My Travels in Croatia
by Marius Hibbard
In the year 2000 I accompanied the Vela Luka folk dance group and orchestra from Anacortes to Croatia on tour as their photographer. We spent 17 days traveling around the country and giving performances. During this tour I was enchanted by the people, the place, and it’s history. I have been back many times.
My traveling companion on this trip was Maria Petrish who is the leader of the Vela Luka Dance Ensemble. She is Croatian and a former native of Vela Luka whose family was forced to flee at the height of WWII. They spent the next 5 years being shuttled from one refugee camp to another in Italy then South America. The dance had it’s beginning in these camps. Her mother and 2 sisters started performing traditional Croatian folk dances to entertain the camp guards.
On reaching the U.S.A they settled in Anacortes WA, where Maria’s grand-mother lived. At the time there was a sizable Croatian population here. They continued their folk dancing traditions and expanded the troup to include an orchestra and started touring. Their performances gained them many accolades and respect for sticking strictly to traditional Croatian folkways and for the professionalism of their performances. By doing this they helped keep their ethnic heritage alive here at home in Anacortes.
One of the reasons for this trip in 2018 was to make arrangements for the next tour of the dancers. They have not toured Croatia since 2000. We met with a booking agent in Zagreb and spent 2 days planning the next tour which will be in September, 2019.
After that chore was done we spent the next week traveling around and getting reacquainted with many friends and relatives (Maria has not been been back to Croatia in 17 years). I also got a chance to take a few pictures.
I truly love to travel around Croatia and take pictures. The photos in the Croatian Travels exhibit at the Croatian Cultural Center (Friday, June 1st, 6-9pm) capture what I have been blessed to see as Maria and I traveled about the country — especially the churches. The churches in Croatia are beautiful, old, and full of history. They are a photographers delight. Religion is a big part of Croatian culture and you won’t travel very far without reminders of this. The old city in Dubrovnik has 49 separate churches. There are also countless shrines, chapels, and crosses everywhere you go. Even the roadside markers showing where a person died in a car accident are made out of carved stone or marble, not plastic or wood as you see here in America.
If you are an artist, I highly recommend Croatia as a place for your camera and your soul to find pictures that matter.