I stayed with Ricki and Monika for five days. We were supposed to pick olives from the trees they own, up on the mountain, but it kept raining in the afternoons. There were two other couchsurfers there at the time, Benny and Janic, and we spent our time out of the rain, eating mandarines picked from the surrounding trees and drinking homemade wine. And homemade cherry brandy. And homemade walnut schnapps.
One of Ricki’s jobs is delivering coffee to cafes in Dubrovnik and the surrounding area, and he offered to drive me down the coast. We hopped in his 30-year-old yellow VW Golf, which has no working speedometer or seatbelts, and headed south.
Just north of Dubrovnik he pulled over at a road-side stand that looked like it sold nothing. There was an empty drinks cooler, some vacant tables, and the old couple that owned it. As soon as Ricki pulled up, though, the old woman reached into a display case and pulled out a bucket.
‘I stop here every time I drive past,’ Ricki said as we got out of the car.
The bucket was full of fresh oysters, and the woman got immediately to shucking them. She laid the half-shells out on a plate next to half a lemon, which Ricki squeezed onto their tongue-like tops. We had five each – slurping the oyster directly off its shell – at a mere 4 kunas a pop. We hopped back in the car.
With the lingering taste of oyster and lemon on my tongue we made the rest of the trip; past southern Croatia’s white-house-village-sprinkled hillsides and the Adriatic’s own brand of blue-green.
There is a moment on nearly every trip that I travel by bus, train, or car, when, looking out the window, an irrepressible and goofy grin spreads across my face. In the movement from the place you’ve just seen towards a place you’ve never been, from the things you’ve just learned towards the things you don’t even know that you don’t know yet, there are a million shards of joy.