I’m invited to my uncle’s place for an evening among friends from his camping club. I’m slightly nervous as my relationship with my Italian family is quite formal and I envisage hours of polite small talk but it’s a great evening. The campers all get the bus and the trip immediately. They get that there is no schedule and they share my excitement about it.
At the table we start talking about what a crook Berlusconi is. The protests in Rome have had an effect and he’s going to be tried for corruption, but I’m not up to speed on the details. By the end of the evening I’m the only one under 50 and they are all bluetoothing comedy ringtones around the table. I suppress the urge to tell them that the dinner table is no place for a mobile, and end up with this hysterical cow bell ring tone. I love it.
The next day we leave late for Zagreb. It’s going to be a 2 day trip, but we start the day visiting the local recycling centres with my uncle aunt and cousin. The centres are only too happy to give us their oil. Only bad timing means they don’t have 100’s of litres for me. They want to know all about it and say I should be on the telly. It’s another reminder that the press interest in this trip has been the lowest of any project I’ve done, and yet this is by far the most interesting. It’s a frustrating thorn that niggles. Like a puzzle I haven’t solved, yet.
We stop in a motorway service, the first night I’m sharing the space with my dad, I worry about the snoring, but only his midnight exit for the loo wakes me. He’s happy enough and makes a great effort to tell me he’s not fussy at every opportunity.
Before we set off from my uncles he trips on the last step of a flight and lands on the bags he’s carrying. It’s a reminder to me how fragile he really is, and his efforts to maintain he’s roughty toughty make it harder for me to gauge a level.
We’re heading to Zagreb because Tom from Green Fuels has put me in touch with Tomislav of Energopak, a company that makes and sells biodiesel made from UCO (Used Cooking Oil). It turns out they don’t anymore, they’ve sold it to another guy, but none the less they agree to give me 310 litres of fuel, enough to brim my tank.
When we arrive they are on a long weekend, but make the trip back to Zagreb to help with the “Woodstock” bus as Mirta calls it. They are so friendly, I’m annoyed for them too that we haven’t been able to organise any press in Croatia.
In central Zagreb we are almost towed away twice by the same Parkservice crew. Except that the bus is too big for their tow truck. “I call big one” the guy warns me but I am laughing so hard it infects him.
I give up on finding the street where Franz Ferdinand was assassinated as the satnav isn’t working and the one way systems are sending me into a rage where I’m ready to kick off a world war of my own.
Eventually the Satnav finds itself man. We bee-line to the coast and a campsite I remember from last year. I have dreams of swimming and dancing on the beach til 2am surrounded by beautiful Croatian girls. It’s closed. The season is over. The beautiful Croatian girls are all gone.
Down the coast we find another campsite run by a nutcase and his lovely wife. I duck out of the Faulty Towers leaving my dad to make sense of the odd couple, and cycle along the coast till I find a stairway down to the water, strip off and swim. It’s cold but it’s just right.
I’ve been dreaming of this swim for months, while I prepared the bus in Shaftesbury, while fielding calls to disinterested sponsors, while driving back and forth to the MOT centre in Mitcham, it was all just a means to point my destiny to this bay to have this swim, and now as I take it, it doesn’t disappoint. I stretch out in the setting sun, it’s not warm but again it’s perfect, to the sound of a fishing boats putt-putt to its nets with the sun setting behind, bouncing in the slop of the gentle waves. Behind me the massive mountains cooling are cooling in the shade, stalling the rising wind on their slopes, in an hour they will be sending it back in the opposite direction.
This moment is the end of the first chapter of this trip. It’s routine now. I get up, and for the most part I know what I’m doing. The route until here has been familiar. Ahead the unknown. The wind backs, and the trip enters a new phase.
My leg is bearable now, and I’m itching to fly again. I’ve decided I want to cut across to Bulgaria. I’m a month too late to enjoy Croatia as I’d imagined it. It’s all closed up, and I think Albania will be the same, so it makes sense to head direct to Turkey.