The trip begins - off to Croatia!
Well, it took a lot longer to complete the caravan truck than I originally expected, but it finally came. Not having work for a long time, spending most of my time trying to get the truck together, and most of my money on it as well, I was quickly running out of cash, so my departure had to depend on finding some fellow travelers who could pitch in on gas.
And that turned out to be my brother and sister, who were living in Prague at that time and who were also planning their departure, my sister to New York and my brother to Argentina. So we decided they would kick off my travels with me, destination Croatia, before we would all split in our different directions around the globe. So split to Split we did. Seven days on the road, where they would fly back to Prague from Split, today.
The first leg was a long and gruelling one, pitching into a highway sticker so that we could barrel down to the middle of Hungary, lake Batalon, by the evening of the first day.
Running out of cash, I decided I would hasten things and moved out of my flat actually one month before my departure. I spent the last 30 days saying goodbye to close friends, driving out to their neighbourhoods to stumble drunk to my bed parked in a convenient location. The place I used to play squash at was kind enough to let me shower there for a few cents, or friends would be tolerant, or I would just be stinky, which became rather uncomfortable considering the humid spell which hit Prague during the last few weeks. I still did not get my windows installed on my back doors, so I learned to keep them locked but open the slightest, with the front windows slightly opened and the alarm system on, in the hopes of creating some slight draft and make the evening beareable. My solar panels were not installed yet either, so I spent many of my working days in the pub, charging all my batteries in the process. Checking my email in bed and doing basic computer work, I would wait until 8am when the stores and Baumax would open so that I could continue running errands and work on the truck in preparation for my departure.
So it was all rather hectic before leaving, managed to put together with my brother the solar panels and electrical system on the last day, and left with the truck mostly completed. The rest could be completed once on the road.
Before crossing into Slovakia, I remembered to call my voicemail to change my message, instructing everyone that I will no longer be picking up the phone, so communication by sms and email only, and entered Hungary feeling that my dreams have finally come true.
Now on day seven and by the beautiful beach in Croatia, I still feel that I may be on a vacation and that I will eventually head back to Prague to hit the 9 to 5, but this feeling will hopefully wear off over time and I will learn to adjust to my new lifestyle.
After all, this plan was seven years in the making, much longer than I hoped, and the constant delays the last two years (I had my first going away party almost a full year before actually departing) forced me to ignore the situation and just keep marching forward, practically losing hope that I may leave at all.
Arriving to the Croatian border and now officially leaving the EU, we sailed through without a problem and gave the big high five for accomplishing the big goal. But it turns out that the border control we just crossed was actually a Hungarian control of those departing from their country. Having thought we successfully entered Croatia, I removed the towel from the massive lcd panel on the dashboard showing our GPS coordinates on the map, and took my sandals off, as I usually like to drive.
I rolled past the Croatian border guards, who were all sitting in a row gabbing away, their legs dangling and swinging in a relaxed nature. I cruised slowly by not really knowing what they were doing there, when they hollered me to stop, a bit alarmed that I was actually thinking of continuing. I gestured that I thought the border crossing was back there. The main dude said, "What is this, a strip tease?", gesturing by tugging at his own shirt. I learned that it was illegal to drive without a shirt in Croatia. They wanted to see the inside of my truck, so I jumped outside to open it, forgetting about my sandals, and overheard the word "bos", meaning "barefoot" in Czech (the two languages are rather similar). I opened the side door and out fell an empty plastic bottle, which subsequently blew out of my reach as I ran after it without my shoes on. So the important border crossing of my big dream turned out to be a bit of a blunder, but the guards remained rather relaxed and wished me a pleasant journey.
My sister decided on some "shortcut", which took us on some rather rickety rackety road grazing the border of Bosnia. We made a wrong turn at some point and it turned out to be a long cut instead. After driving several hours along this pot holed dirt road at about 30km an hour, and just before getting next to the Bosnian border crossing where we made the wrong turn, we came upon a rather horrific looking bridge. We really wondered whether it would hold the four tons of Bobka and my sister and brother decided the last place they wanted to be was inside, so they both got out. I walked across and inspected the bridge, covered with broken wooden planks for the tires but with a warning to stay away from one particular weak point. I wasn’t about to turn around and go back the same way, so I decided to barrel it across and the piggie managed to fly over it without any major concern.
After our rather long and slow cut, we arrived quite late to the lakes, and couldn’t even find them. Turns out there is no road access to them, so we drove around for a while and decided to park (for free, again) by what we determined the next day to be a post office. The next day I walked around for half an hour trying to figure out where to go, and we headed back to an autocamp about 6 km before the lakes (by this point, my sister was rather adamant about getting a hot shower).
We drove into the camp but decided it wasn’t exciting enough for us. I told the reception we decided we didn’t want to stay there, but asked if it was okay if we could have a meal in their restaurant. They agreed, so we grabbed our backpacks, had a long shower for free, bought a couple of beers in the pub, stocked up on food from the camp’s grocery store, stocked up on free maps and pamphlets of Croatia from the tourist bureau, and had a nice cheap meal outside.
I studied a map of the lakes and decided I will try to drive as close as possible to the center of them and walk from there. We passed the turn off I wanted but after realising we were practically out of gas and remembering that gas stations can be few and far between in Croatia, we went on a long excursion in search of fuel. We completed a big loop, tanked up, and headed back to the lakes. Before getting to my turn off, we decided to take the standard tourist entrance and just get it over with, but were disappointed to learn that it was rather expensive. Will have to be more careful in the future.
The lakes were fantastic and deserve much more than the two hours we afforded it, and we were off to hit the coast. Crossed a big mountain range and finally landed on the water. Snaked along the shoreline till around 8pm, when we started hunting out an ideal camping spot.
Was warned many times that the police are rather watchful of people trying to park for free along the coast, so we decided to try an autocamp, and make sure Sonya had a warm shower.
It was a nice quaint place, small, and we shared it with a family visiting down from Poland. My selling point was the diving board into the ocean. Had a seafood meal in the local restaurant, a swim the next morning, and off it was again the next day. Now we could take smaller road trips and enjoy the beach more.
We decided to spend the next evening somewhere around Split.
Driving through Simberik, Sonya mentioned that it had a lot of historical sites on UNESCO, so decided we’d take a break from driving a bit and go for a walk around the town. We struggled to find some parking space until, pretty well in the very center of the tourist district and at a busy section, Bobka decided to stop running. I started it again, but it died right away, after which there was no power at all.
The alarm system was still working, but for some reason no power was entering the truck itself. Not even the blinkers were working, so I dug ferociously for ten minutes looking for the new red triangle while cars honked angrily all around us. The triangle settled them down a bit, so I spent the next few minutes frantically trying to figure out what was wrong. I took out my seat, grabbed my volt meter and tested the batteries under the driver’s chair. Opened the hood and started rattling with any wire I could find, but the piggie simply refused to budge. At a loss, I looked out the window to see a policeman staring a bit dumbfounded at me. I gestured my finger across my throat, yelled "Kaput" and then pointed to the beast.
He sauntered over and we agreed he would radio for a tow truck. The tow truck dude came, decided there was no chance in hell he was going to pull that thing on his vehicle, asked me what happened, and decided he was going to pull me by chain to a friend electrician of his.
Went through about four electricians/mechanics while he remained on his mobile calling for more, and each one of them went through the same procedures I did, with no success. The first one was convinced there was something wrong with the alternator, informing me that he had the same problem with his, an almost exact model as mine parked in the back. This would require getting a spare about 150km away. But he seemed like he didn’t know what he was talking about, and none of the other mechanics as well. The fourth one showed up, and instead of using the voltmeter to test the batteries, he used jumper cables to short the contacts and see how big the sparks were. Now I was really getting confident I was in able hands. Eventually he asked me to remove the cover over the engine inside the cabin/seating area. I did that and noticed that a small hose was loose. Turns out the fuel line fell out, and for some reason an electrical contact under the steering wheel came loose.
Okay, strange turn of fate I guess. Anyway, got it all patched up (they had to look at each other a bit when, after all their hard work, they had to wait for me to sms to my alarm before the ignition would work), paid about a hundred buck for the two of them (turns out the tow truck driver is a part time manager/translator – without which I would have been in a rather useless situation) and was finally on the road again, after I got a pat on my back when he said, "Now you can go to China and back".
Decided to bag Simberik and go straight to Split.
Stopped in a local market to buy fruits and beers, and ended up at our second autocamp. Muscled for a good spot with a view of the ocean and proceeded to set up the propane grill – our first cooked meal. One hour to set up the grill, outdoor torches and the works, and then another hour and a half tearing apart the beast looking for a small part which connects the propane tank to the grill. Eventually gave up on that and ate raw vegetables. A bit of a disappointment, but the next day I decided I will try the last place I did not look in – in the treasure chest under my bed. It was there indeed, but at least the search gave me an opportunity to run across a host of things I was looking for previously, and an opportunity to reorganise everything better.
Oh yah, we actually slept with the backdoors open here too. Got the torches up and running for the first time. Nothing like a mobile outdoor patio.
So that the chicken would not go bad, we fired up the grill afterall, and then headed out to our next location, the famous Baska Voda.
Picked up some fish and food from a local market along the way, and arrived at another beautiful beach.
Before that though we perused several autocamps and were not satisfied with any of them. They were all jam packed with trailers and none of them were by the water. Driving down to the water I noticed a sign "25Kn for 24 hour parking". Sounds good to me.
There was a no camping sign, but we weren’t really camping, were we? Sonya wanted to sleep under the open sky, so we decided to cook and sleep on the beach. I noticed a big set of keys by a car, so I threw them underneath, noticed the licence plates were from Ontario Canada, and approached people on the beach looking for the owners. Could not find them so I informed the bar on the beach that I had found some keys, in case anyone were to ask. They thought I was nice for doing that. Eventually the key owners came, thanked me, and bought us some beers.
We then started dragging the grill, 10L propane bomb and food preparations to the beach, when the bar people informed us it is "not ok" to have a fire like this (lit up our torches as last time), and that we should be careful.
So we had our three candles, two torches, big propane tank and small camping one for the rice (was running out of drinking water so used straight ocean water to boil it - perfect I must say) all lit up by the water, under a slight atmosphere of fear that we might get caught by the authorities. Meanwhile people and cars kept streaming by on the nearby roadway. Slept on the beach and woke up about seven in the morning, surprised to find it already rather populated, people all around us and a mob of cleaners approaching us.
We quickly packed up everything, hung around the beach for a while, and headed to our next destination: Bol – a place chosen by my sister because it apparently had the best beach in Croatia.
This required a ferry from Split, and a nice panoramic road to get to the other side of the island from Supetar . The beach was ok, but the autocamps were not so great, and none of them were by the ocean, which is a preferred must for me. Tried a restaurant camp, thinking I could park out front and use their facilities, but they were closed and under reconstruction, so the owner suggested what was later referred to as Blog’s best kept secret (and the manager did not want me to mention it, so a best kept secret it shall remain). It was not an autocamp either, so we parked out front, right in front of the beach.
In Supetar, we wanted to check out the town and get some fast food. Once off the ferry, I was heading towards a parking lot, but they directed us to continue, so we had to drive around a bit to get into the town. Ended up parking a bit ways up and having to walk down, but I must say that this town must have developed before ferries were able to ship cars over. The streets within them were so narrow they reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of southern Italy, where everyone gets around in small scooters. This was basically the same and I must say it was quite a challenge getting around.
After the Capcici, and yet another icecream (which was delicious everywhere and we were having it at least once a day), we tried to get out of town another way, but it was all dead ends and I was forced to turn around and get out the same way I got in, back tracking through all the narrow roads again. Anyway, Bol is essentially the same, and the day I was to take my brother and sister to the airport in Split, I found I could not back out from the beach/camp because some Hungarian parked his vehicle too far away from the wall. Even with the cars parked right against the wall, it was a tight squeeze indeed, without any room to turn around, and my brother and sister were forced to walk to the center, take a taxi to the other side of the island (over an hour with the slow beast) and get to the airport somehow themselves.
So now I am on my own, stuck in Blog’s best kept secret, parked right on the beach, and I’ve already arranged with some of the campers to have a jam session in the evening. After that I’m officially on my own and perhaps I’ll start feeling I’ve truly left Prague and finally launched my dream. We walked up and down the beach, and throughout the camp, asking everyone if they had Hungarian plates on a Renault, but no such luck. Hopefully I’ll be able to escape some time!
In any case, I enjoyed traveling with someone so much that I decided to start a cheap travel Europe tour guide!
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