Travel: Your holiday disaster

The day Graham and Mollie Turner learned to mend bridges - and that was after the cockroach in the coffee

In August 1969 my wife and I embarked on a six-week trip to see the newly discovered fresco paintings in the fortified Serbian Orthodox monasteries in southern Yugoslavia.

The holiday was one long series of disasters. The car's windscreen wipers stayed on from Rotterdam to Maribor in northern Yugoslavia. From Maribor we drove in pouring rain on flooded roads for two more days. After 2,000 miles of driving on wet roads we arrived at Studenica monastery with its high curtain wall. We stayed in the very grubby guest house, where a year's dust lay under the beds. I rose early, scratching the numerous flea bites I had collected.

Going south we stopped at a superb new hotel for coffee. As my wife poured, a large cockroach came out the jug. The waiter then brought a spoon on a tray for her to fish it out of her cup! This was the day disaster really struck.

We drove through lonely mountain country with a small farm house every few miles, flocks of sheep and, very occasionally, a shepherd. After the small town of Novi Pazar we drove fast along a superb new road. Strangely, we did not see any other traffic. As we sped along we came to a bridge spanning a ravine, and I glanced to one side as we neared it. With a terrible crash and bump the car crunched onto the bridge, which had subsided a foot below the level of the road. The Saab seemed to have suffered no damage, but we now understood the lack of traffic.

We decided to carry on. Fortunately, in spite of cracks in the concrete surface, the bridge was intact and had not sunk at the other end. After a few more miles we saw a tunnel in the distance. When we reached it we realised the roof had fallen in; we later learned an earthquake was responsible. The only thing was to go back to the bridge, leave the car there and try to find help.

My wife suggested that it might be possible to carry stones up from the ravine and build a ramp. We slaved for three hours carrying stones up from the river and building a slope up to the road. Unfortunately when we tried to drive up the ramp the stones scattered.

We leaned wearily over the bridge parapet drinking some bottled water. Then I saw our salvation - about 50 yards upstream was a plank, brought down by a flood and jammed behind a rock. I climbed down again, and found two more planks higher upstream. Mollie and I carried up the planks, laid them on our ramps and slowly drove the car back on to the road.

We altered our planned route and drove to another monastic guest house. We were well fed here, but when we awoke - yes - there were more itching flea bites and the sound of torrential rain.

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