Croatia photos here
What I remember most is the silence.
Which is strange, because we were motoring, and normally the constant thrum, thrum, thrum of the engine colours everything. More a vibration than a noise, it resonates within your body as if you are a bass guitar string, plucked.
I keep thinking we must have been sailing, because it was so quiet. But I know it’s not possible, because along with the silence, I remember the calm, the total lack of wind. Any sail would have hung limp, ineffectual - the boat may well have sat perfectly still and dead in the water, there being no current discernable from the surface.
And we talked, making noise as we moved about the boat, and the water lapping against the boat as we passed through it. It seems so quiet though, in my memory.
But we are motoring.
The heat is white, piercing. Dry. The sky a deep and solid blue, not a cloud. The water a dark cloth, rippling.
And then, rising suddenly out of this are the islands, all around us. They surround us, before we know it. They contrast so magnificently, so strongly with the deep blue of the ocean, and their dry, bareness rises so suddenly out of this rich, treacly water. The water and their hard surface juxtapose strangely, beautifully. Silence and beauty, intertwined, energising each other, making the whole seem more than the sum of its parts. Blue, deep, deep blue, and white, Blue and white, blue and white.
There is something real about them, organic, animalistic. As if they are the great humps of gigantic whales, and if we move too fast or too noisily among them they will become disturbed, submerge, flee.
Across some of the islands are stone fence lines, stretching from one shoreline to another, cutting the island into two, or three, or four. But the islands are so barren, so sparse, I can’t help but wonder why anyone might feel the need to cut off one part from another. There surely can be no material advantage in this sectioning off – both sides of the fence must be equally unyielding, equally non-productive.
We pick our way through, keeping equidistant between any two islands we pass between. I feel as if the danger, if we happened to run into an island, is not so much to us, but rather to them, the islands themselves. Their lines are so clean, so defined where they meet the water, they look as if they are floating on it. If we bump into one, it might set off a chain reaction, and that island may bang into another, and that into another. I don’t think they are so fragile that they’d break, but rather they might drift away from us, and our moments with them might be lost, as they disappear over the horizon.
As we are drifting – silently - through the islands, I notice something inexplicable, and it encourages me to come up with magical, divine explanations for my surroundings.
I am standing to the port side of the boat, taking a photo as one of the islands drifts past. And I notice that I have become an angel, I have become haloed, hallowed, sanctified. My shadow is cast across the water, and from it radiates an aura of light, all around me. I am an illuminated icon, bought to life. My rational being makes sure that I know that this is just an effect of the sun shining directly behind me, and the light refracting across the water’s surface. My irrational, quasi-religious, poetic, romantic, blessed self tells me I have had a visitation, have been touched by God. I tell no one.
I tell no one, for some time. I am transcended.
We drift into a small harbour, in the lee of one of the islands. Our mooring is beside a restaurant, and an overloaded ferry from Šibenik pulls in just as we arrive, and a seemingly endless stream of day-trippers disembark – the ferry visibly leans into the wharf, as all the passenger weight is transferred to that side. I am fearful that all these tourists will want lunch, and we’ll miss out. But they disappear into the town to eat somewhere else. I’m unsure how where this group of 50 or 60 actually disappeared to, because the town is perhaps a dozen buildings perched on the water’s edge, but we lost sight of them for the afternoon nonetheless. Some hours later, they reappear and board their boat again, and as more of them get on, the ferry resumes its tilt into the wharf, maintaining its off-centre tendency as it motors out of the port, and into the open sea.
All that is left to do with the day is sit, eat, sweat, and talk under the cover of a canvas canopy. When these tasks become too arduous, all we can do is go for a walk and find somewhere to swim. The options are plentiful, this being an island. We stumble into backyards, discover donkeys, and a friendly islander. Two cats walk languidly up the road, as calm and relaxed as two cats can be that don’t have to worry about too many dogs, although a small canine interloper has made it onto the island on one of the boats. He looks like trouble, too.
We swim. The water is cool, welcoming, all encompassing. I discover I do actually have a swimming stroke. I will survive if the boat sinks, at least for a few minutes. About 10 metres from the shore, the ocean floor is covered in a furry grass. Touching it makes me feel a slight panic, as I imagine what else might be looming beneath the surface. Sometimes imagination gets the better of us. Luckily, this surge of imagination coincides exactly with my desire to get out of the water. I don’t feel like I’ve lost out at all.
We are tempted to walk up the hillside, to the legendary pinnacle to get the good views, across this island and its neighbours. It’s still too early in the day, I want to leave it until the sun is going down. I’ve seen the islands in the daytime, we flew over them on the way into the country. They looked extraordinary then, and I don’t want to discolour that memory by being less– or more – impressed with them now, as compared to then. That moment is to stay in its place, unaffected by any new impression, thank-you.
The island changes as the sun goes down. As the sunlight plays across them, the shadows of the fence lines shorten, disappear. Then reappear, lengthen again; the fences change from spine to hairline & back.
Fifteen minutes before sundown, we climb. Even in such an under-populated place, it feels like we are removing ourselves from the tumult, into a rarefied and distant solitude.
We follow the stone fence, an ancient and dusty construction, crumbling in parts. A fellow traveller comes past, and we greet each other. I never quite understand this propensity for greeting on a mountain path, when each would ignore the other if we passed each other in the town below. No matter.
The shadows are lengthening for the final time this day as we reach the top. With the higher eastern side of the island a backdrop, we have a 180o view out to the ocean, and across the islands. A boat can be seen in the distance, a bow wave ever-widening behind it, into the silent expanse. The horizon is a sharply demarcated division, the islands cradled, balanced between earth and sky. As the fading sunlight plays across them, they change colour and texture. Darkness overcomes them, they rest.
This is the sort of view that encourages promises to be made; hands reach for each other, arms slip around waists or shoulders, foreheads and lips meet. We pause here, letting the silence hold us, the warm wind wash over us, the darkness embrace us. We breathe it deeply into our lungs and hold it there for a moment, then let it go again.
And we make our way back down, supporting each other over the crumbling stone, slipping, tripping, blinking as we step back into the light.
Back into the light. The false light of this small town, anchored so precariously to nowhere’s edge.