Where are you from?
A backpacker question more relevant than your name, age, occupation or any comparably “normal” introduction. You meet people so frequently and can never know if you’ll end up talking for 30 seconds or traveling together for 30 days. So you hold off on names and, instead, you focus on their stories. Where are you from?
You ask it incredulously, after trying to decipher an accent and still not being sure whether it’s Kiwi or Aussie, German or Dutch… Or someone hurls it at you with enthusiasm when they pick up on your Americanness and want to know which of the 50 you call home. Where are you from?
And it snowballs. Where have you been? How long are you traveling for? How was Myanmar, I’m dying to go! You compare country notes, give adventure advice, and thrive off discussing the one thing you blatantly have in common. Sometimes it fizzles, and all you leave with is a recommendation for the best ramen spot in Amsterdam. But sometimes it doesn’t, and you end up shifting your life around to continue traveling with someone you’ve only known for three days.
For me, Croatia was the latter.
I knew I would make it there eventually, so any time Croatia came up in those travel talks I would drill the person on their experiences. And time after time, I heard people rave about Krka National Park and its waterfalls.
Following a Dublin all-nighter at a bar called Dicey Riley’s, I after-partied straight to the airport for a 6a.m. flight to Croatia. I arrived in Zadar on a zombie level 10; all normal social conventions were out the window. My singular focus was finding my hostel when every street sign looked like a random combination of consonants and Š’s wearing hats.
Hostel found… I dragged myself onto my top bunk and begin hibernating until I heard some people in my dorm discussing a trip to Krka. “KRKA?!”, I blurted out from my elevated comatose across the room. Three people all turned and look at me, confusion and mild terror on their faces.
“Ok, Chill Danie… be normal,” I quickly pep talked myself… so much for a super cool and graceful Where are you from? introduction. (but the answer is Quebec and Chicago as I would later learn). But whatever, I wanted those waterfalls and I had no idea how to get to them. Luckily, once they realized I wasn’t a (complete) psychopath, they invited me to join them in renting a car and heading to Krka…
We made our way down the Adriatic coast of Dalmatia and stopped for a sunny lunch in Šibenik, a coastal town at the mouth of the Krka river. From there we drove inland. The scenery was so arid and unassuming that I questioned how waterfalls could be anywhere nearby. Silly me. In our giddy frenzy to get there, we ignored a security barrier and drove straight inside the national park. Holy. Falls. Instantly, the landscape in front of me was river strewn, dripping in ferns, and exploding with greenery.
Footbridges beckoned us to explore over the streams and through the clearings of wild irises. We ventured down to the area where you can swim. Between the excitement and the freezing water I blacked out momentarily and, next thing I knew, I was swimming harder than I ever have in my life, desperately trying to make it to a rock at the base of the falls. A few feet from the rock the current was so strong I almost gave up. I never would have made it if the Chicago boy hadn’t reached out his hand to pull me up. Suddenly, we’re sitting 1o feet away from a wall of cascading water against a 360 backdrop of lush green treetops and clear blue sky. My bpm gradually slowed down from the adrenaline and began to take on the rhythm of the falls. Each individual stream had its own personality- I could feel the vibes in my soul. Violence, serenity, gentleness, joy.. it was hypnotizing. All the different energies were subtly changing my mood by the second.
At this point Chicago and I hardly knew each other. But then we started talking.. well, near-yelling over the roar of the water. And I have never felt such an instant connection with another human being. Not due to the unreal environment around us, or any kind of preconceived notions. Just totally and completely on the same page of life. Synchronicity at its finest.
We sat on that rock forever, frozen in awe at the beauty surrounding us. Letting the perfection wash over us. Trying to figure out how we got so lucky. At some point I realized this probably wasn’t going to be a 30 second relationship. And I should probably learn Chicago’s name.
“Be aware of the place where you are brought to tears. That’s where I am, and that’s where your treasure is.” -Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist