Wednesday, 29 November 2023

The Heroes of the Croatian Hiking Trails

Written by  Gillie Sutherland Nov 20, 2022

When people arrive in Croatia for the first time, I always have the same advice.

“Listen to the locals”.

Whether it’s about the weather, where to eat, how to live, the locals know best, for they are the ones who have grown up here and they are more in tune with the environment than any of us “visitors” could hope to be.

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Since last weekend, I’ve decided to expand on these words:

“Respect the locals”

“Appreciate the locals”.

Like many other internationals here in Croatia, I’ve been enjoying the hiking trails, in Konavle, on Velebit and on Medvednica near Zagreb, perhaps without really appreciating the work that goes into making it possible.

I’ve had some of my best times here in this country, on hiking adventures, enjoying the endless possibilities of paths off-the-beaten track.

Then last weekend, it really hit me how much we take for granted some of the seemingly little things that the locals do.

I was honoured to have been invited to go on a “Markacistička Akcija” on Velebit with The Mountaineering Association Paklenica.

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It’s basically “trail maintenance”, clearing the paths and marking the hiking trails, so that hikers can navigate their way through without the use of their device. Personally I love these marks. It feels like doing a physical puzzle out in nature, joining the dots to get you to your destination.

“Where’s the next one?”, the curious child inside me asks in excitement. Especially in the dark, with just a head torch. Who needs video games or nightclubs when you’ve got this to enjoy?

However, on this occasion, it’s not just for fun.

It’s not an easy part of the trail, from Stap to Panos. We had to hike up the night before to the very basic mountain hut, arriving at midnight to get in a few hours sleep (on a hard floor) ready for the next day.

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The next working day, it’s fairly brutal when the Bura is in full force, biting at your bones, and because you’re painting, you’re not moving enough to keep warm. The other team have giant, heavy cutting shears for clearing the paths and making sure the marks are visible.

This may not seem in itself hard work, but bear in mind, it’s pretty tough hiking up there, even when you’re doing nothing more than enjoying a day trip and the beautiful views. So add in the element of “work”, and it’s no walk in the park.

Many of these guys are the toughest warriors I’ve met - physically and mentally strong, but at the same time, they have kind hearts.

Those painted red and white circles and lines that thousands of hikers use to guide their way along the trails - I will never look at them the same again.

For each one, I will now be saying “thank you”, to whichever hardy soul made it possible. For now I know and appreciate all that goes into it.

The part I wasn’t expecting was how rewarding it felt afterwards. I wasn’t the at my strongest throughout the experience, but at the end of the day, I basked in the warm glow of being in company with people I feel to be my soul tribe in Croatia.

Not for the first time, I consider that these people are more yogic than anyone I’ve ever met in a studio.

This is “Seva”, selfless service, unpaid work, hard work, to make possible for others. It is an act of care and compassion for others, above oneself.

Unlike other forms of yoga which may focus on performing asanas to transform the physical body, performing seva is said to transform the personality.

It is regarded as a path to enlightenment as it can bring up aspects of our personality which may need transformed.

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I can fully relate to this. I had my moments which pushed me to my emotional edge, but I learned so much from the experience, I’m in no doubt, I’ve had some kind of transformation.

Reflecting back now, having thawed out and back in my cosy little apartment, I have nothing but gratitude for the experience, and nothing but respect and admiration for these “Heroes of the Hiking Trails”.

I’m looking forward to my next mission with these guys, for it truly is an honour to be invited, and a crucial part of my own personal and spiritual development.

In the words of Amma:

"To receive the opportunity to do Seva (selfless service) and serve the world is a gift from God."

For more information on the work of the Mountaineering Association visit this link 

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


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