Travel writing. Possibly the best job ever.
I love reliving the whole experience when writing travel – every tiny step taken, all the people watching, the inevitable funny mishaps…
Once upon a time, I lived in Croatia. Yes, yes, I hear you – the beautiful Adriatic coast, the islands, the seafood.
Where we lived you couldn’t walk outside due to all the left over unexploded landmines. The snow was a metre up my leg (which means it went up to my armpit) in the -30 degree weather, and all I ate was beetroot.
It was a tiny town called Otoĉac, located right near where the front line of the Yugoslav War was, which finished only a couple of years before we arrived. It was still surrounded by bullet holes in buildings, and we had to have landmine awareness training as part of our work, carried out by a kamikaze with wild eyes and bombed out teeth. We lived in a makeshift room, in a giant warehouse which sold everything from car tyres to rotting fruit downstairs.
But we were also blessed to live nestled amidst soaring mountain peaks, which were so very pretty when the snow began. Traditional Alpine homes sparsely congregated around rickety country roads, with a box of potatoes or cabbages for sale at the front gate. Christmastime brought handmade twigs stars, hanging over front doors and dusted in snowfall. We were invited into people’s homes and warmed by friendship and an open fire. We learned to avoid the lambs head soup in the only restaurant in town. It was eye opening magic.
And of course we did get to see all that Adriatic beauty everyone talks about – and it lives up to it’s reputation. But for me, the best experience was meeting the people, and learning about their customs.
Like, Pig Killing Weekend.
Half asleep one morning at work, a piercing screech made me spill my strong Croat coffee all over myself. It sounded human. I raced out to the office, obviously looking worried. My boss laughed at me – “It’s pig killing weekend!”
“What?” What horror was this?
Out the window I could see a man running around with a wire in two hands chasing his big fat piggy.
I sat at my desk, which looked dead straight at the house, and discovered I have little strength over that weird thing that makes humans unable to turn away from something gory.
At the little old home, tucked in the gully of a craggy mountain rising behind it, the squealing suddenly ceased. The local butcher arrived in his navy and white striped apron and overalls. An A-frame was erected right there in the front yard, on which to hang the party centre piece. Friends arrived and a few bottles of beer were cracked for the 9am start. There was a child rugged up to the eyeballs watching half grossed-out in the background, and mum up and downstairs with buckets of innards. My own stomach was lurching.
More people arrived. This was the social event of the year. Passing trucks and horse and carts were hollering and tooting hip hip hooray. I could only grimace like the child as the knife kept deftly twisting and slicing.
My front row seat learned me much about the inside of a pig that day. When it was empty the butcher turned the frame around, and I breathed a sigh of relief that it was all over and I could stop feigning an attempt at not watching. My stomach could settle again. I went back to my coffee – when, unexpectedly in the grandest of finales, over the top in a wide swinging arc came the male pig’s intact reproductive organs, to take that final bow.