After getting off the Adriatic Highway track for a bit for exploring the inland Croatia, on the 5th day of our trip to Albania we were heading back to the Adriatic Sea and to the Bosnian border. But not just by the shortest path, but by the more interesting one, which led through the Cetina River canyon, the Biokovo Nature Park, Makarska Riviera and which in the end of the day let us land on another planet – the Neretva River wetlands.
Good morning, Peruca Lake! (And your monsters)
The night at our wild camp at the Peruca Lake went, I dare to say it, luxuriously! No one bothered us, not even the Peruca’s legendary snake :P
Even though we woke up few minutes after 5 AM, we decided to get a little more sleep. Because it was so quiet and calm, with just some goats bleating far away… We felt like one more hour of sleep won’t do any harm. Right?
The bleating and bell tinkling was only getting louder with every minute. And soon enough we heard that some barking joined the baaing. This effectively made our eyes wide open and all the mood for the happy relaxation in the sleeping bag to the sound of rustling leaves went away. We ordered quick evacuation hoping that we will have our butts in our suits on the bike saddle before the shepherds dogs will find us.
We got on our feet real quick and we were packing our stuff like a tornado, making new time record in folding the tent and setting up panniers. But we were more and more chaotic in our moves, hearing that the goats and dogs are getting closer with every second. We were trying our best, not even thinking much if our strategy for stuffing the bags makes sense. We were about to revise it later. Now we were just running for our lives (╯°□°)╯
And then, when I was becoming more convinced that we will make it on time, as it seemed like the goats are not led in our way, but to the lake’s water… Suddenly a big, gray dog, barking furiously, ran out around the corner of overgrown with bushes path! I had my heart in my throat…
We froze terrified. No experience with mad shepherd dogs whatsoever so far… In split of second I was a complete airhead.
And just when the adrenaline was about to take up the rains… a worried shepherd luckily came our way and peeped over the bushes. He called the dog to stop and wave to us to not worry. But as fast he came out from nowhere, he disappeared.
The dog also gave up on barking, but… he didn’t gave up on us ᕙ(⇀‸↼‶)ᕗ He retreated a bit, but decided he will keep an eye on us. Just standing. And staring. Staring really intense.
To move or not to move – that was a question
We didn’t know how to behave, really. Are we allowed to move? Can we do anything that will not provoke the dog?
We both got dogs on our own, but I think the shepherds dogs are often bred differently, to defend the herd on all cost. We were thinking quite intensely which move is safe and which is not… So everything came to not moving at all ヾ(⌐■_■)ノ
However, after few minutes our camp assailant got bored. (Contrary to us.) He started to move around and sniff our things, but though we were boring to death, he was still guarded and watched out on what we do (so on nothing :D) And so he sniffed and sniffed until… he found my helmet laying so nicely on the ground.
Yes. That was it. Perfect!
He raised the back paw and…
Dawid threw himself on the helmet rescue without thinking much. (Not every hero wears a cape :D) In one second my brain was bathing in adrenaline again, picturing the fight in every possible way, but… the dog didn’t even lift his lip for a moment to show his lovely teeth. He just bounced away from Dawid and made us a way to the peed on helmet ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
What a relief it was! We would live! And I would never put my helmet on the ground again! (Methinks it’s the most important lesson to learn :P)
So thanks to the doggy love for the motorcycle gear, we finally continued our packing without fear. The helmet suffered a little from this deceitful attack, but, a blessing in disguise, doggy didn’t make it to pee inside.
Soon enough also the shepherd returned to us with the goats and other dogs (there were 4 or 5 I think). We thought that maybe he will be upset with us, but not at all. We had a small, friendly chat in half-Polish and half-Croatian (with help of hands) and we shared crackers from our food reserves. Our only regret was that we didn’t have any Polish alcohol or sweets with us to give as this brakes the ice quicker, usually :P Anyhow it was nice to meet him :) Though soon enough we parted. The shepherd returned to his herd and we were about to get cooler… in the lake (✌ ﾟ ∀ ﾟ)☞
Is Peruca Lake really worth the time?
Apart from the argument that the lake water is an ideal remedy for sweating in over 35°C temperature, it’s beautiful with surrounding it mountains and forests and it’s perfectly non-touristy if you seek rest from the Adriatic Sea shore resorts. No kidding, nor any sweet lies. We sat there from early morning to 1 or 2 PM and no one came to us. We saw maybe two boats gliding by the calm Peruca tile. Thinking of how charming this place was, this fact still makes me feel surprised in the time of writing this.
The Peruca Lake water is clean, so no worries, you can swim there for hours until you get all wrinkly ;)
If you also enjoy kayaking, rowing or other water sports, then you are in the right place also. There are some campings and companies around that organize those kinds of activities.
We were personally satisfied with just the swimming ;) After 4 days of mostly riding in the saddle, this was a lovely change to just sit, chill and enjoy the moment and the views.
We also joined those pleasantries with useful things like cooking decent meal, washing clothes and… finding out new friends.
Though some inhabitants of this lizard kingdom were rather shy.
While loitering around, we also accidentally found some bullet between the rocks. There were fights around the lake and the dam on the Peruca Lake at the lake itself survived 30 tons of explosives in 1993. So we wondered if that was some sad trace of Croatian War of Independence left… but we couldn’t tell for sure.
The Cetina River Canyon
Leaving the cold water and exchanging it to a hot saddle was hard. Especially after the noon, when the temperature is just perfectly the worst. We straggled to get into the bike suits and it took us some time, unfortunately.
But as soon as we managed to overcome our reluctance, we’ve got back on track to the Adriatic Highway. Although we didn’t want to choose the shortest path to the sea shore. So we omitted Split, chose the road 1 and sticked to it to Sinj.
Just there we turned to the route 60. Because maybe we were missing out the sea views, but we wanted to check out the Cetina River canyon. So we rode D60 down to Ugljane.
The road itself isn’t something special, but it makes a nice and quick transit route to the canyon.
At Ugljane we took the road without any number to Blato Na Cetini.
There you can notice that you are getting closer to something enthralling, as out of nowhere the mountains start to rise again and just after few more kilometers winded on the wheels, you will see the canyon right at the road side.
After passing the Blato Na Cetini, we found a picturesque viewspot, where you can stop and safely see on your own how deep the canyon is.
Of course, it’s possible to get right at the river bottom, jump into the canoe and get the right perspective to be truly amazed by the canyon cliffs hugeness! There are agencies in Split, Omis and Makarska, which offer a thing called canyoning (new thing for me of which I learned thanks to visit in this canyon :P) . This includes hiking, swimming, walking trough the river bed and subterranean tunnels and even abseiling on the canyon walls in the extreme version of the trip.
I personally have to try it someday, be it even once (◕‿◕)
On the Cetina River also lies the one of the highest Croatian waterfalls called Gubavnica, which can be seen not only by joining a rafting trip, but also by just walking or driving to Gubavnica from the Zadvarje side (we put in on the map below this post).
The river itself is 105km long and starts at the Dinara mountain. We visited Cetina’s magically looking spring the day before :)
Foretaste of the Biokovo Nature Park
From the Cetina River canyon we were riding back to the Adriatic Highway, which is very easy and fast to reach from Blato na Cetini.
We just drove the Radobiljska Cesta straight to Sestanovac and then turned to road 39 to Zadvarje. With this route we got a chance of seeing the Gubavnica waterfall in Zadvarje, which I mentioned earlier and we also didn’t miss the descent from the second highest mountain range in Croatia, Biokovo, to the Adriatic Sea shore. The descent leads to the sea by a short, but picturesque fragment of the Nature Park Biokovo.
Though, even before we reached the park border, the road generously treated us with vivid landscapes.
However this is only a foretaste of what is yet to come! :)
The Nature Park Biokovo itself can be considered a hikers paradise I think.
If you find yourself a mountain climber and enjoy spending time on the mountain trails, you should reserve even a couple of days for wandering around.
The 3 days ticket costs around 13 euro, so I don’t think it’s excessive price for one day of awesome views and lots of lookout points on the Adriatic coast.
There about 20 hiking trails to cover (from easy to hard difficulty, which can be hiked through in few hours, but also in… few days. So I guess you wouldn’t get bored easily ;)
Although, during my rooting around, I found that the most popular point visited by the tourists is Sv. Jure,located 1 762 m above sea level, which is accessible by several trails (from Makar, from Velikog Brda, from Milić and from the top Turija… hope I didn’t miss anything). But it can also be reached by car through the Biokovo road, which can be entered from the road 512 around Simici.
There is also an alternative entrance to the Biokovo road which lies on the unnamed road, which starts at Kozica, but I guess it’s a gravel road for those, who prefer to walk :) (There’s no thoroughfare sign there and I wouldn’t risk a ticket ;))
Initially we were also planning to climb up to Sv. Jure with bike. But in the end we decided to omit it as the main target of our travel was Albania and visiting the Sv. Jure will give us a few hours delay and we would probably end the day somewhere around there. So as we wanted to push some more kilometers on the Africa mileage counter, we let it go.
But if we would have more time, we for sure wouldn’t let that happen ;) I think it’s quite touristy place, but it’s at least must-see-once spot :) So I would advise to give it a go if you’re around. Even if you’re not a special mountaineer person.
Riding through the Adriatic Sea Highway again
We left the little fragment of Biokovo Nature Park at Gornja Brela to get back straight to the Adriatic Sea shore, so to the Adriatic Sea Highway D8, which is part of the Makarska’s riviera.
The plan for the rest of this day was to move as fast to the Bosnian border as we can, so we would finally reach the Montenegro border the next day.
So again we had an enjoyable occasion to move through the vivid Adriatic riviera landscape.
As always there were plenty of exceptional spots to pick from and take a pic, a snack or a cigarette.
And so we would stop from time to time to chill a bit.
However, the amounts of people in the seaside towns were sometimes overwhelming, like for example in Makarska, where we just made a stop for shopping and nothing more.
Not like that was unexpected or we hate company ;) But it was like being in a shopping center during rush hours the whole time. I think you get the feeling ;)
We didn’t get many adventures in this part of our transit. There were only more of us and more of the views with every passing minute and kilometer. It was getting late, so even the obvious lookout points weren’t crowded.
The only thing which scared us was the driving of some Bosnian friend, who liked to change the lane from time to time, even if he didn’t know if there’s a car coming around the turn corner. That made us quite uncomfortable… and so we decided we should keep safe distance ʕ⊙ᴥ⊙ʔ
The Neretva wetlands
After Gradac we lost the Adriatic shore from our sight. The D8 road turns away to meander around the Neretva River delta.
The landscape changes there utterly and… strangely.
The rocky mountains tower proudly, but quite solitary around completely flatten out vast, vivid green crop fields interwoven with small lakes and cut up with canals made by the local farmers.
This makes a really strong contrast to dry and rocky krast, which surrounds the Neretva wetlands area.
I had a feeling of teleporting to a different country ;)
But apart from this magical nature sculptures around the road, also the long lines of stalls on the road sides drew our attention, when we were passing by villages and towns.
Orange, red, green… The stands were fully and colorfully packed with tasty looking, making mouth watering fruits and vegetables even then, in the late evening. It was hard to resist a stop ;)
If we would only have a spare pannier…
However methinks the best fruit store lies around Lovarje.
Apart from getting something really sweet to eat (you can get even freshly picked mandarins or oranges at the right season time), you get one of best lookout points on this Neretva site.
Although if you’d like to meet the delta closer with it’s all charms and biodiversity (over 300 birds species there!) you can also get a boat trip around the lakes and canals.
We were unfortunately running out of time as the sun was already laying down low on the horizon. So it was time for us to look for some place to put up a tent.
It started getting dark quickly. We promised to ourselves that we will always start to search a spot for camping early, like around 6PM or something. Later it’s less time to rest and less opportunities to spot a nice place, when the visibility gets low. But of course life verified our plans. The time was already good past 7PM and the sun would hide past 8PM.
That’s not much for finding a wild camping and get the tent ready, really. So we didn’t ride far. After passing Raba we turned in a smaller road without any number, which didn’t seem much frequented by cars. This was the most strategic move we could think of. We wanted to rest really bad…
And so I think we can consider ourselves lucky, as after maybe few hundred meters we found some small olive grove on the top of the road twist. So we made a decision on the spot to stay there, hidden in the back between the small olive trees.
We started to pitch up the tent when there was still some light, but after several minutes the flashlights had to help us.
It wasn’t the most epic place we stayed nor the most quiet as sometimes we heard some voices talking and dogs barking (not to mention we woke up in the middle of the night, because of car door slamming, which sounded like the car was very close to us), but all in all no one and nothing bothered us.
Another advantage was that… we’ve never slept in the olive grove before, so that was something new and, though, the groves aren’t so epic as waking up on the top of the mountain, it had its own charm in the morning ʘ‿ʘ