Ana just might be the hardest-working tour guide in Europe. During the week she led our cycling tour around Croatia’s Dalmatian Islands she rode with us, entertained us, educated us, and watched over us – from breakfast until we were safely tucked in bed at night. Because of her efforts, we were transformed from a group of strangers into a cohesive group of friends … and in some respects into her temporary family.
An attractive, strongly-built woman in her mid-30s, Ana has athlete written all over her. Shoulder-length highlighted brown hair and an angular jaw frame her determined brown eyes and slightly freckled checks. Large, square sunglasses perch on top of her head and a first aid pack is strapped to her waist … just in case. She’s tough and capable of taking care of herself – and of a group of cyclists who don’t know the language or their way around. Ana loves being outdoors, and in addition to being a tour guide she is also a lifeguard and ski patrol; all activities that put her in charge – and in a position to help others.
This was Ana’s first time to lead this tour and we could tell she was nervous. She spent a lot of time reviewing the itinerary and checking our position and got very concerned if any of us were separated from the group. She generally rode in the lead, scouting the course, but she also cycled and visited with each tour member. She was assisted by Kristo, who had not been on the ride before, and Boris, who drove the support van and bike trailer. (Boris, we later found out, is missing his toes due to frostbite suffered during a mountain climb). But Ana was clearly in charge.
Meeting the Group
You never know what you are getting into when you sign up for a group bicycle tour and we were a little anxious as we waited at the Split airport to meet our fellow cyclists. There were four in our party (middle-age Americans) and we were joined by two other Americans, four Irish, and six Brits. Everyone had previous cycling experience and all were good riders. Ana greeted each of us with a smile and warm handshake and checked us off her list. Eleven … twelve … thirteen … wait a minute, there were supposed to be 16! Where are the rest?
Croatia and the Dalmatian Islands
Croatia is located in Central Europe, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. It’s roughly the shape of an upside down horseshoe and is surrounded by other former Yugoslavian states including Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. The fair weather, natural beauty, and gentile people have made Croatia a vacation destination for decades and Europeans have long traveled there to sail, enjoy the great beaches, and swim in the Adriatic Sea. In the 1990s the region was devastated by civil war. Today, the war is history and Croatia is once again a remarkable place to visit.