Thursday, July 30, 2009

Border crossings

We had some trouble at the borders on our Balkan odyssey. 

Phyllis was driving as we got to Croatia from Bosnia. Miranda, our Bosnian-speaking friend was in the front seat and I was in the back. 

"Phyllis, we are coming to the border," I said.

"This is the border," Miranda said.

But Phyllis kept driving. Slowly, but she kept moving, past the border entrance, past the signage, past the uniformed guy who suddenly got very animated.

"Phyllis, you have to stop," I said. She did.

The uniformed guy came running up, waving his arms and chattering. "He's mad you didn't you didn't stop," Miranda needlessly translated. Phyllis immediately protested that she didn't know she was supposed to stop as there was no warning or stop sign.

There was a sign with STOP written in two languages back there, I pointed out. "Stop signs are red," she protested, "That was not red. It was not octagonal!"

The guard talked more. "He says to tell you," Miranda translated, "that the fine for trying to avoid a border crossing is 300 KM." 

"300 KM!" I exploded. (It's about $240) That's nuts. We weren't trying to avoid any border. We're tourists!" 

"Stop signs are RED," Phyllis kept insisting.

The guard looked in through the window at us dolefully then waved us on disgustedly.

The next day we wanted to pass from Croatia into Montenegro and Phyllis stopped in plenty of time. We had to. There was a long, slow-moving line in front of the window. We baked in the hot sun for half an hour, our boredom relieved only by an extortionist Montenegro official who insisted we had to pay an environmental tax for 10 Euros. he gave us a sticker he said was good for a year. Right. As a friend back in Sarajevo put it: "An environmental tax? In the Balkans?"  At one point a guard motioned for us to move from one line into another. It was even more slow-moving. Phyllis was having a fit about that when we finally arrived at the window and turned over passports. The guard wanted to see the car registration.

It was not in the glove box where it was supposed to be. It was not under the seats or tucked into the visor. It was not in the back. It was not in the car. 

"He says to pull over to the side there and look some more," Miranda translated.

We ripped the car apart to no avail. We called  long-distance to John and Boris who'd used the car recently. They knew nothing.

Miranda and I tried sauntering over to the window and talking to another customs official about where we were going and our disappointment and our dilemma. We were hoping he'd ask for a little money and help us out. But in the end, looking at the first guard who'd wanted our documents, he wished us luck.

The first guard said sure we could go to Montenegro but our car couldn't. We had to take our passports and go back to Croatia.

Uh-oh, we thought. Will we have trouble getting into Croatia? We'd gotten in the night before but now the day-team was on duty. "Can I see your registration?" the guard on the Croatian side asked immediately.

Fortunately, this guard was susceptible to Miranda's ample charms and her plaintiff back-seat narrative about our trip to Montenegro being ruined and we had to go back to Dubrovnik to search for our registration. He waved us across the border.

So, the bottom line is that while drug dealers, smugglers of nearly all goods and Russian thugs pass easily every day into Montenegro, the country's crack customs team kept out three tourists with money to send.

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