Split, Croatia - A young man walks by a school, plastered with graffiti. The sound of children fluttering around classes echo down onto the streets below, filling the surrounding area with an unrecognizable hum. I had parked across the street earlier in the day before I set off wandering around town. After a couple hours, I returned to my car and started packing up, but noticed this giant blank canvas in front of me. I walked back a bit and sat on a knee high retaining wall, patiently waiting for the right person to walk by. Sometimes I would see someone walking, and I would get excited, but a car would pass in front of me just as they moved into position. It took a bit; maybe 30 minutes before Mr. Fannypack found his way into my frame.
Split, Croatia - On a narrow road lined with tiny vehicles, two women's lives meet for a brief moment.
I like the little things that make up a photo; laundry hanging to dry, air conditioners, satellite dishes, rows of cars. It’s an opportunity to look into how other people live their lives. And when we look at this overall picture, we see that they’re really not that much different than us. They might live halfway around the world in an unpronounceable country, but their needs are the same as ours, and that’s pretty humbling.
Beautiful eastern european architecture dots the shore of the Mediterranean near the town of Split, Croatia. Down by the waterfront the fisherman load their boats in the early morning light, while bells clang back and forth, making their presence known to all. The smell of fish was thick as I worked my way down the shoreline. After a while I ventured into a part of town that was less glamorous, a blight on the land. Large unfinished hotels lined the road. Their concrete pillars conflicting against the calming seascape behind them. The angles, sharp; The colors, drab. No life existed except for the few plants that had broken through the foundation on their quest for sunlight.
I crawled through a hole in the fence and wandered deeper into the structure. walking down dark hallways, passing dark rooms. Visions of me being stabbed flashed through my head. I picked my pace up a bit, while simultaneously rehearsed how I would choke out my attacker. As I exited the corridor, I entered a larger room, and all thoughts passed from my mind. It was amazing. Sunlight burst through small circular holes near the ceiling. The roof itself emanated light down toward me, cautiously lighting the surrounding area. I paused for a moment to take in the scene. After a while, the foreboding feeling returned and I left in search of sunlight.
Split, Croatia- Two men stand in the afternoon light, their wisdom and experience combine to the tale of youth. After moments of hesitation, they trail off into silence, fading like the memories behind them. Wrinkled faces share more about their lives than any story ever could. Looking into their eyes, one can only help but feel the past. A life filled with happiness and regret, misery and hope. It’s a story played out by billions and yet no story is alike. 7 billion individual stories, with 7 billion individual outcomes. It’s amazing.
Through a series of poor decisions that culminated with a ripped off oil pan in the middle of mine-filled Croatian forest at 2am, I realized at some point, I had strayed from my travel plan.
To be fair, I didn’t really have any plans, but being stranded in the middle of nowhere by myself, 2 days before my departure back to the United States, wouldn’t have been on that list had I written them down.
It all started when I was sitting above Sarajevo in an old bombed out hotel, enjoying a beautiful sunset. The air was crisp, the scenery was magical, and I was in a strange yet exciting city. I felt like I was on top of the world. Nothing could bring me down, except maybe, I don’t know, a group of Bosnian assholes standing next to my car, breaking my window and stealing my things.
I got up and started walking back, but the damage had already been done. They raced off with the contents of my laptop bag and disappeared into the sunset. I ran to my car and drove down the road, but it was all in vain.
Leaving town the next day, I couldn’t help wonder where my computer was, or if it had a nice home. Were the thieves currently accessing all my files? My thoughts drifted off as night fell. I had crossed the border into Croatia earlier in the evening and was currently looking for a place to sleep. For the past week, I had just slept on a pad near my car wherever I could, usually on a dirt road outside of town, and tonight was no different.
I drove down a dirt road for a while, but couldn’t ever find a good spot. There were no pull offs. After a while, a two track emerged on the left, leading up into the forest. “This will be a good spot”, I thought to myself. Driving up the rutted road, I doubted my tiny cars ability to handle the deep grooves, but continued anyway, searching in vain for a nice spot. About 15 minutes into the two track, I scraped the bottom of my car quite hard. Thinking nothing of it, I continued driving, working my way back down the mountain. Shortly after the scrape, I rolled up to a creek. I got out, checked the depth, and swiftly drove across it with great success. Up ahead, the two track merged back onto a gravel road. I pulled up onto the road and my car suddenly died.
I exited my vehicle and walked around the front. Crouching down to look under my rental car, I could see oil dripping out from a mangled oil pan. Electrical wires dangled down, looking very out of place. Dirt and mud fell down from the undercarriage onto the gravel road below. The smell of burning oil hung around in the muggy, stagnant air. I stood up and sighed.
It was dark out, and I was far from any place that resembled a town. I hadn’t seen a vehicle for hours. I stood there motionless for another minute. If it were a movie, the scene would have started pulling up into the skies to reveal me standing in the middle of a dark void, pulling up further would reveal the earth, sitting among the stars. It was at this moment that I realized the succession of bad decisions that let to this point. Exhausted, I pulled my sleeping bag out and laid down in the dirt near my car.
A couple hours later, a vehicle approached, waking me from my slumber. It was an old red jeep. The driver slowed and poked his head out the window. I got out of my sleeping bag and approached him. “English”? I asked. He shook his head and continued staring at the situation in front of him. I tried miming what a broken car would look like, but the hood propped up did a better job than I could. The man got out of his jeep. He was huge, dressed all in cammo. After another 20 minute miming session, It appeared that he told me I could sleep at his house. I reluctantly got into his jeep and we sped off. On the drive, he introduced himself as Marko, I introduced myself as matt, and the conversation took a nosedive from there.
30 minutes later, we pulled up at a small brick house. I followed him inside and was immediately greeted by a huge wasp, buzzing around. There were quite of few of them. Marko ran into the other room and grabbed a fly swatter. We spent the next 10 minutes on a seek-and-destroy mission. I was the spotter, and he was the killer. I would run into a room, shout after seeing a wasp, and he would run in after and kill the wasp. It was a bizarrely awesome experience that I hope to never have to participate in again.
When the wasps were all killed, we sat around a small round table in the kitchen. Marko went to the pantry and pulled out some coca cola. He proceeded to mime out that he was out hunting when he ran into me and that he was going to head out in a minute to try and find something to shoot that night. I expressed how tired I was and headed to the guest room.
As tired as I was, it was hard to fall asleep. My mind raced, thinking about what I was going to do with my broken down vehicle. That coupled with the sound of pacing outside my room left me wide-eyed and alert.
The pacing continued for quite sometime, from the kitchen out on to the porch, back to the kitchen. At one point, I heard a couple rounds of gunfire empty into the night. It was a stressful sleep at first, but my mind became heavy and I eventually wandered into dreamland.
The following morning, I awoke to the sound of pacing, once again. I exited my room and walked over to the small kitchen table. Marko came in and went to the fridge. His back was to me, but when he turned around, he was carrying more Coca-Cola as well as a large assortment of meats. We sat at the table, sharing pictures of our family, miming our life histories, all the while eating meat for breakfast. It was delicious.
Marko walked outside briefly, and came back with a handful of my worst nightmare: Tomatoes. Just to be clear, I hate tomatoes. I would rather poke myself in the eye than eat a tomato, but here I was in a situation where I was definitely going to have to eat tomatoes. My stomach sank. The inevitable was upon me. I watched Marko’s thick hands slice the vile vegetables into small pieces. He slid them toward me. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I vigorously salted the slices and reluctantly shoved them into my mouth.
They weren’t bad.
After polishing off the rest of the Coke, Marko pulled out a big map and laid it on the table. It was a map of the local area accompanied with large zones marked with red cross hatches. Marko pointed to where we were, and where I was last night, which was smack dab in the middle of one of those red zones. It wasn’t until his miming became clear that I realized what he was saying. Apparently I had been driving through an area that had a lot of landmines. Fortunately for me, I didn’t wander off the road and find any of those. I laughed nervously, grateful that my fate was so far favorable.
A few moments later, Marko pulled out his cell phone. I handed him the number to the rental company in Zagreb, and he made a couple phone calls. An hour later, a flat bed tow truck arrived; ready to take me back to the capitol city. It was a moment of extreme thanks and relief. A man that I had met in the middle of nowhere had turned my catastrophe into a lesson in human kindness. I hugged Marko, and climbed into the passenger seat of the tow truck. As the truck slowly drove off, we waved goodbye.
4 hours later, I was at the airport chatting with the rental folks at the counter. They came out to do the mandatory post trip inspection. I thought it was rather funny handing back the keys to a vehicle that looked like it had taken part in a demolition derby.
I checked into the airport hotel and promptly climbed into bed. I stayed there for the rest of the day, snacking on a loaf of bread and jam that had accompanied me throughout the ordeal. For some reason, I didn’t feel the need to leave the hotel. I was content just laying there, thinking about the adventure that I had just survived, wondering where my next one might take me, and what sort exciting things would happen in the future.
Dubrovnik, Croatia- Walking atop the wall that surrounds the old city, the sun sets around me, shadows growing longer by the second. There is a line of people on both sides of me, all present to walk along the wall, taking in the sights of the city. A series of shadows catch my eye and I stop abruptly, causing people to bump into each other. Clothes hanging on a line, drying in the afternoon sun. I love everything about it. The simplicity of it all. Because of the high flow of traffic, I have to wait maybe 5-10 minutes for there to be an opening. My head stays bent down, staring into the top of the camera, watching shadows walk through the frame. I glance up, waiting for a lull, and I notice one approaching. With just enough time, my frame clears and I take the photo.