Traveling is one of those activities that trains you to make the best of any situation. And that’s what happened when my friends and I took a 20 kilometer bike ride to visit a set of ruins outside of Skradin, Croatia. In this case, what started as an outdoorsy day of adventure, history, and exploration turned into a misadventure as I battled with a case of travelers’ diarrhea. And while I used to find talking of these things mega embarrassing, that has long since passed. Long-term travel means contending with getting sick on the road. And travel in developing countries even more so. While Croatia is a long ways from the tiny towns in Laos where I faced down the worst sickness of my life, there are no guarantees anywhere in life.
Skradin is a small Croatian town and one visited for a single purpose, to visit Krka National Park. Beyond the park — which is stunning and worth visiting — the only other thing you can possibly do to pass time in Skradin is visiting Bribirska Glavica, a set of archeological ruins from 1st century AD perched on a 300 meter high plateau.
Our hotel confirmed the ruins are easy to find and a mere 10 kilometers in each direction, which sound liked good fun from the comfort of our cozy hotel the night before. But five kilometers into the bike ride, that’s when I knew I had a problem that would not be easily fixed in on rural backroads in Croatia. And it didn’t help that the road created a slow but consistent slope for the entire kilometers — difficult on a good day, but pure torment when things internally aren’t flowing well.
The strenuous ride was made all the harder at the 45 minute mark when I indicated that I needed to hide behind the bushes. We had passed neat rows of quaint cottages and pretty farm houses, but we had entered a stretch of farmland and trees. It took longer than expected to make the 10 kilometer ride once I needed to stop every 10 minutes.
And, of course, it didn’t help that we had no clue how to find the ruins. The man who rented us the bikes gave us cryptic directions in poor English. When we pressed for a hand-drawn map or further directions, he gave us a few careless hand waves to indicate that we should head west out of town. That meant that as we progressed slowly uphill toward the ruins, a refrain of doubt and uncertainty also played in my head.
At one point, my cousin and Jenn waved down two young, excited kids who had just exited their school bus. They were ecstatic and giggly to talk to us travelers so far from the tourist trail. When the giggles subsided, they confirmed that we were, in fact, headed in the right direction.
Eventually, the ruins appear and there is small signage to indicate the path to the top of the plateau. The entire site is poorly maintained, but the ruins have an interesting history. This spot was home to the most famous and noble princes during past centuries. While little remains, the ruins and foundations represent 2,000+ years of Croatian history and through countless time periods: Illyrian, Roman, Medieval, and Venetian. Plus, the views over the valley are vast and sweeping according to my cousin and Jenn.
I don’t actually know what it looks like from the top because the prospect of hiking uphill for 300 meters to was unappealing considering the state of my stomach. We parked our bikes under a huge old mulberry tree, and I decided to camp out in that spot while my cousin and friend ventured onward to the site. It was also fun to sit and snack on the fresh, ripe mulberries while reading under the shady tree.
The illness had passed by the time my friends returned, and we all enjoyed the return bike ride much more. It was cooler in the late afternoon, and we coasted downhill the entire way. By the end, we were sweaty and hot and ready for a dip in the cool waters near Skradin. We found a small sandy beach and took a refreshingly brisk — and by that I mean freezing cold! — dip in the Krka river. Illness aside, it made for a fun way to spend an extra day in Skradin.