I could stare at this ocean for hours with a Kellogg‘s mug of camomile. My stiff hair and hairy legs are caked in salt and propped up on the railing. A huge ship docks overnight, offloading Maersk containers and rudely obscuring the mountains. My four days in Rijeka are bejewelled with 3am crepes, 6am swims in diamond water and a 22 dollar bedroom view that rivals the tacky travel posters pasted on airport walls.
I’m nicknamed “animal” by the host who talks only about sex and insists his blood is 10% alcohol. He’s a strange man who seems to never sleep and wears his torso and a pair of too-tight blue boardshorts. “Sexy”, as he’s called, is eager to show us a photo displaying the bare buttocks of last weekend’s guests. Every night he offers a nudie swim but prudie me says ooh…dear no.
A long stroll leads me past a traditional fruit market and towards a Croatian woman leaning out of her window, destroying an apple with a paring knife. With every chew she drops chunks onto the pavement and spills frothy juice out of her wrinkled mouth. Narrowed eyes follow me carefully and suddenly I’m victim to a loud rant and a furious hand that points over my shoulder. I reach another dead end and shamefully tiptoe back the same route, copping another yell and frantic thrust of the apple.
There are two German boys at the hostel who’ve cycled through the Balkans. The pesky one won’t stop saying “she’ll be right mate” after I tell him I’m Australian. To my horror and disgust, the phrase has now embedded itself in my vocabulary.
At dinner time I’m finally able to cook veg chilli for someone other than myself and it’s surprisingly edible. I’m gifted with a bottle of wine from the English guy and with a pop of the cork, Sexy is asking for a glass. An impromptu Android photoshoot features me and the wine bottle and you’ll never see it.
My first Jägermeister experience commences at an underground tunnel bar and I can assure you it won’t be repeated. Within an hour we’re sprawled in different parts of the city in various states of inebriation. Our loaf of discussion crumbles and miraculously we stumble back to the hostel for a nude dip and one of Sexy’s crepes. But shit!! The German boy has passed out and missed out on the doughy jam-slathered circles of greatness. In a mad stupor, I drag one upstairs and force feed it to him by blocking his nose so his mouth opens. Without waking, he swats my hand away and the plate hits me square in the forehead as I tumble over and probably wake up the seven other guests. What can I say? Crepe time is important. No man gets left behind.
My hangover is shooed with eggy toast, an icy plunge and some unwarranted selfies of puffy eyes and upturned noses. Stone skimming quickly morphs to rock throwing and our high school shot put skills are truly put to the test. The Swedish girl and I play beached whales and morph into land monsters that emerge and stumble onto stones that line the shore.
A plump white-moustachioed man is bitten by his angry dog and his scolding hand hovers as they stare each other down. The dog won’t stop yapping, the waves are calm and lapping against the ground but the old man is bleeding and using his shirt to stop it seeping.
We say an English goodbye to the Germans on bikes and the motorcycle-bound Englishman. The Swedish nugget of joy joins me for another swim in layers of turquoise water. Hot and cold pockets force fog vibrations to swirl above remains of Roman columns and pieces of plastic. We’re joined by two Croatian men with beach ball bellies and toothbrush moustaches who plop in with their crocs on. We embark on a pumpkin curry-flavoured mission to Lidl and head back to the hostel.
I don disposable gloves and enact the worst hair salon service I can muster. A older Croatian guest examines the cardboard L’Oreal box and tells us he doesn’t think blue is a good idea. I force a laugh and slap his hand away from the sunflower princess who will soon be sporting mermaid locks.
It’s a valiant effort and judging by the satisfaction of my first client, maybe there’s a hairdressing future for me. She braids the little hair I have left since my life-altering chop last July and we play never have I ever with two German girls who share their chips with us. Our zany host flips us a last crepe in the morning and we part ways to Zadar and Zagreb with zero zebras onboard.
Fraza dana: She’ll be right, mate
Pjesma mjesta: Dog stole my earphones back in Florence (not a song, but a cold hard fact)