Dark Horse

It started out as one of the more unassuming days of the trip: awakening to a cloud cover over the city and the steady pattering of raindrops; falling into a jetlagged, three-hour nap immediately after filling my belly with breakfast pastries. And yet the day of our jaunt to the beaches at Brela stays with me, two and a half weeks later. It was the dark horse of Croatian excursions.

You can reach Brela via the local bus to Makarska, a small city an hour and a half south of Split. That afternoon, the bus wound its way tightly around jagged mountains that jutted into the sea, and holdover raindrops from that morning’s storm streaked intermittently across the Plexiglass window like furtive tears. The driver let us off on the side of the road, high above the water, and we walked down asphalt switchbacks until finding the pebbly beach I’d heard so much about.

I tested the clear water with my big toe and, deeming it unswimmably cold, retired to a beachside café. They served me peppermint tea with a little packet of honey on the side, and I made a lot of headway on the book I’d brought along for the ride. Then, the sun dipped below the edge of the umbrella, and then below the brim of my sun hat, which made reading feel too difficult and gelato (what else?) sound enticing.

They had cappuccino gelato here! With little flecks of ground coffee on top! I swooned.

We sat on a concrete promontory that stretched into the water. Nearby, Polish men in Speedos prepared themselves for a very brisk dip. I hid my smile, hoping it wasn’t too obvious that their swimsuits were the punch line of my private joke.

Here’s the thing. I saw some heart-stopping things on this trip: the Old Bridge over the Neretva River in Bosnia, the castle-dotted island of Hvar, and an epic, 17-step waterfall in Krka National Park. But now that I’m back to the kind of everyday life we all know too well, it’s Brela that is a constant reminder to live in the moment. I’m guilty of viewing free time as, well, not really free time, but time in which I can pack in chores, errands, and “fun” activities that cease to be fun the moment I try to fit them into an unyielding box. But Brela was all about doing what I felt like, not what I thought I should feel like, and appreciating the world around me for exactly what it was. It was about realizing that what my jetlagged self needed that day was not an adventure or a challenge, but a break—and then actually giving myself one.

I may be back now, in a regimented world of schedules, alarm clocks, and responsibilities, but I realized I can still go easier on myself—even when I’m not on vacation. And I am! Unfortunately, though, I do have to close my eyes (or gaze longingly at pictures) to imagine that I’m still surrounded by that sea, and that sunset.

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