20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

October 05, 2017
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia

A city a day keeps the wanderlust at bay...
20 DAYS. 20 CITIES. 6 COUNTRIES.
AUSTRIA • SLOVENIA • CROATIA • BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA •  MONTENEGRO • ITALY

PART 5; DAY 8: DON’T RAIN ON MY PARADE PART 1 -   
GETTING SOAKED IN PLITVICE NATIONAL PARK, CROATIA

Blue is the warmest colour? You jest. 🙄  Not even the sapphire blue waters of Plitvice Lakes could convince me that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse hadn't cometh on a giant storm cloud, their hooves clanging like crashing thunder, stabbing from the skies with spears of lightning. It was Day 5 of my 20 day road trip across Austria, the Balkans, and Italy when the weather took an abrupt turn for the worse. I'm not talking about the occasional shower here and there; I'm talking about freak storms across Croatia for the first time in 3 very hot, very dry weeks. Where was the rain when wildfires were spreading across the countryside?! Waiting for me to show up so that it could ruin my holiday like a literal wet blanket. 😩

I refuse to let the unseasonable showers put a damper on my diary-keeping, so for the sake of posterity here is the (possibly overdramatic) story of how I nearly drowned in Plitvice Lakes National ParkCroatia. This is just Part 1 of my three-part 'Don't Rain On My Parade' series - there's also Trogir, Croatia; and Kotor, Montenegro (I'm not even going to mention the wetter days in Split and Dubrovnik 😶 ). Wrap up warm and pour yourself a hot toddy because this is going to give you the chills... ⛈




I bade farewell to Zagreb and headed South to Croatia's most famous beauty spot: Plitvice Lakes National Park.

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia



◈ DAY 8 
PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL 
PARK, CROATIA

Is this the Garden of Eden? I wondered when faced with the sprawling vista beneath me. A dense forest tapestry woven in glorious threads of turquoise and emerald, embroidered with flora and fauna. Sixteen crystalline lakes, each one more stunning than the last, tumbled into each other via a series of roaring waterfalls and trickling cascades. Mineral-rich waters seem to dance, constantly changing colour depending on the quantity of minerals, organisms in the water, and the angle of sunlight. The wooden pathways that snaked around the edges of the steep cliffs seem so small and fragile in this vast setting, as though they have no right to exist in this verdant vision.

I had finally seen for myself Croatia's largest national park and one of the country's most-visited destinations. Even before Pinterest and Instagram was a thing, Plitvice Lakes National Park had long since captured imaginations: back in the day, couples would flock to the waterfalls every year on May 25th to get married in paradise.

This UNESCO World Heritage site had long been on my bucket list. So, after a drive through remote mountain roads to reach Plitvice Lakes National Park, I was ready to tackle the 6 hour trek. 

And then all hell broke loose. 😱
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
NOBODY COULD EVEN SEE PAST THE MOUNTAIN OF UMBRELLAS...


You haven't lived till you've nearly died...

In a flash of lightning and torrent of rain, the mild summer air suddenly plunged to 10°C. Fierce winds turned umbrellas inside out and rain came down like icy bullets. The steep paths cut into the sides of hills and mountains, already so precarious in good weather, turned into obstacle courses of flowing streams, eroding the now-muddy path. Even the more stable wooden bridges became slippery death traps as they creaked under the weight of thousands of trekkers. 

I only made it halfway through the 6 hour long trek before deciding to turn around and walk back the way I came. In hindsight, abandoning the group and trekking solo, uphill, in next to-no visibility was dangerous. One false step and I would slip and fall into the fathomless forest, where I would probably break my neck then die of hypothermia before anyone had a chance to find me. It definitely didn't help that I had no idea if I was going the right way to the bus stop - I had no phone signal nor GPS in the forest and the way out wasn't clearly signposted. Soaked to the core in the thunderstorm and wearing just a thin summer dress, I was freezing and hysterical. Honestly, at one point when I had walked through the thunderstorm for hours with no end in sight, I actually thought: "This is it, I'm going to just lie in a puddle, sob, and wait for a rescue party to find my corpse". 😭

20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
After nearly 3 hours of trekking uphill, practically blind, and soaked to the bone (by then, my leather sneakers had shrunk and were squeezing my already shaky feet) I saw the sweetest sight: a cluster of people, just as soggy as I was, huddling under a wooden hut waiting for the bus. I was so relieved to be finally out of the woods - quite literally - that I broke down and cried. Thankfully, at that point I was already more water than woman so nobody saw my happy tears. I didn't even mind sitting in a rusty, rickety bus so humid that the windows were covered in thick mist - my climb toward civilisation was finally coming to a close, and I felt so near to the finishing line.

Nor did I even protest having to climb yet another 10 minutes of slippery stone steps in the freezing rain to reach Hotel Jezero - the only hotel within Plitvice Lakes National Park.  The hotel may have been described as looking somewhat dated and "straight out of Twin Peaks" but to me, they were the gates of heaven. Heaven being a roof over my head and a shower with surprisingly strong water pressure. pumping out the most blissful hot shower I'd ever had. 🤤 

Needless to say, I slept like an angel that night. In hindsight the ordeal makes for good storytelling material, as much as it makes me shiver just to relive it. It's definitely not the picture-perfect Plitvice Lakes National Park experience that gets filed into the humble-brag folder...but I wanted an adventure, and I got it. Just not quite the adventure I was expecting. 😅
20 Days, 20 Cities, 6 Countries - Part 5: Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Would I go back to Plitvice Lakes National Park? Absolutely, yes - I don't want to just endure, I want to enjoy one of Croatia's most beautiful natural wonders, as well as properly explore the rest of the park and finish the trek all the way down to the Lower Lakes. But at the time, I was more than happy to rise at dawn the following morning and hit the road again, this time closer to the Dalmatian coast...

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