27th September - 12th October
Ok, it's a long time period to be covered by one post but this was the only part of our trip which was to some degree planned originally (we decided early in our "planning" that we wanted to Scuba dive in Croatia). This was our "holiday within a holiday" and updating the blog wasn't top of my priorities :-) So in order to keep this post to a reasonable length, here are the highlights for me:
About a ten minute walk from our campsite was the quaint little harbour of Mlini. There was a lovely little church right on the pebble beach, and two waterfalls within easy walk of the sea-front where there was a nice row of little coffee shops overlooking the small harbour. It was a lovely spot to relax before and after diving and we made the walk almost daily from our campsite as it was the home of Aquarius Divers.
Aquarius Dive Centre
When we went to check out Aquarius we met Robert, one of the owners, and following a little chat we felt quite comfortable arranging a dive with them for the next day. He was very competent and friendly and put us at our ease very quickly. Aquarius has a small office on the sea-front and we were able to store our kit there between dives, which was great for us, and they offered to pick us up for the first dive in order to help us getting our kit to the office. The boat was designed by it's skipper, Ivor and it's the classic Red-Sea catamaran layout with plenty of room for around twenty divers to kit up simultaneously as well as lounge around on the sun deck upstairs. To complete the design there is also room for the same twenty divers to sit around and eat lunch together in the "dry" half of the deck. Ivor also doubles up as the on-board gourmet chef. Apart from the first day we eat lunch provided by Ivor and it was spectacular. All the food was fresh, and the fish was caught in the morning for the table (we were able to watch a master fisherman at work). Not only did the food taste amazing, but it was a real joy to watch work his magic. He clearly is someone who loves cooking. All in all we had a brilliant diving experience with Aquarius and they were competitively priced. Thanks Aquarius!
So this threatened to be the highest of many highlights on the tour so far, and it didn't disappoint. We had set out many, many moons ago to dive in Croatia, specifically Dubrovnik - and finally we had arrived, kitted up, put our fins on and strode giant-like into the clear blue waters...
Diving in Croatia is just amazing. The water is clear as crystal, there are no currents to speak of (we did have a bit of movement after some windy days), there is an abundance of sea-life to gawp at and I finally perfected "hovering" whilst watching some of the coolest sea-slugs, starfish, Octopuses, a whole array of fish and a host other quite amazing underwater inhabitants.
There is also the wreck of the merchant ship the Taranto which had sunk to a depth of 25m (the floor is at around 52m) with it's spilled cargo of tractors and cargo hold which is big enough to explore. It too boasts an abundance of inhabitants, and we saw a couple of pretty mean-looking Stone-fish as well as this Cushion Starfish.
As well as the plethora of reefs and islands, we saw plenty of other distractions which made our trip varied and exciting. Even when we made a second dive on an area we were able to find much more to it than we had seen the first time, although this may have been due to a slight navigational error on our part first time round!
There was a great group of divers aboard too, making our first properly international diving experience very memorable with French, German, Croatian and a couple of English (of course) diver aboard. We had plenty of laughs during our surface intervals and there really wasn't much of a language barrier (except when I tried to speak some Croatian).
So to sum up, we both thoroughly enjoyed our diving in Dubrovnik and both agreed that if the opportunity arises we would love to come back.
Srebreno & Kupari
As I've mentioned before, we stayed on a campsite called Matkovica run by a wonderfully warm and generous lady called Daniella and she really did make our stay a pleasant one. We were so relaxed that I really don't think we noticed the time slipping by so quickly as we walked along the sea front, swam in the gloriously warm waters (25 degrees C on the surface I'll have you know) and basked under the hot Croatian sun between days spent diving with Aquarius. Nailz enjoyed himself too as he got some pretty decent cat chasing time.
Just along the coast, about a ten minute walk from Srebreno and our campsite was Kupari, with a lovely little bay and beach. This used to be a thriving tourist resort with three very large hotel complexes and supporting beach-side bars and other assorted tourist facilities. However during the Homelands War this resort, along with most of the surrounding area was shelled by Yugslavian forces and all the building suffered structural and fire damage. The result is quite eerie. You have a lovely beach with cute little bay, dominated by the skeletal shells of the three main hotels. The beach is quiet which although good for us wasn't so good for the businesses which used to thrive on the tourist trade.
The war has left reminders throughout the region and pretty much anywhere you go in the area of Dubrovnik, you can see evidence of the war.
The folk we met and spoke to though were nothing but warm, friendly and more than willing to spend a bit of time with us just to shoot the breeze and it was a genuinely pleasurable experience whenever the opportunity arose. Yep, the scenery was beautiful with the mountains rising up against the skyline inland, and the sea was crystal and warm, and the sun was pretty much always roasting (when it wasn't blowing a gale) but the most endearing thing to me was the Croatians themselves.
Notes on travelling - The British don't come back...
One thing I should mention is something Ivor said whilst we were on the boat one day, and that is that many German and French tourists go back to the same areas year upon year, but the British never do. He asked why that was and I was at a loss to answer it at first. I thought about if I would come back to Croatia and if I would come back to this specific bit of Croatia and I would have to say that I would love to. I also thought about the next stage of our adventure and getting the ferry across to Italy to discover a whole new world just across the sea and it occurred to me that I've pretty much enjoyed every country that I've been to so far on this trip and would love to go back to each country and each specific bit again and again (with one or two exceptions). I'd basically have to give up working for good to keep going back to the bits I've liked (not a bad thought, but a bit impractical). Maybe the British are just born explorers, being an island nation after all, or maybe we are just greedy and always want more. I'm happy either way.
Off we go again
We caught the Dubrovnik - Bari ferry crossing with very mixed emotions. It was not easy to leave Croatia after having such a great time, but on the ferry our thoughts finally turned to what lay in front of us... Bari island (not really Pete, sorry) and the South of Italy.
You can see more photos on our Flickr page!