So long Croatia

I find myself, at the end of my time in Croatia, in the coastal town of Zadar, home to a unique musical instrument constructed from the combination of man made steps meeting the tide in just the right way, called a “sea organ.” My arrival in this small yet vibrant community coincided with an annual charity race called Wings of Life (or something like that). I dropped my bags off at my lodging then walked the short distance to the old town where, on the outskirts of the ancient rock wall that encloses the original boundaries of Zadar, hundreds if not thousands of runners, joggers, woggers and walkers were setting off en masse. They were a mix of all ages, shapes and sizes, athletic abilities and preparation. I saw people in wheelchairs, mothers pushing strollers, and a couple of nuclear families holding hands and running as one. My landlord tells me that this is one of twenty such races held simultaneously around the world, all with the goal of raising money for charity.

A few words about my experience with Sixt, the car rental company. When I picked up the car in Porec, the counter agent tried to talk me into upgrading to a more expensive car, claiming that the low-end economy car I’d reserved was older with a lot of miles under its belt, and didn’t get good gas mileage like the diesel model he wanted me to rent instead (for an extra $6/day.) When you’re paying $10 a day for your rental car and congratulating yourself on getting a great deal, you don’t want to hear that kind of talk. So I asked a few questions, and learned by “old” he meant 2 years and by “lots of miles,” he meant roughly 20,000. As a lifelong owner of used cars with no fewer than 100k miles at purchase, his suggestion to upgrade struck me as a ridiculous proposition, a clear and obvious attempt at increasing his commission and nothing more. Ditto for the extra collision policy he tried to get me to purchase; my credit card covers me for any damage I might incur. After refusing, albeit politely, the “extras”, he looked knowingly at his colleague (I’m sure I saw him smirk) and they conversed quietly for a few minutes in Croatian and, while I don’t speak or understand the language, I’m pretty sure what they were saying about my quick and immediate dismissal of their generosity wasn’t a compliment. Then we went outside, did our mutual walk-around of the car where he spent about 30 seconds showing me the current scrapes and abrasion the car came with and I concurred, then we were done and I was free to go. But I wasn’t ready to drive away just yet; I wanted to walk downtown to the farmers market and pick up a few things. “No problem,” he said, they’d park the car outside the lot and when I returned it would be waiting for me. This we did, and after about 45 minutes, I came back, got in my little Space Star, and drove it back to my apartment and there it sat, while I took about 3 hours to explore the town on foot. As I climbed the stairwell of my dwelling upon my return, I happened to look down at the bright orange vehicle sitting all by itself in the driveway reserved just for me (the guest) and saw, in the glare of the bright sunlight, something I hadn’t seen in the darkened Sixt parking lot either during or after the transfer of the car into my custody: a small dent in the fender on the passenger side. Alarmed, I immediately sent an email, as the local office was closed by this time, to the address in my inbox from Sixt, which I knew was their headquarters, informing them of my discovery of this dent after I’d retrieved the car, and my intention not to be held accountable for this dent which I had not inflicted. The next morning, having heard nothing back, I returned to the local office where the same counter agent was again on duty. He shook his head and sighed audibly when I walked in the door and before I could even explain why I was there, he cut me off. Yes, yes, he knew, his supervisor had forwarded my email to him, and I shouldn’t worry, they knew the dent was already there; I wouldn’t be charged for it.

Now, 8 days later, the counter agent in Zadar had different ideas. Rather than 30 seconds of sidelong and casual glancing, he spent ten minutes with a magnifying glass in an intimate embrace with every surface of my little Space Star. When he was finished, with a grave face and shake of his head, he informed me that there were 2 new scratches that weren’t there before, and, most disturbingly, a dent on the fender of the passenger side. Oh no, I said, the scratches maybe, but not the dent. Absolutely not the dent. I explained to him about what happened in Porec; he looked at me pityingly, disbelieving, and tut-tutted. “This is why we suggest to customers the collision coverage. I see here you refused the collision coverage. Tut-tut.”

“I’m not paying for that, and I’m not signing anything that says I will,” I declared. In stand-off mode, I held my ground and protested vociferously, though I did not say what I was thinking for fear of sounding paranoid and therefore being summarily dismissed as a whack-job: that while I was off shopping for my vegetables in Porec for 45 minutes after the car had been inspected and the paperwork completed, the counter agent and/or his complicit colleague had had a bit of fun and revenge at my expense, assuming that I wouldn’t see the dent until it was too late and obviously underestimating my ability to be a resolute and tenacious bitch when circumstances dictate this the appropriate course of action. I will gladly (okay, maybe not gladly, but willingly anyway) take responsibility for what I’ve done, but I’ll be damned if I’ll be held accountable for what someone else has done.

After about half an hour, during which he was on and off the phone with the mysterious supervisor, he informed me that due to the fact that it was unclear as to when the damages were actually incurred, they would not be charging me for them. “Even the scratches?” I asked. “Even the scratches,” he replied, tight-lipped and subdued. Lesson learned? Once you pay for the car, take it with you, or if you don’t, inspect it again before you drive it away.

The Space Star, by the way, was a little jewel. Easy to handle, smooth shifting, tight on curves, and very fuel efficient. In 8 days, I got gas only once.

The highlight of my time in Croatia was its natural beauty. I visited three national parks (Papuk, Northern Velebit, and Plitvice Lakes) and enjoyed them all, but my favorite was Plitvice Lakes. Even a downpour of rain the entire day couldn’t disguise how spectacular and highly unusual a place it is, with thousands of waterfalls from small to gigantic, and this being spring, they were all flowing like mad. I hiked my heart out.

I’ve read there roam bear, lynx and wolves in each of these parks. I yearned here, as I always do when I enter wild places, to see these creatures but alas, here as elsewhere they have earned their reputation for elusiveness, so that while I frequently suspect they are aware of my presence when I’m in their territory, they so rarely allow me to be aware of theirs. It’s been no exception here, but this does not detract from the experience of being in the wilderness, being alone in the splendiferous and magnificent company that is the grandeur of Nature. If you know her and love her, she needs no introduction, no explanation and no instructions beyond what we do automatically – see, hear, smell, and breathe her in.


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