I’m listening to the rain pour down outside my balcony window. Okukllje bay is totally obscured by mist but the sound of the water trickling through the trees outside our small apartment is comforting. I find myself relaxing even as the rumble of thunder rolls overhead. The wet enhances the smell of the pines and I find myself flung back to my childhood in Idaho. The slight bitter smell of smoke also drifts in through my open doors, evoking campfires and hazy late night summer evenings.
Most people do not come to the island of Mljet in Croatia to listen to the rain. They come to bask in the sun and swim in the clear turquoise waters that make this part of the Dalmatian Coast famous. I am grateful for the respite, however, as it is the first time in two weeks that I have had a chance write a blog post.
Cheri and I parted in León, Spain on the morning of the 26th of August. After kissing both her cheeks, I piled her luggage and sweet self into a taxi headed for castles and adventures in Portugal. Cheri was more than just a friend visiting me in Spain. She was a witness to my journey and to the world that has been such an integral part of this past year for me. After our trip to Finisterre, we spent 4 days back in Santiago. Together, we said good bye to the city that has been my home off and on for the past 6 months. Cheri’s fresh eyes and excitement gave me the beautiful conclusion that I had hoped for. It was the best kind of gift.
On the same day Cheri left, my sister Lissa arrived in León. I know! Another gift! We had been planning a trip together ever since I decided to leave Portland last fall, and her work schedule and my exhibitions had prevented the stars aligning until now. We had decided to spend our first week together in the Picos de Europa (Peaks of Europe) with plans to undertake a few of its most famous hikes.
The first hike on our agenda was 6 miles out and back along a gorge high in the mountains called the Garganta de Cares (throat of Cares). It feels futile to describe the beauty of this hike, but perhaps this video can give you an idea of what we experienced, although at a much slower pace! The scale of the walls leaping up above the path and tumbling to a sheer drop below are like none I’ve ever experienced. The rock is called karst, and is mostly limestone. These grey marbled white walls instantly dwarf you and transport you to an epic movie set; perhaps a sci-fi action flick or a dramatic odyssey in some far flung desert landscape. There were even moments when the rocks and foliage took on a beautiful Asian aesthetic, summoning the feel of a Japanese wood block print or a delicate painted landscape one would see on a silk screen.
Our other hikes were equally memorable. We walked around two alpine lakes, weaving our way through emerald mountain fields and limestone gardens all the while hearing hundreds of grazing cows serenading us with a symphony of cow bells. The last day in the park we rode a teléferico (cable car) up a stomach dropping 2500 feet to start a hike that would wind us 9 miles down around the giant central mastiff in the Picos, and then bring us back to our starting point through lush forests on the southern slopes of Pico de Valdecoro.
While we were inside the park, we were even able to get a ‘taste’ of the area’s rich history in cheesemaking as the annual Cheese Festival in Cabrales always occurs the last Sunday in August. This was no coincidence. Lissa and I LOVE cheese. We sampled about 20 varieties of the local pungent blue cheese, which is world famous and is identified by the fancy packaging displaying its origins over a green and red striped seal. Many of the cheeses we tasted were made in Tielve, the tiny (and I do mean tiny) mountain town we stayed in during our time in the park. We enjoyed delicious homemade food at the Hostal La Plaza and became acquainted with the local rooster whom we can only assume was blind as he continuously crowed from 7:00 am on. After leaving the park we took a day and a half to drive across the country (literally) to catch a plane to Croatia from the Barcelona airport. We got on the plane still dizzy from the hundreds of Spanish traffic roundabouts and the steep toll fees, but we made it.
The last few days we have spent marvelling at the charm and beauty of the old city in Dubrovnik. Our favourite part was, of course, the famous walk on the city walls. Perched high on the stone walls surrounding the ancient city, we were presented with stunning views around every turn. From this vantage point you can look down onto the hustle and bustle of the Stradun and gaze out over a tapestry of terracotta roofs and white church towers with the contrasting azure ribbon of the Adriatic Sea beyond. The early September sun was still hot, even in the late afternoon, so we took a break and thoroughly enjoyed the ice cream dripping down our waffle cones while watching the numerous boats sail out in and out of the harbor.
The second afternoon I spent some time sketching at a café on the Stradun (the main street in the old city) while Lissa visited the Maritime Museum. Lissa’s capacity for museums outweighs mine, but we are content to part ways for a few hours if our desires differ. (This aspect, in my opinion, makes for the best kind of travel buddy.) I have been struggling with the past few drawings I have attempted, and this was no exception. It is near impossible, with my limited paint palette, to capture the bright glowing white of the buildings in the old city, but I am pleased with the overall feel of the drawing. I continue to experiment with perspective and am learning, ever so slowly, to let my hand be looser in this area.
I started this blog in March of 2014 and this is only the second time I have let two whole weeks go by without posting. I am pleased to say that I miss sharing with you! Even as I write these words I realize that over the course of this year, I have become someone that doesn’t just write; I have become someone who looks forward to writing. To delight in the process is always a hard fought battle, and anyone that knows me will celebrate this small victory with me.
The rain is now a torrential downpour. My weather app is optimistically showing me a small yellow sun for the local Mljet area tomorrow. I will also think optimistically and expect sunshine tomorrow, but for now I will burrow under my blanket and let the rain lull me to sleep.