Europe,  Montenegro,  TDM,  Travel Journal

End of 2020: Two Terrifying Moments (Montenegro)

After being forced to take some rest because of travel restrictions (and rain), we have 2 days to change regions without breaking the law.

Ulcinj

I choose Ulcinj, a rather big city with a picturesque old town high up, with a sea view. Paradise on Earth.

Having been in a warm and comfortable infrastructure for several days, we do not realize that the storm Stella is also approaching Montenegro.

In the morning, as we leave the hotel to our Airbnb in Ulcinj, it rains a little, with some stretches where the rain is so heavy that it looks like someone is pouring a bucket of water on us. It is when we arrive in Ulcinj that we realize that maybe it was not a good idea.

This old city, which must be heavenly in summer, is completely empty in December. It looks like a ghost town. Moreover, the old town is pedestrian so we have to park outside the city. It is out of question to take all our luggages with us, and we have to leave a big part in the trunk.

We try to find our bed and breakfast, but as their sign has been ripped off, we go around knocking on the doors of the neighbors (who don’t speak English), until a neighbor brings us in front of the bed and breakfast. The owner seems surprised, even though we told her on the phone a few minutes earlier that we were on the corner of her block, but just lost.

Following this very cold welcome, I am not happy and I even want to go back to the hotel where we were so confortable during Christmas but I reason to myself, thinking that it is just a whim. In retrospect, it was my intuition that something was wrong.

The other owner arrives and finally explains us where we can park. He shows us a parking lot at the water’s edge, without any barrier, and partially flooded by the waves. Usually, the guests park there, but because of the wind and the rain today, it is better that we park a little further, at the bottom of the cliff.

I spot a restaurant on a beautiful island close to the Albanian border and we enjoy for the first time a real Montenegrin dinner, with the traditional fish soup and really delicious fried gambasses, which cheers us up. The waiter tells us to be careful on the road because of the wind, very strong he says.

On the way back, we pass in front of a place of accident where 3 cars are completely deformed, but it doesn’t seem to have any human damage because 3 people are discussing. We suddenly realize that this storm can be serious.

We plan to park where the owner indicated us (this part has a barrier), but I notice the trace of water left by the waves just next to it. To give you an idea, usually the water is low like this (photo found on the Internet). And during the storm, the water went up to the stairs above the boats.

We park 20 meters farther, at the bottom of the cliff, but protected by the cliff on the picture, so normally the wind should not affect our car too much. It’s impossible to park in the city center. Every centimeter is occupied. And the Montenegrins are so desperate that if there is a space too small, they will park in a cob, with the back of the car on the road and the front on the sidewalk, rather than looking for a place wide enough to park the whole car.

Once inside our guest room, the wind starts blowing hard, very hard and it makes a huge noise, preventing me from sleeping. Around 2am, I hear strange noises as if the shutters were open. We check and we discover with amazement that indeed: out of 3 windows in the room, one window has the shutters completely open and the window cannot be closed either. Here we are with direct view on the sea, we see in the distance the waves being unleashed from our broken window.

It seems like the first pages of the novel “Wuthering Heights”, yes yes the scene of the window in the middle of a storm, with Catherine’s hands trying to enter. Horror movie!

It is absolutely necessary to close this window because rainwater is also starting to enter. The wind blows at 53km/h, that is the maximum speed that we had in Iceland, and this speed is able to tear off a car door (in Iceland, before renting a car, we are briefed and told to always hold the car door while opening it. Car door being teared off is so frequent that it isn’t covered by the insurance ^^). If the shutters aren’t closed, they can be torn off too. The handle of the shutter is missing, we must sacrifice a USB cable to try to close the shutter. Of course, we cannot tie it perfectly well, so the wind always makes it move. It’s so stupid, usually we travel with a parachute rope, but after several years without touching it, we threw it away. I was not at 100% of my brain capacity at 2am, otherwise I would have thought of blocking the flap with a hanger, since we have two metal bars attached to the flap and I always have my carabiners with me.

As for the window, at first we thought it was out of order and blocked it with heavy objects (but always with a risk that these objects would fall on our bed and knock us out). In the end, after a careful study of the window structure, we found the blocking system and the left part of the window is definitively closed.

I think the owners had originally closed the window (and shutter) incorrectly. I should have checked all the shutters, especially with this wind. But when I saw them closed, I stupidly thought they were already well closed. It seems to me that Japanese people learn to go around the house before bedtime to check everything. That way, one can avoid the damage caused by a badly closed door or a leaky faucet.


In short, after fixing the window problem, I spent a night worrying about the car: can the waves carry the car away in spite of the barrier? Can it have a run-off or a rock fall? We parked it at the bottom of the cliff. JB and I only manage to sleep for 1 or 2 hours, before running away as soon as the wind drops in intensity, around 10 am.

I am relieved to discover that despite some fallen tree branches, there is a net covering the cliff. The bend protected our car from the weather and survived that night without any scratch

Traumatized by the experience, we decide to offer us a good lunch with a breathtaking view at the Mouths of Kotor, 2 hours away (here we are surrounded by mountains, creating a protective barrier, the wind is only 8km/h here)

A few decisive centimeters

At 11:00 a.m., my mother has a hunch and sends me a message asking me if everything is okay. I reassure her that it is, but all day long she won’t stop thinking about me.

After lunch, we stop by Hertz’s to extend our car rental. Thinking that the nightmares stop here, we go to our Airbnb around 3:30 pm, where we are going to spend one month. Surprise: the hill where is our Airbnb is more inclined than usual. JB accelerates, but our car hardly manages to advance, before slipping. The handbrake isn’t enough to stop us, we let ourselves going backward slowly.

A lady passes by at that moment, shouting and showing that we should keep going. We explain to her that we cannot. And there, she makes very alarming gestures and shouts. We wonder why, since there is still plenty of room on both sides. I open the door to look and I’m in shock! We are 10cm away from a 50cm high sewer whose edges are very slippery. As I walked out of the car, I almost slipped.

If we move backward, the car will tip over and we’ll end up upside down. Not being able to move forward or backward (the handbrake isn’t enough to prevent slipping), we don’t know what to do at all.

A gentleman passes by on his bike. He doesn’t speak too much English, but he manages to tell us that we have to move the car.

The owner of our Airbnb, whom we call on the phone, goes down the hill quickly and everybody speaks in Montenegrin and we don’t understand anything anymore.

There is only one road to the hill, and the road is narrow, so nobody can pull us from the top of the hill. The other option is to cover the sewer with something. But what? The sewer is huge and unless we cut a tree somewhere, there isn’t enough lever.

In the meantime, I put stones under the tire to desperately block the risk of slipping further, but that’s all I can do.

The man on the bike stops a car, they talk to each other, then a few minutes later, the car comes back and two very strong men arrive. In fact, the three of them are our neighbors.

They finally communicate us their plan: they will try to lift/push the car from behind, so that JB won’t slip anymore and will be able to move the car forward quietly.

However, the risk is that the man near the sewer, if the plan goes wrong, will be crushed by our car

But we have faith and fortunately with JB’s experience on hill starts (he’s practiced tons of hill starts since our arrival in Montenegro), the car starts agressively, with a horrible smell of tire tension, excess of gasoline… and advances of 2m. We are saved.

Horrible previous night + fatigue + stress + the risk of crashing the car. We decide to stop the charges for today and leave our car at the parking lot at the bottom of the hill. This incident explains why I was worried about the car since yesterday and why my mother had a hunch this morning.

Our Airbnb owner comes to pick us up with her 4×4 and takes us upstairs with our luggage. She shows us how to go up the hill, from which point we have to take off and accelerate.

In short, if the lady wasn’t there at the right time, we would have had an accident. We are also very lucky to meet the man on the bike, who was able to find the ideal solution. In any case, after this incident, we have even more admiration and gratitude for the Montenegrins, who have always been very nice to us until now. Clearly, today, they saved us from a very big trouble.

We really feel like losers since yesterday, but very lucky to be able to type these lines to you all. We are safe and sound, and are writing to you from our new comfortable accommodation with a magnificent view.

The next day, we do groceries for the week and try again to go up the hill, successfully this time even if the car skated at one point (warnings everywhere for 2 seconds). By chance, when JB successfully parks, the neighbor of the day before passes in front of us at the same time and congratulates us for our success 😀

Note: my parents, who know a lot about cars, told me that the difficulty of going up hills could be related to our car. We checked the power of the engine and concluded that cars like Kia Morning or Huyndai i20 (ours) were not made to climb very high. We contacted the car rental company to explain our problem and they offered us another car with more power. Apparently even if the engine power isn’t at the top, if there is “turbo”, it must be good. The car rental company suggested us a Skoda Rapid 2019 automatic, Turbo instead. The advantage of this model is that even on a slope, the car won’t slide backwards (which almost cost us an accident), I think the system is called HAC (Hill-Start Assist Control), or HAS or HLA. Hill-Start Assist Control makes hill start much easier. Indeed, we’re going up the hill without ANY difficulty now. What a relief! I saw two other cars going up the same hill and it is immediately obvious which car is powerful, which car isn’t. Ours is doing very well. So instead of paying 10€/day, we pay 15€/day for the new car.

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