Thursday, April 26, 2012

Road Trip Day One!

We all got up bright and early on Friday the 13th for our long road trip through 5 countries. I have to admit. I was SUPER SUPER nervous for this trip. Jen and I had it planned for about a month, and invited Lizzie/Justin/Aryn and others who couldn’t make it along with us. And then they changed the plans. I get car sick ever since I was 15 if I don’t start out driving. So we were going to rent an automatic, but a few people refused to do so and said if I wanted an automatic and the ability to drive I needed to pay the difference by myself. All 130 euros of difference. Needless to say I was not happy to be starting this trip. I felt like people were telling me that my health/comfort didn’t matter and they didn’t care if I was sick for two of the 5 days of our trip. And there were other things involved, but to keep things nameless, I will leave those concerns out.  I almost backed out a few different times. Every time I thought about it, I got nervous and a little sick to my stomach. However, with medication and Justin’s driving skills I only got nauseous 3 times.

We started almost exactly at our target time of 6AM in our tiny Kia Rio towards our first border crossing of the day. We pull up at the Macedonian side and the guy waves us through. We slow down and look at the next group of guys and they don’t move or even look at us. We basically stopped and they did nothing, so we start going forward and Then They Care. So Justin backs us up and we pass through customs on the MK border. Then we drive through no man’s land to the Kosovo border. Where he accidently misses one window (because there were two) and has to back up again! They let us through after laughing a bit and asking us what we were doing in Kosovo.

The mountains were beautiful. Breathtaking. Even though it was cloudy.

We stopped once for a bathroom break and then got lost in Prizern. Apparently signs aren’t as necessary in Kosovo as they are in the US. And a straight arrow actually means turn left. So after about 30 minutes of driving, I check on our GPS (aka my US HTC Evo that allows GPS to still work w/o a data connection), and see that we seriously missed the highway.

bridge we wouldn't have gotten to see if we didn't get lost!
I was worried about that, but we trusted the sign (not the last time of this problem on this trip, spoilers!) and got a bit lost. Eventually we found the correct way and made it to the border. The Kosovo border police literally just waved us through. I have no idea if Kosovo computers still show me in Kosovo or not. But we actually stopped at this crossing and they (from inside the office) waved us through, and there was only one office so we didn’t miss it. The Albanian side actually had a bit of a bottle neck- many cars waiting to get through. So about 20 minutes later we make it through and our on our way!

Shkoder Lake

We get to pass through a 5.3 KM tunnel, and as we are coming out, we get flagged by the police. In this part of the world, the police stand on the side of the road and flag people over rather than follow them with lights and sirens on. So we pull over. (I’m going to tell you as it happens rather than how I found out, which was after we left the cop.) He walks over to us and tries talking to us in Albanian but only Aryn speaks it and she is in the back seat behind the passenger side. So she starts speaking to him in Albanian (he speaks a slightly different dialect and the car is beeping so she can’t hear him all that well). But he tells us that it is illegal to pass a truck coming out of a tunnel (which we were inadvertently doing) and asks for Justin’s passport (I had to look through about 5 of them to find his! All of ours were just in the glove box for easy border crossings.). Then he looks in the car and through the passport a bit and asks Aryn what Justin’s name. And she blanks and has to ask Jen what it is! Then she calls him over to her side of the car so she can hear better. The conversation goes something like:

Cop: Are you the only one that speaks AL in the car?

Aryn: Yes

Cop: Can anyone else understand?

Aryn: No

Cop: Are you being trafficked?

Aryn: What? No!!!

Cop: So you are really American? All of you?

Aryn: yes

Cop: Then what are you doing on this road? American’s don’t take this road!

We were all glad that he was concerned, but it was HIRLARIOUS in hindsight! He let us go, and we then had a good laugh when Aryn said “He thought we were being trafficked!” We continued on the road until we got to Shkoder we ate lunch. We ordered salad, and the waiter had to go get the veggies from the market! I had pilaf with yogurt and salad. After walking a bit, we got back in the car and were off. This is where the day got interesting. Up until this point the word “highway” meant the same thing in every language. Not so from this point on. Highway in Albanian can apparently mean ½ finished highway with gravel connecting the parts that aren’t finished. And to stop you from going over the bridges that aren’t finished there is rocks placed across them. It made for some interesting roads and stories! Like this video! (The video is not as scary as it was!)

We then made it through both the Albanian and Montenegro borders with no incident. (or any funny stories.) But the “highway” in Montenegro was a one car lane road up a steep hill. We stopped because Justin’s nerves were on edge by some goats, and this car come careening around the corner at breakneck speed!

it was raining and I didn't have my umbrealla out, but I had just straightened my hair and didn't want it to get ruined by the rain!

We had thought that this was a one way street and were a bit freaked out. So he drove extra careful until we got to a real road. (which was a bit far away, by the way…we had a fun time following the “highway signs”) We drove through a few towns and some mountains with no eventful happenings. Then we stopped for coffee. (That sounded more eventful than it was. We just stopped for coffee at a lake. Had coffee. Got some pictures of the lake. Left.) Then we drove through some breathtaking scenery. Like wow. Gorges and lakes and rivers. That you can apparently raft. There were a lot of guard rails, and some of them (like literally every single one) had been hit in some way. We figured that most of them were from snow plows since they were the first part of the rail.

these were taken byholding the camera out of the car window and snapping as fast as it would let me!
When we made it to the itty bitty border crossing in Montenegro and handed over our passports. Then the guy proceeded to talk on his phone, talk to whomever stopped by, joke with the other workers, and generally just try to show off his border crossing power. About 20 minutes later (we were the only car on this side, so no blaming it like the Albanians with actual people there) we cross through no man’s land over a rickety one car bridge and in Bosnia (and the Repulika Srpbska)!

said bridge and view. Juston drove slow so I could quickly snap this picture before we got to the other side
It was odd that the EU was supporting a border creation/joint post. But the Montenegrins were in a fancy building, and the Bosnians were in a shack. But off we went on our last border crossing. If you are counting that was 8 (if you count them as leaving MK (1) entering Kosovo (2) etc…)! This road was a bit scary. We knew what the mountains looked like off the side, but this time there were no guardrails and it got dark, and there were no lights, and there was mist. But we didn’t really see any cars, so we were lucky.

Then there were signs. Gloriously big signs with big arrows! And we were on our way to the capital! When we got within the city limits, suddenly the radio started working. Literally, we crossed the sign and suddenly there was radio. And we got pulled over by the cops again. This time one he realized we didn’t really speak a lot of Bosnian, and we had US passports he waved us on. We also told him we were tourists. It was a tad difficult to find the hostel. We drove around in a circle and then parked while I went to find the hostel. I guessed a few streets based on how we had drove around and where we thought the hostel was. And you know what? I literally came out at exactly the right place, like next to the hostel! No joke! Ran inside and checked us in, then the guy was showing me where the parking was, and I asked him how to get back here and he said he would show us. So I walked him back to the car and dropped him off with the crew then walked back to hostel. It was nice to be out of the car and walking around.

Aryn, Justin and I were actually hungry (did you notice the complete lack of food throughout the day?) so we went to find dinner. Note that it was 12 AM at the time. There was a place open and we got pizza! We ordered a veggie pizza and it came with tomato, corn and peas. And wine. Then back to the hostel to discover that there was no hot water. Well not for me and not any day was there hot water, ever. Not even lukewarm water. But other than that it was ok. But I do not recommend this hostel. It's called Hostel Tito by the way.

Saying of the day that will only be funny if you were there: “It’s not about you Cassidy, it’s about David.” These will get no explanations. None at all!

See you around the globe!

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