We loaded up the Satnav with European maps in the naïve belief that it would be helpful. I am being unkind here, as it did, on occasion, get us where we needed to be. But you only remember the disasters, the times everything went unremarkably to plan fading into oblivion.
Let me backtrack slightly. European speed limits seem to be classified information. Maybe locals just know, but tourists? We had no idea. As a result we spent the year nervously speculating on our speed, trying to blend in with the traffic and avoid speed cameras.
Consequently, the soundtrack to our year was the incessant bonging of the Satnav, telling us we were exceeding the speed limit. The speed limit was at times wildly variable, and poor Satnav would just recalibrate when the limit would change, sending her into another bonging frenzy. This made speech virtually impossible inside the car, and after any period of silence, if you ventured to remark on something interesting, the bonging would commence, like a crazed librarian shushing giggling schoolkids.
Satnav has a free spirit, she would have been at home in the days of the explorers, exhibiting both bravado and a wild wanderlust. She treated the direct highway with the disdain it deserved, plucking increasingly bizarre and circuitous routes from the cloud, all in an effort to show us new and exciting, albeit potholed and muddy, routes. We started to believe that our Satnav hated us.
Here are some of Satnav’s finest moments….
The highway to from Tricase to Bari is an ugly, utilitarian piece of road, not a freeway, as there are intersecting streets, with small concrete islands on them, and heavily frequented by lorries. We noticed that most of these islands had young women perched in the middle of them. After we passed about 3-4 of this strange sight, Steve informed me that these were in fact, sex workers, sitting on milk crates in windy, cold, rubbish strewn traffic islands. I then took a little more notice (as I’m sure Steve had been giving them ample attention already), and periodically a caravan, or tin shed or, worse, a dodgy looking van, were positioned for the deed, after which the girl would walk back to her station. Geez, we all love a roadside stall, but this took the cake.
So, Satnav operational – we were navigating back off the main highway east towards Bari, when Satnav (we have another not so complimentary name for her at times like this) told us to take a U Turn, which would lead us to a ring road, to access Bari. We took said U turn, and she then instructed us to turn right. The road into which she had lead us quickly deteriorated into an unmade, and largely (but not completely) disused route. We proceeded with increasing trepidation. The girl stationed at the corner briefly had her day look up, only to see a Ford Fiesta, with two people screaming obscenities at their satnav and wildly gesticulating at each other. She realised about then, shrugged and it was back to the milk crate and her phone.
Meanwhile, the disused road deteriorated to a series of pot holes with stone walls and abandoned orchards either side. Men stood glaring at us within arm’s reach of the car. Further down the road we came to understand we were in Bari’s rustic version of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. It was sex worker central, complete with shacks, vans and dodgy blokes. We were now unable to turn around as the road had narrowed to the point of petering out, but it did not deter the two bloody massive trucks we met coming the other way. Steve persevered, thinking – optimistically (and as it turned out – correctly), that the road would eventually come out in the real world. And we emerged, unscathed if a little stressed and with a strange desire for a cigarette.
Satnav did some of her best work in Bosnia, starting with the descent into Mostar. You may recall that the main drawcard in Mostar is the reconstructed Ottoman bridge spanning the River Neretva. As is the case with many rivers, it is surrounded by steep valleys, upon which much of the town of Mostar is built.
Satnav directed us confidently to turn left to commence the descent. The road she chose was essentially a footpath accessing some homes running into a T intersection, which connected to the road we needed.
Satnav, being a machine, could not determine the Himalayan gradient, nor the width or lack of it. Having entered the – I am searching for an appropriate word here – let’s go with “alley” which was clearly meant for bicycles or possibly, at a pinch, a wheelbarrow, we were already on such an alarming angle, that Steve determined we should continue. We really didn’t have a choice as gravity had the car in its clutches at this point. We progressed, in the manner of a large cruise ship, within inches of startled people doing the dishes at their kitchen windows, until someone’s front steps prevented further progress.
Decisive action was called for. Despite the fact that it did not in any way help the situation, I felt it pertinent to point out that I had advised against taking this road. I have it on video. I distinctly said “we can’t go down here”. So there, just putting it on the record. An attempt at reversing up the was met with a hard “no” from the hire car. I was ejected from the vehicle at this point to lighten the load somewhat and our intrepid driver tried to get the car back up the hill. The clutch was not in favour of this decision and emitted clouds of smoke and a curious odour, but reluctantly climbed the hill in reverse. The summit and entrance to the track was eventually conquered, however I think we may have left a man (the clutch) behind. A wave of apology to the residents who were, by now, all watching from their front doors, coughing, and we were on our way. We imagined them sitting at the table in a few years, saying “do you remember that time those idiots tried to drive down here?”…
Bosnia into Dubrovnik
An early start from Mostar was planned, travelling back to Dubrovnik to return the hire car, which was still hanging in there clutch-wise. We decided to take the southern route and would enter Croatia slightly south of Dubrovnik, and backtrack toward it.
I can hear you thinking “why didn’t they set the Sat Nav to main roads only” and the answer is, yes – good idea, and precisely what we had done. Satnav ignored it as she obviously felt she knew better, and could take us via a more interesting route.
Fun Fact – Croatia has a long coastline, but it is broken by a small area belonging to Bosnia. So, if driving, as we did two days ago, from Dubrovnik to Mostar, one must leave Croatia, enter Bosnia, leave Bosnia, enter Croatia and then leave Croatia and enter Bosnia once more. We had done this dance the day before yesterday and whilst our bog standard Australian passports are of little interest to anyone (and don’t think I am eternally thankful for that), we felt that we would rather have one border crossing and steered Satnav on a route that would take us slightly to the east of Dubrovnik and then descend into Croatia from Bosnia.
We drove through a spectacular mountain range, and alongside a wonderful valley, full of agriculture, which was beautiful. Cows and sheep and occasionally a dog meandered onto the road. Satnav slipped up for the first time sending us down a picturesque but unmade road directly through the orchards, which we called her on pretty much straight away. We gave her a talking to and recalibrated to stay on a road with an “M” on it, but she, in a fit of pique sent us prematurely to a construction site, much to the amusement of the road crew.
By this stage we had been alone on the road for at least an hour, which was somewhat concerning, however we managed to catch an elderly man in a Fiat who enjoyed the perennially entertaining game of speeding up to prevent us overtaking, and then slowing down where overtaking was impossible. We finally met the border crossing, high in the mountains above Dubrovnik, left Bosnia for the last time – and to my regret, no stamp on the passport…entering Croatia once more and heading to our car hire drop off point amazingly on schedule.
I am choosing to forgive and forget all the times Satnav directed us to leave a roundabout on a nonexistent exit, directed us many miles out of our way to a derelict industrial area rather than our Airbnb in rural Hungary (this may have involved a degree of operator error), or took up all the charging power in the car, leaving the phones to fend for themselves.
Mobile phones were pressed into supplementary service, as the bridge of trust between our Satnav and us had burned to the ground. We continue to work on our relationship. At times I swear I can detect a smug tone in Satnav’s dulcet tones.
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