Guest Blog by: Davor Finci
Tour Guide in Portuguese and English. Owner of Bandana Walks.
With the enormous popularity of Plitvice Lakes, many other national parks in Croatia stay overlooked by the visitors. So if you are more of an adventurous type and you want to avoid big crowds of tourists that inevitably happen during the summer months in Plitvice, there is a hidden marvel just an hour and a half drive to the south – Paklenica National Park. It is situated on the southern slopes of Velebit mountain, the biggest, the most rugged and the most symbolic mountain in Croatia that stretches for 150 kilometers from northwest to southeast along the Adriatic coast almost completely separating Dalmatia from the rest of the country.
The national park which occupies some 95 square kilometers is actually a maze of canyons, towering rocks, mountain peaks, caves, and forests. The highlights of the park are two deep canyons carved by seemingly small mountain streams called Velika Paklenica and Mala Paklenica. These canyons are a paradise for rock climbers that can choose one of over 400 paths to climb the vertical rocky slopes.
Right across the valley from “Anića kuk” there is another path that leads to a beautiful limestone cave “Manita peć” full of peculiar looking cave formations. For those who want to conquer mountain peaks, the two highest points on Velebit mountain “Vaganski vrh” (1758m) and “Sveto Brdo” (1753m) are only about 5-6 hours hiking from the mountain lodge. Of course, before taking on any of the mountain trails consult with the local guides or the staff at the entrance to the park and ask them for a map. There is always an option of hiring a private mountain guide.
*You should know that mountain lodges are no hotels so if you decide to stay overnight be ready to share the room with a lot of people and as for the food just ask the host to bring you what they have on that day…it’s probably beans and sausage.
Actually if you continue some 10 minutes uphill from the mountain lodge “Paklenica” you will find a restaurant called “Ramića Dvori” where the friendly hosts will not hesitate to pour you huge amounts of the most famous local spirit rakija (I would say that it would be polite to have at least three shots before you refuse another round) and of course you can try the most famous Velebit specialty – roasted lamb.
The carriers could rest only one time during the procession, usually on a mountain meadow approximately half way to the church. On this spot, they would carefully put the deceased down on the ground and mark the place with two stones, one behind his head and the other below his feet. This ritual is called “measuring the dead” and it is believed that the soul leaves the body once it is measured with mirilo. The carriers would then pick up the body and continue their journey to the nearest cemetery where the proper “Christian” burial would be held. But for the friends and family of the deceased, the grave itself had no meaning whatsoever. They would honor the deceased by bringing flowers to the spot where he was last “measured” and where his soul lies marked by mirilo.
The ritual was considered to be “pagan” by the Catholic church whereas the orthodox priests** were more tolerant and would sometimes even bless the measurement stones. The exact origins of this tradition are still confusing the anthropologists especially because some of the carvings on the stones resemble pre-Christian and even pre-Roman symbology that somehow survived in the mountain communities until modern times. The oldest mirila found on Velebit mountain date from the 17th century and the last were built in the second half of the 20th century when this tradition disappeared.
**Catholic and Orthodox Christian communities have lived side by side in Velebit mountain region for centuries; the difference being that Orthodox church does not acknowledge pope in Rome as the head of the church and orthodox priests can marry (there are other differences in interpreting the Bible but I will not go into details in this post).
To finish off this story about Paklenica let’s see what’s behind the name of the park. Paklenica probably got its name after the black pine resin locally called Paklina. This dense and sticky substance was used in local medicine to heal wounds, by the fishermen as a coating to protect the wooden parts of their boats that were constantly in the water and also as fuel for lamps and torches. The black pine that produces this flammable resin can be found everywhere around the park and you need to be extra careful during the dry summer months. Forest fires spread easily here so you should avoid putting up campfires or throwing cigarettes.
Another danger is the bura wind that blows from the mountain tops and helps the fire to spread. This well-preserved forest rich with some unique species of plants and animals is the main reason why the authorities of ex-Yugoslavia protected this area as a national park in 1949. and it is why we as visitors need to be responsible as well.