The car overheated a few kilometers outside of Krka National Park. It was a little grey Peugeot 208, and we had quite liked it, initially. It had a transmission that could run as either an automatic or a manual, and it turned its engine off when you stopped with your foot on the brake. There were only 12,000 km on the odometer.
But then it overheated, and some warning words and red symbols came up on the navigation screen. They were in Croatian. Neither J. nor I can read Croatian. At all. And we had no internet to google the words. We knew that red symbols and exclamation points were probably bad, though, especially combined with the temperature gauge blazing past the top of the red zone, so we stopped and popped the hood.
The fluids all seemed fine. Nothing was visibly wrong. We resolved to turn the heat on to try to cool it off and limp back to Sibenik.
A kilometer later, the temperature gauge was back in the red and the symbols and words were back.
It took another kilometer or so to find a place to pull off - there was a tunnel - and when we opened the hood again, the coolant was completely gone.
We sat on the side of a hill for a while trying to connect to a cell phone network to call the rental car company. J. barely got through once in several tries, and then lost the call immediately.
At length, we decided to walk down the road to see if we could get better cell reception. We moved the car to the end of the pull off, debated the merits of leaving the hazard lights on ("The engine may already be destroyed," I said. "Who cares if the battery dies?"), and set off walking. (Well, first we took turns visiting the bushes for a pee on the side of a hill looking over a Croatian lake. It was a pretty pee.)
After less than half a kilometer of walking, a car containing two middle-aged men stopped and asked if we needed a ride. Gut-check revealing nothing other than a horrible smell of cigarette smoke in the car, we hopped in. The language barrier was real. We didn't even try to explain where to drop us off in town, accepting the bus station as a central (and explainable) location.
We arrived back in Sibenik about an hour after we planned, with no car. Instead of climbing up to visit two fortresses as we'd intended, we ended up using J.'s computer and then our host's cell phone to call the rental car company.
"Does the car start?" the rental guy asked.
"Yes," J. said, "but you can't drive it."
They would send someone, they said. It would be a couple of hours.
We got a bottle of wine and sat on the roof deck, watching the sun set over the Adriatic.
That didn't suck.
We got some bread and cheese from the bakery and grocery down the hill, and we ate that, watching the last of the daylight over the islands.
That didn't suck, either.
It was nearly 9 pm by the time the new rental car got there with two employees, and we directed them in the dark, studying the GPS on J.'s phone in the back seat of the little Suzuki. (I like Suzukis. I had a good experience with one on Zanzibar.)
They didn't believe us when we told them where to turn, but we finally convinced them to turn anyway, even though the wheels of "silly Americans who don't know where they are going" were visibly turning in their minds. The reason they didn't believe us about the turn is because we had brought them by a different route than where the car was, and so it required backtracking, not going toward the park. Which is a legit concern, but still. The J. and M. engineer/attorney combo is pretty likely to be right about a map.
The car was still where we'd left it, blinking in the night. The coolant tank was still empty.
"No problem," the English-speaker said. "We have water."
They poured a liter or two of water into the coolant tank. Employee #2, the non-English speaker, got behind the wheel and sat there for a minute, looking around the car.
"He says that he can't drive this car," #1 told us. "It's an automatic."
Whaaaaaaaaaat? I still don't understand.
So #1 drove that car and J. drove the Suzuki. For about 500 meters before the Peugeot started having problems again. In the middle of the tunnel.
"They didn't believe me when I said it wasn't going to run," J. said. "They must have assumed the stupid Americans couldn't actually tell when something was wrong with the car."
Now the coolant tank was over-full, filled with a mixture of water and coolant.
We left it on the side of the road, again, piled into the Suzuki, and drove back to Sibenik. The next morning, two different employees showed up at the guesthouse with two cars, the Suzuki for us and another for them. The company, they said, would send a truck for the Peugeot.
J. and I got into the Suzuki, which was a manual and had no fancy navigation contraptions, but ran like a dream, and we drove away along the scenic route down the coast, past emerald bays and steeple-topped hill towns, exclaiming all the way about how beautiful Croatia is.