Bakar Water Carrier

Happy World Tourism Day!

Indeed, yesterday, 27 September, was World Tourism Day. This year’s main topic is Tourism for Inclusive Growth. Bear with me, as this has something to do with today’s story. Continue reading, or listen to the episode:

In today’s post and podcast episode, we are going to visit another town on the Croatian coast. After last week’s episode that took us to Rogoznica, you might say…what’s wrong with her? We waited the entire summer to get some ideas and explore the coast. Now she’s talking about all those inviting places at the Adriatic?

To tell you the truth, exploring the coast in the summer is not for everyone. As proof, just look at the tweets that begin with “Dear tourists” in the famous Twitter account of Croatian Mountain Rescue Service

It really could be best to stay on the beach or in the shade in summer. 

Spring and late autumn make the perfect time to truly explore the coast, in my opinion. Or any other time except for summer if you’re lucky with the weather and don’t meet the dreadful Croatian bura wind along your way. 

Don’t worry, it’s a great time to write about Bakar because it isn’t your typical summer destination anyway. And it’s not the season of the bura wind yet. Instead of a beach, this centuries-old coastal city offers a handful of discoveries. From historical sights and curiosities to wonders of nature, there’s simply so much to see.

I’m not going to overwhelm you with everything there is. Today, I picked just one story. I’ll tell you about a historical personality from the city of Bakar, and that’s Ivan Čop, who was born there in the second half of the 19th century. There is no better medium to tell you the story about this man but a podcast. This way, you will simply have to imagine how he and the world around him looked like. That’s as close as you can get to his experience of his own town. 

Although the following quote would make a perfect conclusion, I want to end on a lighter note. So let’s start this story with some deep thoughts. Remember the iconic line from the Little Prince? 

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Early on, Ivan’s parents noticed that there’s something wrong with his eyes. Indeed, Ivan turned blind. It’s the 19th century, remember? The most logical course of events, no matter how painful and unfair this sounds, is to end up secluded with limited chances to lead a regular life. Ivan found support in his sister when he was just a child. Together, they spent so much time with their peers out in the open. By exploring the city and the surroundings with friends, Ivan learned how to move around with ease. He learned to catch birds and was even allowed to follow classes when all of his friends started school.

The story of Ivan Čop easily comes to life when you visit Bakar. Precisely because it’s not the most touristy location in Croatia, it has preserved its historical shape. A look at Bakar from the distance, and you can clearly recognize a medieval town rising above the sea. It’s a unique case of a medieval town that isn’t hidden between the modern neighborhoods, skyscrapers, everything that usually goes in hand with today’s city. The streets are still winding, the stairs are still steep. Little has changed compared to the times when Ivan carried the water to the old town to sell it, from a spring by the sea.

If you visit Bakar, when you stop to catch your breath on your way up to the old town, imagine going up all those stairs carrying a huge barrel with 45 liters of water (plus the weight of the barrel)! Over and over again in a single day. The experience would pretty much feel the same as it did to Ivan Čop. 

This story about endurance and resourcefulness is very inspiring. However, it doesn’t have an ending that would wrap it up in a perfect cellophane package. It’s the end that offers those of us who can see, or don’t experience many physical limitations, a true lesson. 

I sometimes want to send the kids to the store, but don’t have any cash on me at home, so I have to go myself. Let’s assume that something like that sometimes happened to the wealthy residents of Bakar when Ivan Čop brought them their water. They didn’t have any cash at the given moment, so they promised to pay tomorrow. Ivan carefully made a note to be sure how much a household owns him. He noted it down by making a small pile of stones, glass, or marble, depending on the exact worth. So clever.

Eventually, after his parents died and his sister got married, he lived in one of the houses in Bakar by himself. It was him and his birds. Ivan Čop earned his living from his hard work. He didn’t just work as a water carrier. Ivan also sold eggs when his hen gave him extra. He sold songbirds that he caught and more. And it wasn’t the most perfect living, judging by the state of his home or his health. After his death, his cousin entered the house and discovered so many piles of small rocks and pieces of glass… worth enough money to repair the house and more. 

There are plenty of morals in this story. What I took away is that the limitations for Ivan Čop throughout his life didn’t come from within. They only came from the outside. I’m not referring to empathy because nothing in the historical records shows that Ivan or anyone else is after that. It’s about human decency. Are we decent enough to treat each other as equals, no matter our differences? 

That’s the main thought that I carry after getting to know the life story of Ivan Čop. How do you feel about it?

After almost a century and a half, the time has finally come to pay the debt. Bakar tourism board started a project to revive the memory of Ivan Čop. The main product is an illustrated book and an audiobook that can be used as a guide for Bakar old town. The book is coming out this October, its production being in its final phase. The process of creation of the book is what makes it a true community project. It could strengthen the mindful roots of further destination development. Book illustration and the entire text are the work of dozens of children from the Bakar area. With the help of their dedicated teachers, they participated in workshops that led them to their final creations. Emil Mandarić, president of an association of the blind, helped them understand how people with impaired sight function in their everyday life.

I have been collaborating with the Bakar Tourism Board on many projects. Thankfully, I had an opportunity to participate in this one, too. I ran workshops in heritage interpretation, which has become my specialty in recent years. Need I say that it was such a rewarding project? Imagine working with children on such a delicate topic, giving them nothing but gentle guidelines that helped them focus on the topic and on all the other senses except for sight. And then seeing their genuine illustrations and words. They successfully transferred other senses into illustrations. They used the descriptions of everything except what you can see to describe the daily route that the water carrier could have followed in his day. 

I also created a gamified tour called “Challenge of the Bakar Watercarrier” in June. I also tried to use the same principles I shared with the children and their teachers. It was entertaining but very educational. You can read some more about it in English on the Playful Croatia website. Playful Croatia is a showcase of the gamified explorations of destinations that I’m working on.

Gamified tour “Challenge of the Bakar Water Carrier” is about to start.

Let me go a little bit back in time and share some more interesting facts about Ivan’s life. Do you know that life in Bakar was hard to imagine without Ivan at his time? He always paid attention to the clock on top of the city hall. If you wanted to know the exact time, you’d ask Ivan. Since it wasn’t customary for noble people to go up and down the stairs each day, they were able to rely on Ivan to bring all the news. “Have you heard the news of my son?” longing mothers asked as he passed by. “His ship is coming back in two weeks, they say!” Ivan promptly answered.

His susceptible hearing helped him pick up the foreign languages from sailors and others who arrived in Bakar from far away towns. His language skills helped him show the travelers around the labyrinth of streets that he knew how to navigate best. Yup, you could call him the first tour guide of Bakar! I don’t know if I told you before, but I’m a tour guide, too! I’ve been running a small company called Secret Zagreb for 8 years now. That’s why it makes me this happy to find a fellow guide in Ivan Čop. 

Paper sculpture while it was still in the making, and the postcard next to it

There is also an old postcard from Bakar that shows Ivan Čop. See, Ivan was a part of the tourism offer long before tourism had a name! He worked in tourism long before anyone promoted inclusivity in that field? I hope you might agree this is a perfect story for world tourism day. Especially this year when UNWTO promotes tourism for inclusive growth. 

Did you enjoy this story? Could it inspire you to visit Bakar in the future? If you do, stop by the tourism board and ask about the book about the water carrier. They also have a sculpture of the watercarrier exhibited in their office. It’s an artwork by Emil Mandarić, whom I mentioned before. Emil is a talented sculptor, and he crafted the sculpture from the paper by listening to the descriptions of an old photograph that shows Ivan Čop in front of the so-called Turkish house in Bakar. Comparing the two gives us yet another lesson about presumptions and prejudice. It questions our ideas of limitations. It’s easy to find the tourist office – it’s in the city hall. 

Just follow the sound of the clock.

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