Croatia must be secret code for beautiful country. Flowers and farmhouses, blue skies and greenery everywhere, tumbling white stones and wild flowers making gardens of every bit of road-side land. I was expecting to make this my first night of camping, and by around 3pm was starting to consider whether to ask at a farmhouse or a church for permission to pitch my tent, when I came across Marko’s Flea Market in Mikulići, Croatia.Marko is a Croat who has spent most of his life in Canada, escaping Croatia as a refugee. He’s travelled the world on a budget. Now in his 70’s, he lets the world come to him. A painter by trade, he’s an ideas man who’s house and yard is a collection of rescued materials and inventive projects. What attracted me was the sign “W. Showers – tuz” and the old bicycle hanging from a tree. Warmshowers.org is Couchsurfing for bicycle tourists, so I almost fell off my bike at finding such luck! I propped my bike up out front and wandered up to see if anyone was at home. Marko came out and invited me in, we sat and chatted and shared cigarettes and cake.
He takes in hundreds of travelers, both from Warmshowers and otherwise. Often people will stay a while, help on some project and then continue along. His rules are that visitors can stay as long as they like, provided that they don’t cost him anything. He showed me where I could sleep, a bed in his “office” where I could roll out my sleeping bag. Then he proceeded to feed me an absolutely delicious meal of pork stew, pasta and bread. I offered to contribute my supplies of spinach, tinned fish, and kiwifruit, worried that I was already costing him by eating his excellent food. He wouldn’t have any of it.
We sat up into the evening while he shared stories of his life. The reason he didn’t move to Australia when he was fleeing the problems in Croatia was because a friend told him that down under all we have is “poisonous snakes and no women.” So Canada it was, where he did everything from painting to boating.
Marko’s house is crammed with interesting things, pictures and postcards and prints plastered on every surface. On the kitchen cupboards are cutouts from a calendar, showing the history of flight through artists’ eyes. When you open the cupboard doors there are pinup girls. This is to help him wake up in the morning when he reaches for a coffee mug!