PART 4: DRIVING IN THE EMERGING MARKETS
The next day we started our adventure at a local car rental agency MACK and met our Astra Opel. Advertised as the Volkswagen or equivalent, it was a 2005 German younger brother of the Volkswagen that we were to be mated with for the next 8 days.
Another tip for you: don’t pay double with the Hertz’s of the world when you are traveling in small towns; find a local agency — they are just as good and you’ll get the same or equivalent car anyway.
My husband and I got into our usual tiff over whether we get additional insurance or not – we called Amex to confirm Croatia was covered by their plan and waived local coverage.
Now, I learned to drive in the emerging markets – narrow windy streets, small cars, learning to get in and out of courtyards that were built for donkeys and goats, and maybe one skinny horse. My husband on the other hand learned to drive in America, where streets are wide, cars are big, and there is never really a practical need to learn how to squeeze your car into a perfect parallel park position. We quickly realized that my husband wasn’t equipped with the skills to drive in Croatia.
When driving in reverse, he would put his arm behind the passenger seat and turn his whole body around and then hit the pedals – the way James Bond does it. But if you’re not Bond, driving this way through a narrow gate will guarantee scratching the side panel of your car. My husband did scrape the paint off the side panel of our car, as well as lose a side mirror to a stone wall, while backing up. He also had no idea how many turns were in the steering wheel. I guess this kind of stuff never matters when you always have enough room to straighten out your wheels just by driving forwards or backwards a little.
On a windy cliff-side road you don’t want to take the chance that you think your wheels are straight but then as you hit the pedals your car veers to the right – right off the cliff!
Seeing bouquets of plastic flowers and little plaques planted every five minutes or so on the windy scenic highway along the coast line of Croatia leading down to the coast of Montenegro and then along the ravine over the mountain to cross the Serbian border (think hairpin turns and death cliffs) didn’t really help to boost our confidence either.
The first day we at least were hoping these memorials were for loved ones that may have perished in the war, but deep down inside we knew these were all people that drove their vehicles off the cliff. A fact we confirmed with a little bit of internet research as well as a later chat with a Croatian friend. In any event, for those who fall into the category of my husband, I put together a bit of an Emerging Markets Driving Guide:
- Driving straight is the first step – you set your wheels straight, and the car will go straight, whether forwards or backwards.
- Know where your wheels are – it will turn one and a half turns to your right, and the same to your left. Keep count when you are turning your wheel so you are not relying on trial and error to figure out how to straighten your wheel.
- Use your mirrors – you will scrape the side of your car if you turn around with your arm on the back of the passenger seat when driving in reverse. Once you make sure you’re not going to run over some kid behind you, you look into and use the three mirrors to get your spacial context, especially focusing on what you see in the side mirrors.
- Flex your mirrors – turn the side mirrors down to face towards the ground when you are parallel parking in tight space. This way you can see where your wheels are without having to step out of the car.
- Hog the road – you step on the yellow center line when driving through hairpin turns with death cliffs on your side drawing long lean S’s rather than squat and thick ones. When there is oncoming traffic you then slow down and pass each other gingerly.
- Remember to lower your brights when there is on-coming traffic – on narrow roads the driver on the other side of the road will be blinded by your brights which is extremely dangerous for the both of you. Always lower your brights when you see on-coming traffic and then put them back up after you’ve passed them.
- Straighten your wheels after parking – you never want to leave your wheels turned (unless parking on a slope), as likely you will assume your wheels are straight when you get back in the car and press the gas. Remember, you don’t have any room for error if your car jumps even half a foot back at 30 degrees, rather than straight 🙂
- Misc. – Remain calm at the rental agency, remain calm driving, remain calm when lost, remain calm if pulled over police, remain calm if you have to file a report at a foreign police station. There’s a lot that can happen on the road — and deep breathing, a smile and some patience can go a long way…. Also, if you’re about to argue with your spouse about insurance coverage, call your credit card company first. Also, before renting, ask the rental car agency every question under the sun — from possible hidden fees to driver license requirements in the area to breakdown assistance… and more.
NEXT: PART 5 of 10
ROAD TRIP: CROATIA, MONTENEGRO & BOSNIA – A 10-PART SERIES
PART 4 – DRIVING IN THE EMERGING MARKETS
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