A Little Oasis … Fun, Mud, and Friends on Beach in Mexico

I found a slice of paradise last week. I rarely use terms like “paradise” because it feels overdone to claim each new place is better than the next. But in terms of where I was personally, this place was a slice of perfection for what I needed at that moment. From my town, the hike to this secluded mud beach is two hours; we cheated and a friend drove us to the top of the trail leading down to the beach, which meant we had to hike for about 45 minutes through the jungle before sighting patch of beach we would call home for the day.

a mud beach in near San Pancho, Mexico

We erupted onto the beach (or at least I did since I slid and tripped on the trail more times than I’d like to cop to) as the trail’s steep slope abruptly ended on a quarter-mile stretch of sand bracketed on both ends by rocky outcroppings. The beach’s one drawback is a lack of shade, but beach-goers before us constructed a sturdy lean-to (a juxtaposition of terms but apt) from palm fronds and twine. With shade and a fire-pit we had the makings for a full day on our isolated beach, which we nicknamed Pandora since we were about to act out scenes from Avatar.

The beach’s strongest selling point is the blue therapeutic mud hidden in the walls lining the beach. Our ragtag group of eight embraced the prospect of slathering ourselves in mud with thorough enthusiasm and over the course of an hour we each became a unified shade of pale milky blue.

a mud beach in near San Pancho, Mexico

a mud beach in near San Pancho, Mexico

And once coated, it was playtime while the clay soaked its healthful benefits into our skin.

a mud beach in near San Pancho, Mexico

a mud beach in near San Pancho, Mexico

What day is complete without a jumping shot!

And when the mud so dry and caked into our skin that we could no longer move, we rinsed off in the ocean.

The rocks bracketing the beach were my favorite part of the day. These were rocks the universe planted at just the right height for me to crawl all over them to explore the nooks and crannies of life living in the pools of water. My friend’s puppy, Loki, joined me for the exploration and we hunted crabs, snails, and fish in the tiny tidal pools created from the force of the water cresting against the rocks.

a mud beach in near San Pancho, Mexico

The boys in our group caught these (I am not fast enough and am always afraid I will squish them when I am trying to capture them!):

crab

hermit crab

shells

She looks all cute, but she’s a scaredy-cat and made me climb up on the high rocks to rescue her!

dog

a mud beach in near San Pancho, Mexico

a mud beach in near San Pancho, Mexicoa mud beach in near San Pancho, Mexico

It was a day of laughter, play, and friends in a setting most would call idyllic. :)

a mud beach in near San Pancho, Mexico

The Dead Sea in Jordan

A Little Adventure… An Epically Muddy Day at the Dead Sea

Arriving at the Dead Sea in Jordan earlier this month, I wasn’t prepared for the starkness of the landscape. Conjured up images of the Dead Sea in my mind were of two varieties:

an exotic, remote, and barren desert landscape with an inhospitable lake of water stretching out for miles.
a smiling and slightly accented vendor in any one of America’s super-sized malls rubbing dark brown Dead Sea mud onto the back of my hand, extolling it’s many virtues.

Neither version prepped me for the actuality of the Dead Sea – the region’s bare landscape was the very element lending beauty. And as far are remote is concerned…not so much – it’s a mere 45 minute drive from Amman, Jordan’s capital, and surrounded by a handful of significant religious biblical and Islamic pilgrimage sites.

A Little Sand…Nine Women Pushing a 4WD

Here’s a fun fact you may have never known – when you push a car out of deep sand, you can actually fall on your face once the car starts moving.Pushing it out of Sand

Fun fact.

I’m all for women power – ra ra, equality, ra ra – but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that there are times men come in handy. Instance number one when it’s nice to have a man around?

Fraser Island 4WD When you’re on Fraser Island (on Australia’s East Coast) and your huge 4WD vehicle is mired deep into incredibly soft sand. In this particular case, the two men in our group were the only ones who actually knew how to drive the stick shift 4WD really well and that meant we pushed while the men drove.

All a part of the fun camping out on Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. I spent three days and two nights as a part of a backpacker tour of the island.  – we cruised down the sandy beach to the various points on the island in our rented 4WD and the tour company provided a cooler with all of the food, tents, and extras that we would need.

Being a sand island though, there’s…umm…sand. The tightly packed beach sand makes driving pretty easy. When we headed inland though, we continually got stuck in the soft sand; if it wasn’t our 4WD wasn’t stuck then someone else’s was and there was only one small road…passing was not an option.

Lake McKenzie and Pure Sand!
Lake McKenzie

So the nine women (and the men at this point) would jump out and we run ahead, push the other trucks out the sand, and then continue down the road until we got stuck. Then it all happened over again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

That about sums up Fraser Island – you drive around the island taking in the handful of superb natural wonders, camp in the sand, relax away from all civilization, and sleep to the roaring sound of the ocean and those snorers in the group.

As for sites, Lake McKenzie is the top reason to visit in my opinion – the other lakes are ok, the hikes can be unbearably hot and un-shaded, but Lake McKenzie is a fantastically beautiful perched lake with nearly 100 percent pure silica sand. It’s so pure that you can (and we did) massage the sand into oyur skin as an exfoliant.

Beautified by the Silica
After my sand exfoliation

Do I look younger…or just ridiculous?

Maheno Shipwrek on Fraser

Also interesting- the shipwreck of the S.S. Maheno –during low tide the rusty hull perches on the beach forlornly; once the tide comes in though the shipwreck just sits eerily vacant on the beach.

Oh, and two words of warning:

  • It's an Australian Dingo! The dingoes are visible all over the island; we were specifically told that women should not “pop a squat” in the bushes at night because the dingoes might attack if they think you are a child. Heed the warning or you too might find yourself hollering for help with your pants around your ankles, gesturing wildly while you bare all for the dingo. I seriously doubt he was going to attack, but he was a peeping Tom.
  • Although there are no cops on the island, don’t drink and drive and just be careful. Just this past April 2009 two backpackers will killed when an underage driver flipped the vehicle.

Fraser was neat and unique, looking back though at all of the options for Queensland activities, if I had it to do over again I would likely opt for Magnetic Island to see the animals instead.

A Little Serenade…Six Songs for a Happy Birthday!

Guitar Serenade on Fraser So there I am, a year ago today, sweaty, sand is in every single possible crevice of my body, the cake I bought completely melting all over the makeshift table, and yet the moment is precisely right as twenty-four backpackers serenade me with the Happy Birthday song in six different languages.

We were all on a three day camping/driving/sandy adventure of Fraser Island, Australia (more on that tomorrow) and as my luck would have it I was hitting the quarter of a century mark. Birthdays on the road are a rite of passage of sorts; it’s like a travel Christmas, you have to adjust to some changes, alter your expectations, and embrace the unique circumstances and rituals that accompany.Fraser's long beach

So, instead of a birthday dinner with the family and hanging out with friends, I found myself surrounded with heaps of foreigners (or am I the foreigner?) willing to raise a drink in toast to my birthday and sing me the special birthday songs from their country.

A fair trade all in all methinks!

With birthday festivities in mind we piled up the goon and beer, turned up the radio on the 4-weel drive and crammed onto the tarp (a failed attempt to avoid the sand) and all sat around a campfire picking at my melted chocolate cake mush while each group sang to me their traditional songs…at the top of their lungs.

Birthday Cake mess! Melted, mushy cake!

And some even danced (hey, alcohol was involved, what can you expect!).

I loved my last birthday. Thanks to diversity on the road I wracked up six languages for the Happy Birthday song: Hebrew, Swedish, Swiss, Dutch (two different Dutch songs actually!), German, and English (obviously right).

I had a little video of the Israeli birthday song…but for the absolute life of me I just can’t find it.  :-(  Drats! Wish I had better organized my videos! Just know that there was fun to be had and the Hebrew one was one of the most fun of the lot :-)

No clue what I’m doing today; good friends and family most likely– equally great but in a totally different way!

So, tell me, how do you spend your birthdays on the road? Any fun stories, mishaps, or random occurrences?

How to spend the holidays as a solo traveler.

A Little Reflection… On Spending the Holidays Alone as a Solo Traveler (+6 Tips)

christmas cruiseMurmur the world “Christmas” and you likely imagine a toasty log cabin with a flickering fire. You’re sipping a steaming cup of hot chocolate while the snow blankets the cabin in an earthly quiet. Perhaps there’s even a twinkling Christmas tree tucked into the corner and carols tinkling from the radio.

That’s the Hollywood Christmas and one that I’ve long imagined everyone else experiences every December. But as a native Floridian, that’s not life as we know it. By late December, some years the weather still cranks out breezes in the mid 80.

And so it wasn’t so strange for me to spend Christmas in the Land Down Under, where the balmy breeze reminded me of the only Christmases I have ever known. I ended my round the world trip just last month, but the memories of that year will never leave me. This time a year ago I was fresh-faced optimistic about my trip, and I was happy to sun myself on a boat in the middle of the ocean, all in the name of a good time.

That said, it is a bit weird to leave your home culture during the holidays.  Christmas traditions in Australia are less commercialized than Christmas back home. On the one hand, that’s lovely. On the other hand, without the decorations and Christmas carols blaring from the radio, it felt more like a casual summer festivity than the huge tradition we’ve embraced in the U.S.

In the lead up to Christmas, I realized that I would like company during the holidays. When I planned my round the world trip, I considered that I would face the holiday solo. At first, one of my best friends had planned to fly over and join me for a month of diving and holidays and birthday (my birthday!) fun. She bailed on me the first week of December, however.

I’d be lying if I wasn’t heartbroken.

But, I regrouped. Holidays and special occasions are a rough time to be alone out there in the world. This proves true for anyone who travels, but also those people who might have just moved to a new city and don’t yet have friends. Or those without family nearby.

In my case, my birthday falls three days after Christmas. Then New Year’s Eve arrives. I knew the dangers of spending all of that time alone. Solo travel can already be lonely at times, and so I took stock of the situation. Australia is the land of many backpackers, and I decided to book myself on a group sailboat trip on the Whitsunday Islands.

And I learned an important lesson about the holidays, which echoes so much of traveling. Instead of focusing on how Christmas was different from those of years past, I learned and experienced traditions from dozens of other cultures. Unlike the many Christmases of my childhood that all blend together, my memories from my Australian backpacker Christmas are unique to that year alone.

Jumping off the side of the boat into the gorgeous blue waters. It was a long drop into the water, but I teamed up with two other women and we jumped together to help overcome the fear!

Instead of waking up at dawn to cook a feast with my grandma, I woke at sunrise and pulled on a stinger suit so I could snorkel in the first light of day. My boat turned out to have a party vibe (not sure there’s anything else possible in Australia as the backpackers love to party), and I spent the holiday with a dozen backpackers from all over this planet of ours.

It’s a tradition here make sand snowmen in your swimsuit. Sadly, the pure silica on the beaches in the Whitsundays didn’t lend itself to sandmen decked out in wide-brimmed sunhats and sunglasses. If it was possible, I totally would have joined with the Aussie tradition and made up an epic sandman. I suppose, however, that I shouldn’t boo-hoo about the purest, whitest sand in the world, it wasn’t that much of a hardship! :-)

Christmas Eve looking out at Whitehaven Beach. The water is shallow for ages and it makes for gorgeous wading water. After a while, however, I hid in the shade so I didn’t burn!
Views of Whitehaven beach, one of the prettiest spots in the Whitsunday Islands.

How to spend the holidays as a solo traveler.When I decided to tackle that year of solo travel, at the outset I knew that I’d face obstacles in unlikely places. I don’t love the holidays like some people. My family bickers and my mum is always sad about my brother’s passing. But it’s also the only thing I’ve ever known for the holidays. I attended an “orphan’s Christmas” my first year in Los Angeles and it was fun and weird, but ultimately it was comfortable because I was in my home culture.

When I left, I wasn’t sure what it feel like to be half a world away from my family. Christmas day was nearly over for me by the time they were sitting down to family dinner. And so, I learned that I like to be home for the holidays. I also like all the weird and wacky travel gifts my family comes up with over the years. It was delightful to experience Christmas on the water with other backpackers, but it there is something to be said for embracing your traditions and showing up. My family missed me last year. My nieces and nephews had grown so big. This year, as I reflect back from the comfort of my childhood home, I am happy to be home for the holidays.

Quick Tips: Six Ideas for Spending the Holidays as Solo Traveler

If you’re on the road and facing a holiday alone — Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving — here are a handful of ideas for forming new holiday memories that help beat the loneliness of being alone while your family back home is gathering.

  1. Book a group tour. This was clearly my choice, and it has panned out well over the years. I’ve done this several times on a handful of holidays during my more than eight years of travel. There are so many fun activities all over the world, so you could even treat yourself by booking something that you might not usually splurge on doing. My tours are often multi-day, but at least book a day tour to keep yourself busy and engaged. If you’re in a part of the world with Urban Adventures tours, they often offer food tours or beer crawls, or historical tours — a range of cool, niche ones that will keep your mind busy and engaged with your new friends on the tour.
  2. Stay at a busy hostel. Hostels the world over are filled with other travelers in your same situation. I’ve never been in a hotel that doesn’t organize a party for Christmas. If you’re celebrating a purely American holiday, then you might need to get creative and ask around the hotel to see if any others want to make a potluck Thanksgiving or some such.
  3. Contact local expats. Find a Facebook group or an expat blogger and reach out to them! They will have a bead on any celebrations in town, and they just might be organizing their own open event.
  4. Plan a spa day or “treat yourself” day. Consider a day of pampering or fun. In some parts of the world, Christmas Day is business-as-usual, and you can find book yourself into a spa day. I’ve gone this route in Southeast Asia before, and it’s always lovely to treat myself. You could also partake in your favorite activities. Even back home, I will sometimes head to the movie theatre on Christmas as it feels like a fun indulgence to see the latest blockbuster.
  5. Discover the local traditions. If you’re in a part of the world that celebrates the holiday, dive into their festivities. Even similar cultures often have wildly different traditions. Use your trip as an extension of your travels and get curious about the local holiday customs and traditions.
  6. Do something cool, unique, or from your bucket list. My niece traveled with me during the holidays one year and I wanted to make it a memorable one. We were in Thailand, which celebrates the holiday a bit, but I knew she would miss home. Instead of trying to duplicate home traditions, I signed us up for a Christmas Day 10K run. We joined several local expats and created a fun, full day out of it. After the run, we all ate a massive pancake breakfast and generally enjoyed the uniqueness of our day.

 

mojo surf review

A Little Adventure… Surfing Waves and Eating Water in Byron Bay, Australia

Byron bay beachAs my round the world trip picked up speed and headed into parts of the world with erratic internet access, I started to lose the thread of the story, jumping ahead to share updates of my current travels. But that left some truly wonderful experiences unshared! So we head back in time today to the east coast of Australia for a flashback to my questionably successful attempts learning how to surf.

Our time machine has landed us to a sunny, windy day in the surfing town of Byron Bay. After getting my fill of diving in Cairns, taking a gorgeous boat ride to the Whitsundays, and four-wheel driving on the world’s largest sand island, it was time for another adventurous activity: learning to surf.

Other travelers warned me that, as a complete newbie, I only needed two days of exhausting lessons before I would beg for a break, my muscles not up to the strenuous task. Heeding their advice, I signed up for a two-day class with Mojo Surf to give me a taste of surfing without the body-aching pain I would feel from the seven-day courses they also offered.

Two-day surf lessons byron bay

Byron Bay is a hippy coastal town soaked in the alternative lifestyle. An eccentric nudist community, Nimbin, is just a short ride outside of town and every third backpacker you meet sports a wetsuit sunburn and sun-bleached dreads. The vibe is fun, laid-back, and it turned out to be the perfect backdrop to my painstaking hours of surf lessons. The Mojo Surf van pulled up in front of my hostel and within minutes the ten of us were cruising a coastal road parallel to the rolling ocean waters.

long-board surf lessonsAlthough I had packed a short-sleeved rash-guard, our instructors also passed out full-sleeved rashies that would protect our arms from both sun and potential sand-burns on our skin. The sun in Australia is even stronger than my hometown, so I also slathered myself in sunscreen while our instructor unloaded the van. Dan was a cliché surfer dude — long, sun-bleached hair, darkly tanned skin, and a groovy, far-out personality designed to perfectly accompany the look. He had such a positive outlook on life and he seemed to love his job, so he made the day that much brighter. Plus, he truly lives for the surf, he oozed enthusiasm from every pore, so I couldn’t have had a better teacher for the two-day course.

My first lesson of the day was unexpected: long boards are heavy! There was no way I could carry it under my arm like the guys in our group, so the women and I hoisted the boards onto our heads before trotting to the beach. Mine plunked into the sand ungracefully, but no one paid me any mind. We made a semi-circle with the boards as the group assembled on shore for a safety talk. Instructor Dan explained the tidal patterns for the day, how wind would effect us, how to handle rip currents, and safety precautions to keep our boards from hurting each other once we were in the water.

Then we did a dry-run and practiced the moves on the sand — long, deep scooping motions with the arms and then you jump up as quick as lightening. Before I could felt truly ready, Instructor Dave shooed us down the beach, assuring us that the best way to learn was actually on the waves. My first thought: “Holy crap I’m not ready yet!” But that doesn’t cut it in surf school and our three instructors fanned out into the water to help us practice our technique.

Surfing is hard work! I bit it over and over again, eating water, sand, shells and even some stringy seaweed. And just when I would start to feel accomplished because I would get half-way up before tipping over, I looked back to see the instructor holding onto the back of the board for me!

Mojo Surf instructor Byron Bay

eating water surfing

byron bay surfing lessons review

surfing lessons shallow water

mojo surf teaching review

My main issue was jumping up from the paddle position into knees-bent surf position quickly and with my weight centered. By the end the first day, board burn scored both of my knees but I could successfully make it up onto the board as long as the instructor was also holding it upright. Which was still quite the accomplishment since learning the rhythm of standing is one of the trickiest parts.

Our second day was both better and worse. The training wheels had come off and our instructors were less eager to hold the back of our boards for us. Crap. That meant I had to not only pick my own waves, but paddle and then jump up all by myself!

It did not go well throughout the morning.

By lunch time, I was freaked out from a scary fall where I picked a wave that was far too large, I fell off tumbled into the water. By this point, I had fallen before but this wave was huge and it tossed me like in a rag-doll in a washing machine for what felt like minutes (really only seconds).

The seconds dragged on though, and bent and braced my arms over my head to protect my neck if I hit the bottom, just as they had taught us the day before. The whole time though, I just prayed that my board wouldn’t hit me in the face while the wave tumbled me.

I surfaced coughing up liters of water and dragging the board cord tied to my ankle and slugging my way onto the beach to take a break. My teacher’s response: “Woah, narley fall dude … but wait, what are you doing up here, get back in the water — there’s still ten minutes before lunch!”

He wouldn’t let me psych myself out from the fall, so I signed and returned to the water, giving it a half-hearted attempt before our lunch break. After lunch, I am proud to say that I made it upright on the board! And on my own, too. I won’t go so far as to lie and say that I can get up on the board consistently, but I was at least standing up each time, although not yet coasting very far once I was up. Baby steps.

surfing
My very first ride where I picked the wave and got up on the board on my own!!!
My instructors cheered for me when I came to shore after finally making it up on the board.

It was hugely exhilarating to stand up on the board as it coasted toward the shoreline. There’s a power you feel when you conquer something difficult, and I’m hooked. While I will never be the best surfer in the world, it is a whole lot of fun, bloody knees, sore muscles and all — and I do kind of wish I had another day or two of camp. Those backpackers were wrong, I could have surely managed more days since I was feeling motivated and freshly accomplished by the end of the second day.

You can bet that the next surfing opportunity I get, I am there for more lessons without a second thought! My Australia photo gallery has many more pictures of me eating it into the waves. :)

Quick Tips: Learning to Surf in Byron’s Bay

Where: I used Mojo Surf after endlessly researching my options. I needed a budget option with good reviews, and they fit the bill nicely.

Sleep: I stayed at the Arts Factory Lodge in the dorms and it was a good spot from which to explore the city — basic but clean and has a great traveler vibe. If I return as a couple, I would likely stay in the Bayshore Bungalows, which are mid-range prices and more private than the hostels.

Read: I have a free Australia Travel Guide here, collecting all of the tips from my two months in country, with links and lists of the companies I loved during my trip. I also used the Australia Lonely Planet religiously during my backpacking trip and it is, by far, the most comprehensive guide to the country.

daytrip to ruins outside of Skradin, Croatia

A Little Misadventure… Biking to Bribirska Glavica from Skradin, Croatia

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.

Biking out to  Bribirska Glavica from Skradin.

bike day trip from Skradin

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.

Views of Croatia from Bribirska Glavica, a set of ruins near Skradin.

biking daytrip from Skradin

ripe mulberries on a tree

croatia skradin day trip

juicy fresh-picked mulberries

a handful of mulberries

krka river

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.

Heading to Croatia? My free online Travel Guide Croatia offers all of my firsthand tips and advice from my travels through the country.

A Little Adventure… Overcoming Language Difficulties to Explore Milna, Croatia

When I first imagined renting a cottage on an island of the coast of Croatia, I had visions of sparkling waters, warm sunshine, and a quaint village. My cousin, friend, and I arrived in Croatia after a long travel day on the ferry from Italy to Split, Croatia, then navigated days of heavy rains, and now we’ve had a few sunny days and explored. And Milna is different than I expected. It’s a touristy hub for part of the, and then it transforms into a sleepy village by mid-afternoon.

boats in milna habor croatia

Small cruise ships pull into the harbor by late morning and a few dozen tourists disembark. They spread through the town like a colony of ants, converging on the single strip of shops along the harbor. And during that time, it’s a crush of people and hard go about daily life. But nobody stays long. This is a cruise port and has few other tourist facilities. Only by renting our little cottage could we see an alternate side to Milna, Croatia. Once the cruise ships motor out of the harbor, an eerie and quiet peace settles over the town. Each evening, I would stroll along the harbor, eat ice cream, and chat with any locals who happened past my spot.

But mostly, everyone just passed by with a steady stream of Croatian conversation between them. English is not a given in Milna, nor in all of Croatia. When I would later travel the rest of Croatia, I noticed that the older generation in particular hasn’t taken on English as the tourism language. Or perhaps there is no need since the cruise ship tourists are so fleeting.

According to Magda, the hair stylist in Milna (she gave me a fantastic haircut), the coming generation of kids learn English in school, but that is only a recent development.

One of the funniest interactions of the trip happened on my very first day in town, when the rains drenched the town and my cousin, Jenn, and I popped into the local pizza parlor for a quick lunch. We were all eager to learn basic pleasantries in Croatian as a way to ease the communications with the locals and make the trip more enjoyable. It was our first day in Croatia, and as the waiter served our food, we thanked him in English, and then ask him how to say, “thank you” in Croatian. We hadn’t bought a guidebook yet, so we didn’t have a single word between the three of us.

We confused the server with our question, so he was puzzled and asked us to repeat the question.

In response to our repetition, he told us something along the lines of “Žao mi je,” with a bit more after it.

We dutifully repeated the phrase when he said it again. This went on a few times, and we always repeated it. We were quite pleased with ourselves.

Then as we paid at the register, we busted out our new phrase when a different man handed us our change.

And he burst into laughter. Gales of laughter. Great eye-crinkling and tear-inducing laughter.

We repeated the phrase and asked him what it meant.

Delighted, he said, “I’m sorry, I don’t know.”

For the briefest second we were confused, and then we joined the guffaws. The poor waiter hadn’t understood a single word we were saying! Then he must have been completely confused when we started repeating him in Hrvatski (Croatian).

As we all recovered from the side-splitting laughs, the cashier informed that a simple hvala would take care of our future thanking needs.

The language difficulties were very real, and while they added fun, we were also ready to relax and enjoy sunshine — which is why we traveled to this tiny island in the first place!

flower

Things to Do in Milna, Croatia on Brač Island

The weather cooperated and rewarded us with clear skies and warm, fresh air. Our Croatia guidebook covered few things forBrač Island, so although we knew it would come in handy on mainland Croatia, we decided to ask the locals for advice on what to see and do. With their help, spent a day exploring. We walk to a nearby beach, visited the cemetery, and also spent time visiting the historic and older parts of Milna.

The Beach

Just a 30 minute walk from Milna’s harbor is a secluded beach area located on the other side of the bay. Jenn loves laying out and when she saw sunshine through our window, we knew it was the perfect beach day. I usually hide from the sun, so I wore a coverup over my swimsuit and lathered on sunscreen. We gathered our books and set out for the easy walk to the beach.

The water was a fantastic shade of blue and the Adriatic sparkled in the beating sunlight. Brač Island is pretty and well located, with coastline and ocean views on one side, and coastline and city views on the other side. We loved the beach spot the locals had recommended. We found a small inlet from the road and it had a huge slanted rock gently dipping into the ocean. With few others in sight, we spread out and soaked in the much-welcomed sunshine and vitamin D.

brac island croatia

beach on brac island

The Cemetery

While walking to the beach, we passed a beautiful cemetery. It’s placed on the hillside that overlooks the harbor, allowing the city’s ancestors to watch over their descendants. It’s also one of the higher spots in the area and would surely make a beautiful and tranquil place to watch sunset over the harbor.

The cemetery is over 200 hundred years old — we found a gravestone dated 1817! Cemeteries provide insight on smaller communities and often reveal everything from the dominant religion to the the language. They can also reveal periods of famine, art trends, and more. This cemetery is small, but with many pretty and tended gravestones to respectfully observe.

We puttered around and enjoyed the serene setting with fresh air and sunshine and views of the town.

cemetery milna croatia

Milna Harbor

The row of shops and bobbing boats in Milna harbor is about as far as most tourists venture. And it’s understandable — the harbor is surely the area most built for tourism. We sampled all of the restaurants during our week on the island, and we most loved hanging out at Cafe Bar Mille Naves and we all craved pizza, so we made a habit of eating at Pizzeria Slika.

There are many high-end seafood restaurants along the water and harbor and they are similar in price and quality. Your best bet is to walk along and find one with open booths outside so that you can enjoy the fresh breezes and harbor views.

milna harbor

Milna harbor sunset

As our time drew to a close, the three of upped our outings to the ice cream shop. His gelato is tasty and provided a lovely reminder of our past weeks traveling in Italy. We would venture deeper into Croatia to visit Plitvice National Park and Krka’s gorgeous waterfalls, and we all knew we would miss our quiet week on one of Croatia’s many coastal islands.


Friends and family: Check your mailboxes, I postcarded a lot of people from Bosnia, so you should have one arriving any day now.

Planning a trip to Croatia? Use my free Travel Guide Croatia is for insider’s advice and my first-hand research from backpacking Croatia, as well as advice from A Little Adrift readers about their favorite spots too!