Ok, the following day… mind you, this trip lasts 48 hours from start to finish… we rise early with the sun. With little time we’re ready get back into Nice, hit the water and enjoy the day. We grab some coffee and after slapping some nutella on a bit of bread we’re loading tents and gear and people. After saying goodbye to the local cat aptly named Vicky… debates ensued as to where Vic was in fact a male or if we should add a ‘fe’ to the front that identification. So soon enough we pile in and back up and after coming dangerously close to a cliff that threatens to eat our van, we’re back on track.
‘Everybody out, go go go!’ Imagine two 9 person vans flying Italian job style through dense traffic in the Nice’s lower south side… pop that cluch and go… ‘look for a bus.’ ‘Clear, clear.’ ‘Brilliant.’ We hop into the bus lane for a straight shot to the beach. Goodbye traffic and hello smooth parasailing. These peeps need the ocean and we need a swift drop off. ‘Get ready everybody… GREMO!’ And they’re out, one and then the next until this van rests a skeleton of it’s former self. The bus in my rearview mirror approaches more quickly than I anticipate, but with out further adeu, David and I punch the gas, our vans lurching forward back into traffic…
My alarm rings beside me… it’s 4:30 am and I’m up before the sun. I’m reminded… my dad used to cruise into my room early in the morning, right before we would leave for family vacations. He used to sing some song as he’d rip the covers of the bed… was it really “fee fi fo fum, I smell the blood of an English man?” For some reason that’s the song I remember… either way, I’d be out of there with the excitement of a great adventure ahead of us. That was this morning. We’re off to Nice, France… and I’m singing fe fi fo fum…
“Voda?” “Got it, 40 liters… yeah big check”
“Camping gear?” “Check… five tents, sleeping bags, cooler with extra food stuffs.”
Soon enough, David and I are filling to-go coffee mugs with that good ol’ instant blackness and we’re out the door and into Big Red, as we call her – aka Clifford. I’m driving now and after a near collision with the neighbors flower bed, we’re off. (Please, you try to back up a 9 person manual tranny van on an 20%+ grade…) Soon enough we’ve flagged down the rental. David takes the good 2011, new and nicely upholstered Renault 9 seater… but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Clifford’s my steer and we’re about to jump the fence and take on the world.
So as I’m cracking the whip on this here horse, and little did we know that the tires on this baby are beginning a pattern, a rub of irregular wear… yet, with all 18 of us, 16 students and 2 quasi chaperones, we obliviously and blissfully ride off into the morning.
We’re met by storm after storm, and soon enough we’re out of SLO and into Italy. Some of my copilots sleep as I nurse a couple red bulls. David and I keep up the walkie-talkie banter, steady as we go.
Bam, there’s the French coast, the Mediterranean shines blue. Signs show Nice not too far off and our GPS’s tell us that our scheduled destination, a campsite in the Nice hills, is just over 5 minutes from the freeway. Excellent, we’ve had a few ‘I gotta pee-ers’ in the back seat and we’ve been traveling for 8 hours by this point. So we hit the exit and head for the campsite… 35 minutes later we think we may have found this place. 18% grades and the tightest switchbacks I’ve ever seen greet us as we venture far into the wilderness. Great views and 16-point turns act as our ‘right of passage.’ We’ll make it and we finally get there after we pass a stuck Lamborghini at one of the switchbacks… no joke, this guy and his date find themselves wedged. My passengers love this… screams of excitement and cameras pop from pockets to get this priceless shot. Good times.
We settle in and pitch some tents and soon we drive into Nice. The water awaits. So at this point we’ve been driving for some 9 hours. David and I drop everyone off and swing around for a parking spot. 1 hour later, we’re scratching our heads. Parking in Nice? Not bad if you’re sporting a mini… but try two 12 foot boats. No sweat. Finally my skin feels the cool Mediterranean. We link up with our crew and they’re having a blast.
We huck it back to the campsite a few hours later and crash, after some pillow talk of course… but before we say goodnight…
For some reason… I can think of a few… we check the tires of Clifford. Clifford has problems. Big Red, you scoundrel! The wear on these tires is unlike any I’ve seen before. At first glace the tires look brand new. The majority of the tire has full tread and looks in excellent condition… but during this particular inspection, these fakers aren’t fooling us. Not only are there 4 inch hunks of warn flat tread on each tire, but the tire threads are pulling through in large gash-like chunks. We need tires and we need them pronto…
So David and I are driving and we pull behind a blue van, ‘this guy has no idea where he’s going.’ You can see his head in the drivers seat, back and forth, up and down… you can picture his eyes squinting in search of some sign or directional arrow. This van’s license plate says ‘help me’ in a language I don’t understand. We swing around him and sit tight for a moment at a stop light and there he is next to us, rolling down his window and in Slovene:
‘Avtocesta da Zagrab, prosim?’
He’s heading to Croatia and he’s not from here, but neither am I… I can sympathize with this wandering Gospod (look it up: google translator). David, as far as I can tell, rattles off a coherent and clear answer explaining that this man is indeed close to the avtocesta… that if he simply takes a right at this light, the way to Zabrab’s just around the bend. A smile forms on this Godspod’s face and an inquisitive look appears in his eye and soon he says something that even I understand…
Now, let me tell you, this guy’s not Spanish… I know their look and he’s not selling me on it. So the window’s up and he speeds off and David and I look at each other.
‘Did he just say gracias?’ ‘Yeah, weird.’ ‘Dude, that guy thinks your Spanish… and that he made some under-the-radar discovery of your ethnic background while you were shooting directions.’ ‘A nice thought though, I guess.’
So David B, an American speaking Slovene in Ljubljana Slovenia gets mistaken for a Davide from the motherland of the United States’ great foregone discoverer Christopher C. An honorable association, if you ask me. Cheers! Here’s to cross cultural communication in action.
‘Everybody in?’ We’re off to lake Bled. This place with its turquoise water and beautiful views of the far off alps stuns tourists and ‘newbies’ like myself. A 30-minute drive takes us to the water. The sun shines and the shirt comes off my back. The water awaits.
I’m with a group of people who attended the camp this past week. Part of my job as an intern is to continue to connect with students. Life at camp can seem worlds a part from ‘real life’ back at home in Ljubljana. We want the students to know we’re still around and that the community that they experienced at camp can continue… that the community and brotherhood of camp still exists. So we welcome them for movie nights, (the other night was the Italian Job) and day trips to Bled and other places, and paintball, (we’re going again today) etc.
So it’s time from Bled… for some cannon balls off of treetops and races down mountains on summer ‘bobsleds’ and canoe rides to the island in the middle of the lake. Here’s some footage of Klemen, David and I launching off the island…
‘Left, right… no back, Oh no I think we’re lost.’ So begins the Amazing race for my English class and me. We tear out of the castle garden after the first station. Proud and in the lead we’re on cloud nine (I’ve been avoiding indiums at all costs this week while I teach English… I can’t hold them in any longer… try catching yourself, you use them all the time, trust me). With no holds barred we win the first challenge of the race, and for all intents and purposes we’re convinced we’ll win the whole thing. This swagger doesn’t last long… after acting in a short drama and playing the donkey from Shrek alongside a random Austrian I find a local jewelry store, the team and I continue the trek in the wrong direction. ‘Ask this guy!’ Someone yells… ‘doesn’t know.’ ‘What about this guy?’ He’ll have none of it. Round and round we go and finally a kind lady from a tourist office gives us a map and we rough it 1 km back the other way. ‘We’re in this together!’ I yell as our first place becomes last place… It’s about team bonding anyway right?
Our team toughs it out and soon we’ve hit the home stretch. Ozbej and I charge the water simultaneously… we’ll get to that buoy in double time. Now we’re back, and flour hits us from all sides. Apologies and forced hugs from our team follow this bombardment of bread’s foundational ingredient.
Finally we hike the castle tower as a team and “high fives” and ‘wow, glad we made it’s fly about, and after a quick debrief, we the team cruise back to the water from some tree swing trick time.
The morning of the 18th (my birthday) I meet 5 slovene guys at a soccer field and spend the day with them. We play soccer for 2 hours and then hang out near a water fountain and I ask them what they like to do and amongst other things they love McD’s milkshakes… and I say ‘hey it’s my birthday, I’m buying the milkshakes.’ So we’re off to visit Ronald… we walk across town and talk about Jesus and other things, and had a delicious strawberry milkshake. Then we walk around some more and went into a cologne shop where two of the guys proceed to spray themselves with 10 different scents. We walk back to the fields and say goodbyes and we’re going to all hang again. ‘We’re at that field everyday’ they tell me… ‘come play ball with us again.’ ‘Absolutely’…
My bunker’s bombarded… “Left left left! Get down! Cover me!…” Grega shouts orders next to me as shots rain from all directions. I’m sure there were also a few expletives in Slovene… but in this moment we don’t speak the language of nations; we speak a language of instinct and hand signals and shouts. But there’s also stillness as we creep towards the enemy. Silence follows the barrage of paint. Slovenes are a peaceful people… could have fooled me. These young bucks fight fierce. The Art of War? If you know this book, you know these gents. These guys wrote it and they display each principle of each page with precision. ‘Flank em!’ I clumsily attempt a flank (but in that moment I’m distracted by steaks), so while I’m thinking of my next meal, my 9th grade opponents shoot to kill. In full sprint I advance, but the cross hairs pursue and after two to the back and one to the face and another to the knuckle, I’m down and out… and bleeding, believe it or not. “Mrtve! Mrtve!” I raise my gun and stand in defeat. They’re quick to give me another couple to the right arm for good measure. They’ll show this displaced American who’s boss. The battle rages on as I leave the field. A lake below glistens in the sunshine and the trees surround us, and in this dense forest we fight and bond and strategize. Soon we’re chugging voda and sok while we swap stories and show off our welts. ‘Check this one…’ There are kidney shots and deadly blows to lungs and liver. We laugh and wipe paint off of wounded masks. Our egos fully in tack, this battle unites us…
If only conflict and war could join us closer instead of pushing us apart. At our training in the Czech, we discussed conflict and how confronting disagreements can lead to reconciliation and restored relationships. These tensions can bind us together and energize us towards common goals. Never underestimate the value of honest and direct communication.
So the guys and I hop back in the car. The city of Celje invited us for paintball but we’ll head back to Ljubljana for the night. I’ll stall and send my guys through a gauntlet of bumpy shifts, but as Mickey D’s appears before us, we no longer mind the rough road that lay behind, for our feast awaits.
‘Wait how do you say it?’ ‘Jaz birat Big Mac menu, prosim…’ ‘Ok… ahhhh… ok…’ One way or another we get our food. Stumbling back to the car and with tanks full, we make the 45-minute car ride to Ljubljana. We rolodex through tons of stuff including Jesus. Yep… One of the guys says he’s read the entire Bible, that it would be ignorant to make conclusions otherwise. Whoa… try that on. Have you made conclusions without genuinely exploring what the Bible teaches, what it says about Jesus as God, about his death and resurrection and what his gift of grace could mean for you? He longs for you…