Last June, our final hurrah before leaving Germany was to a place that we had heard such good things about for so long: Croatia! We were going in the middle of July, which is like prime season for tourists unfortunately. Fortunately, we found cheap flights on Croatian Air to the island of Brac (pronounced Bratch), just off the coast of the mainland from Split. While we wanted to try to hit up Dubrovnik and Plitvice National park, we only had 5 days to spare, so we opted to stay on an island, soak up some of the Mediterranean sun, relaxing, and eating good food. And no island trip is complete without some diving!
What we really wanted to do as a final hurrah was a dive trip. I found a travel agency out of the UK that specialized in dive travel. We had a week all set up in Malta with a rental farm house picked out, a dive package selected, and everything all set to go, but at the last minute, the exorbitantly high price tag (the GIANT farmhouse, complete with like 8 bedrooms and a private pool, no doubt had a hand in the price) made us balk. See, we needed to buy a house in a month, so spending a ton of money on a dive trip where we would, at most, each only get two dives a day in was probably not the wisest financial decision. But, we still wanted to dive, and see Croatia, so doing both together was a perfect alternative!
The island of Brac is pretty large, one of the larger islands off the Dalmation coast. We stayed in the main city on the island, Bol. Unwittingly, we chose to stay close to one of Croatia's most famous beaches, Zlatni Rat. This tiny strip of beach juts out into the cerulean waters of the Adriatic, almost like a thin dorsal fin on a fish. It's packed from about 10:00 in the morning until later afternoon. So if you must experience this beach, I recommend getting there early to set up camp. And make sure to take a cooler with snacks and drinks along with you! And one more word of caution. I wasn't aware that the beaches of Croatia aren't really "sandy" beaches, but more like tiny rocks and crushed up shells. It's brutal on your feet, so do yourself a favor and take water shoes. Like, legit ones that cover your whole foot. Trust me when I say regular 'ol flip flops will NOT cut it.
One more thing before we get to the whole point of this post. Just outside of downtown Bol, there is a nice, long, pretty shaded "board walk" that leads to Zlatni Rat and beyond. Along this path, in the water, there is the most awesome floating obstacle course I have ever seen. I so wanted to act like a kid and go play, but it's not so much fun by yourself and, well, we had Evelyn, who was a little young for this. But once she's old enough - oh man, am I gonna have fun with her on something like this!
Ok, enough about Croatia. The real point of this post is the diving. I actually had trouble convincing people that, yes, we really did want to dive in the Mediterranean. For years, the Sea has been so over fished that it's actually not all that healthy. I was warned that the diving wasn't exactly reef diving, but more "geological" diving, which we were totally cool with. Still, we expected to see some sort of wildlife during our dives, it is salt water after all.
I found a couple dive shops in Bol, and chose to go with Big Blue Diving. They are associated with a resort there (which we did not stay at - too rich for our blood!) and they run two dives a day, a morning and an afternoon dive. It actually worked out perfectly. One of us would dive while the other watched Evelyn. We each did 3 dives over 3 days, with our final day being our pre-flight surface interval.
Aaron took the first dive the first two days and I took the afternoon dive. Two things immediately struck me as I entered the water on that first dive and sunk beneath the surface:
- They weren't kidding that this is a dead sea (not to be confused with the Dead Sea). There was almost no wildlife to speak of. Lots of rocks and dead coral, but fish were scarce and coral was even more elusive, that is, until you got to about 100 feet.
- That water is COLD!!! I was totally ill-prepared for it. At depth, the water temperature hovered at a refreshing 45 degrees or so. While I have dove in MUCH colder waters (Iceland, Norway, and Lake Superior to name a few), I was always in a dry suit. On this trip, we had opted to take our 5mm wetsuits. Mistake. BIG mistake! I was so cold that even had I had the opportunity to do 2 dives, my body couldn't have handled it. Nonetheless, I shivered my way through the dives to 45 minutes or so. I was diving Croatia and I was going to get every last minute out of it I could, hypothermia be damned! Just kidding. When diving in cold water, please be careful - hypothermia really is no joke.
While diving in Croatia is a long shot from diving in the warm water of the Philippines or the kelp fields in Norway, it has it's own unique beauty to it. Nothing can really describe how vibrant an algae-covered coral looks when surrounded by a sea of monochromatic rock. Or how excited you get once you find an elusive nudibranch, reminiscent of a spotted cow. I will say, the one marine animal I saw here in greater frequency than any place else was the octopi. I had seen a couple in the Philippines, but I saw at least 1, if not 2, on every dive I did there. It's quite easy to get mesmerized watching them gracefully climb a rock face at 100 feet, or maybe that's the narcosis, because once they stop, they blend in so perfectly, that if you take your eyes off of him for a millisecond, you'll never find him again.
The dive shop we dove with was very accommodating. They set up a doubles rig for us to use (diving doubles is so much easier and more comfortable than a single tank!), and let us chill at their shop pretty much all day. The other divers ranged from newbies to an older Croatia lady who lived near the capital, Zadar, and visited there every chance she could, to dive. At first, we were a little off put because the dives were deep, cold, and short. But what we realized is that there really is not much to see above 100 feet. Fortunately, since we were in doubles, we were allowed to ride our maximum no decompression limits, only briefly crossing over into decompression, which we easily cleared on our long, slow ascents without a lengthy deco stop. Our dives all averaged about 45 minutes, and the sites visited were varied. We were only there 3 days, but a site was never repeated and the listing of sites they frequented was fairly extensive. I would have no qualms recommending them to anyone looking to do some diving while on vacation here.
Oh, and I'm totally gonna brag here for a minute. Aaron hit his 200th dive while on that trip! I wish I could have been with him on it, but someone had to watch Evelyn. Maybe we just need to bring along a babysitter from now on....