Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Lada Legend: The Colonel Goes West - Part Twelve

The drive along the Dalmatian coast has to be one of the most picturesque in the world. And thanks to a new freeway that runs inland all the way to Zagreb, you encounter significantly fewer cars. We were lucky to have perfect weather as we skirted the Adriatic, passing small, tile-roofed hamlets. At one point we stopped to take the iconic Lada photo: the three us, next to the car, proving to the world that we made it to the Adriatic Sea.

Our destination on this day was Kastela Stari just outside Split. The next day we'd drive it to downtown Split and then figure out what to do with the Colonel. We had some options:

1. Viking Funeral - put it on a ferry, light the Colonel on fire, scream, and then attempt to push the car off the ferry into the water as a way of saving the ferry from disaster.

2. Drive it off a cliff - pretty self-explanatory, but the key here is that we could video tape it and use it as a great finish to a Lada thriller.

3. Beach send-off - drive it onto the big beach that was used to accommodate the Pope's visit, take tons of pictures, and then just walk away.

4. Leave it on the island - put it on the ferry to the island of Hvar, find a field, park, write a note saying that the car runs well and someone should take it, leave the key, and walk away.

As fun as the first two would have been, the environmentally-concious part of us just couldn't justify the pollution. Number three was attractive, however we figured there might be too many people around. The last option was ideal because it would give us a chance to drive around the island of Hvar and find an adequate resting place for the ol' boy.

They say the best laid plans often go awry. We were all set to go early the next morning except for one small problem: the car wouldn't start. Bump starting didn't work either. There we were pushing the car up and down a narrow street. Everytime a car needed to get by, we'd push the Colonel off to the side, let the car pass, and then push it back out onto the street. We tried this for a while, but all our efforts proved futile. Perhaps it was the Colonel telling us that island desertion was not something he had in mind.

Ok, time for a new plan. Take the license plates and any other identification marks off the car and just walk away. It was perfect until we realized we didn't have a wrench small enough to remove the plates. So off we went looking for the proper wrench. It took a while, but we eventually found one. Back at the car, we removed what we needed, said our silent goodbyes, and then walked off. In many ways it was a fitting end to a car that had treated us so well.

That concludes the story of how we got the Colonel 4000km from Baku to Split, Croatia. The next and final edition of "The Lada Legend" will be an ode to our car and everyone that helped make it what it was.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Lada Legend: The Colonel Goes West - Part Eleven

Morning in Sarajevo. The Colonel had spent the previous day attending a film festival and was not interested in getting an early start. It was Rize, Turkey all over again, except this time there was no one around to help. We were on our own.

The car was parallel-parked on a sidewalk with about ten feet on either side to work with. To get it bump started, we needed to push it up close to the car in front and hope that we could generate enough speed over the twenty feet. The road wasn't an option because it was narrow and was pretty busy.

With Amy at the helm and Sarah and I pushing, we managed to get it started on the 3rd try. All those times we watched as somone else bump started our car had finally paid off. It was a triumphant moment in our days with the Colonel.

Our first stop of the day was at a restaurant just outside Jablonica. What was so special about this place was that it had nine, count them, nine lambs roasting on spits at any given time. Beautiful, delicious meat turning slowly in circles tended to by a single meat poet. We couldn't wait to dig in once the kilo of lamb arrived at our table.

Next up was the Bosnian-Croatian border--our last frontier. The drive through Bosnia was gorgeous. At one point we encountered some serious rain while driving through a gorge. So serious that we had to pull over because the windshield wipers weren't fast enough. Earlier that day, the driver-side window became stuck in the permanently open position. Not so good in a rain storm, especially while parked on the side of the highway.

At the border, Bosnia let us out without any problems. The Croatians weren't nearly as friendly at first. After taking our passports and documents, we got a, "Please pull over to the side, sir." When I got out to go see what was going on, the woman snapped, "Please go back to your car, sir." Okay, then.

Eventually, a male border official approached and asked us where we were going. He then said we needed insurance before we could cross. So over to the insurance place I went. It was a quick process, but once again American Dollars was a seemingly unknown currency in these parts. We got our insurance, but I'm pretty sure it cost us more than the stated amount in Croatian Kuna. In addition, the seller wrote "Renault" as the make of our car. What an insult to the Colonel! (the border guards made me go back to the guy to get it changed)

Once I had the insurance document, the people in the customs booth were much more friendly. I asked the all-important question: Can I leave Croatia without the car? "Yes," was the reply. Success! One of the women handed me back our passports and I went back to the car. Sarah just happened to double-check that we got stamps and noticed we had not. Good thing. I took the passports back for the three stamps and we were officially in Croatia. The only thing that could stop us from completing our journey was some sort of paralyzing mechanical failure.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Lada Legend: The Colonel Goes West - Part Ten

We were pretty thrilled. Six countries down, only one to go. However given the reception at the border, we weren't even sure if the Bosnians wanted us in the country. It was time to get to Sarajevo as fast as possible.

The Bosnian roads are narrow, but in great repair. We were cruising along at about 65km/h (the speed limit) when all of a sudden a cop was motioning for us to pull over. He had a radar gun setup next to his car. This was obviously some sort of speed trap.

As the officer approached the car, I hoped that his English would be poor and we could, through attrition, weasel our way out of a ticket. The theory being that when a common language does not exist, the person in the position of authority will eventually give up because the effort required is too great.

"Good afternoon. Can I see your license and registration?"

So much for that hope. This guy was a no-nonsense, old school cop. There was absolutely no chance of getting out of this.

He told me that I had been going 65km/h in a school zone where the limit is 50km/h--the history function on the radar gun proved it.

"School zone? What school zone? There wasn't a sign."

"Yes, there was. It's back there," he replied as he pointed back down the road.

"But where is the school? I don't see a school."

"It's right there." Again he pointed, this time at a building that looked nothing like a school (more like a farmhouse).

I was very obviously guilty and he made sure I knew it. "The procedure in situations like this," he said, "is for me to write you a ticket for twenty Euros, which you then have to take to the next major city [about 40km away] and pay at a bank. Once you have the receipt, bring it back here and I will give you your license back."

"Whoa. That is quite the process. And on a sunday. Isn't there any other way we can work this out?" As much as I hate using that sleazy question, sometimes it's the only one that will work.

"Well, you could pay me and I could pay the ticket for you," he mused.

"Is that legal?"

"Not really, but hey, what can you do?"

"Ok, fine. But we only have Dollars."

"Hmm...I don't know what the exchange rate is and I have never done this in Dollars before." Why did that sound familiar?

I gave him whatever I thought was fair and we continued on our way. Could this day get any more eventful?

We stopped for lunch in the beautiful town of Vishegrad. On the way out of town, with Amy at the helm, another cop standing on the side of the road motioned for us to pull over. We knew for sure we had done nothing wrong, and so chalked this one up to being a strange car in a strange place. Thankfully, this guy didn't speak any English.

"License?"

"I'm sorry I don't speak Bosnian," replied Amy as she handed over her license.

"Registration?"

I got out of the car, walked up to the cop and handed the technical passport and registration. He looked at Amy's Washington DC license and the Azerbaijani registration documents, thought for a second, realized that this was going to be way too much work, and begrudingly waved us on.

Closer to Sarajevo, some sort of landslide (or so we assumed) closed part of the road, forcing us to take this crazy, winding detour up over a mountain. The Colonel handled it with class. Within minutes we were rolling through downtown Sarajevo looking for our hostel. That ended up taking a lot longer than hoped for. So did finding food, for that matter. It was already dark by the time we settled into the hostel and ate. What a day. We were now sufficiently scared of the Bosnian highway patrol.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Lada Legend: The Colonel Goes West - Part Nine

Of all the reactions we received from various border officials, the one from the young Serbian woman at the Serbian-Bosnian border had to be the best. She took one look at the car, documents, and us, and then threw her hands up in that universal "I don't know what is going on, but I don't want to touch this with a ten-foot pole" gesture. She then burst out laughing and walked back to the little booth to inform her co-workers that an alien automobile was sitting outside. The Colonel, for his part, was eating this stuff up.

We regaled whomever was interested with the tale of how we made it to this spot. The young woman was still, almost frighteningly, in disbelief. That's probably why she forgot to give us exit stamps before telling us to have a good journey. Disappointment was apparent inside the car after that little fact was learned.

Onto the Bosnian side we went. They were not at all thrilled to see us. Most cars just have to show an ID card to get through, whereas we represented work.

"Insurance?" said the customs official after looking at our passports and vehicle registration.

I handed the insurance document that we used for Bulgaria and Serbia (knowing full-well that it wouldn't work for Bosnia).

"Insurance no good."

He then went back into the booth where two other guys were sitting. I followed thinking that he had something else to tell me, but instead he just informed me that it was in my best interest to stand by the car. After about ten minutes, a guy showed up that was apparently going to sell us insurance. It was a Sunday, so he had to be called in from home. I felt bad for the guy. We certainly weren't making any friends.

His English was marginal at best. I believe his favourite word was "not". He'd finish every choppy sentence with it. "Money not," "Insurance not," etc. Oh, this was going to be fun.

I learned pretty quickly that US Dollars weren't going to cut it. Euros or Bosnian Convertible Marks only. We didn't have either of the latter two and really weren't in a position to get them. Sarah tried to go to a store down the street, but to no avail. It was actually quite a tense situation. Our only option was to turn around, go back into Serbia, and find a bank machine in the border town that would give us Euros. I'd say the chances of that were slim to nil.

Our nay-saying friend finally relented and said something along the lines of, "Okay, I'll take the US Dollars just this once." We went back into his small office to discuss terms. Of course neither of us had any idea what the exchange rate was. He kept saying something like, "I have never done this with US Dollars so I don't know how much it should be." Eventually we agreed on a sum and started filling out the insurance document. This was easier said than done.

The first snag was that my name wasn't on the technical passport. He kept looking at it and saying "Who is this? I should put her name, yes?" I wasn't sure what to do so I suggested that he use my name because it was on the power of attorney document. He didn't like that at all and insisted that despite the fact that my name would not be on the insurance document, it would still be valid. "I don't care about your power of attorney document. Only the police care."

Then he started asking me questions about the cubic capacity of the engine (and other things that were supposed to be on the technical passport but weren't). I hadn't the faintest clue, so he just started writing down potential numbers. I pointed at one and acted excited. He seemed to accept it. When it came time to sign, he being the sly one that he is, told me to just scribble something illegible. How much more illegitimate could this document get?

With the insurance document in hand, I headed back to the customs booth. One of the guys inside, a young man, peered at it and then handed our passports back. I took a quick look and said, "Aren't you going to stamp these?" "Ah, yes. You're right." Three stamps later, we were on the road to Sarajevo!