Choosing to live in a tent in a foreign country wasn’t the easiest decision I’d ever made, but then again it wasn’t the hardest either.
Considering the circumstances, it seemed like the right one at the time too. Truth be told, most decisions feel right at the time you make them, it’s only later on when you realize they don’t, and as of right now, the jury’s still out on this one.
I could sit here and comb through all the memories, the hints of joy and stings of regret, but that would be a waste of time. My focus is on surviving the ongoing mess of things right now- life, and all its splendor.
I stepped off the train at the central station in Zagreb, the capitol of Croatia at about 11:00 pm on a Tuesday night in August, 2020. I went looking immediately for a restroom, but none were open, all closed due to the “deadly virus pandemic”. I guess they just want people to pee on sidewalks and buildings these days, who knows, it might have anti-viral qualities. The jury’s still out on that one, too.
I walked around the train station terminal and an adjacent building, but I heard the voices of people so I didn’t feel quite comfortable whipping it out and unloading bodily fluids in a public place, much less a foreign country where I’d been now all of about 30 minutes for the first time.
I started walking toward the center of town, down a long, official-looking park with a fountain in front of what appeared to be an important, ornate building. While walking with my rucksack and tent on my back with a regular backpack draped over my front, a man sitting on a bench asked if he could ask me a question. Isn’t that a bit redundant? Anyway, I said “sure”.
Well, I don’t remember exactly what the guy asked me, but it was pretty incoherent. I spent most of my attention petting the guy’s dog, and it turned out he was homeless, living on the streets. He told me the government had kicked him out of his house, and then he cheerfully let me know that on occasions he would bathe right there in that official-looking fountain.
“Bathing in the capitol fountain- I’ll have to remember that one” I thought to myself, already satisfied a little that random acts of hygiene in public were at least tolerated here. I mean, if you could take a bath in the fountain at the Bellagio, think of how much money you could save on your Vegas vacation.
Times were hard for a lot of folks since the “virus pandemic”. It had of course been stated as the cause for shutting down businesses, countries, and laying people off of work. Nothing surprised me any more, the world had already reached peak stupidity in my opinion in March of that year, but we were only beginning.
I asked him if I could sleep there in the park and he said an emphatic “yes!”. After I told him I had a tent, he told me I could catch the number 14 bus up the hill toward the mountain, and could get off anywhere and look for a place to camp.
I bid the man “so long”, probably long before he was prepared to stop talking to me, and started walking north toward the center of town again. Finally, I found a large shrubbery to conceal my act of urination, so that was a relief. Since it was getting really late, I thought I should grab a bite to eat while one was still available and check my email, so I went to the McDonalds and ordered a burger and sat outside.
I looked through my map to see if there were any other parks where maybe I could pitch a tent that night, since my reservation for lodging wasn’t until the next night. I thought originally that I might just sit in the lobby of the hostel my first night in town instead of paying for an extra night, but I found the art park instead, plus I anticipated the possibility of the hostel not having a 24-hour front desk, as it was pretty small.
I walked to the art park and found it to be mostly empty. There were little beer stands still operating in an opening where there were patio tables and chairs with a few people drinking, but by then it was already midnight or 1 a.m., and people were sufficiently drunk and sloppy by that time.
I walked on a bit until I got to a clearing, then I went slightly up a hill and set my bags down. The mosquitoes were bad, so I opened up the cage or the skeleton portion of my tent, but did not put the canopy or the cover on top of it since it was bright blue and I was trying to be covert. Fortunately, no one bothered me or told me to leave, but I didn’t get any sleep either. It was hot as hell too, so I mostly just laid there and sweated all night, smoking a quick spliff I rolled as well to pass the time. Yeah, I came prepared.
The next morning I packed up and sat on a bench in the park for a while, watching the people walk their dogs and glancing at the solitary jogger there, a motivated lady in her 20’s who must have totaled 5 or 6 miles at least by the time I left. I didn’t want to look directly at her when she jogged by because I didn’t want to creep her out, but I felt solidarity with her. I liked to work out too, and seeing others run always motivated me.
I walked to the east side of town to the Funk Lounge Hostel. It was about 2 miles away from the art park and they let me check in early. My stay was for 2 nights, and I took a shower and went to sleep immediately at around 11 a.m. I woke up later at about 4 p.m. and went out to grab some food.
I made my way into the corner market and bought a protein drink and paid in cash. The cashier lady was quite rude when I didn’t hand her any coins with my transaction. As I would learn in the weeks to come, Croatians take a deep personal offense when you don’t make an attempt to use coins when buying things, where even a few small coins would reduce the amount of coins they hand back to you when they give you change. She handed me my change with an air of disgust and dismissal.
I walked around the area a little while, then headed back to the hostel. In the lobby was sitting a beautiful Dalmation dog. Dalmatian dogs were said to be indigenous to the Dalmatia region of Croatia, originally named by Romans who saw the canines along with the flocks of sheep tended on the coasts. I squatted nearby and petted her for a while. She reminded me a little of my dog from a few years ago.
I pondered staying in Zagreb an extra night, but decided I would just head to the coast and begin my quest of living in a tent and hiking south as far as I possibly could. The goal would be to make it Senj, but that would eventialy turn into Zadar, then into Split, and eventually, Dubrovnik, some five or six hundred kilometers away.
I would take a bus to Rijeka the next day and start my wild camping and hiking experience there, looking for a place to camp in any nearby green space I could find, hopefully going undetected. It wasn’t my first time deciding to live in a tent, but when I did it in the United States, I had a car and I usually stayed in National Parks, finding a good spot to camp and parking my car on the side of the road with my “America the Beautiful” pass hanging from the rear-view mirror to make it look official and state-sanctioned.
This time was a little like the first time I decided to live in a tent almost exactly 6 years before- the nerves, the anxiety, not knowing what was out there waiting for me. I had decided in 2014 that I’d had enough of paying rent in Los Angeles just so I could prop up an overpriced housing and rental market, continuing to feed the beast system and prop up the banksters and fraudsters who print the nation’s money into useless oblivion, as the cost of living got ever more arduous and wages stayed flatter than a dime.
Well, I’d gone off the grid before and I’d do it again- this time on foot. So I figured I’d follow the coast south, get some exercise since many gyms were closed or barely operational due to the cootie virus craze, and relax along the way. I’d work from my computer, hopefully save some money and sure, I’d rent a room occasionally just to stay sane or do laundry, but I wanted to use the warm weather to my advantage and see some natural beauty along the Adriatic Sea.
I figured that my online business had seen a pretty awful year and a lot of the work I was doing was resulting in dismal returns anyway, the world economy was broken or in a state of disarray that was beyond my fixing it, and I really had nothing else going on in my life. So why not?
I knew I couldn’t just sit around and wait in one place, or return to the US. As someone who’d left America over 3 years ago, most foreign countries including the European Union as a whole would allow me to stay for a max of 90 days at a time before I’d have to leave and venture elsewhere. When moving to Southeast Asia didn’t quite work out for me, when I lost my dog who was my best friend in the world, and most of my online business and income, I decided at some point just to keep going- keep traveling, and never stay in one place forever. Even though every place has its problems, once I’m done with somewhere, I just don’t want to stick around or ever return.
Yep, that’s what I decided, a couple years back, to just leave, to just go. And whenever I had any doubts, or any wonder as to whether or not what I was doing was right, or the best thing for me, or whenever a town I was in started to feel old and tired, when I questioned if anything I was doing made any sense, or even whether I’d make it or not- I would hear these words in my mind.
Just go man.