“What…the…hell…were…those…guys…thinking?” Each word I utter comes out in a puff as I slowly chug up the mountain we are climbing. Every bend in the road I groan in horror as I read a new grade sign. We are on the island Cres in Croatia, taking the recommendation offered by a very friendly man running a tourism office mainland. He had told us that the St. Ivan beach was one of the most beautiful in Croatia and that right around it was a cave that was naturally lit up in blue. “Cres is wild,” he had told us, “so if you like natural things you should go to Cres.” At first we weren’t sure how we were going to do it; Cres was not on the Eurovelo Route and would have to be a side trip unless we wanted to miss many of the other islands. Finally we had decided to just go to Cres for a day or two and then take the ferry back in order to connect with another ferry to Rab. Now we are huffing and puffing up and over two mountain passes after a long day of hilly climbs on the island of Krk. As we descend into the town of Cres, I somewhat heatedly inform Kyle, “We are finding another way off this stupid island.” Kyle readily agrees. Originally we had planned on going another 10 miles to a campground closer to the beach, but now we breathe a sigh of as we reach a closer campground, just around the corner from Cres. Vowing to deliver a few complaints to the tourism office to the effect of “know thy tourist,” Kyle goes into the camp office to rent us a patch of land for the night.
After choosing a spot and setting up our tent, we head down to the water just in time to witness yet another magnificent sunset, this time over water that is crystal clear up close, accented by an incredible dark blue color farther out and back-dropped by mountains outlined in several shades of orange, sending a ripple of orange out on the waves. Mountains in the periphery are slightly more purplish in color, with just enough clouds around them to add texture to what you might see in a painting. Before I know it, tears are running down my cheeks – I am just so caught up in the sheer beauty of the moment. Huh, guess Cres isn’t so bad after all.
The next morning we are both in better spirits, especially after a cup of coffee next to the water, watching as the sun slowly turned the water from dull to a clear and sparkling blue in multiple shades. “Let’s go for it,” I tell Kyle, mesmerized by the water, “Let’s go find the blue cave.” Kyle nods his head in agreement, but warns me that it will likely be a difficult journey, not at all relaxing (I keep telling him I want a lazy day on the beach while in Croatia). I know he is right, but the explorer in me just can’t resist the notion that we must find this mythical blue cave or the mountainous trip over here would all be in vain.
Twenty minutes later, we set out on our day trip, leaving our stuff at our base camp and our electronics at reception for safe keeping. Our plan is to find a bike route off the main road, marked in purple on Earth Pocket Pro. We expect it to be a little rough, the island seems to cater more to mountain bikes, but we figure we can check it out and go from there. On our way, we pass through the charming town of Cres, picking up food for lunch and buying stamps at the post office. We giggle a little at the corny pirate ship parked at the dock – that would have been our other option had we wanted to pay for a relaxing boat ride to the cave – however, cyclists don’t pay for what they can access by bike for free! After our errands, we make it to the beginning of the trail, immediately receiving warnings from other bikers that our bikes weren’t appropriate for a path made up of huge rocks. Still, I have my heart stubbornly set on traveling next to the water and Kyle lives to make all my dreams come true, so we go for it anyway, hoping these people are wrong and that our heavy duty touring bikes will be enough to navigate the trail. For the first chunk of it, it appears that the people were wrong, that it was simply a dirt road with a little loose gravel – nothing we hadn’t seen before. A few kilometers later, we realize we are in for quite the picnic getting over this trail, having to walk our bikes over many portions, watching mountain bikers a lot less fit than we are pass us by with ease. Still, the views are incredible, and I can’t help but feel an amazing surge of happiness as another adventure unfolds. Kyle does not exactly share my good mood, informing me that it is already one o’clock and that we’ve been on this crazy trail for three hours already, a trail that is only 7 miles long (we had planned on reaching the beach with the cave by now).
The blue cave is at sea level, requiring us to hike down from Lubenice, a 4000 year old town on top of a cliff. Lubenice is not at the end of the trail we are on. We still have 10 miles or so of road to navigate after the end of this trail before we reach our destination. Still, Kyle knows I want to eat at the beach and so stubbornly presses onward, even as I tell him we better stop because he is shutting down. We finally reach the end of the trail, completely out of water, hoping to find drinking water at the road. We do. We also find a wasp nest guarded by a swarm of angry defenders. Kyle wants to go for the water anyway because he is too hungry to think straight, but I convince him that that would be a VERY BAD IDEA. So we press onward, throats a little parched at this point, finding another fountain at a church farther up the road. We stop for a snack before beginning a LONG trek upwards, climbing steep hill after steep hill (did I mention this town is on a cliff?). I am worried about Kyle, but he won’t stop now so we keep going, finally reaching the top at two o’clock. The view is out of this world and we are almost tempted to eat lunch at the top instead of the bottom, but we also know that time is now limited since we took so long getting here, so we begin the hike down, which takes about 40 minutes.
Reaching the water, we see a beautiful little pebble beach, uncrowded, with sparking clear water in several shades of blue. On the sides of the beach are beautiful rock formations – and the blue cave, which we apparently have to swim to. Kyle is disappointed to see that none of the people are in the nude (Croatia has a reputation), so he keeps his boxers on and I go behind some trees to change into my bikini. After lunch I test out the water – freezing compared to some of the other beaches tested in Croatia. Still, we have to swim to the blue cave, so we head over to the other side of the beach (warmer thank goodness), and dive into the crystal clear blue. It doesn’t take long to acclimate, though my arms quickly become tired, not used to the exercise of swimming. We take a break, clutching onto some rock, before making it the rest of the way to the cave. A woman tells us to swim in, take a left, and follow the voices of people already inside. We do, and almost immediately we come into a cavern lit up in blue. The cave is much bigger than we thought – it takes a while to find the other people and they are already on their way out. We keep going until we make it to the back of the cave – the back end is lit up in blue and the water in front occasionally lets out little sparks of light, like fireflies in the night. Kyle and I are alone, feeling like we are on a different planet. The blue cave is nothing like we have ever seen before.
Before long, we swim back to shore, pack up, and start the steep climb back up the cliff (1300 feet). At the top, we take a moment to explore the ancient village, a romantic and magical little place, with a very old feeling and hidden little doors. It appears that the village is still inhabited, with clothes hanging outside windows and old women chasing tourists down with jars of honey. The views are incredible, and a little bar/café takes full advantage. We can only wonder at what the sunset might be like up there. However, we still have to get back to our camp (hopefully for another sunset there) on our bikes. For a moment we joke about trying to hitch a ride, and we are even approached by a man asking us how far we have to go, but in the end, we make the journey. Luckily for us, the hill we had climbed up to Lubenice had been no small feat, making the downhill ride magnificent and thrilling. Down, down, down we go, occasionally stopped by cars trying to pass one another on a narrow road that can only handle one. Though we have one hill left to climb, most of the journey is rather easy, just speeding down mountains and into camp. We get there in plenty of time for another amazing sunset over the water.
As the water once again ripples with orange, I think about the day, reveling over just how full it felt. We had done so much – biked, hiked, swam, climbed, and flew – and seen so much – vistas of towns, mountains and the sea, ancient villages, beaches, caves, and a brilliant sunset – and now it felt like we could sleep easy, knowing that we had done everything we could to be awake and alive during the day. The best part was that we had needed so little to do it, just water, food, ourselves and our bikes. The best things in life really do cost us so little – and give us so much.