It’s now day 11 of what is becoming – in our heads at least – an around-the-world bike tour, we’ve spent the last 10 days biking from Dubrovnik’s airport to the middle of Croatia, somewhere near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Out of those ten days, we have slept five nights on campsites, where we have paid relatively large sums of money to pitch our tent and be in the company of other “campers”, most of whom own mobile homes or VW-like vans; their setups make us feel incredibly basic but also suitably adventurous.
Campsites do serve a purpose however; hot water showers and conveniently located sinks make washing up our camping equipment easy. On the days we have not stayed at a campsite, we have been forced to fill up our water and do our washing up at cafés, hotels and even one museum, which wasn’t always necessarily a bad experience; hotel bathrooms are usually cleaner than campsite toilets!
On the tourist routes though, mainly on the Dalmatian coast, campsites are plentiful and it was this ease of locating one that often persuaded us to stay. 2 days ago we struck off the main road into the countryside to try our luck at wild-camping or pitching up on private property, with the owner’s permission of course. Inspired by Rob Lillwall’s Cycling Home from Siberia, we used Google Translate to produce a simple letter to be presented to anyone we wished to stay with, introducing ourselves and our predicament of needing somewhere to pitch the tent for a night.
On Thursday 10th June we reached the end of the day’s biking, with both of us feeling tired and ready to settle down for the night. We pulled off of the main road, crossed a train track and hailed the first person we saw; a middle-aged lady walking out of a small barn. She spoke not a word of English and we presented our untested ‘magic’ letter, which she spent a minute quietly reading aloud, smiling throughout. After finishing the letter, she grinned and gestured to a patch of grass where we could pitch the tent and spend the night. We thanked her profusely in halting Croatian, rolled our bikes to where she had indicated and pitched our tent. Her husband approached shortly after and pleaded with us to join him for ‘rakija’, which we guessed to be a hard spirit of some kind.
It turned out to be brandy and several shots later, after we had been fed cherries, wafers and fresh bread, we returned to our tent in very high spirits. Despite having to make use of Google Translate the entire time in a weird letter-writing sort of process, we had had an enchanted evening because of the hospitality of these kind strangers.
Our first experience of hospitality on this trip actually came last week when we arrived at a wine-making house, exhausted and without a place to camp. The kind couple living there invited us to spend the night in their tasting room and offered us a bottle of red wine to enjoy for the evening. Kind, hospitable people really are everywhere and there is something about the disheveled traveler without a place to lay their head which brings out awesome displays of hospitality. Last night we came across a lovely girl and her father picking cherries, who then invited us to spend the night and make ourselves at home in the property they were renovating.
These random acts of kindness bolster our mood whenever we are feeling tired and remind us that humans are fundamentally kind and compassionate. We only hope to be able to return the goodwill we have been shown later in our lives.