Tonight marks night three here for me on Vis, and my fourth day wandering around the pleasant village of Komiza. The lighting storm turned to rain early this morning, which I thought would hinder my plans to take a boat out to Biševo Island to explore the mysterious blue cave.
Just five miles, or about a fifteen-minute speedboat ride from Komiza, the blue cave is one of the most popular excursions from this part of the island. There are more than a dozen tour operators lined on the bay or tucked into small storefronts all hawking blue cave and other excursions. As we are late in the tourist season, and with the voluminous downpour today, most operators canceled their trips. Though I manage to find one boat with a couple of seats available, so I blast out of Komiza and head to the cave.
The speedboat pulls into a small bay where I join the seven others on the boat and transfer to a small wooden skiff. Ten minutes later we round a rocky point on the south side of the island and join a short queue of wooden boats waiting to enter the cave. I barely notice it’s a cave from the outside; the entrance is just a few feet high and about the same wide. Everyone in the boat must duck for cover as it threads the needle opening of the cave.
As we paddle into the cave, the array of eerie blue colors reflecting on the water and illuminating the small cave is eerie. It’s as if I’m in a nightclub or grotto bathed in blue and indigo colored lights.
However, here small cracks in the wall and ceiling of the cause the weird blue lighting effect. Sunlight sneaking through those cracks reflects off the limestone floor of the cave, illuminating the shallow sea water and projecting the indigo and blue colors on the walls. It’s unearthly and mystical.
While there are other places to go on Bisevo Island, I opt to return to Komiza and prepare for my dinner excursion. Inspired to visit Vis by a friend I met a couple of years ago when I was touring, speaking, and signing books for the Travel & Adventure Shows. Corey planned to visit eastern Europe that summer. At the time, the possibility of meeting somewhere seemed plausible. We connected, thinking we might cross paths while I traveled overland from Iceland to Greece through some countries he planned to visit.
That year in August I received an urgent email from Corey. He had been trying to reserve a table at a restaurant on a remote Croatian Island. But the chef-owner has a policy of not seating solo diners. Would it be possible to meet him so we could dine together? After reviewing the map, miles, and the many countries I still had yet to travel, I had to pass. But I never forgot about it. Later Corey would tell me he could get a table and that the meal at Roki’s here was “the best I ever had.”
That’s a big claim. And an incredible reference. I shared Corey’s review with Rebecca, the woman from the UK I had met in Split the night before sailing here. She plans to dine there tomorrow night. I convinced Roki’s letting this solo diner join them for a lamb Peka tonight.
I have one problem: getting there. As good as Roki’s might be, I will not break two of the few self-imposed rules I adhere to while traveling. First, I don’t drink and ride my motorcycle. Roki’s Restaurant operates from a working winery of the same name about eight miles or thirty minutes from my place in Komiza.
I look forward to tasting their wine, and I’m sure the evening will wind down with a glass or two of rakija. So I’m not riding. Second, I don’t ride my motorcycle in the dark. The road to Roki’s twists and turns up the hills above Komiza and winds its way around the southern part of the island. Once again, I’m not riding. I must find a ride.
There’s one taxi, I’m told, in Komiza. He agrees to pick me up at 7:30 PM for my eight o’clock reservation.
People go to Roki’s for peka.
This is a Dalmatian specialty made by taking a melange of vegetables and proteins, usually fish, lamb, or beef, and drizzling with olive oil and mixing with potatoes, herbs, tomato paste and other tasty ingredients in a deep dish. Though the plate is a staple at many restaurants throughout Dalmatia, it’s a home-cooked traditional meal.
They cook the dish in a wood-fired oven. At homes in Dalmatia, they might cook it in a fireplace if there isn’t an outdoor oven—one specifically designed for peka dishes. Once prepared in the deep dish, they cover it with a domed lid. They cover the dish with embers and ashes from the fire. It takes several hours to bake a peka, so restaurants must have advanced notice to prepare.
I ordered mine three days ago when I made my reservation. Of the three choices, octopus, beef, or lamb, I chose the latter.
I pulled into Roki’s parking lot just as twilight fades to black. My taxi driver hands me his card but tells me that Roki’s will drive me back to my apartment after my meal. He shares this with me now after I paid some twenty or thirty euros for bringing me here. It turns out Roki’s would have picked me up, too. Oh well, live and learn.
There are two sets of buildings on the property. Below the parking lot is the winery, and I’m told an original and regulation-sized cricket court. Just fifty meters just off the parking lot is the restaurant, a broad tree-lined and shaded outdoor patio with many tables, a dining room, and administrative offices. Dramatic and festooned lights, albeit bright for my taste, adding to the ambiance is the cackle and hum of people laughing, talking and enjoying the Roki’s experience. The hostess seats me in the back of the patio outside the dining room which tonight is bare and free of any table and chairs.
I order a bottle of the Plaveč red wine and a mezze dish of sardines, olives
When my lamb peka arrives to my table, I’m taken back. I have to fish my fork through mounds of potatoes and a few vegetables to find any lamb. What I find is boney, flavorless and fatty. It seems to me that nobody paid any attention to preparing my dish; the forgotten solo diner, perhaps? Next, I focus on the wine I am drinking. This too seems off. The plavac mali red is one-dimensional, thin, and mediocre. The only thing on my table that seems inspired is the prosciutto-like ham from my appetizer plate. I grab a piece and throw it into my deep dish peka. Maybe that will add some flavor.
As I watch others pay their bills, I realize I am perhaps the last person seated. I wonder, will they still take me back to Komiza? The server assures me, I’m okay. She leaves to send other guests on a tour of the winery before shuttling them back to Vis.
While everything about the ambiance experience here at Roki’s is fantastic—except the food and wine, at this point, I do not know what this meal will cost me. They never handed me a menu, and I hesitated to ask. After all, according to Corey, this was the best meal he ever had.
While I relished in the blues of the blue cave earlier today,
Bamboozled, hoodwinked, and flimflammed, and to think I could have been dining on more tartar, fresh fish, and great wine seated seaside at Restaurant and Wine Bar Hum. Or, I could have ordered a peka from one of the konobas in Komiza. No, I don’t blame Corey. I blame myself. It was my decision.
I cork the bottle and catch the van back to town.
Tomorrow I head back to Split and onward north along the coast before heading to Zagreb, the capital. There are two ferries, one at 5:30 AM and the other at 3:30 PM. I hate getting up early, but I must catch the early ferry. The thought of firing up my motorcycle so early in that quaint town makes me feel uncomfortable. In Zagreb, I’ll have the resources to repack the exhaust, making it quieter for the duration of this adventure.
The driver drops me off at the top of the lane from my bike and apartment.
Before I escape under the covers, I try again and pour a glass of Roki’s wine. No change. I pour the rest down the sink.