Teetering on the Edge by Robyn Boswell
By the time we reached Dubrovnik our bus had already broken down a few times, but after all we were on a budget camping trip. The camping ground we were supposed to stay in was closed for some unknown reason, but apparently that was no surprise, so we ended up a little way past Dubrovnik in a gorgeous camp right on the edge of the Adriatic Sea. We spent a day wandering the magnificent, ancient walls of Dubrovnik, blissfully unaware of how they would be battered and shattered in the yet to come war.
After a couple of day’s break swimming in the warm sea and generally taking a breather, we had the tents down and loaded early, ready to enjoy the majesty of the coast road to Split, supposedly one of the most beautiful drives in the world. We settled in for a long day with ‘The Horse with No Name’ blasting away on the bus’s speakers. Our courier, Bill, always played it when we had an early start and I can never hear that song without being carried back to the carefree days of our European wanderings. We wound our way along the narrow road, which was carved out of the steep coastal hillside. Those of us on the left looked way down to the clear blue depths of the ocean. Quite disconcerting if you didn’t like heights!
Not far into the journey, we were about to tackle a sharp a right-hand bend when there was a sudden jerk as the bus kept going straight ahead, then ground to a halt. There was dead silence as we all looked at each other and even our driver, Tony, sat stone-still for a few moments. The steering rod had broken, giving him no control, but fortunately his skill had saved us from an almost inevitable fate. There we were, stuck half-way across a busy road with very little between us and the cliffs plunging down to the sea. We clambered off the bus and it was then we realised just how lucky we were. The very front of the bus was overhanging the cliff. Another few seconds and we would have tumbled to our doom. With so little room to shelter, we ended up sitting on the side of the road with our feet on the edge of the cliff whilst seemingly maniacal drivers sped past.
Fearing for our lives, some of our group unloaded and unfurled their red sleeping bags and went round both sides of the corner to wave them to warn oncoming traffic. That tactic was only moderately successful. One driver pulled a knife on them, others saw it as an opportunity to speed up and show their machismo. Meantime, the rest of us teetered on the edge, much like the bus.
Tony and Bill managed to hitchhike back to the camp and borrow another bus to rescue us and we ended up back in the beautiful camp by the ocean, while they had to deal with the nightmare of saving a crippled bus on a crowded road with mad drivers.
There wasn’t a lot we could do over the next few days, but enjoy basking in the sun, drinking cheap booze in the camp bar and swimming in the crystal clear ocean. We dived off the low cliffs and climbed back up ladders embedded in the rocks, taking care not to impale ourselves on the nasty spikes of the sea urchins clinging to the rocks just below the surface. Some people found out just how painful that could be.
We were party to at least some of the panic going on behind the scenes. They were going to buy a bus; it was high season in Europe; there were no buses; they hired a bus from Munich; the bus got just out of Munich and the motor blew up. Some of our group found this too much to take. At a camp meeting strong opinions were aired and tempers frayed. Some people decided to hitch-hike north and meet us in Vienna. We wondered if we’d ever see them again. My friends and I were happy to hang around until something happened. The famous New Zealand saying “She’ll be right, mate”, was our mantra.
Eventually a mechanic and his girlfriend were dispatched in a van from England with the necessary spare parts. They drove non-stop for three days and three nights and at 3.00 one afternoon we were finally given the order to break camp as we’d be going non-stop to Vienna, more than 1000kms away.
Unfortunately for Helen and I we’d been rostered on cooking duty that night and there wasn’t going to be anywhere to stop to buy a meal. We got supplies in a small village – all we could find were canned frankfurters and beans and a few veggies. We probably bought several year’s supply; it must have been very puzzling to the shopkeepers. At dusk we pulled off the side of the road in the stunning mountains, unloaded the gascookers and scrambled together a not very popular frankfurter stew.
So much for the magnificent views we had been promised. We traversed the whole coast in the middle of the night, waking in the morning for breakfast at a roadside service centre that could have been anywhere. Apart from necessary comfort stops – sometimes we had to perch under trees in the forest – and the border, we were driven on and on, swapping drivers from time to time, until finally, late in the afternoon we pulled into our camp in Vienna. To our surprise all of the hitch-hikers were waiting for us and they certainly had their own tales of adventure to share.
I’d like to say that that was the end of the troubles with the bus, but unfortunately it was to dog us all the way back to England. The vision of 48 people pushing a bus from Germany to Liechtenstein is one I will never forget!