As the tiny propeller plane landed a little before midnight in Zadar, Croatia, I leapt out of my middle seat eager to deplane. My travel luck had finally run its course. I wasn't able to fly directly from Japan to Croatia for anything less than one thousand dollars so I had to fly to London and then onto Croatia. On top of that, I was forced to sit next to a crying baby and then upon switching seats drunken British bro's who wouldn't stop ordering shots and being rude the entire flight. However, as soon as I got off the plane my luck started to change. Because I was in Croatia for my first Global Summit with an amazing group called Sandbox.
Four years ago on a cold sprawling farmland, about 45 minutes south of Reykjavik is where I was first introduced to Sandbox. I was there because of Scott, one of my good friends and a member of Sandbox, was throwing a music festival called Saga Fest. The experience was magical despite battling frostbite, fires, and powerful thunderstorms with only a drafty tent to provide warmth and protection. I got a chance to listen to local Icelandic acts, have amazing conversations, and eat hamburgers made from beef farmed only 30 minutes away. The conversations was what really made the event special because I kept meeting people who were ready willing and able to have deep vulnerable conversations. Each individual struck me as being very driven, smart, authentic everything that I wanted to be but wasn't quite sure how to achieve. I woke up one morning in my tiny tent and I cried. Never did I think I would be in Iceland at a music festival hosted by a friend while I was attending Eastern High School in DC. Most of the people in attendance were apart of this community called Sandbox and I knew I had to join the local DC hub.
The Zadar airport was one of the tiniest that I had ever seen. Some of us were forced to stand outside because there wasn't enough room in the customs queue for everyone on the tiny propeller plane. A small group in front of me stood out from the party boys eager to continue drinking, the families preparing for their vacation, and the Croatians returning home. I wondered if they like me were heading to the summit. Before I could ask, one of them turned and asked me if I was in Sandbox. After a series of introductions we talked about our excitement for the upcoming event. They told me the Panama summit the previous year was amazing and that I was going to love every minute of my time in Croatia. Once we made it through customs these people that I had just met suggested that I stay with them in their Airbnb instead of waiting up all night for the AM bus to Sibenik.
We woke up the next morning and had some time before our bus. After realizing that Old Town Zadar was just down the street we decided to walk and take a look. A number of delectable pastry shops caught our eye as we walked and with no will to hold us back we dove in to taste some of these goodies. With paper bags full of flour, meat, and cheese we headed towards the Old Town. We stopped at the small bridge that connects downtown Zadar with the Old town and ate our breakfast. After we finished we walked across the bridge to get a closer look and were greeted with narrow streets and large squares. All the buildings had a similar dusty brown color and the bricks showed signs of age that gave the impression of charm rather than neglect.
The bus ride to Sibenik was quick but we got to see and learn so much about the Croatian coastline. Beautiful houses sat right on the water and tiny towns brimming with life zoomed past us as the bus brought us closer to our island adventure. Once we arrived in Sibenik we ate at an amazing little bistro called SHE which served local and vegan/vegetarian food options. I also got to try some Croatian craft beer which was so delicious. As more people started to gather I watched them great each other like family. Since I was so new I felt sort of isolated because I didn't have the same history with these people.
The boat which took us to the island of Obonjan barely fit all of us and our luggage, I had to move deftly around to capture pictures of the sea and islands as the boat piloted through them. The reunions and conversations continued and I knew I had to push myself. After everything I learned in Tokyo, I couldn't return to my old ways. I forced myself to talk to people and was greeted with such warmth and genuine curiosity, that were the hallmarks of this summit.
The island of Obonjan was paradise for the week and some change that I spent on it. I had no idea that Croatia was such a beautiful country. As people from all around the world gathered on this tiny island I wondered why the rest of the world couldn't be like this. Why couldn't we be radically open with one another and skip the small talk? In DC I was so used to these invisible barriers between people that stop real connections and conversations from taking place. To exist in a place where those barriers fell away made me never want to leave the island.
But sadly all good things must come to an end, and during the midnight dance party, I pulled my luggage aboard a tiny vessel. The music that once pulsed through my veins started to get fainter and fainter as we headed to shore until the only sound was the wind whipping around us. The tiny airport in Split was empty when the cab dropped us off. I had three flights ahead of me before I could rest comfortably in a bed but none of that mattered. I was still high from the retreat and all the magic that it contained.
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