These are Mishko and Chushko. 2 Croatian (Istrian) Donkeys who together with their ‘colleagues’ (other donkeys and mules) help supply the mountain huts and traditional households of National Park Paklenica.
We met them at RAMIĆA DVORI, a 110-year old family house of our friend and colleague Marijo Ramic, situated in the uppermost parts of the Velika Paklenica Canyon. Marijo’s ancestors came to the area during Ottoman invasions of Croatia and inhabited different plateaus, valleys, mountain passes and forests within the karstic labyrinth of Velebit mountain, which provided shelter and relative safety from the invaders. At a certain point, his family moved to Velika Paklenica, a stunning Dinaric canyon carved into the limestone rock of lower Velebit, by the creek of the same name. As it often happens in rural areas of Croatia, the village was named by the prevailing surname of the families that came – Ramic(i). Marijo’s family lived here until the 1970s, before most of them moved (when Mario was only a boy) to the coastal town of Starigrad Paklenica, in search of commodities of modern life. Only his grandparents stayed to live out their days at their ancestral home.
Today, Mario comes back to his family house each week to welcome hikers and climbers from all over the world. We come here for a cup of Turkish coffee, a shot of ‘rakija’ (very tasty ones, may I add), and a relaxed chat. Very often for a cold beer or a glass of wine and a fine meal at his lovely terrace with a view. Sometimes also for an overnight at around 550m altitude – in the upper parts of Velika Paklenica even the scorchingly hot summer days can become pleasant, with the fresh breeze coming down from Velebit mountain above us. All that while we sit hidden in the shade of the trees at the terrace…A place to truly rest and meditate on life!
To get back to the story of donkeys – here, there are no access roads or helicopters to deliver food and other supplies. Ingredients for tasty homemade meals, clean sheets and blankets, beer, wine and everything else needed after an active day in Paklenica…all that is brought here by Mishko, Chushko, a few of their other 4-legged companions and an occasional ‘human mule’, as Mario likes to say it. These tough and occasionally stubborn but very diligent animals spend their days traveling up and down the canyon supplying huts and households, making it possible for all of us who visit Paklenica to witness at least a glimpse of history, tradition, stories, gastro heritage and Nature’s Beauty of National Park Paklenica. However, in spite of all their work, Mishko and Chushko don’t need much…a bite of bread (always offered with an open palm of the hand!), an occasional pet on their coarse hair and a moment to rest here and there…And they are happy! Looking at their strong bodies, curious ears and eyes, their stoic stance and their simplicity, I thought to myself…isn’t this the best life coaching you can get?! Aren’t they masters of Zen in some ways J ? ‘Cause, sure life can be hard (for them as well as for us) but it’s the little things that make it beautiful and worthwhile living, isn’t it so?
So, thank you Mishko and Chushko for the lesson you teach us every day! May the ‘donkey power’ of Paklenica live long and prosper!
P.S. And thank you Marijo Ramic for making it all happen! See you soon, that’s for sure! Zivjeli! (Croatian for: ‘Cheers!’)
‘A bit more on Mishko & Chushko on our youtube channel:’