Croatia – part 2 – Plitvice Lakes

Most of the week in Croatia was spent at the training, which was rigorous, quite interesting and applied, and useful. There were about 12 of us, from almost that many countries, including Tanzania, South Africa, Lebanon, Estonia and Libya! When the training finished, though, I was excited to see a bit more of this beautiful country. I had about 24 hours and wanted to cram in as much as possible! If it were the summertime, I would have headed to the coast to see Croatia’s famous beaches; however, given that it was November swimming wasn’t really an option. So instead I decided to explore the Plitvicke (plit-veech-ay) Lakes for a day. A guy at the hostel I stayed at in Zagreb (for $20 a night, and complete with a homey, cozy feel no hotel could match!) had also planned to visit the lakes the same day, so we decided to travel together. We caught a bus Friday afternoon and rolled through the rural countryside, whose farms had the grounded serenity of having been there for hundreds of years. Occasionally that peaceful air was broken by the jarring remnant from the war – a demolished house, a tank – and the memories they brought forth – seared the lovely landscape like a burn on healthy skin. It saddened to me to realize that a land so beautiful was wounded so deeply by needless religious and ethnic prejudice. But thankfully that war has passed and the country can continue to rebuild.

After a few hours, we came to the entrance of the national park holding the lakes. We just had a few hours of daylight remaining, so we decided to explore the area near the place we were staying. We climbed up the nearest hill (a ski slope in the winter):

Ski hill

…followed by a bouncy and delightful puppy. The top of the hill was surrounded by woods, and even though there was no path, we wandered in. The beauty that met our eyes was not a flashy, obvious beauty. Rather, it was the beauty of gray. We were both stunned by the diversity of grays – between the gray of the mist, the trees, the sky, we had never known gray could come in so many vibrant shades of color! (Which was ironic, because usually gray is associated with a lack of diversity of color.)

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We chased the bounding puppy, running in circles with joyful abandonment until the dwindling daylight told us it was time to head back. I was again struck by peoples’ easy kindness – when we had gotten a little lost on the way to the house, a man picked us up and drove us there without a second thought. “I know Ivan [the owner]”, he said. “We both own these bed & breakfast places, so we’re like family.” The next morning, we set off for a proper hike to the lakes. In what seemed to be a pattern of running into cute animals, a sweet kitten played with us as we waited for the bus.

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Again, at first glance, the gray marshes wouldn’t stick out as strikingly beautiful. But they revealed their beauty slowly, gradually. How? Through the incredibly pure water, clearer than anything I’d ever seen before…

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…Through the bustling waterfalls and rivers that surged right under the walking path:

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And through the waterfalls that peeked shyly through the mist:

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Feathered friend

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The place felt like a celebration of the power of water. The small hair-like tricklings of water are the result of an interesting geological process, which you can read more about here.

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And finally, I just have to showcase the diversity of MUSHROOMS as well! (I know, I know—probably not on the top of your list of must-see pictures. But someone’s gotta be the voice of the mushrooms 🙂 )

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So all in all, despite the slightly chilly weather, I felt that it was totally worth it for the joy of seeing what I felt like was the country’s true form (i.e. not like summer when it’s overrun with tourists), and having the Plitvice National Park practically to ourselves (we saw maybe 2 other people that day!). Hope to return to this lovely country someday!

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