On our recent trip to Croatia, I became friendly with a man who makes his own fishing rods. Along with our wives and eleven other people, we spent two weeks exploring part of what used to be Yugoslavia.
One evening a few of us met to talk about the trip and offer constructive suggestions. My fisherman friend complained that the travel company had not told us to bring a compass or provided better maps of the cities. He said something about getting lost earlier in the day. I heard what he said but, as it turned out, hadn’t listened closely enough.
The next day, on our way from Zagreb to Split, we visited a small town called Samobor. Our local guide told us we could go on a hike with her and then enjoy the cream cake (a “Samoborska kremšnita”) for which the town is known.
“If anyone prefers not to take the hike,” she said, “we will meet here, at the fountain, at 4:00 o’clock,” which was about an hour later. Then she said, “It’s a very small town. It’s impossible to get lost.” Then, little did she know, she added, “Famous last words.”
We embarked on our uphill hike, my friend and I bringing up the rear and talking about fishing. Within a few minutes he became somewhat red-faced and said, “I don’t think I’ll do the hike. I’m going back.”
“Good idea,” I said, not thinking about the conversation of the day before. I continued with the group on what turned out to be a pretty steep incline and thought to myself, maybe I should have gone back too.
We made it back to the main street, walked a few meters (that’s what they use in Croatia) beyond the fountain, and installed ourselves at tables outside the restaurant with the special cream cakes. A waiter took our orders as we all caught our breaths. It was a few minutes after 4.
My friend was nowhere to be seen. Others noticed his absence, and for the next 45 minutes our collective emotions turned from concern to worry to dread. The trip leader and the local guide went looking, along with his wife, and the local police were alerted.
The cream cakes appeared – a puff pastry with custard cream filling and powdered sugar on top. Despite the hike, no one seemed to have much of an appetite.
I joined the search and came back to the fountain around 4:45. Our trip leader was waving at me with a smile on her face. A local woman had found our wanderer outside the town, and she gave him a ride.
Our relief was palpable, as was my friend’s embarrassment. “I must have walked five miles,” he told me. “Now I’ve ruined everyone’s trip.”
“No you haven’t,” I told him. “I should have paid more attention to what you said yesterday about maps and a compass.”
“I guess I have a problem,” he said, tears forming in his eyes.
“Maybe so,” I said, “but now it’s time to enjoy your special cream cake. You’ve earned it.”