“That looks like the green baize of the world’s biggest ever snooker table,” joked a friend as she looked out over the Neretva Delta for the first time. It clearly wasn’t what she was expecting. A break from the Adriatic coastline, the craggy mountains and the sea.
I had to admit it was impressive, just a mass of flatness, a Dubrovnik version of the Great Plains of Kansas. The criss-cross of canals busily fertilising and watering the crops, the Neretva cutting its way like a mega highway and the abundance of flora and fauna, this was nature with the volume turned up to the maximum. And all this diversity within touching distance of Dubrovnik, although for most of us it is so close and yet so far!
I think that the last time I actually spent some time in the wetlands, the Everglades of our county, was at least two or three years ago. And again I was on a tour with a group of foreigners and friends, a fact finding mission for the future.
Tourism is about telling stories and about creating special moments for guests. Little did I know at the start of the day that I’d have my own special moment in the middle of the wetlands.
Neretva is like a breath of fresh air, in more ways than one, after the hustle and heat of city life, it’s natures F5, the refresh button. From an amazing museum in Vid featuring a jaw-dropping collection of Roman artefacts and statues from centuries before Christ roamed the earth. Just amazing and to see how advanced the Romans were all those years ago is mind-blowing. “In fact we’ve only so far uncovered around 3 percent of the actual Roman site,” commented our extremely knowledgeable guide. People are also the key to tourism, and this local to Vid did her town and her museum proud!
Onto the Natural History Museum in Metkovic, which although small absolutely rivals any of the leading museums in London, believe me. I was hoping that we had the same guide, or rather curator, as I met the last time I was there, as she was a gem. And to my satisfaction she greeted with a smile.
Now with the knowledge of the wildlife and indeed history of Neretva it was time to get our hands dirty and get up close and personal with the waterways. Now, I don’t want to mention his name, so as not to embarrass him, but there is one restaurant owner, well host, who is well-known for his hospitality. I first met him years ago and was immediately blown away with his wide “open arm” to all guests, you might call him an old-school host, but I’d call him a first-class host. And as we shook hands I saw a glimmer in his eyes, but didn’t connect it with what was to come.
So we set out on our photo safari on the Neretva delta, and as one member of our group, a friendly American lady, was a writer for, among other publications, National Geographic, I was sure she’d have plenty of material. On our lađa and chugged along the waterways we soaked up the nature with smiles and laughter. As the wooden boat reached a wide straight section the skipper shouted “Oh, no there is something wrong with the motor,” as the motor stopped and we started to float with the current like an autumn leaf.
There was a general feeling of mild panic on the boat, with a few suggesting we start paddling with our hands to shore. And then in the distance we spotted a speed boat whizzing along. “Let’s ask him for a tow,” a passenger suggested. As the boat pulled closer we all recognised our saviour as Pavo (sorry, for using your name Pavo) the restaurant owner. He pulled closer but something seemed odd. What was he wearing?
Her tied his boat to ours and jumped on the stern dressed in a Croatian Postal worker uniform with post bag over his shoulder. “Sorry if we shocked you, but the good news is that there is nothing wrong with the boat,” he laughed. He then asked me to translate to the rest of the boat as he started to thank everyone for coming and hoped that they had enjoyed their day. This is why he is a top host and a credit to Neretva!
With pride welling up in his eyes and a slight break in his voice he continued, but we still hadn’t worked out why he was dressed as a postman. Until! “I am dressed as a postman because I have a special delivery for one of the greatest ambassadors of tourism in Dubrovnik and Croatia…” I was still translating looking around the boat to see he was talking about. “We are so lucky and fortunate to have Mr. Mark Thomas…” this is when I stopped translating. He then produced a special statue from his bag as a present for me. All of this was happening whilst floating alone in the middle of Neretva. And it is a day that will be etched on my memory for the rest of my life. Thank you is just too small.