Ah, that island, that Mljet! Without doubt my favourite destination in the south of Croatia is a magical green island that seemingly floats on the turquoise sea. It is an island that very quickly stole my heart, it was love at first sight. And it is an island that, unfortunately, I haven’t had much chance to visit in recent years due to work commitments. So when the opportunity to visit and indeed work on the island for a few days reared its head I grabbed it with two hands.
I had thought I had seen everything there was to see and experience on the former home of Odysseus, I was wrong. So the reason for my escape to Mljet was to film some promo videos. Now, whilst the island is incredibly photogenic, a supermodel amongst Dalmatian islands, many visitors don’t dive deeper into the island and discover its hidden gems.
Hence some promo videos. One of these was entitled “active & adventure.” “There is a couple near Polače that do kayaking, hiking and abseiling tours, maybe you should meet them,” stated my contact on Mljet. And so I did. OK, kayaking and hiking not a problem, but I hope that the abseiling isn’t too extreme. Tea and Lukša were the adventure couple, and this hard-working pair live in a tiny bay away from the world, imagine of Robinson Crusoe got married and you’ll see the picture.
“A short kayak ride of 15-minutes to a deserted inland and there we’ll go abseiling,” said Lukša. “Maybe 15 minutes for you,” I joked. “Your arms are the size of my legs,” I added. We jumped into out kayaks and set sail. I took so getting used to but once I had the hang of it I have to admit that I enjoyed it. I wasn’t going to break any speed records but I was heading in the general direction of the island.
My first and last experience of abseiling was when I was in the scouts, meaning a good 40 years ago.
“Ok, we’re going to climb across this island to the open sea side and that’s our abseiling base,” said Lukša who had hardly broken a sweat. Like mountain goats we climbed over the rough terrain, seemingly going ever upwards. This uphill climb had me slightly worried, if we are going up and up I’m guessing I had to go down by rope at some time.
We reached the top. The view over the Adriatic glinting below and Peljesac in the distance was amazing. And if I was a seagull this would have made an ideal spot for a nest! I edged closer to the cliff edge. The wind whistled. As I looked down (bad mistake) I realised that I was a transatlantic flight outside of my comfort zone. “Are you serious?” I asked Lukša, hoping that this was all a joke. He laughed and started to prepare the ropes. He was serious. My biggest fear in life is heights. And now I was about to hang on a rope at least 40 metres above the sea.
“Now turn around and just slide your heels over the cliff edge,” said my guide. This was the first time in my life that I had heard that sentence. “Lean back until your body is hanging out over the cliff,” he added. Yes, I was leaning backwards over a sheer cliff with 40 metres below me. “Now slowly walk backwards down the cliff. Keep looking at your feet and try to keep straight,” he added. My heart was beating through my T-Shirt, my legs jellified, “this isn’t normal.” Slow and sure. “OK, the first 3 metres are the worst as the cliff sticks out a little,” I heard above me. Face your fears. I was actually walking down a cliff. A seagull flew past me and was probably squawking “WTF.” It is never a good situation when birds are flying under you.
I had reached the point of no return. I was Michael Jackson Moonwalking down, concentrating on my feet in front of me. I forgot to add that I had kayaked and climbed the island with sandals on. Clearly I couldn’t abseil with them on. So I borrowed Lukša’s trainers. One problem, I am size 42 and Lukša wore size 44. Not ideal.
Clearly because I am writing this column I made it to the end. Adrenaline thumping through my veins. And a huge feeling of pride. I had beaten the cliff. I had faced my fears. Thank you to my hosts, and indeed all the people that I met on my island adventure, from wine makers, to Brodet cookers, to National Park managers and rangers, to museum curators and tourist board directors.
A long weekend to remember. Ah, that island, that Mljet!
Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to
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