(This post is part four of the series: Heading Out to Sea after the Coronavirus in Croatia, focusing on our sailing journey to the islands in the Adriatic after restrictions let up in Croatia.)
On to Zverinac
We left for the small island of Zverinac early the next morning waving to Franz and Eva-Maria in the distance. The island was about 18 nautical miles from Silba and we sailed peacefully to it after that rigorous first day of sailing to Mali Lošinj. Passing through beautiful groups of islands that looked like you could swim from one to the next, we flew the sails in a “wing on wing” position as the wind was directly behind us.
We hadn’t heard much about the island of Zverinac except that Andy had told Mike they had a great restaurant there and they also produced good olive oil. The island is so small that there are only 43 residents.
We had a kind of bumpy time mooring to the seawall on the harbor, as the sea was a little rough as we pulled up and the winds were pushing us in the wrong direction. The small harbor had sparkling clear blue-green water and there were some colorful small wooden boats tied to the seawall nearby.
A man was painting the bottom of a small overturned boat down the quay. After we were securely tied up and our sailing equipment was stowed, I started to tidy up down below and my mom Facetimed me, which is amazing that I actually had internet on this remote little island. While I was talking, Mike went on shore to pay for our berth for the night. We were the only transient sailboat in the harbor at this point.
We had planned to go ashore together later and find out more about the restaurant. I also wanted to get some olive oil as I hadn’t brought any and was short on my supply at my apartment. Plus, who wouldn’t want to buy fresh olive oil made on an island in the middle of the Adriatic?
So where is this Oil?
As I’m tidying up I hear a loud noise and it’s men doing construction with a small bulldozer tearing up the road with what sounds like a jackhammer on the street leading up to the town center. Clouds of white dust fill the air. Not exactly peaceful, but it can’t go on forever as it was already about 4:30 pm. I think that this may not be the most enjoyable place to spend the night, but fresh seafood and olive oil, right? Mike comes back with some bad news: he talked with the guy at the tiny supermarket next to the harbor and the restaurant we were recommended (the only one on the island) is closed because of the coronavirus and they don’t have any olive oil.
So what are we going to do on this noisy dusty little island?
Olive Grove Paradise
When we had sailed to Zverinac earlier that day I had seen hundreds of olive trees surrounded by stone fences everywhere on the hillsides of the islands. It was such a beautiful sight and I thought I had read there were some Roman ruins on the island. (Hint: there are Roman ruins on most of these islands.) We decided to take a nice hike around the island to see the large olive groves and the stone walls.
Weird, I wonder, how can they not have any olive oil with all of those olive trees?
We went back to the supermarket, the hub of information on this tiny island, and by now a few locals had gathered on the bench outside of the market drinking the ubiquitous Ožujsko, a Croatian beer, and talking. They see the American flag on our boat and tell us many of the island’s residents are Croatians that have lived in the United States and have come back to Zverinac to retire.
That’s really interesting, we think, and sure enough, an older gentleman named Tony who is sitting on the bench tells us that he had lived with his wife, also Croatian, in New Jersey for 30 years, and had commuted into New York for his entire career. What a small world, I say, and I start asking him about the olive trees up on the hillsides and is there a walk we can take around the island to see them? Tony and another guy who had also lived in the USA point out the path to take and say it’s nice trek along the coast and really beautiful. I’m excited and have my walking shoes on and am ready to go.
“It’s a shame there is no olive oil around here,” I say to them. “I really wanted to buy some.”
“Oh, I have some,” Tony says nonchalantly. “I make it.” My heart jumps.
A younger guy sitting next to him with a bandana around his head starts laughing and says, “My uncle’s olive oil is very famous,” he says. “He was featured in National Geographic.”
Is he being serious? I’m floored. Drago, Tony’s nephew who is visiting from the nearby island of Uglijan, goes on to say his uncle has been featured more than once in the famous magazine. A quick google search later appears to corroborate his story. But that’s not really the “issue” at this point (no pun intended). Apparently the mini-market guy was only talking about the store itself when he said there was no olive oil. Of course. That makes much more sense. It reminded me of the Peter Seller’s Pink Panther movie where he asks, “Excuse me, sir, does your dog bite?” and the guy says no and when the dog bites him, he says “I thought you said your dog didn’t bite.” “That’s not my dog,” was the reply.
But I digress, let’s go for a walk.
Baptism in the Sea
What’s interesting about the olive oil on Zverinac is that it differs from the olive oil on the mainland of Istria in the way it is produced. Drago says they have so many olives on the island and just one mill or production facility, so they pick the olives and put them in barrels and store them in the sea for two days before pressing the oil out of them. The time in the sea takes the bitterness out of the olives and gives them a unique and delicious flavor, he said. He swears once I taste it, I’ll be back to Zverinac to get more.
If you have read my post about Istrian olive oil, you know I’m kind of addicted to the stuff. You can read it here: Volim Te, Maslinovo ulje (I love you, Olive Oil) In Istria they pride themselves on pressing the olives the day they pick them, so I can’t wait to taste the difference between the two with this additional step in the process.
As I ask Tony how I can go about purchasing some of his famous olive oil, he points to his house up on a hill right at the start of the trail to the olive groves. Just stop by after your walk and you can get it, he says.
Of course, I think, somebody has to have been using those olives on the trees on the hillsides.
So Mike and I begin our walk to the olive groves. It’s an incredible walk along the coastline with trees that have been blown for years by the bura or northern wind and have that slanted appearance that many of the more windblown island trees have. We are amazed at the hand built stone walls which line the olive trees and the homes. The stone fences are everywhere in Croatia, and I’ll discuss more about their history in an upcoming blog post. It’s fascinating as well.
We walk for an hour looking out off the coast and see where we have sailed from as well as the island across from us, which we’ll sail by tomorrow. We go through tangled brush and smooth trails. It’s a wonderful path and I am so thankful we stopped here. I don’t even care if I get any olive oil now. It’s that beautiful.
But on the way back, I’ve still got that olive oil on my brain. I tell Mike that I want to go to Tony’s house and buy the olive oil. We told him we would, I say. Mike balks as it’s 6 pm and he’s hungry and now that there is no restaurant open, I’ll have to cook on board. It’ll just take a few minutes, I say. We’ll buy the oil and leave. He shakes his head, that’s not what’s going to happen, he says. He’s imagining welcome rakija (a brandy Croatians pull out whenever they have visitors) and vino and a long conversation. And it turns out he is right.
Tony and his wife are visiting with his nephew and his girlfriend when we walk up several flights of stone steps to their home. It has an incredible view of the sea and the island across from Zverinac, which is Dugi Otok. They are very welcoming and offer us anchovies, nuts and wine on their outdoor terrace. Then they let me taste the delicious oil that has had its olives baptized in the beautiful Adriatic Sea. It is delicious and quite different from the Istrian oil I have had. You can almost taste the sea in the oil and the olive flavor is a little more intense than in other varieties. It’s delicious and I’m sold.
They then insist we have dinner with them. They are way too kind, and I am embarrassed instead of just being thankful for their gracious hospitality. We wind up eating a delicious shrimp pasta with them and talk about how life has been for them on the island during the coronavirus, their lives in the USA and Drago insists we need to consider visiting Marrakesh in Morocco where he lives during the winter time. The islands here are not as hospitable in the cold months when the bura winds blow through. I had never thought of visiting Marrakesh, but it’s on my radar now. That’s one of the things I love about meeting new people when traveling as they expand your horizons and push you to consider going places you’ve never thought of before. Or they give you new insights about life and change your perceptions on what life is supposed to be.
We leave their home, our bellies full and arms laden with two big 1.5 liter bottles of olive oil. Every time I use this liquid gold, I think of those groves on the hills and our special visit there. It hasn’t even been two months and we’re halfway through one bottle.
Ah, Zverinac, you fooled me initially, but I am hooked on this little island now. Your epic sea views, your olive trees, your distinctive olive oil, your stone fences and your people. Drago was right, we’ll be back there for more olive oil in the future. And maybe we’ll run into him in Marrakesh one day.
(Stay tuned for the next part of our sailing journey through the Adriatic as RITA begins making herself known with some strange noises.)