Day 14: 02/04/19
Location: Omisalj, Croatia
Miles Driven: 106
Driving from one wild camping spot to another, Chris rolled down the window and cocked his head to the side. This is never a good sign. Window down and cocked head means that I must keep absolutely silent until Chris has decided whether or not the sound he thinks he heard is a problem. Natalie had been vibrating more than usual for a day or so. The vibrating was accompanied by an occasional high pitched squeak. As a result, we (Chris) knew something was not quite right, but were yet to work out what it was. He decided to pull over and re-grease the prop shaft joints. In my level of car-speak, this meant that he pulled out a green goo (think Slimer from Ghost-busters) ejecting gun, and laid under the car. He quickly came back out. This was not a problem that could be solved with goo. This was a problem that needed a new part for the car, and potentially a mechanic. Uh oh.
(For those that care for more specific details, Chris spotted that two of the bearings on one of the joints had worn out and failed. A new universal joint needed to be found, purchased, and fitted).
Luckily, we were still in the EU, which meant we could still use our mobile data for free. Even more luckily, we were 1.3 miles from a car parts shop, and seemed to have broken down in a town that had significantly more mechanics than bars, restaurants or campsites. As we drove to the shop, we tried to guess what our average break down rate would be – Croatia is country number 5 – a break down every 5 countries means roughly 5 break downs to go. More than manageable. We’d done just under 2000 miles in total – a break down every 2000 miles (out of our total 40,000+ miles), less manageable. Today is day 14 – a breakdown every 14 days – even worse.
Our third piece of luck for the day; the shop had the part we needed. Ever concerned about buying knock off parts that will do more damage than good, Chris questioned whether this specific joint was a good quality one. The answer: “It’s the only one” – well that answered that.
The next task was to see if anyone nearby could fix it. The man at the shop kindly phoned a few local mechanics, but none were free today. That left us in a bit of a pickle – we couldn’t really drive much further without damaging Natalie even more. If we needed to wait until tomorrow, then we needed to find somewhere to stay. We had intended to wild camp that night, and didn’t particularly want to pay for a campsite. Whether we wild camped or found a campsite, there wasn’t a lot of options within a few mile radius. Chris could make an attempt to fix it, but if he started and realised that he couldn’t do it, we wouldn’t be able to drive anywhere until it was fixed. We decided to have lunch.
After lunch, we drove to the nearest campsite. As with every single campsite we had so far passed in Croatia, it appeared abandoned and derelict. Opposite the campsite was a place that looked like it could be a mechanics. We walked over and gave it a go. Keeping up with stereotypical British standards, our language skills are virtually non-existent. Chris can attempt a few words in French, I can order a meal in German, neither of us know any Croatian. However a photo of a broken car has no language barriers. They understood our problem, but unfortunately they could not fix it. They recommended a Land Rover specialist, only a mile a way. It was worth a shot.
Another car place, another exchange of the photo, and another shake of a head from a mechanic – the Land Rover specialist could do it, but tomorrow, not today, and it would be €180 to fix. That made the decision for us – Chris was going to try and fix it. Wild camping being technically illegal in Croatia, we drove a few more miles down the road to a not very hidden location, hid Natalie as much as we could behind some trees, and hoped that the police didn’t spot/fine us. It was a tense 5 and a half hours waiting to see whether Chris was successful or not. I helped in every way I could – I read my book, handed tools over when asked to, gave the occasional nod of approval, delivered some supportive statements “you’re definitely making progress“, and I pointed out that it was getting dark.
11:30pm, still sat quietly in my chair, Chris finally looked up. He had done it. The joint was replaced, the drive shaft reinstalled, and Natalie was potentially fixed. “Do you know for sure that you’ve done it right?” I asked tentatively, “Nope” Chris replied, “We will find out in the morning when we drive“.