Breakdown Serbia – 1 Mechanic, 2 Mechanic…
It’s four o’clock in the morning and Iggy the Hymer motorhome is sitting in a garage forecourt somewhere near Smederevo in Serbia. Our map coordinates are 44.575048, 20.892284. There is no town or village near us to give a name. Iggy is broken. His engine will not start.
By rights I should be fast asleep in bed next to Jay. The day ahead is likely to be long and stressful, and it will not help to be tired. But I awoke half an hour ago, with a splitting headache and in a cold sweat, and my brain was immediately filled with our situation – and what to do about it.
To begin at the beginning is usually a good idea in story telling. So let us first of all return to yesterday morning in Smederevo. We had enjoyed our time in the city the day before and woke up early at seven a.m. We’d decided on a destination just over the Bulgarian border for today – about four hours drive away.
Today was going to be a hot one. So, as we were awake anyway, we figured we may as well get on the road before the heat got up. Everyone was in good spirits, and by quarter to eight Iggy was all ready to roll. We jumped into our seats. Marley took up her driving position on the floor in between us. And, with a smile I may never forget, Jay turned the key in the ignition.
The engine turned over, but it didn’t catch. Iggy’s normal, effortless rumble into life was missing. What was going on?
Jay tried the key a couple more times with the same result. We checked the fuel levels. All fine. We checked around the van and under the hood for signs of anything abnormal. We weren’t mechanics, but nothing appeared obviously amiss or tampered with in any way. The battery levels were good. We were all out of tries. What were we going to do?
The first think was our Breakdown Service, but the European Helpline Number they gave us would not work. We tried the French Line, but it was demanding money and our phone contracts don’t work in Serbia. We could top up and pay £1 a minute to try and get through. But for that we’d need to get internet access. We gave the numbers in the UK a quick try, but, as we suspected, they didn’t work from Serbia.
It was half past eight by now, but that was only half past seven UK time. So we decided to head up to the cafe we’d been to yesterday, use their WiFi, and ask if they knew of any good mechanics. We could give it a bash getting sorted out ourselves, and try again to reach Breakdown later if we had no luck.
The nice young man from the night before was not in this morning, but the Cafe owner was working the day shift. Luckily for us she spoke very good English. Also luckily for us her husband was a mechanic! Unfortunately when she phoned him and asked if he would come out he said he couldn’t. He wasn’t feeling well and was going home to bed during his siesta.
One of the cafe customers had heard this though and said he had a friend who maybe could help. The customer only spoke a few words of English, so the cafe owner translated as the customer explained his friend couldn’t help today, but was going to ask someone else.
After about an hour, and a lot of phone calls, the cafe owner came back and told us a mechanic was coming at eleven o’clock.
“Thank me if he comes.” she said with a shrug and a smile when we tried to thank her for her help.
But sure enough, five minutes past eleven, and a man in overalls turned up at the cafe. He spoke no English so I was to stay at the cafe and Jay was to go with the man. If there was anything that needed to be said he would phone the cafe owner and she would translate. It turned out this man was the cafe owner’s sick husband, who she had persuaded to come anyway when they could not find anyone else.
Within fifteen minutes they both came back again. The mechanic told us through the cafe owner that he did not have the right connection to run diagnostics on our van. But he had spoken to another mechanic he knew who thought he had the right part, and who also spoke English. We were to go to the van in about an hour and the second mechanic would meet us there.
By this time it was nearly twelve, and we had another coffee before heading back down to the van to wait on mechanic number two. Ivica – as mechanic number two was called – arrived promptly as promised. He had looked up our engine and brought what he thought was the right connection. But, unfortunately, there were some changes made to the Fiat Ducato 2.8 JTD model in 2002, when Iggy was made. If he’d been made in the second half of the year he would have a standard, modern connection. But Yggdrasil is not such a common van, and, of course, was made early that year, and has the older, two pin connection instead.
This meant of course that Ivica had brought the wrong connection. Not to be undone he said he would try and find someone with the right connection for us, and phone if he found one. We explained we couldn’t answer our phones in Serbia, but we were going to get a Serbian SIM card now. Ivica wrote his number down, for us to call him when we could, and bustled cheerily on his with a grin and a wave. Waving off all offers of payment at the same time. As had the cafe owner and her husband before him.
We’d surprised ourselves by how calm we’d been up to this point, but time was slipping past now. It was Friday afternoon and the weekend was almost upon us. We couldn’t make calls. We couldn’t get online without going to a cafe. We still hadn’t managed to contact Safeguard. And we didn’t know what was wrong with the van. The heat and the stress started to kick in, and we decided it was time to find a way to contact the breakdown service before end of office hours until Monday.
We were supposed to be fully covered for a breakdown in Serbia, including a free emergency helpline number. But it was going to cost us £1 a minute to call the French office of AA International. That was the only number we had that would work, and we knew from previous experience that we could find ourselves on hold for up to twenty minutes before even getting to talk to somebody. We didn’t want to end up spending hundreds of pounds on what should be, a free call. But we were running out of options.
I’d put £20 of credit on my SIM while we were at the cafe, thinking we could get an International package, but it turned out it wasn’t available on the card we had – not for Serbia anyway. Fingers crossed and counting every second I called the number in Lyons, and got the usual long winded recorded message. “Calls may be monitored for training purposes”, and all that time consuming, money consuming jargon.
Finally it ended and, already £3 in to the call, a customer advisor answered in a mercifully quick time. I rattled off our information as quickly as possible, explaining that she could not call me back when our credit ran out as we needed to pay £1 a minute to recieve calls. Just after I finished giving the information on where we were, and before she could tell me if we were going to be picked up, the line went dead.
All alone in the dusty heat of the parking lot, the crumbling towers of the broken fort leaning over us, we contemplated our next move. We really needed to go find a Serbian SIM now. But what if a breakdown truck came while we were gone? One of us could stay with the van? Or maybe we should just wait?
The stress and heat were really kicking in now and it was becoming harder to make good decisions. But we decided to go together and find a SIM card. Even if a truck was coming we figured the chances of it getting to us in less than an hour where next to non existant.
So once more off we trotted across the railway tracks, and back up to the church. We asked in the tourist office (where they spoke good English) what card we would need for International calls. One of the staff very kindly said “Come with me.” and took us three doors down to the phone shop where he explained what we needed. International calls were still going to be expensive but we could get a Pay as you Go card with some prepaid local calls and data for 300 Serbian Dinar. About €2.80.
Back we trotted to Iggy with the new SIM, having been promised we didn’t need to do anything, just pop it in the phone and it would work. There was no sign of a breakdown truck yet, and I dutifullly popped the SIM in Jay’s phone. Any second now and we would have a contact number again, and I could send a message to Safeguard through their Facebook page asking them to phone us.
Any second now…any… second… now…
Nope. The SIM did not work. but it did supply us with a few long, Serbian, text messages that we could not figure out at all.
The drink Jay had just made me sat untouched as we trotted off to cross the railtracks yet again. It was nearly five o’clock but we made it to the shop just in time. The assistant called a number from the phone to activate the SIM, but the data was still not working. She pressed buttons, shook her head, blamed the phone, and I gave up.
“It’s okay.” I said smiling, ” As long as people can phone me, it’s okay.”
I would play around with the phones later and try and get the data to work. In the meantime I was worried about being away from the van too long in case a breakdown truck came. But also we needed to get this number to Ivica, and to the breakdown people in France.
Back to the cafe we went, and bought another coffee from the evening time waiter so we could use the wifi. Thankfully two coffees were only 200 Dinar so we weren’t bankrupting ourselves. And we wanted to spend money here to thank the cafe owner for her kindness earlier. Coffee supped. Missed call made to Ivica’s number, and a message sent to Safeguard’s Facebook account and we hurried back across the tracks to Iggy again.
No sooner had we arrived than a breakdown truck trundled into the parking lot behind us. Hallelujah! The call handler in France had gone ahead and sent help regardless. If she had been in front of me right then I think I would have crushed her, so big would have been my grateful hug!
There’s nothing quite like being stranded in a strange, hot, country at the weekend, with no phone, no internet, a broken van, and no knowledge of the language, to magnify my sense of gratitude. Especially to people who trundle up with breakdown vans and, at least temporarily, take all the reponsibility off my shoulders.
The truck was only, barely big enough, and the driver had a bit of a job getting Iggy loaded with both vehicles in one piece. Jay was in the driver’s seat so thankfully missed seeing the front right wheel of the breakdown truck lift right off the ground at one point. And he also got to miss watching the driver carefully varying heights and angles of the ramp, inch by inch, to stop Iggy bottoming out as he was winched up.
Eventually everything was secured, and we all climbed into the breakdown truck. Or at least we all tried to climb in. But Marley couldn’t make it. The leap up was much too high and narrow for her, and it was everybody out again while the driver called someone to arrange a car for us.
About fifteen, hot, thirsty minutes later and a young man rolled into the parking lot. He spoke pretty good English, and explained he was a driver for the garage we were going to. It was about ten kilometres outside of Smederevo he said. And not to worry as they were very good mechanics and would fix our van for sure.
Oh what fun we had following the breakdown truck to the workshop
It was nice to hear, as we followed the breakdown truck slowly through the uphill streets of Smederevo. My seatbelt didn’t work, so I was really glad of our slow progress. Particularly as our young friend spent as much time texting and answering his phone as he did talking to us. In fact he seemed to do all three at the same time. Whooping with delight, and poking Jay to “Look!” every time Iggy just managed to clear the low hanging electrical wires.
But, as mostly happens, we all arrived safely at the garage, and a posse of mechanics gathered as Iggy was carefully lowered back down to the ground again. We were kind of expecting to be told they were away for the weekend and would see us on Monday. But no. Instead the boss man and his crew gathered around Iggy with the diagnostic tool. The wrong diagnostic tool!
Not to be put off the main man had a five mnute rummage around in Iggy’s engine, and then proclaimed ( through his English speaking friend on the phone) that he was taking the fuel pump out and sending it to Bosch for investigation.
What? “Oh no he isn’t!” said I.
We informed them the diagnostics had to be run before any parts were taken out and sent anywhere. They weren’t happy, but accepted it and told us Bosch was very close by. The man would come from there with the right diagnostic connection at eight in the morning. Now everyone would sleep, and they would see us again at eight.
And so saying, we were shown where we could plug into the electric, and where we could get water. Dinner was made, a glass of wine was drunk, an hour of Netflix was zoned out in front of, and finally we crawled into bed and to sleep.
In two hours it will be time to get up and greet the day. Hopefully it will be a day of a fixed van. Inshallah. But first I must try again to sleep…