As the summer has progressed the campsites we’ve stayed in have been getting busier. In the spring we often stayed on large lots with only one or two other campers around. Now, in the middle of July, it can be difficult to find a spot to pitch the tent. The largest and most crowded camp we’ve stayed at yet – Autocamp Kovačine, just outside of Cres town on the island of Cres – was more bustling urban center than wooded glen. “Grill party” night, when seemingly the whole population gathered at the shore, felt like a New York street fair set in paradise.
Kovačine has seven hundred fifty pitches, and I would guess that the average lot was home to three (maybe three and a half) people. There were almost no empty spots, even at midweek. There are three restaurants on the premises, a small supermarket and a few bars – many people never leave the campground. The grill party was especially for those people, the ones who are regulars and part of the campsite community. Campers greeted each other excitedly and saved spots at tables for friends. As with a lot of other campsites, much of the conversation was conducted in German.
This man orchestrated most of the grilling. He set up quite early in the day, lighting his coals hours before the first diner was served. Friends gathered around him as he worked, joking and laughing. It seemed that he was a fixture here, and that his jovial and efficient preparations were an important part of the annual scene.
These kids were selling shells and painted stones for a few kuna. We bought a sea urchin and a rock for about a dollar – mostly because we wanted to take their picture.
As the sun set, two men began playing music on a stage and the festivities really got underway. The beer began to flow a little more swiftly from the bar taps and younger children were put to bed.
Along the promenade the mood was quieter. People were strung out along the shore in groups or alone, watching the sky slowly blacken. This is not the culture of the island, or of Croatia, but of the campground – people are there to savor the beauty of a place, and to pickle themselves in the hot, July evenings. It’s detached, of course, but it’s also special in its own way. One of the best things about camping (for us) is that we can feel part of nights like this, where we aren’t outsiders or foreigners, but really part of a crowd.