Of Grasshoppers & Water: Croatian Couple Off to Uganda to Dig Wells

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Could this be the Croatian car rental story of the year?

She: a young student working for a car rental company part-time.

He: an internationally famous young chef with working experience in a Michelin 3-star restaurant, as well as being listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the 30 most influential people under 30

The car: just a regular Suzuki. 


Nobody will ever know what happened in the car park on that fateful day, but a few days later Matea found herself in a new role, playing hostess at a 5-star luxury dinner in western Zagreb, which was raising money to dig wells in rural Uganda. 

It was one of the finest meals I have ever had, prepared by Zagreb’s only Michelin Star chef, Bruno Vokal of Noel, and the man renting the Suzuki, Mario Mandaric. Read more in Michelin Starry Nights in Dubrava as Vokal, Mandaric Cook for Uganda.

The couple had become close very quickly, and Mario invited Matea to join him on his winter project in rural Uganda, to build wells with the non-profit organisation, Water Help Uganda.  

There was just one problem – Matea was terrified of grasshoppers. 



That fear did not subside when Mario showed her photos of where they were going. Apparently, now is peak season for grasshoppers. 

How to go on this incredible and worthy journey to dig wells, while also overcoming her fear of grasshoppers?

Mario is known as a very resourceful chef, who made his name fighting food waste in the restaurant industry. He is a very capablee young man, and he came up with a rather ingenious way to help his new girl tackle her fear.  


Meet Flipper. 

African grasshoppers are hard to find in Zagreb in late November, but Mario always finds a solution to the problem, and this was to be no exception. He wanted his girl to go to Uganda, and if he had to help her overcome her fear of grasshoppers in order to make that happen, then so be it. 

And I have to say, didn’t Matea do well?

Matea and Flipper became best buddies almost (ok, maybe not almost) instantly. 


I caught up with the young couple earlier today ahead of their departure tomorrow, and I was there as their negative PCR tests came in. 

The journey is about to begin, one which TCN will be reporting on in the next few months. Mario has kindly agreed to become the first ambassador for our new CROMADS project, which launches next month, and we brainstormed a little during our meeting. Stay tuned, for what we came up with is quite exceptional. 


The couple will be gone until January, when Mario will start work on a very cool project in Zagreb, on which we have already published a teaser: Local Knowledge with a Foreign Eye: When Gourmet Visions Collide


It promises to be quite a change of scene for the couple, but their Ugandan hosts are very excited about their arrival.


You can follow their progress on the Water Help Uganda Facebook page

TCN is proud that our first CROMADS ambassador is off on such a worthy journey, and we will be reporting on both the progress of the well construction project, as well as Matea’s ongoing love affair with grasshoppers. 

And I leave you with some photos of the project and what awaits. So next time you rent a car in Croatia, who knows where it could end… 






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