Croatia Wild Women Guide Darija

July 28, 2023

Our Guiding Lights: Meet Our Incredible Tour Guide Darija from Croatia

Continue reading Our Guiding Lights: Meet Our Incredible Tour Guide Darija from Croatia

I met Darija on my inaugural Wild Women trip–I’d been working with the company for just over a month and had suggested that Croatia had always been on my radar. I didn’t expect to be taking advantage of vacation time so soon but joining Wild Women Expeditions’ Croatia Active Adventure was an opportunity I had to pounce on. After sneaking in a daunting 150km (93 mile) Camino KRK on Krk Island (Croatia), my wife Kim and I met the group in Zagreb and quickly fell under Darija’s energetic and affectionate spell.

The generational knowledge Darija carries is seamlessly imparted often in casual conversation, offering such depth to our group’s journey through her truly beloved homeland. Her sensitive and holistic approach to hikes added a secondary layer, one rooted in her fascination with medicinal plants and herbal remedies. Her appreciation for Croatian food is so soulful–she can’t help but share her own tasting notes, recipe tips and affection for Samoborska kremšnita (a traditional custard cream cake sandwiched between two flaky pastry layers). Do not stand in the way between Darija and a slice of Samoborska–it’s like crossing the path between a grizzly and her cubs!

Croatia Wild Women Guide Darija

Darija’s quest for more knowledge goes beyond botany—she’s a climber too, in all senses. As we walked through Velebit National Park Darija was quick to point out her favourite climbing routes and share stories of legendary mountaineers that triggered her love affair with rock faces and her pursuit of mountain rescue work.

Like Fio, our fearless Wild Women guide in Patagonia, Darija’s spiritual connection to the landscape is all about synergy. Forest bathing takes on a whole new meaning with these two women as they encourage and embody awareness. Their appreciation and grateful meditation for wild spaces is felt and quietly imparted. For those who know Darija, her warmth, broad smile and genuine laugh will be instantly remembered. For those who have yet to experience Croatia, her leadership, talent and humor is a beautiful trifecta.

Croatia Kayaking Darija

Behind the Scenes and Rock Face with Darija

We asked Darija a few questions about her wild self and her determination to be better is evident in her endless training and ability to balance motherhood with mountain rescue and a guiding career that has now spanned 15 years. With Darija’s credentials you are in seriously good hands! From “witchcraft” to sea kayaking, 

I have loved nature since I was a little child, wandering the hills around my home, always searching and exploring. My favourite documentaries were the ones about wildlife or nature. My grandmother was sort of a village “witch” collecting and drying herbs and preparing natural remedies and from a  young age I wandered and collected herbs with her. That stayed with me for life and I still learn, explore, collect and make remedies.

I was first introduced and enchanted with mountaineering when I was studying Culture and Tourism in Zadar. I fell in love with it on the first hike which is actually the one that I now guide for WWE on Velebit mountain. I finished several courses in Zadar within the Mountain Society of Paklenica. The first course was an overview of general knowledge related to mountaineering, then speleology (the study of caves and karst), alpinism, rock climbing and then, like a cherry on the top, I was invited to become a mountaineering guide.

After several courses and exams (and years) I became a mountaineer guide for several standards that are registered in UIAA (International Union of Alpine Clubs), like hiking (A), guide in winter conditions (B), alpinism (C) and via ferrata (“iron path”) guide (D). I started to guide tours as a volunteer for the same society and loved it. Soon I began receiving invites from several agencies to guide professionally. My first tour was seven days on Velebit mountain, crossing the mountain, sleeping in tents. 

I’ve been guiding for more than 15 years now and love every tour with a new passion. In the meantime I became a mother of two beautiful fairy daughters and I try to pass along and share all the knowledge that I have collected over the years. 

Croatia Guide Darija

Swift Water and Little Victories

I have also trained to become a mountain rescuer so in between my tours I volunteer in search and rescue from my station in Ogulin town, where I live. Being a part of the mountain rescue service is a great honor as we are also part of the Civil Protection of Croatia. To be able to be a part of it I had to finish several really demanding courses and it took a few years to accomplish. We train in caves, water, rock, mountains and in all sorts of terrain. I also have a Rescue3 license for rescue on swift water.

One of my great loves, besides mountains, is the sea, especially sea kayaking. I have my own beautiful kayak that I feel like an extension of my body and we go together to fly on the sea surface. I had also trained and gained an ACA (American Canoe Association) license so I could become a guide for sea kayaking.

I just love to be outdoors, love to explore and enjoy all the wonders that our Mother provided us with. Besides being outdoors I love to speak with people, get to know them, see what moves and motivates them. I like to push their limits just a little bit so that they can be proud and love all those little victories that one can accomplish if there is someone that believes in them and encourages them.

Now for the fun bit–we sent Darija a pop quiz and there are several surprises in here from opera singing to puppetry!

What’s your favourite place on earth?

It is hard to tell. I like the sea, mountains, lakes, rivers and feel touched on every corner of our beautiful Earth! But if I have to say one place I would say Velebit mountain, especially Paklenica National Park. That is the place where my soul feels at home and every time I am there I don’t  have the urge to go anywhere else.

What secret spot do you love to share with Wild Women?

The one mentioned above. Paklenica National Park and the trail that I first took when I became forever lost and enchanted with the mountains.

What’s the most incredible experience you have witnessed while guiding?

There are so many incredible experiences that I witnessed through the years that it is hard to point out one. I have seen beautiful dolphins play, breathtaking sunsets while kayaking and a double rainbow after rain over the waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes.

What’s your spirit animal?

Maybe it is a little overused, but I feel the wolf is my spirit animal. I like to be part of a pack, but also most of the energy I gather comes from wandering around as a lonely wolf through the forest.

What’s your greatest accomplishment? 

Again a hard question but the first that comes to my mind are my two little girls. Also one of the limits and fears that I broke. When I started my mountaineering I was afraid of heights. I was terrified and would be petrified, on every mountaintop, on every cliff, even on some of the balconies. But I decided that my fear wouldn’t stop me so I decided to fight it. And I won! Now I work as a height worker, washing windows from very high buildings, climbing…and enjoying every minute exposed to the heights!

What don’t we know about you?

I worked as an actress in puppet theater and I am also a very good singer. I sang in a few choirs, vocal ensembles and I also went to music school for opera singers.

What’s your biggest fear in the wild? 

I have encountered a lot of wild animals so I don’t have a fear of them. There is always a reasonable fear of bears with little cubs or poisonous snakes, but I cannot point out my biggest one.

What would you like to learn more about?

There are so many things to learn, books to read, places to visit. Everything is exciting and good to learn and know. I constantly learn new herbs and new remedies that I like to make. I would love to learn another language and would love to learn horseback riding.

What’s your favourite trail snack?

Always fresh fruit, but I also enjoy peanuts and some of the dried fruit, and a piece of dark chocolate.

What’s your favourite piece of gear?

I love my Leatherman. I find it quite useful to always have with me.

Who has been your greatest mentor?

There are a lot of people around me that I have learned from, from my grandmother to my mother.

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