Position: 37° 57′ 56″ N, 23° 43′ 46″ E. Athens.
Distance from Sydney: 15,448 km
One of my favourite quotes (which I remind Andres of often, mostly when something is going wrong) is “If everything went exactly as planned, where would the adventure be”. I like this quote as it presents a nice attitude to the unexpected. As we travelled this week, this phrase came up a few times, and our ability to handle the ‘unexpected’ was tested, albeit gently.
The week started in Croatia. Having made it across the border, we headed south into this coast-hugging country. Coast-hugging in both senses of the word – the culture of the sea was clear in every village we passed through, every bay we passed. Summer evenings saw families and tourists filling the outdoor cafes and restaurants overlooking the boat filled bays, kids playing and yelling in the water. As we drove along the winding coastline we would stop and swim to cool down and refresh, amazed by the crystal clear water and perfect temperature. Seafood packed the menus, and gelato bars on every corner made it seem perfectly acceptable to eat multiple times a day (well to me, anyway. 70 cents a scoop!! what a deal, crime not to really).
We headed south for Split, camping overnight on the waterfront in a small village along the way. Summer in the Mediterranean is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand we could dive into the water right from Magda’s open boot (trunk). On the other, we’d hit the heat…and that night we sweated in the warmth. Yes, yes, Andres is Mexican, I’m Australian, if any two guys are supposed to be able to handle heat it’s us. So call us soft, but until that night time temperature is back away from the mid/high 20s, I’m not going near that damn roof tent.
We jumped on a ferry from Split to Dubrovnik, spending a day cruising through the islands of Croatia, taking a break from the driving. The cities, particular Dubrovnik, were spectacular. But it has to be said: Croatian customer service is about as pleasant as as appendicitis. Questions are never asked, everything is an exclamation. A typical cafe/restaurant waiter interaction would go like this (and these are our real interactions, not made up…):
Us: Um, hi, we would like to order please.
Server: What! (This would be barked out, like an army sergeant)
Us: Er, we would like to order food.
Server: I see. Ok. (pulls out pad and looks annoyed).
Us: Ok, well we would like X and also Y.
Us: (Pointing) Um, this one, and that one, if it’s possible.
Server: (Shrugs) You want coffee or tea!
Us: Well, actually could we have orange juice?
Server: (Rolls eyes) Yes with Orange juice already. Coffee or tea!
Us: One coffee, one tea?
Us: It doesn’t matter, just orange juice?
Server: (Points at menu) Coffee! Tea!
Us: I’ll have a coffee, he’ll have a tea.
Server: (Grunts, wanders off)
The regularity of this type of interaction was so consistent, from information booths to cafes to hotels, and so jarring from any other country, that we couldn’t help but start to laugh every time we experienced it. You almost needed a distress flare to get the attention from your table, and when you did get the attention you almost regretted getting it. However it has to be said that the positives far outweigh the (minor) negatives – and I definitely want to spend more time in the islands of Croatia.
Meanwhile logistical challenges were brewing. In Split, we realised that we wouldn’t be able to pass through Albania, as Andres needed a visa granted in advance, and he didn’t have it. Quite how this one slipped through the cracks I’m not sure. And I may have shared my thoughts on the matter with Andres that evening in a fairly concise way…. But what was done was done, and we needed to work out how we would continue south…
Our choices were a lengthy deviation away from the coast around Albania to the east, or to bypass it by sea, jumping the ferries from Dubrovnik to Bari, Italy, and then jumping another ferry from Brindisi to Patras (Greece). This second option appealed to us by avoiding a bunch of green card insurances for multiple countries, and sleeping overnight while we progressed (though I still feel like this is cheating a little, but whatever). 12 hours in Italy allowed us to check out the walled cities of Bari and Lecce, which Lonely Planet described as an “orgy of Baroque architecture”. Quite frankly however, a temperature of 36° celsius meant it was too hot for anything, let alone an orgy.
Magda was starting to feel the heat as well. Since picking her up in the UK, the battery had been a niggling problem. I suspected that 3 months at sea from Sydney had caused the battery, which was still original from manufacture 4 years ago, to run down and deteriorate. However in a typical Australian “she’ll be right” approach, I’d waited to see, rather than fix. A surprise dead battery in Italy previously had been saved with the use of jumper leads. In Brindisi, I noticed she seemed turn over a little slower than usual. When batteries give up the ghost, they give it up quickly it seems….
Once again, it was 5pm, Friday afternoon (2 weeks in a row we find ourselves in the wrong situation at the wrong time). We had just got our boarding passes for the Italy-Greece ferry, which was due to depart in 2 hours. We jumped into the car, turned the key…..and nothing. The battery was dead. I have a spare battery pack for jump-starting, but it wasn’t sufficiently charged to start Magda… Getting uneasy, I pulled out the jumper leads, and cast around the car park with desperate eyes for a jump start. As usual, everything was small Euro hatches, and we hooked Magda up to one, but it appeared that it didn’t have enough current to get Magda’s larger diesel turning over. We left it connected to Magda while I dazzled the owner with my French “Mon batterie est malade!” He probably thought I was the sick one after listening to me for 2 minutes.
But it was just long enough to charge Magda enough to get started! She turned over slowly and came to life, I cheered, and once again at the last minute we were back in action. Into the queue for the boat, and our saviours looked less than thrilled to see us parked next to them on the deck of the ship. We smiled our best “thank you” smiles to earn credits for the inevitable dead battery event that would be waiting for us the next morning.
But we were on the boat, sick battery and all, and heading for Greece. It wasn’t quite how we’d planned on getting there, but that didn’t matter. Because if everything went exactly as planned, where would the adventure be?