The damn mosquitoes started the whole thing. It’s an immutable fact in this universe: there could be just one mosquito in a five mile radius and it would somehow zero in on me. And so it was, while staying at a place on the Adriatic coast in Croatia. Unaware that the rear window in my room was open, some female mosquito and her posse decided I was an ideal blood meal buffet.
In an act of ‘let me sleep’ desperation, I put the AC unit on just so the fan would blow enough to keep the little parasites at bay. It paid off until morning when I woke up in a cold sweat with a scratchy throat and runny nose.
I was heading north in a couple days, toward the Istrian peninsula and then up into Slovenia and was determined to not let this get in the way. It was mid-September, the weather was still pleasant and I figured I could just ride it out.
After a few days driving up the Dalmatian coast, I stopped at a little place on the Gulf of Kvarner in the northern Adriatic beneath the jagged peaks of the Velebit Mountains. This part of the Adriatic is known for the ‘bura’, ferocious high-density winds that rush down the steep slopes of the Velebits, enhanced by the force of gravity. Like the Santa Ana winds in southern California, the bura is what’s called a ‘katabatic’ wind, where cold air at higher elevations actually rushes toward the warmer air at lower elevations and intensified by gravity. The bura is especially intense in this part of Dalmatia because the Velebit mountains are incredibly steep.
According to Wikipedia, “This seaside mountain chain, spanning 145 kilometers, represents a huge weather and climatic divide between the sharp continental climate of the interior, characterized by significant day/night temperature differences throughout the year, and the Adriatic coast, with a Mediterranean climate. The bura occurs because these two divided masses tend to equalize.”
Indeed, I didn’t need a weatherman to tell me which way the wind was blowing. The weather was changing with the nights becoming noticeably windier and cooler as I moved north. It seemed wise to just hunker down for a couple days, which I did near the town of Karlobag in the very north of Dalmatia. Thought some rest might let my body fend off the sinus infection. Instead, the bacteria migrated to my lungs resulting in a nasty cough.
No matter, I told myself. Just keep going. And that’s what I did, driving up through the Croatian towns of Rijeka and Opatjia on the Istrian peninsula, and onward into Slovenia’s little patch of the Adriatic and the coastal city of Portorož, where I spent the night trying to sleep between coughing fits. For now, at least, I’d outrun the bura.
The next day I drove to Lake Bled, a stunningly picturesque little spot in the Julian Alps of northern Slovenia where I spent a few more days hoping to shake the cough and general feeling of malaise. It rained off and on, and after three more days, I realized I was licked and knew there was no way to shake this thing without medical intervention.
I left the little town of Bled (…has a ring, wouldn’t you say?…) for the Slovenian capital of Ljubljana where the plan was to find a place to stay and locate medical care. On the way, I stopped at a colorful little medieval town called Škofja Loka to take some pictures. Walking around the old town center, my legs began to feel like they were filled with lead while sweat soaked my shirt and chilled me to the bone. When park benches started looking like good places to nap, I knew it was time to raise the white flag.
Coming soon, Part Two: A Tale of Two Health Care Systems