As you head south and west, from Alessandria (Italy) to Ventimiglia (the border with France), there are some tunnels. Ah, when I say some, I mean dozens.
So, as we pass the first one, we guess how many there will be over the next couple of hours. What Namibian’s guess is based on is anybody’s guess – oh, ha ha – as he’s never been on this first stretch of road. ‘Three score and ten,’ suggests Wrecker Jon, my co-driver, admirably masking his Midlands burr.
My guess is 52, an estimate I live to regret – sorely.
As we travel, Wrecker Jon operates the stove unassisted. The memory of our interior inferno recedes, the fear of incineration no longer marked enough to miss out on cups of Tetley tea.
But what we have found is that boiling two cupfuls at once is foolish – bouncing along violently spills most of the water onto the flame. We have time to figure this out, you see – about 38 hours of driving time, to be exact, equating to an awful lot of tea. It ought to be more like 34…but we’re snarled up in traffic before even exiting Italy.
Fiddling with the gas stove – and dealing with heavy traffic – may mean we’ve missed the occasional tunnel, or added one, but the independently adjudicated tally is unanimous.
Namibian and I have both come up with the figure of 116 tunnels, ranging from about 70m to 1828m.
You know what his means, don’t you? It means that that dratted Namibian, with scarcely an ounce of knowledge of the region, has won hands down. ‘Next time we come along here, we’ll count the bridges,’ he gloats, filling me with despair.
Hopefully our count was inaccurate though, so don’t bandy it from the rooftops as gospel, or include the statistics in a road transport article. The figure could certainly be nearer 52.
Talking of figures, half a million kilometres is something of a milestone, wouldn’t you say? Car drivers probably don’t realise that trucks, if properly maintained, can run forever.
Well, they can certainly do a full million. Maintained doesn’t just mean having a Namibian clean the mirrors now and again, kicking the tyres between diligent wipes; the trucks are serviced regularly. And I drive mine smoothly.
Jon also tries to, but as we approach the 500,000 km mark, we are descending an Alp at night. Ears popping as we head down to the Cote d’Azur, I have to almost shimmy onto his lap to get a photograph of the dashboard.
‘Don’t mind me,’ I cry cheerily as he misses a gear and stamps on the brake pedal. As I’ve said before, we are professional drivers.
Refreshed after our stop in Toulouse – roughly halfway to Lisbon – Jon writes a guest blog of our recent adventures. Oh dear. If you’ll allow a pot to call the kettle black, the writing is a bit long-winded.
For a start, there is no mention of the pretty waitress with whom he was stranded for six hours at the Bulgarian border. Or, come to think of it, any mention of his ‘waking up with a stiffy‘, a phenomenon that Stephen Fry also fails to address in his “Book of General Ignorance”.
I file Jon’s blog after he leaves for Lisbon airport. The file in question is a cylindrical receptacle at waist-height, found on most public streets. Yep, straight in the bin..