I decided to go to a dog beach because to be honest, I was more interested in meeting dogs than I was people. I guess I’ve been that way for about 5 years, ever since I started identifying more with stray dogs than “normal” people, and ever since I myself was a dog owner from 2015 to 2018.
I made my way down the hill from where I had camped the night before in Rijeka, eventually walking down what seemed to be thousands of stone steps. I encountered a cat along the way so I stopped and had some light conversation. Ok, it was more of a monologue, but the cat was receptive and I petted it for a few minutes before I set out again.
I stopped in town at a bakery and bought a few items to eat before I began my hike. I walked away from the town center and got to a clearing where I saw an old man sitting on a bench near the main canal that feeds into the sea. He smiled at me and started talking, so I began speaking Russian to him, since Russian is the only Slavic language I know and Croatian/Serbian shares about 30% characteristics of Russian. I had learned Russian in the Navy some 20 years earlier and that had been my job, sitting around an office at the NSA most of the time and occasionally going out on missions riding nuclear fast-attack submarines.
He understood me quite well and we chatted for a few minutes. He said he’d been swimming earlier that morning, but he complained that it was just too hot to be at the beach. He was right that it was hot as hell, and I was hoping to catch some shade during my trek to the dog beach. He noticed me carrying my rucksack and backpack and commented, so I told him I was going to be hiking and camping while walking south along the coast.
“You look nice, he said” referring to my build. “Thanks!”, I said, feeling a little awkward, and wondering if he saw me as more than just a friend. His bus arrived and he departed and said his goodbyes, and I started my hike south along the highway.
Since it was my first day, it felt a little strange walking just a foot away from the highway trying to get to my destination. There usually wasn’t a sidewalk or footpath, and in some places it seemed pretty harrowing. Wondering if I was doing it right, I asked an older man with glasses and a fishing rod who was walking along the road to get back to his car in Russian, “Mozhno poidti po dorogu peshkom?” which means “Can one walk along the road on foot?”.
He said “Mozhno, mozhno!” and pointed to the road. Apparently the word “mozhno” translated pretty well to Croatian, because he knew what I was getting at. So, I kept on walking, dodging traffic and trying to be careful. It was my first day, after all, so naturally it was going to feel a little unnatural.
It was getting really hot and I was sweating profusely. My load was starting to feel really heavy. What all was I even carrying? Well, only everything I own. Aside from all my clothes and a ton of socks and underwear, I also have a jump rope, 21 ounces of pure silver which is worth, at the time of this writing, over $500, an audio interface for music recording and mixing, a studio condenser USB microphone, a MIDI music keyboard (a miniature piano, in other words, that makes no sound, but when plugged into my computer, can control synthesizers and samples), an extra pair of shoes, my hygiene kit, not one but two electric clippers for cutting hair (free haircuts are crucial), a heavy winter jacket which I actually use as the top half of my sleeping arrangement instead of a sleeping bag, 1.5 L of water, a few cigarette lighters, and my spare debit card- along with my tent hanging off the top back of my rucksack, secured by a carabiner and some twine.
But let’s not forget about my front backpack, where I carry another 1.5 L of water, a laptop computer, some headphones, my cell phone, a light jacket and some spare clothes, along with my wallet, watch, necklace, and passport.
My walk around a long, curvy road on the highway took me to a clearing where my map indicated there’d be a supermarket called Plodine. It was probably the biggest supermarket you could go to in Croatia. I walked up to the building and decided to have a seat in the patio. As it turns out, supermarkets in Croatia also have bars and cafes in them.
A server walked out and I just asked if I could sit there for a few minutes and drink my water and cool off before going inside. The server said it was no problem. I finished several large gulps of water and went inside with my rucksack and front backpack on.
I found a couple of 1.5 liter bottles of water and walked up to the register. The cashier, a young guy probably in his early twenties or late teens, scanned them and told me the total: it was about 12 Kuna, or around 2 US dollars. I handed him a 100 Kuna bill, the equivalent of about 15 US dollars, and he looked at me crazy.
“Do you have smaller?” he asked, noticeably a little ticked off. I said “No, that’s all I have”. The ATMs in this country normally only dispense 100, 200, 500, and 1,000 notes. He shook his head and said “No, I can’t sell this to you.” Already thirsty as hell, I said “Are you serious, dude?!”. I said, “No, take it.” He reluctantly took my money and processed the transaction. The guy behind me in line looked pissed too, but of course, pissed at me.
Wow, I thought. I’ve been in the country less than a week and this guy at the largest supermarket is refusing to accept cash. It’s funny because that’s all the ATMs give you, and the idea of a major grocery store in the US refusing a transaction for around 3 bucks because I handed them a twenty dollar bill would be unheard of.
I left the store, packed my water into my bags and continued south. About an hour later, I arrived at the dog beach. It was much smaller than I had originally envisioned, and it was full of mostly pebbles, no sand, and I didn’t see many dogs.
I walked down a steep concrete stairway with all my stuff and looked for a spot where there weren’t too many people, with no luck. I looked over to the side of the cliff where there was a little space over the staircase rail where I could maybe stash my bags. I was working on climbing over the rail when a young guy in his mid to late twenties looked up at me from further below near the rocks and said “Do you want to put your bags down here?”. He was with a young lady probably around the same age or maybe a little older, and I was pleasantly surprised that they both seemed to want to offer a hand and that they spoke English.
“Sure, thanks a lot!” I said, walking down and handing my bags over. The young lady said a few words in German to the guy and then started talking to me. She asked “Where are you from?” so I said jokingly in German “Ich bin Amerikaner”. She immediately turned to the guy and said something deceptively in German under her breath, then turned and looked back at me with a weird, half-evil grin, saying nothing to me in return. It was rude and anti-social and I was taken aback, but then the guy started talking to me.
He was smoking a cigarette and I asked if I could have a puff and he said “Do you want me to roll you one?” I said “no, that’s alright” and he insisted. The lady chimed in “we have to be careful for cootie virus because of his job.” I asked sarcastically, “What’s that, an astronaut?”. They both kind of laughed, but I already knew I was in the presence of at least one sheep worrying about the cootie virus, but now my bags were set down and I was invested in the location, so I just got ready to swim instead.
I took my bandanna off and it appeared that the young lady, who originally seemed impressed and interested in me, was now disappointed in the fact that I was balding. I normally shave my head, but I hadn’t lately, and it was a strange turn of events, but it was noticeable. The vibe was evident, even though people who weren’t there might not believe me.
I looked at the water. Wow, it was amazingly clear and clean. I’d never seen water so clear and clean, only maybe in Cancun, Mexico, but this was definitely impressive. It was very salty and as it turned out, perfect for swimming, or even floating. As long as you had a deep breath in your belly, it was nearly impossible to sink.
I went swimming in the sea for about 15 minutes and the Germans didn’t join in. Instead, I saw them with their heads studiously engaged in a book they had brought, which turned out to be one of those guides “Things to Do and See in Croatia.” I came out of the water and sat down, and asked if they wanted to smoke some weed. “I don’t smoke weed any more, I quit 9 months ago, said the guy”- no doubt a new rule imposed on him by his relationship partner. The lady asked me what I was doing in Croatia and I told them that I was going to be hiking and camping while walking south along the coast.
She then asked me “What’s your plan?” and I paused, not sure why she would ask me this question after I had already stated what I was to be doing. Then, she said “Do you have one?” and scoffed at me loudly and laughed in my face. Wow, I thought, this chick sure was rude, and it just seemed a little pathetic that she expected me to have some itenerary to report. I’ve noticed that lots of females over the years have directly asked me “Do you have a plan?”, as if I should know exactly what I’d be doing by the minute for the next 5 years of my life, and as if they were entitled to that information. It’s also a bit off-putting considering I travel in a way that allows me lots of free space and time to see and do whatever I want, especially when I get to some place and investigate if there’s anything actually worth seeing and doing.
The guy referenced me hiking with my bags, and communicated that it was a bit heavy and cumbersome to be carrying all that stuff down the coast throughout the country. “What, I said?”, jokingly, “It’s only 30 kilograms”, which the young lady immediately chimed in “That’s not a lot”. I looked at her a little shocked. “You know they say you shouldn’t hike with more than 20% of your body weight, right?” For me the current amount came out to about 30% of my total body weight. She said “Yeah, I know, but I carried that much before”. I said “Ok, but carrying it 12 to 15 kilometers a day?” and she again, unimpressed, said “Yeah, I did that through Canada before”, before pausing, and then saying, “but it was with a big group, and we took a lot of breaks throughout the day… and it took us all day.” Well, you just can’t impress some people, especially women. They always had a way of trying to take all the air out of your party balloon and trying to diminish anything you had accomplished or were about to.
We asked each other what line of work we were in, and I told them that I had an online business. Turns out the lady was a drug rehab counselor in some type of government position and the guy was a physical therapist at a private practice. After learning that I had been traveling the world for over 3 years and making my income online, she said “Oh, a digital nomad!”. It was always funny to me how people felt the need to label things, as if I couldn’t just have an online business and be traveling the world, but some people need things to be put in a box and filed away in order for everything to make sense to them.
I asked “Have you learned any Croatian?”, being an avid language aficianado myelf. I always tried to learn at least 4 or 5 phrases in every country I went, except for countries where they already spoke a language like Russian prominently. The German guy scoffed indifferently, “No”. I thought it was a little abrupt and arrogant, especially considering how so many Europeans were quick to judge me, an American, as being uncultured and all the other stereotypes they held near and dear their hearts.
A little time went by and they began to leave. They asked me if I wanted to walk back to their VW camper van and have dinner. I said, “well, I was going to eat a can of tuna” but the guy shook his head and signaled non-verbally to come with them, so I agreed and walked back with them.
On the way, the lady started talking to me. “My friend in the US says that Americans don’t get any vacation days. In Germany we get 6 weeks”, in a not-so-subtle attempt to imply shame on me and my country. I told her, “In America, you go on vacation when you quit your job” and laughed somewhat jovially and triumphantly.
The lady asked me what words I knew in German since I’d already demonstrated some knowledge of the Germany vocabulary. I explained how there were certain words which were the same in German as they were in Russian, the word for potato, for instance. The guy seemed a bit amazed because apparently he didn’t know that “kartofel” was the same in both languages.
The lady then told me that the word “Wanderlust” was German. “Oh wow, I didn’t know that”, I said. I’d heard the word used before, usually printed on hostel walls around the world or used in people’s facebook posts, but it made sense. After all, the Germans can’t just enjoy travel, or even love it. They have to lust after it. It was very German.
It’s like the ad on a billboard I saw in Berlin earlier in the year for some type of chocolate product. It was a picture of a woman with her mouth open in shock and exuberance with chocolate smeared around the edges of her lips like someone had taken a dump in her mouth. They’re into that kind of stuff. It’s really weird, but, then again, it was very, very German.
We got back to their camper van and the guy started cutting up vegetables. I was pretty impressed by their setup, and I knew German vehicles were well-engineered. I had owned two BMWs in the USA before I left the country. Having already experienced Europeans attempting to shame me for eating meat, or not being vegan, or vegetarian, or Episcopalian, or a paleontologist, or whatever they’re into, I broached the subject to see what protein source would be included with dinner. It did not appear they were against eating cheese or dairy.
Well, we ended up having dinner which consisted of vegetables and rice, and that was it. They ate it all down excitedly and I graciously ate it and complimented the guy for what he had cooked, but I didn’t quite understand how they could eat a full meal of just rice and vegetables. While the meal was tasty, it’s widely known among dietary experts that protein is a very important aspect of a meal, and I was a little shocked that there basically was no protein, except for a sliver of a portobello mushroom. To those of you who think you can get all your protein from a mushroom, you can’t.
“What will you be eating as you are hiking and camping?”, the German guy asked. I told him “Mainly tuna and probably sandwiches of some sort.” The guy remarked that he didn’t think he could do what I was doing because he felt he would miss eating hot meals everyday, then scoffed at me as if there was something wrong with me because I didn’t care too much about that, personally. I’m going to be camping off-grid, hiking down the highway, and this dude is worried about eating a hot meal? He knew that there are restaurants and bistros in Croatia, right? I don’t want to try to sound like a tough guy, because I’m not, but honestly, eating a hot meal was the least of my concerns.
They learned that I had been in the Navy on nuclear, fast-attack submarines. “Why didn’t you want to stay in the Navy?”, one asked but the other seemed to agree with the sentiment, while I was smoking a joint in front of them. While to me that alone should have made it obvious, I said “because I love freedom too much”. They were confused, but I was moreso confused by their confusion. It was as if they couldn’t fathom how having to wake up everyday at a certain time, dress a certain way, and ask permission to do just about anything would be the antithesis of freedom, and less than fun for 20 years of your life.
I know it’s going to be difficult for many people to hear that Europeans aren’t as smart as they think they are, but it’s true. I say this as a person who is, ethnically speaking, Czech, English and German. So if anything, I should be biologically invested in saying otherwise. But I call ’em how I see ’em, as the saying goes.
Actually, the more time I spend in Europe, the more I’m reminded of why there is a thing called the USA. At a deeper level, I get why the first Americans left Europe behind. They wanted religious freedom. They wanted economic freedom. They wanted freedom, and freedom is a concept most Europeans have no concept of.
They put on some music and I asked what kind of music they liked. They pretty much liked everything but they had a fondness for hip hop. Somehow, we got into the topic of good rappers and I said a little jokingly “In my professional opinion, Pit Bull is one of the best rappers who doesn’t get the credit for it, because his style endures even as he grows older. He’s never going to outlive it and it keeps on working for him.” The lady looked at me cynically and mocked me a little, “Professional opinion?”. I said “Well, I did produce a hip hop instrumental once that was on MTV”, which was true, and to which she was quite impressed all of a sudden.
Throughout the night, the guy seemed to make little jokes about me, even mocking me when they had asked me where I was from in the States and I had told them I was from Texas. He let out a random “yee haw” in a less-than-friendly manner at one point and I had started to grow skeptical at their communication choices. I had never mocked them or made fun of them, or Germany, or Cologne, which was the closest city near to where they lived.
We all walked down to the beach after the meal, carrying the dishes and washing them at the free public shower. Then the guy and I smoked a cigarette as we all sat near the water for a few minutes before heading back to the camper van.
It had gotten dark and they were ready to turn in for the night. I could tell they wanted me to leave, and they were less than subtle about it, but considering the awkward semi-rude moments from earlier, it was par for the course. I said “I’ll be on the beach tomorrow if you’re still here, see you later” and the guy kind of looked at me and laughed. What, was I supposed to exchange Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat information with them? I didn’t use that social media stuff and had stopped years prior once it was clear Silicon Valley had taken it upon themselves to censor people for sharing populist opinions. I’d decided in 2018 I wasn’t going to feed the beast any longer, though I still somewhat maintained a YouTube channel with a following of 23,000+ subscribers because it was a place where I could share music I made, some select opinions about things (though I had to be careful with my wording, often having to talk in code to avoid the censors), and it still made me a little bit of money.
I headed up the hill from the parking area and looked for a wooded area where I could pitch a tent, found a spot that was fairly suitable for my purposes, then ate my can of tuna, grateful to finally have some protein.