Location: Rovinj, Croatia
I didn’t want some fancy sports fishing package and quite frankly couldn’t afford it. What I really wanted was to see firsthand the hardworking Croatian fishermen who go out every day and night to make a living. What I got was the experience of a lifetime and some squid ink stains on my jeans.More often than not you have to create your own opportunities. The way I look at it, if you don’t try you’ll never know. The worst that can happen is you’ll get rejected. And I did get rejected at first, and put off. But I got to know this one man, Jierko, who we saw every afternoon as we walked down by the boats. He was always out there smoking his cigarette and fixing his nets; it was classic. We showed some interest and instead of being indifferent he was super cool, even pulling his boat up closer to the stone port, handing Dhyan one of the live crabs he’d just caught. Don’t worry, these particular crabs aren’t super aggressive but they do have a ton of sharp spikes! Of course the kids loved it, along with the redovnik riba (monk fish) skeleton which Dhyan refused as a gift perceptively stating it would probably break in his backpack.
I figured Jierko was hamming it up for the tourists, but the next time we talked he actually remembered my name. When I inquired about going out on the boat he completely understood where I was coming from and sincerely wanted to accommodate, but said he’d have to ask his “chief”. Plus, there are some rules and legal ramifications to consider when taking a foreigner that close to the Italian border, fishing permits, work permits, etc. I pushed back, letting him know I just wanted to observe and that I’d stay out of the way.
Over the next few days he asked his chief and about four other boats if they’d take me out. One day as we were walking by he says, “In two days come at 6am and one of these two boats will take you out. You have to bring some mangiare.”
The night before I was a bit nervous (or was that just all the shellfish from dinner?) but decided there was no way I could pass it up so I awoke early, packed a lunch (mangiare), dressed as appropriately as possible, and got down to the harbor before sun up. Along comes this old man on a bike in a bright orange outfit. We’re the only two people out there, in the dark, and there’s a moment of awkward silence before I get the gall to say, “dobar dan” or good day, to which he responds, “Dobar dan, Dobar dan”. I try to explain myself but he let’s me know that he’s fully aware of why I’m there and that once his man shows up we’ll be on our way. The old man’s name is Pino, and he’s the chief. As I come to find out, he’s got cancer and he goes out fishing every day so he can get a better boat and retire. On Tuesdays he doesn’t go out though due to his chemo which has been effecting his circulation. Not only does he not ask for a penny, but he gives me a bunch of fish to take home.
So I get to know these guys, and I like them. They work hard and live simple. They deal with a lot of the same things we do in California but there’s a strong sense of camaraderie and spirit that quenches something I’m parched for. The overall stress level is much lower too. Pino might not be around the next time we make it to Croatia, but when I ran into him a few days later he gave me his information just in case we needed a place to stay. These are some kind people with a lot of love.
It pays to ask.