- On Location
- » Lopar and the Glass Boat
We arrive at Lopar and easily find the small kiosk that advertises boat rides to Goli Otok. The boat leaves at 10:30 a.m., just as we are speaking with the clerk at the kiosk. We must wait until the next boat at 3:00 p.m., or come back the next day, or go back to Rab to catch the 3:00 p.m. boat from there. We decide to wait for the next boat. We find a small cove in which to swim and stay there until it is time to go. The only language around us is Italian. At 3:00 p.m. we embark on the Glass Boat to go to Goli Otok. The Glass Boat is a small diesel boat, a caique, approximately twenty meters long and five meters wide. The cockpit, where most people sit, is situated behind the bridge, towards the stern of the boat, and it has more seating area above the bridge. There are a few sitting spaces on the bow deck, and we sit there. We wonder whether the name of the boat has any meaning, and we realize that the boat has two places where its hull is exposed and through a plexiglass window that doubles as a coffee table, one can look at the water through which the boat sails.
There is no empty seat on deck. There are approximately ten to fifteen families on board, most of them large, with a number of very young children, some still in prams, obviously all going on an outing. There are a few young couples with no children, two older couples, and two men traveling together. Listening to the different languages around us I can recognize the German and Italian, Lukic recognizes the Slovenian, we guess about the Hungarian. There are no Croats onboard other than Lukic, the captain, and his help, a young man around sixteen years old. A few minutes into the sail, the young man who is helping the captain produces a map of Goli Otok, Sveti Grgur, and Rab that has our course traced on it, along with small explanatory paragraphs. It is laminated. The young man asks in which language we would like to hear the narrative. German is fine for everyone and he starts explaining what Goli Otok was from 1948 to 1968, from 1968 to 1978, and from 1978 to 1988. He makes a slight reference to Sveti Grgur and then talks about the nudist beach of Sahara. Without any mention of King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson, who inaugurated the “naturist” beaches of Rab, the guide mentions the beach and the fact that the boat will make a “small sail-by” there. Indeed, as he is speaking the boat sails by the nudist beach, which faces Sveti Grgur, in very close proximity. I ask the guide and the captain how many people they usually transport each day (about 150 each way, twice a day), how long it will take us to walk the length of the camp (half hour to walk up the hill, and another half hour to walk back), and whether he will wait for us in case it takes us longer (no, he will not, he has other work to do, and it would not be fair to the rest of the passengers). He offers me his laminated English map of Goli Otok and the camp. I ask how long we will stay on Sveti Grgur. Not at all; we just sail by. Sailing away from Sahara, I see a lush island in front of us and a monstrously large, rocky island beyond it, to the west. I have never seen such a large dry island. It is very long, and as the boat sails along the better I can see its size. It looks as long as Manhattan Island, and under the glaring sun I can see nothing but rock from one tip of the island to the other. The elevation must be at least one thousand meters (about three thousand feet). Its sides are precipitous, there is no area where anyone could have lived there even standing up, let alone live imprisoned. I think that I might have misread the map and ask whether that is Goli Otok. No, that is the island Prvic, really a rock in the middle of the Adriatic. Goli Otok is to the right (hence east) of Sveti Grgur.
The scene on the boat is surreal. It is a very hot day, the thermometer at Lopar has registered 36 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit). The babies on board are hot and crying. Balkan pop music blasts from the speakers of the boat, and everyone is making merry. There is no apparent understanding of what we are about to encounter. Lukic and I discuss the reasons why people would take a boat ride to the island. His explanation is convincing. Tourists come to Rab to spend their vacation. After a few days of swimming they run out of activities to do with their families, and this is just such an activity. As banal as it sounds, it is in complete agreement with the ethos of tourism. As the boat turns its stern to Sahara Beach, I move to the back so that I can photograph the south side of Sveti Grgur. I see a large family of nine that comprises at least three generations, with toddlers and grandparents, sitting at one of the plexiglass tables drinking and counting the bottles of beer they consume. Lukic cannot recognize their language as Slavic, it is not a recognizable Romance language; and I do not recognize it as Albanian. I cannot get the question out of my mind: Why would they go on this excursion? Do they know what they are about to encounter?
Prvić island, located north east of Sveti Grgur and Goli Otok between the two islands and the main coast.
Prvić from closer up.
Almost the entire length of the island.