Thursday, 01 June 2023
Gillie Sutherland Gillie Sutherland

Facing my biggest fear in Croatia and learning that the power lies within us all

Written by  Gillie Sutherland May 22, 2022

I’ve been living in Croatia over two years now, and so far there’s only been two things which I have found to stand in the way of true freedom.

First one is the paperwork I’ve had to endure.

I’ve learned to handle this part with patience, persistence, and resilience. Great advice from my local friend Maja in Molunat.

Also I’ve found it easier not having any expectations, taking time for coffee, and understanding the “working windows” of time that you’re most likely to get things done here.

This is, not too early, nor too late in the day, nor at any time they may be having coffee or lunch.

Personally, having had much experience of this, I find the “sweet spot” as somewhere between 930am and 11am, otherwise forget it.

Anyway I digress.

My other more problematic issue I have with Croatia is one that is a lot more difficult to deal with.

And it’s like a fly in the ointment of my otherwise blissful love affair with this country and this season.

I even find it difficult to write the word.

My heart rate goes up at the thought of them, I get a strange knot in my stomach, and a shiver down my spine, which is pretty irrational considering I’m in a cafe bar right now and it’s unlikely I’m going to come across one.

I take a deep breath and I type the word.



I know at this point what many of the locals will be thinking.

“Ah, but what you saw… was it actually a snake or just blavor?”.

If you don’t know there’s a long brown thing here, which looks EXACTLY like a snake, except it’s got hundreds of little legs (which you can’t see) which apparently makes it a lizard and not a snake.

I remember the first time I came across one in Cavtat. Actually it just missed my flip-flop, and I’ve not taken that path since.

After twenty minutes hyper-ventilating at the top of a high fence I’d scaled in fear, I eventually come down and went past one of the locals. Still shaken he asked me what we wrong. I told him that I’d come across a snake and I was terrified.

He asked me to describe it and then he told me “don’t worry, that’s just blavor. Known as a king snake, he eats snakes”.

As if that’s going to be helpful. He means well, but to me it’s a snake, just even more hardcore.

You see my “reptile brain” doesn’t register if it’s harmless, if “technically” it’s a lizard, or if it’s more scared of me.

It’s a very primal fear, and no amount of logical or rational thinking is going on when I see any snake-type moving animal. Even worms freak me out a bit if I’m honest.

It’s a bit embarrassing as I’ve been spending these last few years trying to conquer my fears, but at the sight of a slow worm, I’m utterly pathetic. It’s a fear I have no desire to conquer, because usually that means some kind of “exposure” to the stressor and in this case I’m quite happy just to keep snakes in the “not for me” box.

Anyway I’ve seen two in the past month. One was when I was driving in Konavle, and even though I was in the car as it slithered across the road, I didn’t feel right for the rest of the day.

This Thursday in Paklenica, I was even closer, but something happened which gave me that little bit of hope that I may be able to get more of a handle on this.

I’m with my friends Carol and Laurie from the U.K., both of whom are fans, like me, of Wim Hof.

Laurie has been entertaining us with his impressions of the famous Dutchman, when he empowers others to face their fears with his catchphrase:

“You have the power!”.

So when I came foot to face with a snake on the path from Paklenica, I’m in the right company.

Seeing the snake in front of me, I scream. As well as alerting my friends and anyone else within a kilometre radius with my primal scream, I manage to frighten the snake back into it’s little hole in the ground.

“Look”, says Laurie, “he’s more scared of you than you are of him! You have the power!”.

In that moment, I laugh, and I repeat the words myself, with all the passion and even the accent of Wim Hof.

It’s a small step, but it’s a step in the right direction, and I know I’ll be remembering this mantra and using it whenever I need it.

For the worst thing in the world for me would be to let my fears get in the way of all these magical experiences I’m enjoying here in Croatia, and I know that this wish is stronger than any fear I may have.

In this moment I have the power, and I can remind myself of this in many other situations.

I teach that the power lies within us, and I have to start walking that talk, even if there’s the possibility of snakes on the path ahead.

Read more Gillie here...  


Gillie Sutherland grew up in the north of England, before settling in Devon, but has now swapped her UK address for one on the Adriatic in the very south of Croatia, in Cavtat. A professional Wellness Consultant she now runs retreats and online courses from her Konavle base. She also writes a weekly column for the Devon newspaper, The Express and Echo.

To find out more about Gillie go to

The Voice of Dubrovnik


Find us on Facebook