in Albania with a customs office. At Sarande, you are obliged to use a Port Agent. Our agent was Agim, he had been recommended to us by Irene, a lady we’d met at Orikum who runs Albania’s only Charter company.

We got the warmest welcome to the quay from Agim, his son and daughter, who share responsibilities in their family run business. Our initial plan was just to do the paperwork and go straight to Greece.

“You should stay” said Agim

“Have a look at the city, eat some food”

We felt pretty safe about leaving the boat here. It’s on a Customs Quay and there’s a Police presence. In addition Irene had suggested that Agim would most likely keep an eye on our boat for us while we weren’t there (I can’t validate that he did this but all the signs suggest this was true, his son was fishing by the customs quay that night and Agim was there chatting to the Police when we returned later).  We could also stay for free which was an added bonus.

We had dinner, it wasn’t our best meal in Albania, but it was ok. Looking over the bay we could have been in any large coastal town in Europe. Everything was surprisingly Med like and normal, but then we heard the Call to Prayer echo across from the town. It was a beautiful yet strange sound and gave the bay an enhanced ambience.

It was a fitting end to our Albania trip and cemented my thoughts about the country- it’s very European Mediterranean, but with a twist. I know for sure we’ll be back because there’s a load of stuff we would have liked to have done, but didn’t have time to. I’m hoping this article will encourage a few people to give Albania a chance and book a holiday there or visit by yacht.

*If you do decide to try it out feel free to message me (comment on this page and I’ll reply) for any tips or advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

Every year on the 15th August high in the Velebit mountains the death of the Virgin Mary and her acceptance into Heaven is commemorated. The local Tourist Office in Starigrad tell us about the festival and we are keen to visit, lured by a trip into the hills and the opportunity to watch a local festival.

We are without transport and the location is approximately 20 kilometres away and 900 metres up in the mountains.  We try our luck at hitching a lift, an easier option to walking!  Almost immediately a car pulls over and a young couple inside agree to give us a ride.  We hop in and exchange names.  It turns out by chance that Goran and Anna and their Jack Russell Tara are heading to the same festival, they have an invite from the campsite owner they are staying with.

As we get chatting we find out that we share similar interests.  Both are keen climbers. Every weekend they travel from Zagreb to Starigrad, a four-hour car journey, to climb at the stunning Paklenica National Park.  It turns out that Goran also works in the boat industry designing interiors.  In the past he owned his own yacht and has sailed extensively around Dalmatia but now prefers to climb.  There are lots to talk about and we quiz them both on places to visit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tara enjoying the festivities!

As we make our way up the mountains Goran pulls the car over so we can take in the views.  The day is perfect, bright sunny and clear.  As we look around the town of Starigrad Paklenica stretches out below us and beyond the island of Pag.

Views from the Velebit Mountains with Pag Island in the distance

The road is tarmac but quickly this turns to a gravel track that goes on for about 11 kilometres.  We are travelling in a 4WD, which is the perfect choice for these conditions.

Goran and Anna explain to us that one of the landowners built this track by hand.  Looking at the terrain, huge chunks of limestone everywhere, you realise how tough this would have been.  Perhaps more surprising to hear is that the same person plans to give the stones a ‘haircut’, apparently in some places the track has become unruly and so some of the rocks need trimming by chisel!

Mirila

Goran pulls over the car to show us an example of Mirila.

Mirila is a collection of monuments dating from the 17th to 20th century.  They mark the sacred place that preserves the memories of the deceased who lived on the mountains.  It is said that before the body was buried the funeral procession would stop so the final resting place could be marked.  A measure of the body would be taken by placing a headstone at the person’s head and again at their feet.  At a later date these stones would be connected by flat stones.

Examples of Mirala in the Velebit Mountains

Mirala marks the final resting place

As we walk around we notice groups of Mirala, the resting places of families.

Family resting place

Family resting place

Draw your attention to the headstones and you will see that each one has been engraved.  The engravings are unique and the meaning of it only known to the person that created it.

Starigrad Mirala

Headstone with unique engraving

After the body had been measured the funeral procession would continue to the church, where a service would be held followed by a burial at the local cemetery. It is said that a persons resting place was visited more frequently than their grave, as the grave contained only the body whereas Mirala’s contained a person soul.

We visited only one example of the Mirala but further examples can be seen in the Velebit Mountains.

Feast of the Assumption

We continue up the track that eventually opens out to a meadow, which is framed by the mountains.  After winding along the track for 40 minutes suddenly you feel like you’ve been transported to an alpine destination, the air is cooler and the land green and verdant which is such a contrast to the coast 900 metres. In the middle of the meadow and surrounded by a stone wall is a small Roman Catholic church.  People are starting to gather outside waiting for the service to begin.  A few tents are scattered around, possibly they are combining the festivities with a mountain hike.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Crowds gather outside the small church

Aside from the church there are a handful of stone houses, previously occupied by farmers that tended the fertile land.  Over time as towns became established along the coast and connecting roads were built the farmers relocated.  However, as recently as the late 1960’s the village was inhabited.  Goran explains to us that the farmers would load their mules with produce to sell at markets and then make the arduous trip across the mountains to the neighbouring villages.  The journey would take a couple of days at least.  This would happen twice a month during May and October, before the first snow fell in November making the conditions impassable.

The farmers still own the houses.  Today they are occupied by families busily preparing a feast that will be enjoyed with their friends following the procession.

An example of a traditional farmers property

After the service has finished, which is quite a long time as it’s a Roman Catholic service, the procession begins.  An icon of the Virgin Mary is carried by bearers.  As they pass by people follow on behind.

Procession to Celebrate the Feast of the Assumption

Bearers carrying an icon of the Virgin Mary

Joining in with the procession there is a strong sense of community, something we have noticed during our stay in Northern Dalmatia.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Young and old join in the procession

As the procession comes to a close people make their way to a well that is believed to be holy.  They fill up their water bottles or just splash themselves, we go up and join in by taking a few sips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The well believed to contain holy water

Slowly the crowds begin to disburse, some head back to the old farm houses no doubt to enjoy a feast with their friends and family, others mill around chatting while a few make an exodus back down the mountain on foot or in cars.  Goran and Anna head off to one of the houses that is owned a campsite owner they are staying with, we say goodbye and thank them for showing us around.

As we walk across the meadow we strike up a conversation with a jolly Croat, who hiked for two days across the mountains to be part of today’s festivities.  He invites us to partake in a glass of schnapps, we accept as it would be rude to refuse.  As it slips down you can feel it coursing through you, burning your insides.  Thankfully he doesn’t offer us a second!  Before too long he leaves, this time his method of transport is by car and who can blame him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Getting to know the locals

As for us we begin our descent down the mountain.  This will be a long walk down so we chance our luck again at hitching a lift. A few cars drive past us fully laden with passengers and we begin to wonder if our luck has run out, but soon a car pulls over and the couple inside agree to give us a lift to the bottom.  We try to strike up a conversation but they know little English and we know even less Croatian.  We take in the views one final time and before long we are at the bottom of the road so we say thank you and make our way into town.

We had a fantastic day out.  Along the way we had the pleasure in meeting some lovely people who happily shared with us some of the history relating to this area.  We witnessed and to a small extent participated in the festivities.

Should you find yourself near Starigrad Paklenica on the 15th August take some time out and make the trek up the mountain to see for yourself.  A car is recommended, unless you are a keen walker!

1 Comment

The phone rings. It’s a Croatian number.

“This is the hotel. Am I speaking to the people who hired the Jeep?” says the voice.

“Yes, thats us” I reply.

“We have had a call. Some people from the village have phoned us to say your boat is in danger.”

“What sort of danger?”

“They didn’t say. They just said you must return at once”

Bern put’s the pedal to the metal and we race down the highway towards Zadar. We’re half an hour from Novigrad at least.  It’s stormy. Lot’s of rain. Not knowing what is going on back in the harbour is not helping our Karma.  We had left the boat ‘stern-to’ at the quayside. We had deliberately pulled her about 3 metres out from the quay on the anchor to be safe.

“Maybe it’s just the fact it’s raining hard and we left all the windows open” I say.

“The wind doesn’t even look that strong as well”

We try to console ourselves.

We’re now 5 minutes away on the main road into Novigrad and a tight right turn comes up. The car loses it and skids sideways across the road. We’re now on the other side of the highway. In slow motion I watch Bern summon up some kind of  instinctive pro driving skills and recover the skid.

“You legend! Well done.” I shout. Not quite believing what I’ve just witnessed.

Bern is shaking.

We return to the boat. All looks ok with Ios from a distance. However we notice she is lying about 6 meters away from the harbour wall and has an extra 3 lines on her. A number of people see us arrive and come over to talk to us and tell the story of what happened.

While we were away a storm had come in. There had been unexpected westerly winds, which although uncommon, pose a problem for boats moored at the quay in Novigrad. In a short space of time the waves had reached about 2 metres and the stern of our boat had been pushed back on to the quay with a serious danger of it crashing against the hard. A local girl Antonio, who we had met in the wine bar the night before, had rallied a couple of the local mariners to help sort it out.

According to our Brit friends, local fisherman just kept arriving on Ios to help sort out the problem. While a few of them fended the stern from crashing into the quay, one guy dived down to tie to a concrete block under the water so that he could secure a safe line. A fishing boat was deployed to lay a massive anchor out in the harbour. This allowed the guys to pull Ios further out into the bay.

Another guy who was on holiday here earlier had seen us leave the boat in the morning and depart in the Jeep. He’d recognised that the Jeep belonged to the hotel and phoned them as soon as he’d seen trouble was happening.

Bern and I can’t begin to explain how grateful we feel to the people of Novigrad. They saved the boat. We bought everyone involved a bottle of wine from the local vineyard.  The people were insistent that we didn’t need to do it, but it felt necessary as a small token of thanks.

A Little Taste of a Community

Our life has been quite transitory over the last few months. We’ve missed other people. It’s been great when friends and family have come to visit, but when they leave it always feels a bit flat. I think I had a perception of cruising being a bit more sociable, but it rarely is. Occasionally you meet some people in a marina, have a drink with them and exchange a few stories, but most of the time your on your own. Many of our nights are spent at anchor to save costs and largely, the boat is an island. You’re surrounded by a bunch of other charter boats who are mostly doing their own thing and in the main don’t share a common language with you.

I guess we never planned to stay at Novigrad long, but we just got sucked in by the community, be it holiday-makers or locals. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. We met some great people. A couple from the UK arrived shortly after we did. Julian and Maz had bought their son Oliver on holiday. They were staying on the only yacht that is permanently moored in Novigrad’s harbour. It belongs to Charles Billich, one of Austalia’s most famous artists who is from Novigrad but moved to Sydney many years ago. Maz is friends with him from her days as a well known photographer in Sydney.

New friends. Jamie, Maz, Olly and Bern enjoy the sunset. We enjoy are trip out of Novigrad.

New friends. Julian, Maz, Olly and Bern enjoy the sunset and pirate songs on a trip out on Ios.

Julian is possibly one of the most gregarious people I’ve ever met and he quickly got to know the local community. This was handy for Bern and myself, we’re a little more shy and retiring, so we tagged along! Life quickly changed from living anonymously from ‘cove-to-cove’ to just staying put among familiar faces. Days were whiled away supping coffee and playing backgammon in the local cafe. Evenings spent sampling the wine or eating out.

Julian in his element, with a bottle of red! There will be hangovers in the morning!

Julian in his element, with a bottle of red! There will be hangovers in the morning!

The locals sing Croatian songs to us at the local wine bar. This place has a great rustic feel and all the wine is produced locally. You'll pay £3 for a bottle and it's very drinkable. We had a very warm welcome here.

The locals sing Croatian songs to us at the local wine bar. This place has a great rustic feel and all the wine is produced locally. You’ll pay £3 for a bottle and it’s very drinkable. We had a very warm welcome here.

Olly makes an artistic creation with his food. Maz (pictured), Julian, Olly, Bern and I ate here at the best restaurant in town Konoba Mica. Dinnner came to £20 a head and we had  fresh grilled Dorade all round. Eating out is such good value around here. If you want a cheaper night just do pizza and beer. That'll work out at about £6 a head.

Olly makes an artistic creation with his food. Maz (pictured), Julian, Olly, Bern and I ate here at the best restaurant in town Konoba Mika. Dinnner came to £20 a head and we had fresh grilled Dorade (landed on the quay at Novigrad that morning) all round. Eating out is such good value around here. If you want a cheaper night just do pizza and beer. That’ll work out at about £6 a head. We went back and had superb Novigrad mussels tonight for a starter – £6 for a kilo!

It felt nice to be walking down the street and waving to the lady who served you drinks the night before or getting a smile from the local shop keeper, because they recognise you. The simple things hey!

It was through Julian and Maz we got to meet Plamenko. He looks after Charles Billich’s yacht for him and helped out Maz and Julian during their stay. Plemenco has lived in Novigrad all through his life and is a a prominent part of the community. We were invited along on a sight seeing tour to look around the region. The tour included antiquities that dated back to Roman times, but it also touched on the very recent history of Croatia.

 

Stories of a War

It’s seems strange to think that just over 20 years ago a bitter war was being fought in Europe, right on our door-step, just a two hour flight away. I’ve been interested in the conflict and had never asked the Croats directly about it. However, in chatting, people readily mention the war and volunteer stories. I’m writing here what I’ve picked up, I’m not claiming any authority on the subject.

Novigrad was right in the centre of this conflict and the Velebit Mountains formed a bitterly contested front-line. The scars are very evident. Walk through any town in this region and you will see empty properties in disrepair. Some are pock-marked with bullet holes. They tell a story of worlds turned upside down and changed forever.

“They are living museums” is how the lady in the Novigrad tourist office eloquently described them.

Living museums. A reminder of a conflict.

Living museums. A reminder of a conflict.

While some of the properties might belong to Croats who either died in the war years or who fled the country forever, many of the plots belonged to Serbs who didn’t want to come back to Croatia after the conflict. The Croatian government has honoured their ownership of the land and left the option for them to return. They don’t want to. They are worried what might happen to them and how could anything be the same again?

It’s a sad tale because of the context. Croatia used to be a land where Bosniaks, Serbians and Croatians lived together side by side. In Novigrad Serbians would be drinking with the Croatians in the bars. Although religiously different, the Croats of Novigrad allowed the Serbian minority to use their Catholic Churches for Orthodox Christian masses. It seems that the majority of ordinary people like you and me can just get along with each other. However, take a few powerful men with a dangerous ideology, a nationalistic press ready to whip a nation up into a frenzy of hatred and you ruin everyones life, regardless of whether you are on the winning side or not. It’s a lesson to all of us who live in countries that are ethnically diverse. A warning to be very wary of divisive forces who spread intolerance and hate, be it extremist groups, politicians or the media.

Plemenco takes us on a sightseeing tour of Novigrad. He talks us through the time when on the last day of 1991 the residents of Novigrad decided to flee the town. The Serbian Army had surrounded the town on all sides and cut off all the land routes to safety. The town got everyone they could boarded onto fishing boats and they headed across the Novigrad Sea into the Velebit Straight. These people escaped to safety. They would spend the rest of the war living elsewhere in Croatia. The government had been very organised in using the abundant supply of hotel rooms in safe zones to be able to accommodate displaced peoples. Plamenko went to Zadar and his son was born there. Zadar itself also suffered bombardment by the Serb forces. From what I’ve seen of parenthood, it’s hard enough. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been bringing up child into that chaos.

I get the sense that through it all there seemed to have been an underlying optimism and defiance.

“We always knew we would get our homes back” Plamenko says.

Plamenko was one of the lucky ones. Not everyone could be accommodated on the boats that escaped Novigrad that night. Around 26 people remained. They had to chance it by foot. The Serbian Army captured them in Posidarje, just before they could get to a safe zone. These civilian prisoners were taken to a camp at Benkovac. Some never made it out of the camp. Accroding to Plamenko many of the captives that were released after the war have mental health problems as a result of the torture inflicted at the hands of the Serb special forces.

This stuff isn’t as headline grabbing as the mass genocide in Shrebrenisca that is well documented. However, I think you’d agree that it is just as important to be able to investigate the allegation of war-crimes here that include torture, murder and rape.

The man who ran this camp is Dragan Vasiljkovic (aka Captain Dragan). There has been an ongoing battle to extradite him from Australia so he can be tried for the crimes perpetrated at Knin and Benkovac camps. He is now campaigning to be released from prison in Australia, because he’s been held so long and no decision has been made. This is from the man who had successfully been on the run for 43 days after the warrant was originally granted for his arrest. He was caught trying to leave the country on a yacht. An Orthodox Serbian Priest in Australia has campaigned for Dragan who he described as ‘An equitable man’. His other character witnesses include the Melbourne courts who convicted him for activities in running whore houses in the 1980s.

During the occupation the Serbs didn’t live in Novigrad. They just wrecked it. The Serbians weren’t content to simply ethnically cleanse the population and ruin it’s infrastructure, they wanted to eradicate all traces of the Croat culture and way of life. Churches, schools and public buildings were bombed, antiquities were vandalised, the vineyards, which were an important part of the local economy, were laced with land mines.

A walk with Plimenco. The church in the distance was bombed in the conflict. It has now been rebuilt.

A walk with Plamenko. The church in the distance was bombed in the conflict. It has now been rebuilt.

Component of a light grenade cemented into the church wall.

Component of a light grenade cemented into the church wall.

 

The residents of this area eventually did return to their homes, but Croatia was devastated by the war. Loss of life is the tip of the ice berg. Everything that was built was destroyed. If you were lucky you returned to a house that had been vandalised and looted. Others returned to rubble.

It’s the other stuff you rarely think of that struck me too. For many people it was a case of starting from scratch after the war. One waiter from Zadar we talked too told us of his family’s story. His father was an architect before the conflict started. He was about to retire and when Yugoslavia (Serbia) needed to buy weapons to use, they raided all the banks for funds. Pension gone. Your money used to bomb you. When the troubles ended the family were in poverty and were only saved by their German Shepheard dog who reared plentiful puppies that they could sell.

“When I think about that dog, it saved us” He says with a smile.

This guy was my age, bright and articulate. While I’d been having a carefree life in University in my teens he had spent two years fighting a bitter war. After that he had to emigrate to find work so he could send money home to the family. What different lives we led through an accident of geography.

When war ends the damage lasts for many years. Infrastructure gets rebuilt slowly or not at all. Pick up a map of the Velebits and you’ll notice some odd looking areas and markings. Looking to the key on the map you’ll see ‘Area suspected of land mines’ and ‘Path cleared of land mines, do not stray 5m either side of the track’. An invisible shadow hangs over areas of land that used to be the front-line. Please don’t let that stop you exploring the region, but get a map and stick to the safe zones if your hiking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The evil of land mines. Hiking maps for the Velebit Mountains show you the areas you need to keep out of. Don’s let this stop you exploring the area, footpaths are well marked and the hiking is very rewarding.

The new Croatia has still not fully recovered. The economy has been propped up by tourism, but there aren’t many other revenue generating sectors. The problem with tourism is that it is entirely at the whim of the global economy. That holiday is the first thing to go when times get hard. We think we’re in recovery, but don’t be so sure. The Italians used to account for about 50% of the tourist trade over here, but there’s recession in Italy.

I ask Plamenko about Novigrad’s economy. Apart from the fishing and tourism there isn’t much. Farm produce is produced in the fields around Novigrad, but it seems the farmers in this region suffer, as farmers do all over the world, by the super-markets pushing prices down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Apart from Fishing and Tourism, farming is the key activity around this area.

“Some people cry for the old Yugoslavia” says Plamenko. “But I say it’s crazy. We lived in a country where there were books you were not allowed to read”

I was interested to hear the Croat perspective on the involvement of the international community during the conflict. While the Croats were being displaced from their homes and fighting back to reclaim them, the international community decided to put an arms embargo on the area. Serbia was in a distinctly better position. It had an extensive arms supply, including 50 MIG fighter planes from the ex-Yugoslav Army (which was 90% Serbian). It was also being supplied arms from Russia and Greece.

The UN had blockaded the Adriatic and no arms supplies could get through legitimately to Croatia. Croatia still got hold of arms, but they came through on the black market and through the mafia. Other arms came from the Yugoslav army when some of the army members with Croat origins decided to take their weapons home. Plamenko smiles as he tells us the story of three Croat pilots who stole their MIG jets and flew to the other side!

It’s evident that we did too little, too late. We let the Serbian regime perpetrate ethnic cleansing, organised rape and genocide on our doorstep. The cynics would say that this is because there were no economic interests in the region. There’s probably element of truth in that. Sorting the conflict out was down to NATO, an organisation in which the Americans have overall control. It took allot of pleading from Europeans, notably ex-Priminister Thatcher to get Bill Clinton involved.

Croatia is now part of the European Union. I’d like to think now that any problems, in Croatia or any part of Europe could be dealt with better than how the international community dealt the tensions here. I’d like to think we could deal with them before problems escalated into all out war. It’s made me value our place in Europe even more than I did already. It’s clear that NATO did not have any answers for this conflict and lacked the understanding and support an integrated European community might be able to give.

We hear so much crap spun by the idiots at UKIP and the right-wing Torries to vilify the European Union. They lambast the European Court of Human Rights blocking the extradition of a few extremists, even if it is to a country where they’re going to be tortured. They go on about petty rulings, even if some of those rulings might actually enhance the quality of products and food consumed in the UK (dont forget your 2 year EU gaurantee on products). They go on about the evils of migration, even when the building trade workers of this country needed that safety-net of the EU and the freedom to go to Germany to earn a crust in the recession of the 80s.

All of that aside, NONE of them mention the reason the EU was set up in the first place. To provide better integration and a forum for negotiation to stop countries that had been continually at war, right up to our parents generation, work out their differences, i.e. to STOP WAR IN EUROPE. Since it’s formation we have had the longest period of piece in Europe. Please think about this when the gutter press whips you up into a frenzy about something so inconsequential as EU regulations on the curvature of Bananas!

OK. I’m off my soap box! I want to end this piece on a positive note.

The Velebit Region – It Feels Like an Adventure!

As soon as I passed the gap and entered the Velebit Straight, Croatia changed for me. It was getting too busy before this point; it’s August and everyone is cruising! We’d been round the islands and the last Island we stayed at was Dugi Otok on a mooring buoy with at least 100 other charter boats around us. It took the edge off for me. I needed something different.

Since we entered the Velebit Straight we’ve seen less than 10 other yachts… IN THREE WEEKS! It’s unbelievable that such a place is so quiet for boating traffic, but I guess it’s not that safe an option for the charter trail. There are no true safe havens here, no marinas.

Ljubacka Vrata diving Pag and the mainland. It's the gateway to the Velebit Straight, a door to a beautiful area. From this point onward we saw very few other sailing yachts.

Ljubacka Vrata diving Pag and the mainland. It’s the gateway to the Velebit Straight, a door to a beautiful area. From this point onward we saw very few other sailing yachts.

 

There is the perpetual worry that the Bora may hit. The Bora is a Katabatic wind that comes from the mountains. We had it the other night at anchor. We spent a sleepless night listening to a Force 8 wind hit us. This is truly the most fierce conditions we’ve ever anchored in, the boat was heeling over! We had a lot of faith in the anchor. We had motored back on her full throttle that night, then let extra chain out. We were ok in the morning, just a little tired. The boat hadn’t moved.

Watch the weather here. The night before the Bora hit.

Watch the weather here. The night before the Bora hit.

Taking a careful view of the weather has been worth it to experience the region. It’s the juxtaposition of land and sea that makes this area special. The beautiful Velebit Mountains provide a stunning and sizeable backdrop. Cruising down the Velebit straight is a feast for the eyes if you like mountain scenery. Add to this the fact that you have a number of different seas and canyons that interconnect them adds a uniqueness that you don’t find in many other places.

We pass the canyon and the series of bridges that lead from the Velebit Straight to the Novigrad Sea.

We pass the canyon and the series of bridges that lead from the Velebit Straight to the Novigrad Sea.

I think I’ll leave the photos to do the work now and hopefully I’ll be able to encourage others to visit the area.

The beautiful Novigrad with its iconic Fortress. The origins of this can be traced back to roughly 2000 BC when it was a hill fort. The Romans and subsequent rulers rebuilt and reconstructed it.

The beautiful Novigrad with its iconic Fortress. The origins of this can be traced back to roughly 2000 BC when it was a hill fort. The Romans and subsequent rulers rebuilt and reconstructed it.

 

Novigrad harbour. Not many yachts here. Suprising, because it's a beautiful place and free to stay!

Novigrad harbour. Not many yachts here. Suprising, because it’s a beautiful place and free to stay!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fishing is a key source of income in Novigrad. It’s possibly the cheapest area we’ve been at for buying fish in the restaurants. Mussels are also produced locally.

The Mali Alan road mentioned on dangerousroads.org. A stunning velebit landscape and deserted. It's partially offroad but so worth taking a look at if you get a 4x4. We only went a short way, but that was enough to get a flavour.

The Mali Alan road mentioned on dangerousroads.org. A stunning velebit landscape and deserted. It’s partially offroad but so worth taking a look at if you get a 4×4. We only went a short way, but that was enough to get a flavour.

The Zrmanja River. This was the backdrop to a couple of Western films including Winetou. It's stunning and yachts can navigate all the way to Obrovac. Unbelievably empty and peaceful.

The Zrmanja River. This was the backdrop to a couple of Western films including Winetou. It’s stunning and yachts can navigate all the way to Obrovac. Unbelievably empty and peaceful.

 

Come and Have a Look for Yourself

I hope the photos have inspired you to come and check out this area. Here was just a taste of what’s on offer and if you travel on just a little bit further you can get to islands like Pag or interesting cities like Zadar.

If you’re coming by boat it’s worth noting a few things:

  • Be careful with the weather, have a plan B
  • Get the 777 Adriatic pilot book, it’s far better than the Imray one. I’d never seen the 777 guides before I came out here, Imray have alot to learn from this guide, which makes pilotage so slick and easy.
  • I’d recommend electronic charts if you don’t have them already. If you have an iPad you’ll be able to pick up Navionics Charts or iSailor for a snip.
  • If you’re staying in Novigrad, the visitor spaces on the quay are outside the Noshcick Bar. Currently it’s free to stay here (that includes power and water). Be wary of westerlies or isolated sudden storm that could cause a westerly. If there’s a risk of that go and anchor 15 minutes away in Posidarje. The Bora can sometimes cause problems in Novigrad, but we’ve had low-strength Bora while we’ve been here with no problems.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment