Life in a Backpack: Bad Traveler (lost count of days, dates, and other such things…)

I am twenty-six years old and I shit my pants. No kidding.

After an exhausting 18 hour bus ride (with no bathroom) from Prague to Split, Croatia, we arrived around 6 am. The sun hadn’t come up, and apparently neither did the chain locked garage door to the public restroom. No where else was open. Everyone I asked didn’t speak English.

Does anyone remember how Hansel and Gretel left a trail of bread crumbs to follow in case they got lost? Well I left behind a trail of something of my own…

To spare the disgusting details, I couldn’t hold it in anymore, and it came out. That’s it. That’s all I’m saying.

I don’t know if I can be funny about this yet. I’m still embarrassed to admit that my first memory of this stunning coastal city will always be how Chris and I were lost, trying to find my hostel, with shit in my drawers.

The last three days have been filled with self doubt… maybe I’m not cut out for a life in a backpack. Maybe I’m doing traveling all wrong.

Our journey South was tough, but compared our new friend Manuel’s trekking, we don’t deserve to call ourselves backpackers at all…

Manuel Lives in Mannheim, Germany, and a week ago, he set forth on his bicycle through Eastern Europe with one goal in mind: make it to Moscow, to watch the world wide accordion competition.

(Well, make that three goals. He’s a full time student, studying for his master’s, so the only option for travel in between classes and budget is to bike.)

Here are some details:

  • Manuel was our roommate in Prague, and when he arrived, he was covered in scrapes, bruises, and his skin was the color of a kidney bean
  • He had just ended this stage of his journey from Nuremberg to Prague
  • His bed at our hostel was one of the first he’d slept in in at least 5 days
  • Manuel completed 650 kilometers (about 403 miles) since the beginning of his journey
  • Manuel survives off of two meals: Rice and chicken and rice and eggs (he showed me where to buy cheap rice that can be easily cooked in a single bag, saving time by not dish washing)
  • Supposed to leave on Sunday, he fell ill and was forced to take a bus to his next destination, to make up for lost time (I’ve never seen anyone more crushed)
  • He is conscious about two things: managing time well and not being frivolous with funds (he’s also a hell of an accordion player, if what I hear)

We had the privilege of getting to know him over our three days in Prague, and had the pleasure of seeing him off on Monday morning. He is quite literally the toughest person we’ve met on this trip so far and every time I think of how he’s pedaling from destination to destination, it humbles me in my cramped bus seat.

Despite having met such a driven person, my doubts about myself as a traveler were increased after the first night in Split. Getting lost, no itinerary, and little research made me wonder, am I traveling right? The people we’ve met so far seemed more in tune and genuinely having a better time than us. Was there something I was doing wrong?

Photo fast forward through three days in Split :

Chris and my new favorite pastime: Picigin, a true Croatian national heritage. Goal of the game? NEVER let the ball hit the water… all you need is a tennis ball and a sharp knife to take off the fuzzy part. We just need a tennis ball… (more on this later)
Spent an entire hour scavenging tennis courts around Split to find a tennis ball. Finally, when all seemed lost, I found one in the bushes! Game on.

En Route hostel in Split, Croatia never slept.

The twenty person bunk beds were filled with kids Chris’ age. Being around all those teenagers made me feel my age for the first time in my life. They drank from 11 until 4 am, pub crawls on a nightly basis, talked American TV shows I’d never heard of, and didn’t leave any room for reflection and reading time. Maybe I wasn’t leading Chris in the right direction.

Was I too much of an introvert to be guiding a 19 year-old boy through his first European experience?

If this trip is supposed to chance his life, am I the right guide?

Did I plan enough fun things for him to do?

Should make him drink more than to socialize?

Despite the majority of them being English, Australian, or American, I could not communicate with them.

The lack of sleep drained me of my happiness and confidence within myself to find new things to do each day. I hated this place.

I shared a bunk section with three English girls, who were more like parakeets than human beings. They’d be up late drinking and talking in their bunks until 4 am, without ever giving themselves a chance to breathe.

Each time I told them to be quiet, they seemed to get louder, just to spite me.

I got the last laugh when they stumbled back into the hostel, after a pub crawl.

One girl slammed her nose against my top bunk, and bled all over the place.

Another fell out of her top bunk onto the wood flooring. She cried for someone to help her up, but none of her friends did. I helped her into the bathroom to get cleaned up. Luckily, she puked everywhere but on me (sorry, no photos).

Split was packed full of white shirted, overweight English tourists by day fresh off of their cruise ships, but by night, Chris and I found solace walking in narrow passage ways late at night. By day, we hiked through Marjan hill, a national park on the peninsula.

Imagine narrow forest dirt roads covered in a dense Mediterranean pine forest and completely surrounded by the city and the sea. A unique experience, without a doubt. When we got tired, we jumped into the Adriatic Sea, for a refreshingly salty bath.

This is where I want to be.

Extreme solitary travel, like the kind Manuel was doing, and partying all night with a bunch of backpackers may be great a great way to travel Europe, but what I have come to appreciate most about my time here in Europe is a chance to be with my brother.

In our short two weeks together, I’ve come to know more about him than an entire life time of being his brother.

In a later blog perhaps, I will explain in full detail but for now, walking and spending so much alone time with him has been enough to restore my confidence in myself and my ability to make this a life changing experience for both my brother and I.

*A special announcement from the author

Spotty hostel wifi has made the publishing of this blog almost impossible. Because of this, this entry hasn’t been polished with as much detail as any of the previous entries. As frustrating as this has been, it feels good to publish. Thank you all for your continued support, interest, and patience! If given better tools to work with, I might have included details about some of the wonderful people we’ve met in Hvar, and some of the great experiences we’ve had swimming in the Adriatic Sea.

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