Transparent Kayaks

2:51 pm

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Yesterday, as I jotted down my thoughts in a notepad on a secluded perch just outside the Old City, I heard a voice ask, “Are you writing just for fun, or is that what you do?” I turned around to see two men who looked to be in their early 40s casually taking seats behind me, while lighting cigarettes. It was clear that I was in a spot they frequented.

“Uh, I’m a writer, but I’m keeping a travel blog. It’s like a journal.” “Yes!” one of them shouted. “I heard about this. I know people who make good money traveling and writing.” For a moment I considered pressing him on whom it was and how they’d managed to find what I considered the holy grail of vocations, but I kept quiet.

Soon, the three of us were chatting away like old friends. Marcus, who looked to be the younger of the two, told me how he’d visited dozens of countries during his stint as a waiter on various cruise lines. “I been to Great Britain, Italy, London, Brazil, Colombia, the Philippines, Incheon,” he said. “Everywhere.” His friend Halid, who sported long black hair, and a large earring that would have made him a shoe-in for any Pirate series, looked on in envy.

The two men were on a break from a business they’d recently started. It was a kayaking start-up based in the Old City. “We are the only ones in Europe to have transparent kayaks,” Halid told me emphatically. He handed me a pamphlet, which low and behold, featured the photograph of a plexi-glass kayak. They asked me if the term, “Transparent Kayak,” made sense. I told them it did as I tried earnestly to think of a less formal way of describing it. We bounced ideas back and forth for a few minutes before I remembered the “Glass bottom boats,” in Hawaii. I emailed Marcus a few hours later, embarrassed that it’d taken so long to recall.

The three of us talked about the tourism industry in Dubrovnik and how expensive the city had become to live in. It was refreshing to get the perspective of two people who were actually from the area and not just spending freely on greasy pizza, tour guides, and overpriced soccer jerseys. The two seemed excited about their business prospects but it was clear from their faces that they’d earned every penny with hard, hard work.

Of course, there were moments of levity as the two rattled off the names of all the productions that had chosen Croatia as its backdrop. Game of Thrones, the next Robin Hood, Star Wars, the list went on and on. “Kevin Spacey and John Malkovich were here,” Marcus chimed in. “Kevin Spacey was wearing a hat low so nobody would recognize him, but I don’t know why,” he said. “Nobody here cares.”

We exchanged contact information and I promised to promote their business to every kayak-loving friend destined for Croatia I knew, wondering briefly if I sounded like a conman. It sounded strange, but I actually meant what I said.

I wished the two men good luck as they waited for a mystery friend who arrived just as I was leaving. Talking to those guys made my day, I thought. What a couple of characters.

Jan, a 30-something working in IT and originally from Mostar, Bosnia shared this bit of advice with me: “As for the advice the most comic, and despite that, pretty useful one in my life was given to me by my late grandfather when I first got my drivers license (on my first day.) He told me: ‘Grandson, be careful how you drive! You know how big of a fool is behind this steering wheel, but you for sure don't know how big of a fool is behind the steering wheel coming towards you.’

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