Destination: Croatia


 

Late afternoon sees choppier water beneath Volker Kleespies, deep water soloing near Cliffbase. [Photo] Giovannina Anthony

At Cliffbase a trio of friendly Germans—Volker, Klaus and Netanya—befriended us and were hitting it hard on Miroslav's bolted routes. Over coffee, the local Croatian beer, and a setting sun, we'd review the day's climbing and make lazy dinner plans for pizza or fish at the village's lone restaurant. Enthusiastic and charmed by Cliffbase, they were certain to visit next year.

Unknown climber on the left, Ivo Tudor in his underwear in the middle and another unknown climber on the right, all soloing on the cliffs east of Cliffbase. [Photo] Giovannina Anthony

This spot is on private property but available to the climbing public through Miroslav's generous spirit. Miroslav started climbing at age 16 in Presov, in the formerly communist Czechoslovkia. He completed a university degree in physics in 1989 and worked in theoretical physics for a year until his country divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. After a two-year stint in New York, he returned to his country and started a successful run as a restaurateur, ending up with five restaurants/pizzerias in Slovakia. In 2002 he became an internet service provider to the 100,000 people of Presov. For several years, he had been vacationing in Croatia and found that there was no developed climbing on Hvar Island. Visiting Svetla Nedjelja, he saw the cliffs, could not believe no one was climbing them, and was hooked. In one day, he let go of sixty employees, bought the property—and the small ruined house at the top of the cliff—started putting up routes, and changed his life.

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We found Miroslav a fascinating character and an amiable host. On our last night we dined with him and asked him about his drive to create Cliffbase. His story is modern, familiar and refreshing to anyone caught in the grind of everyday working existence.

The high intensity work life was making Miroslav crazy. As he told us, workaholics ourselves, while roasting some olives from his trees on an open fire, it was either "the madhouse or Cliffbase." He sees the climbing spot as an opportunity to make a lifestyle change and to develop a hangout for himself and his friends, but clearly it has become much more than that.

Unknown climber at Cliffbase during sunset. [Photo] Christian Beckwith

Miroslav's story got us thinking: if you find paradise, do you tell other people about it? How does one share an oasis without ruining it? A major German climbing magazine featured Cliffbase four years ago as a cover story, and since then Miroslav has been dealing with a much larger influx of climbers to the area. Given its geography, Cliffbase does not accommodate the large numbers. Miroslav is pretty matter-of-fact about his area becoming more crowded: "It's saner than the life I had before. It's what I love now."

Given this increase in the number of climbers to the area, Miroslav feels strongly that these visitors benefit the local village, primarily by pursuing local accommodation, more than they overcrowd Cliffbase. In addition to a 22 kuna (about 4 US dollars) entry fee to the climbing site, he prefers visitors to find accommodation through him in the local village, which ranges from simple rooms to fully furnished apartments. The rates are inexpensive, especially compared to the rest of Europe.

The western expanse of the deep water soloing cliff. [Photo] Christian Beckwith

Polish climber slacklining over a small harbor at Cliffbase. [Photo] Giovannina Anthony

On our last day, while I cleaned our apartment (hanging over the sea, $40 US per night) and packed, my husband took a boat ride with Miroslav along the coast of this place he loves. (How did I get stuck with packing?) As a parting gift, Miroslav gave us some olive oil from his trees packed into two liter plastic Coke bottles. The oil, a deep green, cloudy and unfiltered, tasted fantastically earthy. My husband took a photo of Miroslav gazing over his coffee cup on that final day that was a perfect snapshot of our new friend who had made us feel so at home.

The mellow groove of life on the Adriatic took us a few days to get into, and, as the cliche goes, as soon as we did, it was time to leave. My husband and I always have held fast to a rule: never to visit the same place twice. But after Croatia, we both forsee ourselves breaking our pact.

One taste of the olive oil from those Coke bottles and we're back on Hvar, perched on limestone cliffs, watching the sun glow in the troughs of the dark Adriatic.

Cliffbase at sunset. [Photo] Christian Beckwith

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Comments
pawletpog

hi giovannina, i don't know if you remember me, but we used to climb at chelsea piers together quite often, and then you headed west. today i read an article in the nyt about a guy who was going back to climb everest and it mentioned kennedy, the editor of alpinist magazine...and i remembered you had left to go be with the ed. of that mag. so, i got on line and found you! congratulations on your daughter!! i loved the pic of you in the cave. if you ever get to ny, let me know. all best, POG

2011-04-17 05:34:09
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