Stay Away From the Light

on Friday, May 15, 2009


It was 1983. It was my first big adventure, backpacking across Europe primarily by myself. After an overnight train ride followed by a rough bus ride from Zagreb, I was extremely excited when I arrived at Plitvice Lakes National Park in what was then still Yugoslavia (this UNESCO World Heritage Site is today in Croatia). I just love nature, the great outdoors and water and the lush wildlife rich forests, limestone hills and caves and cascading lakes scores high in all those aspects.

After finding a place to stay in a home in the village of Jezerce, I hurried to the entrance of the Park and spent the whole afternoon in delirious exploration of the trails, waterfalls, lakes, beaches, boardwalks, caves and vistas of the Park. I was running around all over like a kid in Wonderland. It remains one of the best days I had ever had. Time quickly passed and before I knew it, the sun was beginning to sink behind the hills.

At this stage, I thought of hiking it back to the village but as I was approaching the exit, I was waylaid by this most exquisite aroma. It was the smell of fish being grilled and it came from the Park's outdoor restaurant. Until then, I had been mostly surviving on stale bread and cheese to save money while on my cross Europe trek. Now after a whole afternoon of rambling and scrambling, I was hungry and when I saw how inexpensive the food was as compared to other parts of Europe, my resistance crumbled. I took a seat and ordered grilled trout.

I had a great dinner but by the time I had finished, night had fallen. To my dismay, I then realised that apart from the restaurant which was then already closing, there were no lights to be seen. It had slipped my mind that I was now in the countryside and in a wilderness area. Although I had a torchlight, it was sitting in my backpack in my room in Jezerce, some 3 km away. I fumbled my way out of the Park and on to the road that led to Jezerce.

The road was not very wide although two cars could pass each other easily. At the side of the road was a narrow verge and then the tall pine trees of the surrounding forests rose high into the night sky so that it blocked off most of the light from the stars. It was very dark and I could barely make out the road. It was also getting very chilly. I had no choice. A warm bed awaited but I would have to navigate this road in the darkness.

As I walked, I realised that I knew very little about this part of the world and its forests. I knew there were bears and wolves in some parts of Europe. Were there any here? I did not know and my heart beat faster in my ignorance. I managed to find a fallen tree branch of suitable length and used it like a blindman's walking cane, probing the area in front of me. The branch might also come in handy if I did encounter any wolves or at least that was what I comforted myself with.

The journey was slow and stressful. Perhaps an hour had passed and I saw no one else nor any signs of lights from dwellings. The sky above was ablaze with stars twinkling in the chilly night air but I plodded along a dark road lined by dark silent trees. Then, in the distance, I saw a single bright beam of light appear on the road. It was coming towards me at a reasonably fast speed. I realised that it must be a motorcycle and was glad that to have even that little bit of light to illuminate my way.

The light got nearer and bigger and brighter. Eventually, it was so bright, I could not look into it. I moved to the side of the road to allow the motorcycle to pass. Then suddenly, it was upon me. To my horror, it was not a motorbike at all. Instead it turned out to be a massive juggernaut, a big 16 wheeler monster that was barreling down this country road that was barely wide enough to accomodate it and at high speed. To cap it all, it had only one headlight working.

The driver may also have been surprised to see me and seconds before I reacted, I heard the loud blast of its air horn. Th sound galvanised me into action and I threw myself off the road and into some bushes at the edge of the forest. The juggernaut rolled by with such speed that I could feel the air and myself being sucked towards the wheels as they passed. Then just as quickly, the lights and noise of the truck disappeared and darkness and quiet returned.

It had been another close brush with an unpleasant end. I made it to the village and safety without further incident but I was cold, bruised and in shock and it took a very long soak in a warm bath before I recovered any color in my cheeks.

If I had learned any lesson from this experience, it is to appreciate the truth behind the following wise sayings; "Stay away from the light." and "The light at the end of the tunnel may turn out to be a speeding train." Oh, and you would have thought that I would have also learnt the importance of bringing a torchlight along when walking on dark roads and forests but I still forget from time to time.

For all you readers with morbid curiosities who wanted me to conclude my previous post about near death experiences, let me just say that apart from what has already been mentioned, I also had Scarlet Fever, had a lorry rip off my car door, escaped being impaled by metal rods from the back of a lorry and been in at least 3 car accidents including one in which I caused the car to spin 3 times. That's all folks.......and it is quite enough, don't you think?

27 comments:

Jelica said...

At the time when you were braving the dark Croatian roads I was a kid and Yugoslavia was my country and we were taught about Plitvice lakes as one of the most beautiful places in our country. In the meantime things have changed and Croatia is now abroad so I don't feel like I have to apologize for those unlit roads out there. Relief :)

Jo said...

Omigosh! I think my biggest concern in those woods would have been vampires! Scary!

There is something about dark roads and forests at night that frighten the tar out of me. I would have been terrified if I were you.

But then, squirrels can scamper up the trees, can't they? :-)

Owen said...

Grey Squirrel,
What a gripping story, I wonder if the only detail missing (no doubt because of the elevated sense of sensibility inherent in squirrels)is the small pile of steaming squirrel droppings left on the road side at the point where you leapt into the bushes ?

We had a similar experience with a large Army truck comming the other direction on a narrow road going across the Syrian Desert towards Palmyra in a sandstorm a couple of years ago. There were no squirrels anywhere in sight to help us get the car back on the road. Guess you guys don't really like deserts much.

Saw your answer about the Atlanta based birdfeeder clan, wow, now I have a better idea of how well organized you are. . . la cosa nostra of the squirrel underworld ! Well just warn them to keep there little beady eyes off of France, because France is Frog and Toad territory, ok ?!?

I did go back and look at your stories about "Wasn't me" and the "Sneaky" squirrel, oh my, you are all a seedy lot, I must say. But I've always loved squirrels for some inexplicable reason, perhaps out of sympathy when I heard at a tender young age people referring to them meanly as : they're just rats with bushy tails !

Sally's World said...

the dark forest was scary enough for me!!!

Joyce's Ramblings said...

LGS,A squirrel in the dark woods with no home or tree full of nuts near by that is scarey. My son told me other day "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger".
Being weak isn't all bad. But doesn't your life and adventures make for great memories as you sit down to relax for the evening.
Memories help to make life worth leaving!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Jelica,
Where was your childhood home?

Jo,
Vampires? I didn't think of that! Are they known to be in Croatia? I would definitely freak out if I had been lost in the dark forests of Transylvania.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Owen,
You seem to have also had a rather high risk and varied life. ever been out here in the Far East?

Sally,
It was enough for me too!

Joyce,
Or leaves you with tales to tell on a blog?

Jelica said...

60km south of Belgrade, in Serbia. I never got to see Plitvice as a kid and then the war started so tourism was not foremost on anyone's mind. I love Croatia, though--beautiful country and the best coast in Europe :)

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Jelica,
Even though I was in Yugoslavia for only just a couple of days, I really liked what I saw - both the place and the people. There was diversity but there was also peace. I was so sad when I saw the war break out.

I hope you will have the opportunity to visit Plitvice Lakes. It is still one of my most favorite place that I have been to.

olivia said...

Agree w/ the others -- very gripping tale! I could feel myself become alarmed when you realized it was dark and you had no torch. Moving post. I'm glad the story ended positively ... :-)

kat said...

Lions And Tigers And Bears! Oh My!

wonderful story, adventure!

kat said...

I love the 'stay away from the light'


:-)

kat said...

Hey!! Fellow Trekkie!

Did you see this? Did You click on the links to see the great photos?

kat said...

what is this?--- about 'the Atlanta based birdfeeder clan'?
as I am based in Atlanta- I Need To Know!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Olivia,
If it had ended negatively, the story would not have been told. :)

Okay, got to ask this. Are you a professional photographer?

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Kat,
Thanks for knocking me on the head with the link for the photo. It was fantastic. Anyone reading this comment should also go have a look. It is truly mind boggling and awesome.

As to the whole Atlanta Squirrel Clan Caper, it all started when Owen accused me of being responsible for the wanton destruction of a brand new and beautiful birdfeeder which was reported here:-

http://excessivelythoughtfulchewing.blogspot.com/

My reply was,
"Funny that you should ask if I was responsible for the broken birdfeeder. It is a common mistake on account of the fact that to you humans, all squirrels look alike but I in fact covered this in a post which I entitled "Wasn't me".

Finally Malaysia does have flying squirrels but we are trying to keep our carbon footprint down and would never fly all the way to USA just to raid a feeder. We have a clear understanding that the whole eastern seaboard is under the Atlanta Squirrel Clan, see?"

As you once told me, Atlanta is pretty much in the centre of the grey squirrel home range. :)

mago said...

Caramba!

citizen of the world said...

Great story. "Stay away from the light" sounds like good advice!

Owen said...

Thought you'd better be informed, your squirrely highness, that a squirrel post has just appeared on a blog in the United States at this location :

http://furryandfeatheredfriends.blogspot.com/

And there are chipmunks and cats there too... a serious cause for concern ! I don't know what it is about squirrels all of a sudden, they are coming out of the woodwork all of a sudden !

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Mago,
Ai, caramba! :)

cz,
It was a lesson I learned the hard way.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Owen,
Well, it is spring. The next generation of squirrels are out exploring their new world and there is a lot of eating to be done. Hence, you should see more of us in the coming months.

Jill said...

Hello! I took Owen's suggestion about visiting your blog...I needed a few days to recover from anything squirrel-related after having my birdfeeder smashed, but I have really enjoyed reading your posts! "Sneaky the Burglar" made me laugh! I intend to read all of your posts - you're a great storyteller!

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Jill,
I have been over to your blog too and it is a great blog with wonderful images. Sorry about the birdfeeder but as I told Owen, it wasn't me. Hope you will come by again. Thanks for both the comment and compliment.

Janice Thomson said...

Ah...life in the fast lane of a squirrel :) Another fascinating tale to enjoy - love it LGS.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

janice,
Thanks again for your kind words.

desi said...

Hey there Lone Grey Squirrel!

This is really an interesting, scary, yet fun & adventurous story. You definately have the talent of writing!

I found your Blog via Owen, which also have the talent of keeping one glued to the screen for hours!
I could only dream of writing as well as you guys!

Good luck with all your adventures!!
:D
desi

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Desi,
Thank you. I appreciate your visit and the comment. Hope you will come by again.

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