It was the best of times – it was the best of times … We spent five glorious days in and around a town in Croatia that is totally, epically, magnificently crazy.
At first we didn’t even want to tell you where this crazy little town is, because then you all will want to come and it’s going to be swarmed by tourists and turn into an awful crowded distateful mess like so many unfortunate towns and cities in Dalmatia – and this town really doesn’t deserve it.
… welcome to Opuzen!
How crazy Opuzen really is? An example: when we arrived, the town was preparing for a World Championship in Throwing an Espresso Cup as Far as Possible into Neretva. They fill hundreds of cups – called čikara here, the whole event is a Čikarijada – with polyurethane foam so they can’t sink – don’t want to pollute the river! – and throw them from the old bridge. And they have been doing this for 16 years now …
Of course we had to take part in such an insane competition – and soon enough we saw how seriously crazy the whole affair is. There were interviews for local radio stations, a short clip on the national TV, we chose a local patron for otherworldly assistance (our hands were guided by a famous painter Celestin Medović), had intense preparations, did strenous exercises, devised winning strategies …
On the eve of the Čikarijada Championship the town goes into full crazy mode – more than 1,000 loud supporters on the banks of the river, four judges, two emcees, čikara retrievers on a special boat, 35 contestants, trainers, supporters, journalists, a live broadcast, a huge pan with 40 kilograms of delicious mussels, and a fireworks show Opuzen has never seen before …
We managed to set a new Slovenian record (37.27 m). Reaching the finals was a dream – 56 m is wayyy too far , we are almost 30 meters behind the 2022 Čikarijada champion Josip Prović, and the world record – over 76 m! – is but a science fiction to us.
Throwing espresso cups into the river competitively isn’t the only crazy thing going on in Opuzen. The whole town is a maze of narrow streets – honoring Pirates of Neretva, for example – and at every turn a huge, stunning, beautiful mural jumps into view. There incredible works of art were and still are created by artists from all over the world who come here for the famous Zen OpuZen Art Festival. Just look at them!
There are concerts, film nights, theatre performances, old boat races, cooking competitions, painting exhibitions, parties and fun going on all Opuzen summer… The town is incredibly relaxed, like tucked under a smooth blanket of pure Zen. The emerald green delta of Neretva that surrounds it just underscores the whole thing. Opuzen lives for itself and cares for itself, not for the hordes of tourists; the people of Opuzen love their town and themselves, and are constantly on the prowl for new ideas that would make life here even more enjoyable – and, of course, crazier.
Opuzen is crazy, but we too can be a little crazy – so we lifted a kite in a daringly small space on the riva by the river, and did a kite aerial photography session.
The first larger town in the delta of Neretva was Narona, established by the Ancient Greek colonists from Pharos and Korkyra (now Hvar and Korčula). When the Romans defeated the Illyrian people of Delmati and Daorsi Narona became a regional centre in the province of Dalmatia, the largest town between Salona (Split) and Epidaurum (Cavtat). A really cool – if headless – statue of Empress Livia (wife of Augustus) today adorns the main square of Opuzen.
The delta of Neretva was a swampy, malarial place; when Rome collapsed and the Slavs arrived, Narona slowly disappeared and life in the delta died down. Later the Republic of Dubrovnik managed a salt emporium on an island at the top of the delta, right where the Mala (‘Little’) Neretva leaves its bigger sister. Then the Venetians came built a larger fortress right there – and called it Fort’ Opus.
This fortress, whose walls can still be seen in some places, became the foundation of Opuzen. The town grew and the first attempts of taming the delta began. A large influx of people happened when the Ottomans invaded Bosnia – the newcomers from Gabela and Čapljina brought a statue of their patron, Saint Stephen, with them, and so a church was dedicated to him. The neoclassical church of St. Stephen with its typically Mediterranean bell tower guards the town; an old olive tree grows next to it, giving shade to a stone bench – reputedly the largest in the world.
Austro-Hungarians were the first to start ameliorating the delta properly, draining the swamps and developing agriculture. They managed to tame both Velika and Mala Neretva, forcing them into artificial channels, and digging a maze of canals all over the delta. The works went on for decades, and after WWII the delta of Neretva became the emerald paradise where mandarins, watermelons, tomatoes and pomegranates grow so abundantly.
Neretva is also a bit crazy. Two members of our kite club (who will not be named) went to the riverside and dipped their hands into the river to taste the water. The first claimed the water was fresh, as a river is supposed to be, and the second insisted that it is salty. An argument broke out; the first attributed the second’s bizarre claim to copious amounts of beer, and the second claimed the first destroyed his tastebuds due to his unhinged intake of fire water. Only the waiter at the nearby Konoba set the things straight: they were both right!
Neretva is fresh only at the surface layer. As the river lazily drags on through the delta towards the sea, the sea creeps stealthily upstream far into the delta and beyond. While this phenomenon is cool – people catch sea fish and squids right in the middle of the town – the salt in the soil is threatening the lush delta and its orchards and fields.
Opuzen … little and cute and shy, large and striking and wonderful and insane, both from the ground and from the air.
All kite aerial photos shot with the Canon A810, sent in the sky by The Spark rokkaku kite. Other phots were either taken by us, or shamelessly pilfered from the internetz.
We owe so many thanks for these fantastic days to so many wonderful, crazy people – to Snježana and Žare, Ana and Ivan – Giovanni, to Josip, Stanko, Jadranka, Filipa, Alba, Ivica, to the staff of Motel Delta and Neretva kiteboarding, to masters of Radio Delta, to the delta of Neretva and to the town of Opuzen … we started to miss you all the moment we drove on the main road towards Bosnia.
Trust us – we’ll be back soon!