VELA LUKA | 3 DAYS
Boarding the ferry from Split, I think I felt like those kids in the old days boarding a ship to some exotic destination. Something akin to those old films where the frame rate caused them to furiously wave with excitement as those wishing them farewell from ashore waved with matching vigor. There is something about the magnitude of the ferries that heightens ones anticipation and excitement on your first trip (this rapidly wears off after your 5th trip!).
My first ferry trip saw me snap away with my iPhone through a scratched and murky window (this too wears off after your 5th ferry trip which saw us instead sprawling ourselves over 5 seats for some down time!). Not knowing what to expect of Vela Luka, I kept watch the time eagerly, peering out every time we passed an island.
As we entered the bay at Vela Luka, I was blown away. Not touted by many online travel sites (we were merely here for me to do my dive course), I was worried that I had dragged us here for a few days of not very much. What greeted me on arrival was a magical and incredibly quaint bay. Lined with yachts and boats, the town was humble, laid back and beautiful at the same time. Those mingling in the street were a welcome mix of residents and European families.
After making my way across the bay to the Croatia Dive Centre, I was introduced to Jackie. Jackie was an Australian married to a Croatian. She managed an immaculately well maintained house behind the dive centre where we were staying. She had even managed to arrange a room for the first few nights and an apartment down the hallway for once my friend, Lou, arrived.
Each morning was spent sleep walking my way down to the Dive Centre, having a relaxing coffee lazing on the chairs at the Cafe Bar next to the dive centre, and then heading out for the day diving. One of the strangest things about Croatia that we learnt is that you will find many ‘Cafe Bars’. These only serve drinks! Alcohol, soft drinks and warm drinks – but no food. This seemed common throughout Croatia and it would appear that these establishments don’t hold a license to serve food (similar to not having an alcohol license in the UK, the Croatians seem pretty sticky about serving food!). Evenings were spent trying to hold myself back from visiting the same restaurant (Pod Bore) over and over for their incredibly tasty shrimp risotto and every other night meeting the dive crew at their frequented hang outs (Pizzeria Alfa and drinks/dancing at the dodgy Casablanca).
I was unable to dive the famous Blue Hole due to bad weather but we had some really good dives and on the last day I headed out for my much awaited deep dive. Mastering my back dive off the boat and accompanied by my German dive instructor and 4 rather large Slovakian men, we started our slow decline. Reassured that I was a strong swimmer, my instructor was fairly confident at leaving me to my own as I chilled out underwater on our exploratory underwater missions. Unfortunately, this time round my mask started giving me problems at 23 metres underwater. The incident saw us struggling with my mask for ages, too deep to swim back up. I would be lying to say I was not panicking! Breathing was tricky and I honestly saw my life flash before my eyes various moments after each other. After some time we got it right and whilst still shook up, continued with our dive. It was colder than I expected at 28 metres down and slightly spooky as it became increasingly dark.
Finally, we surfaced and determined not to have a bad dive as a final experience, I got my head in the right place and committed to joining the team on our next mission down. Yet again to deeper waters. This time more conscious to fix my gear. An abundance of fish and marine life revealed itself on our slow swim down. Distracted by the magnificence of God’s underwater creation, I was completely surprised when we finally checked to see that we were 28 metres down. The descent had been seamless and really made me realize that there are treasures that await us when we push past our fears.