Friday, July 31, 2009

Chasing Waterfalls - not sticking to rivers or lakes that I'm used to (7/19/09)

Plitvicka Jezera National Park

From Plitvicka Jezera

Plitvicka Jezera National Park, Croatia
Trip: AutoCamp Korana – Plitvicka Jezera National Park
Cycling: 8 miles
Hiking: 4 hours
Rowboat: 1 hour
Cycling in Croatia: 392 miles
Cycling on Bikespedition-2009: 1302 miles

As I took the tourist boat along the largest lake in the park, all I could think was “Wow this would be cool to travel on kayak.” Along the edges of the lake there were a great many waterfalls, as the water from the higher lakes came down to this one. However, the tourist boat didn’t get real close to them.

When I got to the other side of the lake, I saw that they did rent boats. They were rowboats! Now, if you have seen the guys in the shells on the Charles, rowing looks like hard work but it doesn’t look like the actual process is hard. Well, you’d be wrong. I got an hour on the rowboat for 50 kuna (€7, $10). What I really got was about 40 minutes as it took me 20 minutes to figure out how to begin to do it. (kept going in circles and almost dropping the oars). Once I did get it, it was great. Now, I won’t be trading in the UNS Aral Sea for a rowboat anytime soon, but still.

Plitvicka Jezera is a series of 14 or so lakes in the mountains of Croatia. The Korana River runs into these lakes at around 550 meters above sea level and then drops over beautiful waterfalls into the next, until you get to the last lake which is like 300 meters above sea level. These waterfalls create travertine build ups as the limestone and dolomite react with water and carbon dioxide. This means that the waterfalls are dynamic, constantly drying up and creating new falls. I’m a waterfall fanatic; Plitvicka is to that what Hawaii is to surfers.

I got out of Camp Korana by 9:30, as I had planned and a short bike ride took me to Ulaz 1 (entrance 1). I got in line to get into the park at 10:15. I got into the park at 11:05. Now, I’m pretty sure what took so long was people’s stupidity. There were two signs while we were in line that boiled down to: “Kuna only, no Euros” in four languages Croatian, English, Italian and German. The French in front of me apparently ignored the signs or couldn’t make out the Italian well enough. Because they kept trying to pay in euros! It took the Italian family behind me 2 or 3 minutes of yelling at the French family in Italio-franglais to move out of the way for those of us who had brought Kuna while the husband was going to the exchange counter.

Well, once in it was worth the long wait. The park has set up “itineraries” for the park. So from Ulaz 1 if you take Itinerary C you can see all the lakes and most of the waterfalls. I hiked along “C” from the Ulaz to the port from the Electric tourist boat that takes you across the largest lake. Then, I went up a smaller trail above the falls from some great views down into the canyon.

I then retraced my steps to the port. There I got a beer and some French fries to go with one of the sandwiches I’d brought. At the next table, I ran into the German family, with whom I’d toured Barac’s Caves two days before. They too had stayed an extra day when it rained on the day between.

Then it was time for my trip across the lake. It’s quite odd; I haven’t been on a boat that wasn’t a kayak in years – other than that ferry over Lake Konstantz, but I come to Europe and I’ve taken the ferry from Killini to Kefalonia, Argostoli-Luxori and back, Kefalonia to Patra, Patra to Ancona, Ancona to Split and Skradin to Skradinski Buk; and now number 8 (“There is now a ferry involved.”). When I saw people in rowboats I took a ninth across to Ulaz 2 where they rented the rowboats and a tenth to get back on Itinerary C.

While the whole park is absolutely beautiful, it is the winding boardwalk trail through this middle section that takes the cake. Amongst old trees, waterfalls that look like something on a Hollywood soundstage appear. Each one you think is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, until you see the next one.

The itinerary winds up with a trip through the woods on the panoramic train/bus. It’s a bus with little cars like a train and 360 degrees of windows. Unfortunately, it’s similar to taking the Greyhound through the hills of Western Pennsylvania – just trees. How can you keep them on the farm, when they’ve seen Paris?

I hopped on to Schwarzfahrer and went back to the AutoCamp. I then planned to upload pictures at the internet café, only to run into some Croatians who wanted to discuss America and Iraq. The beers flowed for a while, then there was the rakia – but that’s a whole other story.

Tino Pai!


From Plitvicka Jezera

From Plitvicka Jezera

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