A Croatian Bus Ride from Hell
GetByBus’s online booking process could not have been easier: find the timetable, select desired dates and times, and pay for the ticket. I would eventually come to find, however, that the simplicity of my experience with Croatian bus travel ended when I clicked “purchase.”
After a 6:35 a.m. flight from Barcelona to Dubrovnik, I made my way to the city’s main bus terminal for my late-morning bus to Split. Sweating from the 90-degree temperatures plus humidity, I wiped the dew from my brow and let it fall onto the steaming hot pavement. One liter of water later, the royal blue bus appeared at Bay 1. A short, dark-haired man who hovered around the age of 65 descended from the bus and I quickly approached him with my neatly printed boarding pass. After examining the 8-by-11-inch sheet of paper, he silently nodded me onto the vessel that would comfortably transport me to the coastal town of Split in a cool five hours…or so I thought.
The bus wove in and out of Croatian villages, occasionally stopping with an abrupt jolt for reasons I did not care to explore.
As I climbed the bus steps, a thick mist invaded my senses like a warm wave that hits upon entering a sauna. The only difference was that this cloud of moisture took my lungs hostage rather than invigorating me with therapeutic steam. I am sure this will all evaporate once the bus is moving, I thought while throwing nerve-wracked glances toward the completely saturated windows.
A handful of other passengers stepped onto the bus before we began to pull away from Dubrovnik only one minute behind schedule. Impressive.
What was not so impressive was that my hopes for a functioning air conditioning (and a comfortable bus ride) quickly evaporated once the bus started moving . The moist environment remained stale as the city of Dubrovnik disappeared behind us. It suddenly became clear that the bus ride to Split—a time period through which I had planned on sleeping—was going to seem a lot longer than five hours.
My extensive personal history of land, air, and sea travel is dotted with brief splashes of motion sickness, mostly while on buses that traverse zigzag hillsides and weaving mountain roads. I was in luck on this mobile sauna as the route that the small and seemingly mute driver had selected included smooth paths right along the Adriatic Coast. I found solace in a map that I had pocketed at the Dubrovnik Airport information desk, a collectible that had become my personal fan.
The bus wove in and out of Croatian villages, occasionally stopping with an abrupt jolt for reasons I did not care to explore. My exhaustion and discomfort prompted me to lie down and stretch across the aisle, taking up four seats, in an attempt to get as low as possible into what may have been an elusive layer of cool air.
A 30-something couple who sat a few seats in front of me attempted the same supine position; just as passengers of the Titanic tried to climb higher on the ship to escape imminent flooding, my co-passengers and I struggled to get as low as possible to escape the rising heat. Even further toward the front of the bus, a small group of middle-aged Asian women waved their individual hand-held fans and leaned as closely as possible into the small bubble of cool air provided by the solitary electronic fan that hung above the driver’s seat. Thankfully, this was the extent of my fellow passengers. If there had been even one more body aboard this sweltering cabin, I might have melted into the carpeted seat beneath me.
A handful of stops offered respite from lengthy periods of overwhelming stench. The driver’s cigarette breaks were coveted opportunities for us to step off the bus for a quick dose of oxygen before returning to the sweltering sauna. No words were exchanged among the distressed passengers; that would require too much expended energy. Instead, we emitted exhausted glances of desperation accompanied by defeated sighs before reentering the motorhome of misery.
I reminded myself of one of travel’s greatest lessons: embrace discomfort and take solace in all of life’s air vents.
Momentary lapses into sleep were suddenly shut down by sharp turns and periodic horn honking. I sporadically pulled out my iPhone to glance at our location on Google maps, anxiously watching as the ghostly blue dot inched closer and closer to Split. After a collective 30 minutes of shut-eye throughout the five-hour journey, we finally pulled onto a stretch of road into Split. Each traffic light felt like I was putting on another layer of clothing…a coat, and then a scarf at the next light, followed by a warm winter hat. I was more than ready to push open the door and free myself as we crawled toward Split’s central bus station.
Upon pulling into the bus bay and descending from the hot tub time machine, the cool and refreshing 95-degree air pleasantly smacked me in the face like a friendly greeting from a foe. As I melted down the steps into the Croatian sun, I cringed at the thought of my return journey to Dubrovnik in a few days, a journey aboard a coach where personal air vents would provide wisps of cool air. To a normal passenger, these wisps would hardly suffice as cooling mechanisms, but to me they would cloak my body like a constant sea breeze mixed with a ceiling fan and topped off by a refreshing iced drink. I reminded myself of one of travel’s greatest lessons: embrace discomfort and take solace in all of life’s air vents.
A Croatian Bus Ride from Hell photo credit: Nikolaj Potanin