Croatia began in Zagreb, where you crashed the couch of a former host, Ivan–a man whom you adore for his manner of speaking in straight lines. No ambiguity, no diplomatic crap. Just objective–with an ass-saving white lie a few times per week (not that you condone that, but people accuse you of worse in regard to your relationship with the “truth.”)
06-02-11> Today. Met two idiots and turned down an invitation to a BBQ/ Saw a man masturbating quite publicly in an idling car, and felt rather angry. So angry that you ran back in order to threaten him with your Nikon, but he was long gone. You thought about how many children were walking down that street./ Had your opinion of the day turned by a charming town on what was formerly known as Frowney Face Island. / Got a free hat from a pair of beer girls./ Had a round of drinks bought for you by two young ladies who’s given you a lift a couple hours earlier./ Talked about “growing up” in Ireland./ Crushed the skull of a suffering cat flapping its tail in a pool of blood in the middle of the road–then screamed in disgust and guilt./ Wiped cat blood from your leg./ Smeared some cream on your butt rash.
06-03-11 > Woke up to the sounds of a bleating goat tied to a rock just 10 feet from your tent. What that there last night?/ A 6-year-old on a bike rode round and round you as you ate breakfast./ A man driving a meat truck gave you a free packet of weenies just after Manon had announced in the supermarket that it has been too long since you’d eaten meat./ Got a weird feeling from three Bosnian men who asked you if you wanted a beer, so refused. / The subsequent car exacerabated your paranoia when the driver refused to speak and drove you far-far-far through the eerie territory by the Croatian-Bosnian border./ Lost your bag of cream and vegetables, and Manon exclaimed it was the worst day ever when her bag tipped over into a mud puddle. / You saved the day be intercepting a man carrying a tray of cheese samples toward the bin./ Spirits were crushed when you learned that it would cost 30 Euro to enter the National Park./ Luck had it that you buckwahacked your way past the entrance gate just as all the park rangers were leaving for home. You and Manon enjoyed one of the most beautiful palces you have ever seen–blue lagoons and waterfalls and wooden boardwalks–all to yourselff, in the quiet of dusk, for two hours. Not a single tourist to spoil it./ Manon was afraid of the dark and the potential for land mines./ You camped uncomfortably in a parking lot, disturbed by the sounds of real wildlife, which is quite noisy.
Your luck culminated in Zadar. And it all began when you declared, “Manon, we need to make friends with rich people, because rich people have boats.” You could really use one. Croatia has over 1,000 islands. Real islands, with no bridges. You would see none besides Frowney Face Island (Krk). Manon had, furthermore, never even been on a boat, barring a ferry.
Manon left you near a bridge in the heart of Zadar and went off to the shop to spend the last of your budget on a couple of cold beers. Within minutes, you befriended a man who just so happened to have a boat! Of course, he had been trying to sell you something: a boat tour for his company. You explained very matter of factly that you had no money and were trying to make friends with someone who had their own boat.
Something about your no-bullshit approach made him cave–or maybe it was the sudden appearance of your sexy French accolmplice. The man–Damil–explained that he, too, had backpacked on a shoestring and knew the life. Knew how little money was spent, what it was not knowing where you would sleep that night, and meeting so many characters along the way. “I think that’s great. Maybe you girls would like to come on my boat? I live on a sailboat. We can hang out a bit, and maybe you can sleep on the boat. There’s space. But if you don’t want to, there is plenty of good camping right next to the marina. And tomorrow is my day off. Maybe we can do something together.”
You’re kidding, right? Yes. Yes, a thousand times yes. Especially with the astonished look in Manon’s eyes. Damil was very nice, very polite, and wore a broad, inviting smile. He found a map, showed you how to get to his boat a few towns over. Gave you his mobile number, the registration number of his vessel, and plenty of other tips. “You can jump right off the boat and have a bath. Maybe wash a little laundry. Eat some dinner.”
“You trust him, right?” Manon asked, once in privacy.
“Yes, I do. He seems very straight-forward.” Maybe he was a little bit of a bullshitter–what, with his, “6 euros per day budget? You only need 3,” which was slightly insulting, and you didn’t believe him whatsoever. But it was true. You only need three. The other three were just for beer.
You arrived at the marina in decent time, after a whirwhind lift from a car full of drunk people on their way to a wedding party. A woman who resembled your ex wife declared with enthusiasm that she loved you, and please come to the wedding with them. The driver continued to exclaim to Manon in the front seat, “Let’s go fuck in the woods! I have condoms!” Instead, he pulled out a pair of pliers and said, “Sado maso!! I am sado maso!” “Don’t listen to him,” said the woman. “He’s only 20. He’s just a boy!” Alas, neither of you were interested, and they dropped you in Damil’s town and went on their way.
Damil was a gentleman at first. He invited you onto his boat, which you entered after crossing the deck of a large vessle owned by a couple of Dutch retirees. Damil cracked open some beers, brought out his excellent, smooth tobacco, and a little legal herb that, due to its tranquilizing effects, interested neither you nor Manon. For about an hour, you talked. Damil asked questions about your life, your travels, and answered a few of your own. It was good fun, and finally, after silence began to fall (perhaps because Damil’s tranquilizing herb rendered him incapable of carrying on a conversation), you disappeared below deck to whip up some dinner for the group.
Something happened. But what? Damil seemed to get drunk, rapidly. He burped and twisted in his seat. He began a little harmless fliting, “Are we going to go for a swim? How about a little massage? You girls can sleep in the bed, and I’ll take the bench. I’d like to sleep between the two of you, of course.”
Manon draws clear lines. She honored none of the flirting. This seemed to upset Damil. “No? Why so many nos? Why can’t you just say ‘maybe?'” Her expression remained stern. At some point, Damil went below deck to look for something. You felt both his hands on the back of your neck. Strong hands. The held you firmly, and turned your head so that Damil could direct the beam of light from your head lamp, by which you’d been cooking.
What the fuck. Who grabs someone’s neck like that from behind?
It seemed innocent enough. Almost playful. He had been drinking, after all. It was over quickly. No harm, no foul. But an alarm went off in your head, all the same.
“You guys stink,” declared Damil after dinner. “You should go for a swim.”
“It’s my socks, man. Trust me. I warned you,” you said.
“No,” he replied. “I think it’s you. Let me smell you.” He leaned over and began trying to smell Manon. She froze, and her eyes widened, disconcerted. She pulled away.
“Stop smelling me. We don’t stink.”
She pulled away. Damil opened his arms, “What? I’m not doing anything. What are you so nervous about?” He dropped the matter. “So you two girls will take the bed? You gonna camp? What?”
You were watching the whole thing. It was difficult to tell just how uncomfortable Manon felt. On the one hand, you knew she wanted to sleep on the boat; on the other hand, not really with this guy, whose character had changed.
Luck would have it that your bowels were feeling very active. “I’m going to be perfectly honest. I had lentils today for lunch, and I think it’s going to be a noisy evening. Doesn’t matter if I go for a swim. It will be a smelly night. I think I would be doing you a favor by camping on land.”
“Whatever you want to do,” Damil said, easily. “It’s your decision.”
That was easy. He seemed normal enough. You agreed to meet him by his boat the next morning at 10am. As it would be his day off, he figured the three of you might take the boat out to a couple of islands. You and Manon pitched your tent and dissected your experience with Damil.
He was nice. Very nice. Very accommodating. He seemed trustworthy. And yet at some point, perhaps after too many beers or too much herb, he lost his charm. That happens, right?
The next day, as planned, you met him on his boat. He greeted you with his big broad smile. “Hi! Good morning! Come on in. I’ve just finished cleaning. How did you sleep?”
That’s the guy you knew! You and Manon boarded. After a little messing around, Damil exclaimed to his Dutch neighbor, “We’re going to go out for the day. Will you miss me?”
The neighbor looked at him squarely, “I can’t say that I will.”
“See you later!” Damil said happily. He cracked open a beer and drank. He offered beers to the two of you, but as it was only 10 o’clock in the morning, you declined. “You’re sure?! Come on, have a beer.”
No thanks. Too early. You never were fond of that particular sailing habit.
He said something. For the life of you, you can’t remember anymore what it was, but it was the first sign of the day that Damil’s lousy character was not beer-induced. You exchanged looks with Manon. She could have shrugged and said, “Whatever. It’s a small price to pay. This guy is taking up around the islands in his sail boat!”
So off you went. It didn’t take long for you realize you’d made a mistake. You began the morning by casually asking Damil a few questions about the boat, which he was unable to answer, such as, “How much did you pay? Does it cost anything to register it?” He was reluctant to answer, just as he had been reluctant to answer how old he was the night before. Finally, “I don’t know. I don’t think about it. My mother bought it for me.”
Wait… his mother? You thought the guy had prided himself on living on a shoestring. On working only when he felt like it. Smelled like bullshit.
“Normally I don’t take people out on this boat. You see, this is my home, but then I meet people, and they want me to take them out for free, like you two. I would charge 200 euros for this.”
You tried to engage him in conversation. “Why do you ask so many questions?” he exclaimed. “You’ve been asking me questions all morning, non-stop. Questions, questions!”
“I’m trying to make conversation. That’s how I do it,” you said.
“You want converstation? Talk to her,” he said, pointing to Manon.
“I am with her 24/7. I don’t want to talk to her. We’ve run out of things to talk about.” No offense Manon… but she understood. She watched you cautiously.
After some time, she turned to Damil and said, “So where have you been with this boat?”
“Where, everywhere? Like which islands?” she pressed.
“Do you have a pen and a map? Give me a pen and a map, and I will show you exactly where I’ve been.”
Manon fidgeted, then produced a map.
“Where’s the pen?” he demanded.
“I don’t have one.”
He thrust the map back at her. “Well then I cannot show you where I’ve been.”
What the fuck. How odd. Who… behaves that way?
Later, Manon said, “Can I ask something? You don’t have to answer if it is a sensitive topic…” she asked him about his feeling about the recent war.
His response: “How do you feel about what the French did…” something something.
She said, “I think it’s awful.”
“–and so now you know how we feel!”
She paused. “You don’t have to answer in such an aggressive way. I told you that you didn’t have to answer if it was sensitive.”
“Agressive way? What agressive way? I answered your question!”
Your head turned to him slowly during the long, awkward pause. “You have a way of speaking that silences us.”
“That’s because all you do is talk! Talk and talk and talk. And ask quesions! No more questions! Can’t you talk without asking questions!”
You fell silent. Then… “Maybe I can resign myself to communication through a series of statements… but never mind.” You shut up.
Manon, “You know, if you don’t like us, then I don’t understand why you want to take us out. You don’t have to take us anywhere.”
Damil, “You want me to turn this boat around? You want to go back?” You were far out to sea at that point.
“If it suits you,” you said cooly.
“Fine. Great! Then there will be no more questions. It will be much nicer that way.” He turned the boat.
Ohh…. that was awkward. You were dead silent. Manon, as well. Damil motored the boat slowly, wearing a big, satisfied smile the entire time. Occasionally he would speak, “See? This is great. The weather is perfect. The sun is out. It’s nice and quiet.”
At some point, he pointed and exclained, “Look! Dolphins! That’s amazing! Every time I come out here, I see dolphins. Fishermen tell me there are none left, but I see them all the time.”
He was right. There they were, and Manon lit up for a moment when she saw them.
The dolphins were long gone. Damil very suddenly cut the engine. The boat stopped, still very far from the marina. He smiled, stretched his giant body, twisted about, and then dove off the stern for a swim. You and Manon waited, without interest, wondering why the fuck he was no longer returning you to land. It was like he didn’t give a damn about making you uncomfortable.
Or maybe that was the point. When he climbed back on board, Manon said, “I think we are going to hitch hike towards Split today, and we should really be getting back soon. So we have enough time.”
“You want to go back? Okay, we’ll go back.” He re-started the engine. The boat crept along, at an utterly glacial pace. “I have to conserve fuel,” Damil explained.
Oh, it was excruciatingly slow, and became wose when Damil, seated in a corner between the two of you, decided very suddenly to run his hand up his shorts and rub gratutiously near his groin. Your heart skipped a beat, and you could feel Manon’s reaction as well. Was he…? No, wait…
“Ohh… man. That’s good.” He looked between both of your expressions. “I’m not touching myself! No. You see, I’ve pulled something this morning, during exercise.” He continued to rub suggestively, for a long minute, seated with his legs splayed open towards you. But he was, indeed, rubbing a ligament.
There were many transgressions. Too many to recount here. But it was the most awkward boat ride of your life, and you were keenly aware of his position of power over the two of you–alone, on the boat, in the middle of the sea. When, at last, you were retunred to the marina, the Dutch neighbor watched with interest, but without word.
You strapped on your backpack as Damil fixed lines. You looked at the Dutch man, locked eyes, and slowly shook your head. You crossed onto his deck. He continued to watch you, expectantly. You gave him another solemn shake of your head. He said, “I wanted to warn you.”
And that was it.
The feeling you and Manon shared was unlike anything you’d ever experienced before. You noticed the police on the dock, and thought you might tell them everything–what Damil… didn’t do. Nothing. He did nothing illegal. There was scarcely–if any–sexual innuendo. You can’t arrest someone for being an… asshole. Can you? The guy just wanted to make you uncomfortable. But why?!
“Wow… Manon. I’m sorry your first boat experience turned out like that. Sorry that it sucked so much. I promise that the next guy I find with a boat will be nice.”
You kid not. Within one hour of making that statement, while Manon’s back was turned, you flagged down a big yellow van towing a ski boat. The driver, a German guy named Kurt, was heading south with his boat to camp by himself for two days, as he awaiting the arrival of his friend. Within minutes, you leapt at the opportunity.
“You know what happened to us this morning…” and you proceeded to explain Damil, Manon’s first boat experience. Kurt bit the bait, “If you want, I can take you out on my boat. I won’t be mean.”
What ensued? You spent two days with Kurt, the sweetest, best, most generous man ever. He insisted you stay with him in his camp site for two nights, paid for your slot, fed you dinner, bought you drinks, ice cream, took you all around the Croatian islands near Zadar. You shared two incredible days with him, feeling like total princesses, sun bathing, seeing cliffs, driving the boat, and sharing stories. You had luxury experiences in Croatia that most people pay hundreds of Euros for.