CROA­TIA’S RE­MOTEST IS­LAND

Af­ter ca­noe­ing around de­serted coves and spearfish­ing with the light­house keeper, Kevin Rushby is tempted to stay on beau­ti­ful Las­tovo is­land for­ever

Friday - - Recipe Cards -

Mladin, keeper of the light­house, was outside his cot­tage, clean­ing his spear­gun. It was a beau­ti­ful scene: rocky head­lands and blue sea, deep and mys­te­ri­ous. Mladin pointed to the bay be­low. ‘In spring, I’ve seen dol­phins herd thousands of fish in there and then go crazy eat­ing them.’ The light­house, Struga, sits on cliffs at the end of a nar­row penin­sula that curves around the bay, almost sep­a­rated from the rest of the is­land by a deep, dark sea-filled gorge.

‘I came here some years ago from Split,’ Mladin told me. ‘It’s a good life. I look af­ter the light, sort out the apart­ments and go spearfish­ing – almost ev­ery day.’

He was mid­dle-aged, with a pot belly. I couldn’t imag­ine his spear-fish­ing trips were very stren­u­ous, so asked: ‘Would you mind if I come with you?’

He nod­ded. ‘To­mor­row. Af­ter lunch. Down at the jetty.’

I’m al­ways drawn to the re­moter parts of any coun­try. Scan­ning the map of Croa­tia I spot­ted Las­tovo, aloof from the other 1,106 is­lands, way out in the Adri­atic, on the way to Italy’s Gargano penin­sula. When I learned that vis­i­tors can stay at a re­mote light­house there, I was hooked.

The ferry from Split, how­ever, was big, full of cars, speed­boats, jet skis. Not what I’d hoped for. And then we pulled into a large port, whose quay­side heaved with cafes and peo­ple. My heart sank again. It was not un­til I drove off the ship that some­one ex­plained: this was the is­land of Korula and we were tak­ing an­other ferry - please join the Las­tovo queue.

Now there was only a van, a clapped-out Volvo filled with tim­ber, and a cou­ple of tourists. The jet skis and speed­boats had dis­ap­peared. An older, less salu­bri­ous ship ap­peared and we boarded. Lo­cal pas­sen­gers set­tled into the lounge, a 1970s Formica par­adise, un­packed home­made sand­wiches, opened flasks and started card games. I re­laxed. I liked Las­tovo al­ready.

Af­ter four hours, a wooded is­land ap­peared and we ar­rived at Ubli, Las­tovo’s main port: a tiny in­let with a hand­ful of houses, a shop and a man asleep over a fish­ing rod.

By the time I’d shopped for sup­plies, I was tack­ling the drive over the craggy 10km-long is­land in the twi­light. Wide-eyed hares stared at the car; an owl swooped through the head­light beams. The light­house apart­ment was bare, almost spar­tan, but spot­lessly clean. The light­house is op­er­a­tional, so all night long it was send­ing out six beams of ro­tat­ing light into the night.

Las­tovo’s south coast is re­mote, rocky and full of haz­ards, not least the cliffs on which the light­house is built.

Later, I lay un­der the stars on the wall outside my room. A warm wind was blow­ing and, watch­ing those light beams, I felt like I was be­ing trans­ported by gi­ant mag­i­cal

LAS­TOVO’S south coast is RE­MOTE, rocky and full of HAZ­ARDS, not least the CLIFFS on which the LIGHT­HOUSE is built.

he­li­copter to the outer reaches of the cos­mos.

There was a small concrete jetty be­low the light­house, a handy spot for launch­ing my in­flat­able ca­noe or sim­ply div­ing in with­out fear of the many spiky sea urchins. That is where I met Mladin for our first ex­pe­di­tion.

I soon re­alised I had un­der­es­ti­mated him. Not only was he quick in the wa­ter, he was silent and stealthy. No splash and no ap­par­ent ef­fort. ‘Did you see that?’ I shook my head, tried to be more ob­ser­vant and was at last re­warded: a golden crea­ture, about a foot long, bat-like cape swirling, was am­bling across the sea grass with all the grace and me­nace of Nos­fer­atu. Mladin didn’t know the name in English. (I found out later that this gor­geous ap­pari­tion was a kind of slug.)

We moved on. He spot­ted a fish and took aim. His spear tip broke. Our first ex­pe­di­tion was over and he was not happy.

In the days that fol­lowed I ex­plored a dozen lonely coves and rocky shores in my ca­noe and drove to Las­tovo town, a place of or­nate chim­neys and evoca­tive ru­ins. In the evenings I sat on the wall and watched the ro­tors of my gi­ant cos­mic he­li­copter. I was be­gin­ning to feel lost to Las­tovo. I wanted to be­come a lo­tus-eater and stay for­ever.

On my last day, Mladin had mended his spear and we met again at a re­mote and lovely in­let. We swam out. Mladin was hun­gry. I fol­lowed him. With mes­meris­ing speed he speared three oc­to­puses and bagged them, still alive. Back on the beach he got them out. They were squeal­ing in fear and alarm, strug­gling to get back to the sea.

That evening he was sit­ting outside his cot­tage, re­plete with oc­to­pus, and in­vited me over. ‘I left Split on doc­tors’ or­ders,’ he told me. ‘They said if I didn’t change my life, I’d die.’

‘So you came to the re­motest is­land in Croa­tia?’ He smiled. ‘I’ll never leave. I’m happy. Life is good.’

I was en­vi­ous. Mladin is the lo­tus-eater. I am the rover, al­ways push­ing off for newer worlds. The ferry was al­ready in port and leav­ing the next day. But Las­tovo is truly spe­cial: that is­land came very close to stop­ping me.

66

The Los­tovo is­land is way off from the other 1,106 is­lands of Croa­tia 67

Above: Quaint chim­neys and ru­ins can be seen in Los­tovo town. Left: the an­cient light­house Struga on Las­tovo and be­low, the view of the light­house from the sea.

Sea slugs can be spot­ted in the wa­ters off the is­land

While a few houses are sprin­kled on Lu­cica, a cute lit­tle bay, the rest of the houses hug the hill­side of Las­tovo

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