Exercise Putovanje Challenge

 

The aim of Exercise PUTOVANJE CHALLENGE was to improve individual fitness, perform map reading and develop teamwork, resourcefulness and initiative during the Croatian based event. For the geographically challenged, Croatia is a LONG way away and in a minibus it feels even further (teamwork – tick).

After being told by a border guard that “it never rains in Croatia” we experienced 2 extraordinarily heavy downpours and 1 thunder storm – mostly during my driving shifts.

First day of walking and it is hot! Ironically, as we were on route to collect the MT insurance documents from the only fax machine in Croatia, an oncoming driver got a bit too friendly and took our wing mirror off! Once set up in our campsite (tents placed suitably far away from snory Ralph) we were off on our walk. The first thing I noticed was the ups and downs, the second was that the maps were rubbish (map reading – tick)! At one stage we found our route was actually on private land protected by electric fences, blood hounds and men with swords. OK I made the last 2 up but there were electric fences.

Next we climbed the highest peak on Hvar Island – 624 metres. The heat made the walk hard, but the scenery from the top was so lovely that I managed to forget about the heat and all the weird bugs. On our way down the hill we stumbled upon a ‘bar’ run from an old man’s house. It got weirder when he started to cuddle our ATI. And then weirder still when we were all told to keep quiet whilst a film crew shot a scene for a sci-fi movie about a holocaust where the only 2 survivors were homosexuals…there is no way I could have made that up. We gathered up our ATI and made a swift exit whilst trying our hardest not to laugh.

As we made our way to Dubrovnik, our plan in case of problems was to offer up Gaz Smith as a sacrificial goat (initiative and resourcefulness – tick). No sacrifice was needed but without time to complete the planned walk, we went into Dubrovnik centre to get some FD action. The city is stunning and it is hard to believe that anyone would want to destroy it. I learnt a lot about the war and the city itself still shows clear evidence of the invasion with bullet holes in walls and demolished buildings spotted around the newly built homes.

The next peak we climbed was 1234 metres and it was a steady climb the whole way up (improve fitness – tick). The first phase was through a forest carpeted with annoying prickly plants that scratched nicely at ankle height. The air was close and hot in the forest so we were relieved when the path opened out. As a trade off, the ground was made up of boulders and loose rocks which was a little irritating after a while as we were forced to keep our eyes down.

We attracted lots of animals – snakes, a donkey, horses, spiders (big ones) lizards and about half way up 2 dogs decided to accompany us to the top and back down again. The views from the top were even more spectacular than those from Hvar Island. I found the journey back down the hill tougher than the climb; my knees aren’t what they used to be! This has been the best day so far for climbing, in the words of our ATI it was a ‘GMD’ – good mountain day.

Our last day of walking saw us head up Boskana Hill which overlooks Dubrovnik city. The climb was pretty steep but eased off and after a spot of tortoise rescue on the way up we enjoyed some magnificent views of Dubrovnik. We were joined by the tourists from the cruise ships who came up by aerial lift. The numerous battlements and memorials served as a stark reminder of the war.

1400 miles of mini-bus torture but the great walks and fantastic views in Croatia were worth it. Ralph Brooks the Exped leader who organised the trip had wanted to walk in Croatia since his deployment there many years ago. With just a few months left in the RAF before retirement Ralph got approval for the Exped. Thanks to him, we all had a great time with hard walks given the heat and incredible views. I learnt a lot about the Bosnian war which passed me by when it happened (I was too young in case you were wondering).