When we poked our heads out of the hatch the morning after our arrival in the Lastovo Nature Park, we could almost have believed we were in the Bras d'Or lakes of Cape Breton, or perhaps Wall Bay in Turkey's Skopea Limani. After over six years of talking about it, planning for it, deciding not to go, then deciding that we really couldn't miss it, we had finally arrived in the cruisers paradise that had beckoned us to the Mediterranean in the first place. Croatia!
Following the advice of our friends Fred and Nancy on Frisco, we had checked in at Ubli on Lastovo island the previous afternoon. After Rick had dressed in his best shirt and paid visits to customs, immigration and the harbourmaster's office, he returned with a one-year cruising permit, a receipt for three months of sojourn tax, tourist passes for each of us and a wallet that was now about $450 lighter. We had known what to expect, but the total was still a bit shocking.
"I dropped in at the grocery store" Rick says. "They're out of bread, but they'll have some tomorrow morning. And we can get a SIM card for internet at the post office if we come back at 6 p.m.". With the ferry due to arrive any minute, we have to get away in a hurry. We head across Velji Lago, motoring past beautiful pine-covered hills and a well-hidden submarine pen to a small cove on the northwest side. Until recently, Lastovo was a military base and off limits to the public, but in 2006 the entire archipelago was declared a nature park.
By 6 p.m., Aisling is securely anchored. Not feeling any deep urgency about setting up internet access, we decide that our trip to the Ubli post office can wait until the next day. The wasps are too interested in our dinners to allow us to eat on deck, but we enjoy some star gazing after the sun goes down, listening to Abba tunes from the skippered charter boat "Barbara" that is tied to the wall nearby.
The next morning, we take the dinghy back to Ubli. As we walk up the road of the tiny hamlet, the perfume of linden trees fills the air. There is no one else in sight. Without a doubt, we are off the beaten track here. We find the post office closed, and realize that it opens only in the evenings, from 6-8 p.m. Darn. The grocery store has no bread today either. "Tomorrow morning" the woman behind the counter tells us, and she teaches us the Croatian words for hello (dobodan) and thank you (hvala). By the time we get back to the boat, Rick has convinced me that we should go around to Zaklopatika on the north side of the island, which supposedly has a fish market and is within walking distance of Lastovo town. It's less than 5 miles away, so we arrive shortly after noon and anchor in the small cove. On shore, there are a few restaurants, houses with pretty gardens, and not much else.
It will be a hot two-kilometer walk to Lastovo town (including a 300 foot vertical climb), so we clip large water bottles to our knapsacks before setting off. Rick wonders if we can hitch a ride, but few cars pass us on the narrow, winding road. The ones that do are driving like Grand Prix competitors. We zigzag between the small patches of shade and dive for the side of the road whenever we hear cars approaching. About halfway to the town we are rewarded with a view of the old port in the distance, and finally the charming town of Lastovo (population 100), with its unique chimneys, appears in the valley below us.
It is not difficult to find the Lastovo post office, but it is only open in the mornings and has already closed for the day. There is nowhere else where we can buy a SIM card, and the next day (Friday) will be a national holiday. Unless we go back to Ubli, we will likely not have internet access until the following Monday. "At least we had a nice walk and saw the town" I say. Rick looks unconvinced. The small grocery store here doesn't have bread either "Tomorrow," the clerk tells us, but they do have chocolate covered ice cream bars, so Rick buys one and I help him eat it as we walk out of town. Back in Zaklopatika, we get into the dinghy and are immediately waved over by a young Italian man who is having trouble with the motor on his dinghy. We tow him to a large yacht, moored in front of the restaurant, but decline his offer of coffee.
Now we have to decide whether to stay in Zaklopatika for the night or go back to Velji Lago. The thought of a swim in the clear waters of the cove and the knowledge that we still have time to pick up a SIM card at the post office in the evening lures us back to Velji Lago. By late afternoon, we're re-anchored in the same place we'd left that morning. The police drop by and check our cruising permit, and later we have a visit from the park police, who tell us that we must pay them an additional 50 kuna for park entry fees (25 kuna per person or the equivalent of about 5 dollars each).They are very well organized here.
At 6 p.m. we head to Ubli and join the line-up at the post office. Fortunately, the postwoman speaks some English, throwing in a smattering of Italian when her English fails her. She sells us two T Mobile starter packs for 20 kuna (about $4) each, then helps Rick activate one of the cards on his Smartphone, while a line-up of impatient customers accumulates behind us. As for the internet stick, she tells us that we will just need to insert the SIM card, put the stick into our laptop, and the directions will pop up.
Back at the boat, I fire up my computer and plug in the internet stick. It connects, but immediately directs me to a home page that is entirely in Croatian. Since we only know two words of Croatian, neither of which are any use to us in this situation, I am out of luck. Rick has a bright idea and sets up wireless tethering on his smartphone, but after I have downloaded about half of my work email it stops working too. It seems that we have already used up our entire quota, because it is asking us to "recarg". ARGH!!! We have more time left on the second SIM card, but can't figure out how to activate it.
By the next morning, we've decided that a little time without internet will probably do us good. We do a few chores and relax with our books. Rick is beginning to think he really is in paradise, since the norm in this cove seems to be topless or "naturalist" bathing. A young beauty relaxes on a swim platform, chest thrust out, hair flipped back. Later, I observe that Rick is taking a sudden interest in tanning his chest, which rarely sees the light of day.
Late that afternoon, we walk along the water to a cluster of small hotels near the bridge at Mali Lago. A boatload of charterers strikes up a rousing chorus of "In Vino Veritas" as we pass, and the sound of their singing follows us along the path. Miraculously, we discover that the large hotel has WiFi in its terrace bar. We order two "pivo" (now we are up to three Croatian words) and the beer arrives in large mugs, cold and good. We nurse our beer for over an hour while Rick answers email on his Smartphone and I occupy myself with shooing away houseflies and bemoaning the fact that I had forgotten to put my Blackberry in my bag. Oh well, a little more time without internet will probably do me good.
Things are quieter in the cove that night, and I could happily stay for a few more days, but Rick wants to move on to Korcula. We pull up the anchor at 9 a.m. and by 1 o'clock we are approaching the fairy-tale skyline of Korcula town. If the rest of Croatia is anything like this, I think we're going to be glad we came!
Port police and customs are located in the small shed on the starboard (west) side as you enter the small harbour of Ubli. After visiting them you will need to see the tourist/park person (who takes all the money) located on the east side of the harbour, near the restaurant. While checking in, you can tie up right in front of the port police on the west side or on the ferry wharf on the east if space is available. There is a banking machine near the restaurant to get the many kuna you will require. We paid 1756 kuna in navigation fees (good for one year) plus a 750 kuna vessel sojourn tax (good for three months).
A reasonably well- stocked supermarket (bread only at 9:00am) is near the ferry dock. Fuel is available at the end of the harbour.
We anchored in a small unnamed cove on the northwest side of Luka Velji Lago in about 30 feet in sand and weed; good holding. The water is crystal clear and warm (28 degrees on June 22) for good swimming.There is also a possibility of tying side-to a wall on the south side.
Zaklopatika had depths of 30-60' sand and weed. It is also possible to moor bow-to on a restaurant jetty for free (presumably you have to eat at the restaurant).