Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cascades & Communism

The extraordinary natural beauty of Plitvice Lakes National Park is something to behold…..19.5 hectares of wooden hills with 16 emerald green lakes linked by spectacular cascades and waterfalls. We spent a day and a half exploring the park, wandering the wooden footbridges hovering centimeters above, or alongside the rushing water with no handrails or barriers. I was actually surprised by being undisturbed by this…maybe it was because the water looked so inviting, that falling in would have not been so bad. In fact, even though swimming is not allowed, I did at one point contemplate falling in on purpose. The water was so crystal clear, that you could see into its depths, the roots of the trees intertwined and covered in green moss, almost resembling some kind of wreck. We could vividly see hundreds of fish lingering happily along the waters edge, almost following our movements, maybe hoping we would throw them some food. All we wanted to do was throw them a hook, line and sinker, but knowing this was a protected area, we missed out on having those fish for dinner that night. We admired the changing colours and falling leaves that autumn brings as well as the variety of wildlife who had made the park their home. Although we didn’t see any lynx or bears that apparently live in the grounds, we did see frogs, stunning butterflies, birds and interesting species of insects. The most memorable wildlife moment was Tim capturing a photo of two dragonflies, an almost impossible endeavour with them zipping around so fast you can barely catch a glimpse. The fact they were mating meant they remained still for that little bit longer. Insect porn anyone? Lol

Just outside of the national park, we experienced the warm hospitality of a Croatian family, staying in their home for 2 nights. Although we had our own private room and bathroom, they opened up their family area to us where we cooked our own dinner and shared in rich conversation. Not everyone in the family could speak English, but we could tell we were so welcome by all, simply by their gestures. The man of the house, Nedjelko, could speak fluent English, however and invited us to share a glass of rakija, his own home-made plum brandy. Rakija is part of the staple diet here in Croatia and can be made using a variety of fruits or herbs, some sweeter than others. We have learned, that it is cultural for a Croat to welcome you in their home with a glass or two of rakija.

We listened intently, as Nedjelko opened up to us and shared his experience of living under communism and how life was different once the Yugoslav war had ended in 1989. Individual freedom came and provided opportunity for people to do as they wished, without government control, including the chance to obtain a passport and travel internationally in addition to owning your own business. At the end of the war, all Nedjelko owned was one small bag filled with bare necessities and the clothes he was wearing. Today, just over 20 years later, he has built for his family, a 3 storey guesthouse and has a devoted passion for tourism. At first, it was strange for us to hear how for many, the communist way provided a great deal of security and stability….people’s whole lives were organized by the government and many ‘responsibilities’ were also taken care of. The government found people jobs, organized annual holidays and paying tax was unheard of. According to Nedjelko, life was lived simply and happily by many people, but when communist rule ended, there was confusion over how to accept or deal with any responsibility. The very structured and controlling system was all that these people had ever known and living any differently was foreign. Up until this day, the older generations in the local area here still struggle with this new way of life and talk about how much better it would be to go back to when everything was organized for them. There is particular confusion around why paying an income tax is required and only in recent years has there been any support services in place for people to deal with the changes.

It was so interesting to hear Nedjelko talk about these issues and we were surprised to be confronted on our previous assumptions that life was hard and oppressive for everyone living under communism. Without pushing too many political buttons, or to announce that I’m signing up to a Communist Party, it was simply intriguing to hear another perspective. Nedjelko was obviously chuffed about how keen we were to hear his story that he kept going and going, to the point that we had to politely interrupt him as he stood beside our car to bid us farewell. We drove away feeling completely humbled that such a lovely man had opened his family home and life to us.

Our first glimpse of the lakes

One of the many footbridges

The view from a footbridge

You could see fish like this everywhere!!

One of the many waterfalls

The dragonflies....can you spot them? Don't look too close!


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