The day started somewhat ominously with a heavy rain shower. This looked as if it was going to be par for the rest of the day so after a quick upload of some of my Croatian reviews onto IGOUGO we bit the bullet and decided to don our waterproofs and head off to the Plitvice National Park for our second day of exploration. The plan was that we’d check out the upper lakes so that meant catching the "train" at station 1 and getting off at station 3. Of course things are never that straightforward and having got settled on the bus (it really isn’t a train despite the local description) we had to get off at section 2 to get on another bus to take us to section 3. It was now going swimmingly well until we were in sight of section 3 and the rain that had virtually stopped earlier decided to up the ante. By the time we were disembarking it was a positive deluge. We ran off to the nearest shelter and decided that we’d wait until the rain settled.
Well we waited and the thunder started and then the lightning decided that it wanted a piece of the action. At home we’d describe this as raining stair-rods and this torrential rain continued. Several people seemed to give up and head off back to the bus, but we’re made of sterner stuff and as we’d now found a seat in the dry we were happy to sit it out for a little longer. Whilst watching the rain bouncing off the walkways and sending ripples across the nearby stream we pondered on the information we’d heard from the owner of our B&B. It was hard to imagine that this region had been at the centre of the "homeland war" (1991 – 1999) and in March 1991 a Serbian Paramilitary Group had taken over the Plitvice National Park and in the process a young policeman had been killed. Along the main road there is a large memorial to this policeman and the others that were killed in the years to follow.
We wondered as the rain continued to fall why this area had been targeted and could only speculate that the route from North to South Croatia was most easily controlled from this point. Certainly the fighting over this territory was strong and our B&B host told us that, as a child she, with many others, had been sent to Pula away from the tensions of the war. As our imagination worked on the story it was easy to see how guerrilla forces in the area could have picked off the opposition and how the beautiful surroundings and natural vegetation of the National Park would have created a sinister and frightening melting pot of civil unrest. The razing to the ground of several villages gives an eerie feeling to the area with often only the graveyard surviving. We’d seen many derelict properties on route to the park and we now appreciated a little more of their history.
As our thoughts moved away from Croatia’s grisly past the rain began to ease and we prepared to start on our trek around the park. Waterproofs were donned, walking sticks set for the right height, rucksacs packed, SLR cameras ready but protected from the rain and my new Panasonic Waterproof Camera at the ready. Off we set and after a few minutes the rain stopped and the only drops hitting us were from the leaf canopy above us. The optimist in me said "all would be well" and we headed off along the route.
Yesterday’s insects were nowhere to be seen and as we set off on our exploration it was hard to imagine that the park boasts over 350 butterflies, moths and caddisflies. The frantic flight of yesterday was nowhere to be seen, but there were several bonuses of walking around the park after the rains. As we stood on the boardwalk taking us along the edge of the Upper Lake of Proscansko Jezero we admire the mist hanging over the surrounding hills threatening to dip into the waters of the lake. There are no vibrant colours in the lake just crystal clear waters and verdant grasses.
The upper lakes is, forgive the pun, awash with waterfalls, many of them gushing at bizarre angles out of the rocks. From the noise of the rushing water of the cascades we could, within seconds be in a tranquil spot. It was great to be able to be at one with nature without hoards of other tourists around us. This was partially due to the fact that we were just out of season (apparently July through to September are crammed with visitors), the rains would have kept some others away, and the lower lakes are more attractive to visitors who are doing a lightening tour of the National Park.
As we cautiously walked the paths I spotted the distinctive colours of the spotted salamander. It’s main colour is black but it’s the bright yellow daubs that drew my attention to it initially. Apparently this is most commonly found in Northeastern America, but The Plitvice Lakes are well-known for them. As my wife and I tried to get a decent close up of this intriguing amphibian we were soon surrounded by other tourists keen to photograph the poor retiring creature. It was amazing where the other tourists came from because at the time we saw the Spotted Salamander we were on our own. It was a great sighting and we moved contentedly on along the footpaths.
There are loads of photo opportunities on route and we were in no hurry to leave the National Park. Small flowers were around in abundance and we stopped to take photos of the rain drops on the prettiest of the flowers. I have to say we were both real pleased with the final photos! Along the route we spotted several different types of Orchid, but I’m afraid didn’t see anywhere near the 55 species that are said to growing in the park.
Nothing here has been planted for the benefit of visitors it is a naturally created haven with dead plants returning to the soil and fallen trees (of which there are many) left exactly where they fall to play host to moss, lichens and a variety of fungi and insects. At this time of year, June, it is possible to enjoy the serenity of the park and we sauntered along, stopping when something caught our eye, to take a closer look.