Taking a break in Rab

Taking a break in Rab

The food poisoning on Krk Island had been a serious blow to my motivation. If I was already getting ill in Europe, how would I ever survive more exotic countries? And mostly, how much easier would all that have been if only I had not been alone? Had I been a couple, I thought, half of me could have packed the tent and looked for a place to rest while the other half was vomiting about the place, saving much precious time, and water. It was time for a break.

Time for a break

On the day I cycled out of Krk, and then took the car-ferry to Rab, I had reached another milestone, I had cycled 2145 km. This was 20 km more than the longest bike tour I had ever done. This had been in summer 2012, when I cycled 2125 km in Washington and Oregon States of USA, still young and full of hopes and dreams. I thought that even if I stopped in Rab, it was now my longest bike tour.

During the ferry-crossing between Krk and Rab, I had met Sara and Eva, two musicians from Zagreb whom, with all summer gigs cancelled, had decided to tour Croatia on bikes. Instead of a tent they carried hammocks and, natürlich, a guitar. We had spent a good part of that afternoon chatting on the beachside, and met again in Rab the next day to sip beers in a bar so conveniently located that ships entering the port pushed the Adriatic Sea onto our feet.

I liked Rab. As every place I had visited so far in Croatia, the town was full of German tourists. Locals and tourists alike often addressed to me in German. “Alles? Guten Appetit!” But I thought that the town had more character than those I had visited on Krk Island. The touristic flair of the city was largely justified, for Rab has had regional significance for over two thousand years, and the old town is an architectural wonder. There were plenty of restaurants and cafés in town, but the rest of the Island was equally provided with quiet beaches.

I wanted to stay here for longer than the three nights I had booked. The owner had let me known that the room was free if I wanted it, and the room I rented was, in fact, gorgeous. I stayed about 1 km from town and had a huge bed, a private bathroom, a water boiler, access to a garage for my bike, and a shaded terrace with a view. Since I had booked at the last-minute, it was not the cheapest option in town, but definitely among the most affordable. I wanted to stay longer but I felt bad about it.

Early student retirement

Now you need to understand that I am not a very decisive person. I think I’ve spend more of my life in indecision than on the toilet seat (though sometimes I manage to do both at the same time). Indecision has costed me relationships, ruined holidays, countless hours of work and certain job opportunities. The only advantage indecision has given me, is that riding my bike not knowing how far I will go without catching COVID-19, or which countries I will be able to enter (or leave), is actually not so different from my everyday sedentary life. So I tried to think whether I should stay longer in Rab or not. For most of a whole day.

I thought I felt bad about staying longer in Rab for two reasons. First, I was cycling slower than planned. Second, I was spending a lot of money. I quickly dismissed the first reason. For the second, I had a better look at my budget. Over the month of July, I had spent almost 2000 euros, which was twice the amount I had foreseen. It was also around five times the rate I had spent during my first bike tour, when I was still a student. I admitted that I had been cycling in much greater comfort than I had originally intended. I had paid camping places for daily showers, occasional hotels, ate more often at restaurants than not. I had also bought expensive new gear in Zürich and had not yet been paid for the work I did there. Still, I calculated that, not even considering that I was moving towards cheaper countries, I had enough savings for a couple of years of such gold standard bike touring life. After all, I had been putting money aside exactly for this during the last ten years, and tapped into it for just about a month and a half. Practically, money was not a problem. Not yet, anyway. But I still felt bad about it.

It so happened that I had recently started reading the superseller book by American author Liz Gilbert called Eat, Pray, Love. I was still into the Eat part when I understood truly why I felt bad. In our western culture, going about spending your money in hotels and restaurants like there’s no tomorrow is not something that one normally deserves in their thirties. This is something for retired people coming out of a life of hard work and family-raising. In their thirties we’re told, normal people get stable jobs, buy houses and make babies. In fact I have never had a permanent job, think that tents are more practical than houses, and that they’re enough babies on Earth without my help for now. No, it’s even worst than that. Actually the title of my last, part-time, university contract had even contained the word student. My mailbox was constantly flooded with requests for data and expertise from all over the World, but on the academic ladder to job security I was still a student, a part-time, post-doctoral student (if that’s even a job title, and most professors never quite retire anyway).

So I was reading Eat, Pray, Love and decided: if this thirty-four years old American woman spent an entire four months of her life just ordering cappuccinos and pizzas and gelatos on the streets of Rome and, what’s more, got famous for it, I certainly no longer had to feel bad about myself (which will hopefully tease you into reading the book). So when I heard the owner’s car coming back, I asked him to extend my stay. Bravo, he said.

Eat, swim, eat

From then on, my days in Rab were paced with early-morning baths, breakfasts on the terrace, cappuccino office, late-morning baths, siestas under the pines, afternoon baths, cicada office, and evening cocktails. I went through my photography and tried to sort out some kind of an online portfolio. I wrote a few thematic pages to pin at the top of my blog. But between all that, I think I’ve never treated myself so generously.

One day, I took the bike to a remote beach in the western part of the island. The place could not be reached by car. There was one cyclist (me), and about two dozens boats parked in the bay. The water was incredibly shallow and warm, and the sand was full of shells that appeared to crawl on the sea floor. When I picked one up, eight inquisitive legs suddenly came out of the shell to see what was going on. A hermit crabs. I think it was my first time seeing one.

On what was supposed to be my last day, I was going to prepare photos of Rab for my blog when I realized that something was wrong. Many of the older gallery links were broken. WordPress galleries give me so much trouble, really. One needs to manually activate image links for each gallery (which is how they appear in a pop-up lightbox slideshow). Then, it seems impossible to link to an image of different size than the thumbnails, so one is stuck with either low resolution images, or heavy pages. I spent the rest of the day attempting to fix old posts one by one, and unsuccessfully testing multiple fancy “best gallery” plugins doing way more advanced things than I wished (trying out photonic Flickr galleries now, tips welcome).

I ended up angry at myself, wasting another day of sun with computer work. I felt like on one of these many, many bad days, from my previous office life, when I’d come to work with a great idea, get sidelined onto technical issues within the first hour and spend the rest of the day stuck there, until I had to choose between going home feeling like I’d done nothing at all, or wasting my evening to perhaps find a solution. I did not want to get back to this. Not yet, anyway.

So before the sun was down, I went to the beach. It so happened that on the same day, I had bought a new, unexpected piece of bike touring gear: a snorkeling kit. I thought it would be fun to stop on quiet beaches along the way and see if there was anything in the water. But I would begin giving it a try right out of town, though I did not expect to see much here. So I put the mask on and dived in to the place I had been bathing regularly for a few days now.

I was welcomed by an army of sea urchins. There was also the spaghetti-looking seaweed Sara had told me not to touch, and the sea floor was much closer than I thought it was. After the few metres, the sea floor had a steep downhill that almost gave me vertigo, and then the water was incredibly full of fish. Thousands of them. Small fish near the surface, bigger fish hiding in the rocks. And e who thought I was bathing all alone…

After the swim, I had a beer in front of the setting sun, watching the western sea become a oily flake of blue and orange tints. As an adult, I had rarely gone to the sea (except for the Arctic Ocean). I was always attracted to mountains and cold environments, which was also the kind of place I spent a lot of time studying in office. I thought it was good for me though, to experience now a new, unknown environment. On that day I understood the world’s fascination for the seas. What’s more, I think I was beginning to find it cool actually. So I decided to stay another three nights to fix my website. Ah, bravo, bravo.

On the last evening of my stay, I went back to the seafront restaurant where I had had a beer with Sara and Eva. After a week in the city, I had taken my marks, but ten days felt a bit long. Towards the end of my stay I had been a little lonely again and begun to think a bit too much of all the things that had gone wrong in the last few years. I was feeling to feel the urge to get back on the bike.

There was a little island in the alignment of the city that I wanted to check out. There was a jetty to it but one had to swim ten or twenty metres through an opening for boat traffic. The seafront was crowded, and I did not feel confident leaving my belongings there. So I tried something a little adventurous, I packed all my things in my backpack and decided to test its waterproofness. And it worked. I think the mask and tuba also helped to keep the bag at low pressure on the water surface. I could fetch my camera and tripod (and even my laptop) to the island. From there, the city looked like a ship in its own harbor, its high walls facing the sea like a prow, the four churches looking like as many masts. Beginning to feel familiar.

Photos

2 Comments

  1. Amandine

    This is what is also good in travelling. Taking time to make your marks in one place 😉 and I can only approve the early-morning bath, late-morning bath, late afternoon and early evening baths 😉 In YOu must also plan another activity: climb on the highest hill your have in the neighborood to watch sunset on the Kornati islands. Hope to see you in Zadar next week

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