Our 16-hour marathon
Now that you have read the most important piece of advice that we have for you it’s time to tell our story and see what you think about the whole situation that we got involved in.
We were driving from Poland to Athens as the culture has always fascinated us, and it was the winter so the weather wasn’t going to be too bad, either!
We had reached Dubrovnik the night before after managing to escape bribing a border guard between Bosnia and Croatia due to us not realising that it is impossible to drive from the “main” part of Croatia to Dubrovnik without crossing a border.
This was going to be our longest day, mainly because we just didn’t have the time on our itinerary to be able to go and see what the countries we were going to pass through had to offer (although thankfully we have been back since and were able to see that they are incredibly beautiful!)
As you can see, the route was only supposed to take 9 h 30 min, however we had planned for it to take around 12 once you count the border crossings and the toilet and food breaks etc. So this was going to be an incredibly long day by choice, and that may be another important factor when it comes to driving long distances / awkward holiday situations / life. If you choose to face a problem, rather than have it thrust upon you then you will always feel like you are in control.
Despite the rather unusual situation in Montenegro (picture above right), we managed to reach Albania so quickly that now our SatNav reckoned that we would be at our destination only 9 hours after leaving. This was fantastic for us as it meant that we could finally have a relaxing evening with some wine, and finally be in Greece – our country of destination and the one that we were looking forward to the most.
Enter Albania. The border crossing was perfectly smooth, paying the 5o euro for a green card at the border was also incredibly smooth and we were through in about 5 minutes. Although I have to admit that my heart was racing slightly when I saw that the green card office was quite literally a wooden hut that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a shanty town.
The motorways to my surprise weren’t all that bad, they weren’t good and there were people standing at the side of them selling rabbits and horses running up and down them, but honestly it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. Although I’m not sure what that say about my expectations.
The real problem came when we got about half-way through Albania.
We were following the sat-nav quite capably, but it was taking us down a road that didn’t actually get to Ioannina.
We kept following the sat-nav and got to a quite big city on our red-route (see map opposite) and suddenly we were at the bottom of a hill that wasn’t paved at all – it was just gravel and dirt and had huge holes it – the kind that would burst your tyres and I’m not joking. I remember being on safari in Tanzania being driven everywhere in a 4×4 and the roads having smaller holes in than this road.
Very slowly and carefully we made our way up this hill, which in the end turned out to be around 10km long in the pitch black. We were certain that once we got to the top of this hill we would re-join a main road and then be out of there in no time.
30 minutes pass, still upwards we go. An hour has past and we’ve finally arrived at the top of the hill to be greeted with gravel and pot holes as far as the eye can see. We were completely and utterly in the middle of nowhere and without a clue.
Did we think to ourselves “I knew this was the wrong road” – of course. Did we think to oursevles “I knew I should have bought new maps” of course. Did we want to be there? Of course not. Are they helpful thoughts? No.
We knew that it was going to be another hour, more or less, to drive slowly back down this hill in pitch black and at any time one of our tyres could burst. And I don’t mean something like, we could go and 50kmh and slow down every now and again, I mean we were driving at a maximum of around 5kmh and going side-to-side for the WHOLE hour. If anything had gone wrong on that hill then we were faced with having to leave the car behind or wait for someone to come – and that didn’t look very likely. Phone reception? Nope.
Looking back at this we were really in quite a lot of trouble in trip standards – I never feared for our lives or anything silly like that, but personal safety is definitely a consideration when you get stuck somewhere like that. So, what did we do? Hole by hole. No further, no shorter. Deal with what’s in front of you, there is no point in blowing the situation up into something it’s not. The other fun thing about this particular place was that there were no safety rails either, but that really wasn’t something we thought about until later.
Eventually, we make it to the bottom of the hill and get to breath a sigh of relief. To be perfectly honest with you we were crying slightly. It’s not about trying to be a complete bad ass, it’s just about getting through it without breaking down and without putting yourself in any more danger. Once you’re out of trouble then you can have all the emotions that you want, but while you have a situation to deal with you MUST put anything else out of your mind and go pot hole by pot hole.
I’m sure at this point in time you must be thinking but you could have just pulled to the side of the road and waited until the morning for someone to come and get you and it would have been fine – nothing too bad would have happened to you. That is just the luxury of having not been in a situation like this.
When we got to the bottom of that hill we had been driving for 10h 30 minutes. Now the endurance driving really began – not only had we got through that but we now had to find an alternate way to our destination. The SatNav wasn’t cooperating at all…It was late on a Saturday night, there were no street lights and there was no one around….