Parking Lots and Battery Problems

17 August 2011

NOTE to Readers: We apologize for the long delay. Keep reading and checking the blog, we promise to be more timely in our updates!

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We crossed into Montenegro in the early evening, in awe of the well paved roads and the greenery in every direction.

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The road that took us away from the Albanian border led into a hidden paradise of green grassy fields and farmland, tucked into a valley cloistered by little hills and lush patches of forest. The sun was hanging low in the sky, sending slanted, yellow light across the road and illuminating the dense foliage all around us.

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We spent the first hour rolling over turning roads that popped up and down over the hills, until we were shot out against the coastline and could see what makes Montengro a destination spot for vacationing Europeans. By the time the cliffs overlooking the ocean appeared, the sun’s light had gone from bright yellow to soft orangey red. But the dwindling light reminded us of our current combi ailment. For some reason the battery wasn’t charging as we drove (indicated by an orange light on the dash which had no label on it but we finally had discovered indicated “electrical problems”). That meant that we wouldn’t have much umph to our headlights and wouldn’t be able to continue very far once it was dark.

We had it in our heads that Bar, Montenegro was the best spot along the southern coastline and thus would be the place we would stay, but when we saw the city emerge from behind a jutting section of shoreline, we changed our minds. It was a mass of white buildings and grid-like roads smothering the coast, like vacation land gone wild. Having driven through five countries without a single touristic experience, we shuttered and both shook our heads at the idea of over-nighting in Bar. But we wondered nervously how far would our lights take us past this tourist haven. Where could we sleep if we didn’t fully make it out of the city? And if we did make it out, was this a safe country to park and pitch a tent anywhere?

The light outside was disappearing into grey dusk. We found our way through the city streets by way of the most direct road north and when the white boxy buildings gave way to patches of beachside forest, we breathed a sigh of relief, but by that time our headlights were dim little globes of orange light. Having taken their cue from the sun, they were setting slowly over the horizon of the road’s surface. Aurel leaned forward and opened his section of windshield (the 60’s Combi’s signiture feature) so he could see without glare.

The woods to our left that separated the shoreline from the road seemed like an iffy place to camp. At regular spots along their edge cars were parked haphazardly and happy tourists were partaking in hidden activities, sheltered by the thick trees. We wondered about the culture, was it just families enjoying the end of the day? Would it be safe to leave the Combi parked and find a spot to pitch our tent in the woods. We loathed the job of rearranging the back of the bus and moving all the many large objects to the front seat in order to make enough room for the two of us to lie down lengthwise on the platform that was supposed to be our bed. The tent was light and easy and made for cool, comfortable sleeping nights. The over packed bus like sleeping inside an over heated cocoon. But something about the whole area was giving Aurel a creepy feeling. The addition of tourism and vacationing visitors was obscuring our ability to properly gauge this place. We couldn’t read this city or the whole country for that matter, as we had all the other countries so far along our way. It seemed distant and cold and we felt removed from the real soul of the place.

Bar isn’t a huge city, and it’s far less imposing than other cities we’d been through like Thessaloniki or Istanbul. But it was our inability to tell who was local and who was a vacationing visitor that made us uneasy. It was like the veins of the city pulsed with tourism rather than blood and it ran as thin as water through the streets.

Night didn’t help the matter. And finally, after we argued about what to do while parked next to the woods, knowing that we couldn’t go any farther out of the lights of the city, we decided to head back down toward Bar. It seemed safer to be in a parking lot than along the fringe of the wooded beach. We huffed and grumbled at each other about what the other one should have done that would have allowed us to avoid this situation. We were hungry, tired and disenchanted. It was becoming clear as we rebounded from our high of crossing over into a well developed country after three days in Albania: good roads were not everything.

Back down at the edge of town there was a lot activity along the narrow street. A large white church was lit up with strong bright spot lights from below, making it glow in the darkness. We slowed down as we realized that the street in front of the church was pulsing with people. Aurel cut the engine when we saw the line up of cars clogging the street. We were focused so hard on the commotion that we didn’t notice the police car which had been coming from the opposite direction pulled up beside the bus. The policeman in the driver’s seat said something we didn’t understand. Aurel replied in English and then the police man made an unmistakable gesture indicating that we should turn on our lights.

Aurel went to start the engine, but we didn’t even have enough battery power to turn the starter. We both sighed with frustration. Aurel opened his door and jumped out of the bus. By pushing on the frame of the car with the driver’s door wide open he was able to maneuver the bus off the road and into a near by parking lot. Travel was clearly over for the day.

Bickering and cranky blame gaming came next. Molly was convinced all along that we should have stopped at some point to switch the battery that we had hooked up to our solar panel for the car battery so that we wouldn’t be stranded with no lights. Aurel was convinced that we should have decided to choose our sleeping spot before we hit Bar, back when the world seemed green and lush and open. Grumble, grumble grumble.

Aurel jumped out and defiantly decided to switch the batteries on the spot to prove that it made no difference. Molly wondered if her stomach would cave in on itself or just explode. She sat on the curb in the parking lot and watched the crowd of people.

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Everyone was gathering outside the church for some reason that was unclear, then suddenly the first note of music struck the air and a giant religious parade appeared. It was a procession of people of all ages, dressed in robes and dated dresses, holding hands and singing.

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The mood was so incredibly opposite of what we were feeling that we both began to laugh. What the heck were we doing here?

Once the battery was in, we had resigned ourselves to the fact that we were going to be sleeping in a parking lot so we found a semiprivate parking space and started to move things from back to front to make room to squeeze ourselves into our little cocoon.

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