Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia – June 2011
So this is how it is to travel in high season. One continuous stream of tourists shuffling from one lookout point to the next. No time (or room) to pause.
The boardwalks at Plitvice Lakes are very narrow. There’s barely room for two single lines going in opposite directions. I look around at the other faces. None of them mirror the distress that I’m beginning to feel. This is not fun. This sucks! Occasionally, I hear sighs of annoyance. Someone is in someone’s way. However, the overall mood is one of calm resignation. Everything is as it should be.
The sun blazes, illuminating the lakes to their very depths. I am so mesmerized by the sight that I stumble, almost bumping into the elderly man in front of me. I steady myself and move along, face forward. It seems that I won’t be able to fully absorb the splendor of this place. I stifle my disappointment. At least I am lucky enough to visit. Things can’t always be perfect.
The tufa formations, mineral-incrusted branches, and aquatic life are superimposed against the water, the color of which defies description. A pristine universe encased in glass.
On a far boardwalk, I catch a glimpse of the Spanish people who were on the minibus from Zagreb. I turn away.
After four of us from my hostel were picked up, the minibus stopped at a couple of hotels. The Spanish people got on at the last hotel. Three fiftyish couples. I smiled at them as they got on. Even though I don’t expect, or particularly want, people to welcome me into their fold, we are fellow travelers. The women wrinkled their noses at me and exchanged looks with each other.
I looked down at my colorful tank top, gray knee-length cargo pants, and hiking boots. What was so offensive about my presence? I don’t wear a full face of makeup or gold jewelry or designer clothes to go into nature. I’m also in my forties. When I was a young woman, I had grown used to older women’s hostility. I’d thought that this kind of adolescent garbage would subside when I aged.
The atmosphere grew progressively more hostile during the two hour bus ride. Glares and tossed hair. The husbands seemed oblivious or maybe they were just used to it. I tried to ignore it, but ancient playground feelings resurfaced. Once again, I became that ostracized, ridiculed child on the perimeter. Wishing that I could shrink to nothing and disappear.
I wanted to hug the tour guide when he told me, and the others from my hostel, that we had only paid for the ride down and not the tour. I would be free from that toxic energy until the ride back. The others from my hostel were kind, but young enough to be my children. We smiled and went our separate ways.
I reach the dock for the boat ride across a lake. The crowd has now swelled to at least a thousand. During the hour or so wait for the boat, I chat with some British retirees. On the boat ride, I scan the park map. There’s a trail that runs along the lake in the same direction as the recommended scenic trail. When the boat docks, I break away from the crowd and scurry down the shady trail. It only takes a couple of minutes for the crowd’s chatter to recede. I slow my pace and take deep breaths. There’s not another soul to be seen. I sit on a rock and peer through the trees. It may not be scenic or well-trodden, but it’s my own private corner of this wonderland.
**Dear readers – I’m curious to know what you all think about traveling in high season. Do you like to travel in large groups and be around crowds? **