Leaving Slovenia and heading south into Croatia was the first boarder crossing which required my passport to see the light of day since leaving the UK. And was my first encounter with a Balkan boarder guard, I would meet many in the following week, some with better results than the others.
After tracing the coast south for a few miles and stopping for a sea food bonanza lunch overlooking the Adriatic sea, I cut East to Plitvička Jezera arriving just late enough in the day that the coach parties were leaving and the sun was setting. Another picture perfect place that this part of the world is adorned with and I’m sure my camera can do more justice too than my words ever could. It was a good job I’d made it in time to catch the waterfalls in sunshine that day as the heavens opened during the night and marked the start of a storm that would last 2 days.
Following the Croatian / Bosnian boarder the area is open coutyside dotted with derelict and abandoned houses and villages, many riddled with what looked to be bullet holes. I’d seen signs of it the previous day and hadn’t really given it much thought but the names Bosnia, Kosovo and Serbia all rang in the mind from the news in the 90’s. But having had better things to do back then like being a kid I’ve a huge amount of ignorance to what went on.
Crossing into Bosnia there was no real idea of what to expect and a certain amount of apprehension as some of those news reports had obviously left a partial impression. So boarder guard number 2 just about had all his teeth but not a word of English and having forgotten to pack a phrase book I had no idea what he wanted on top of my passport and all the documents for the bike, but he kept insisting on something more. After 5 min of shrugging my shoulders, patting my pockets and with the build up of beeping cars behind me he finally gave up and waved me through. First impressions is that Bosnia is where old Mercedes go to die, but the mechanics work miracles and keep them on the road and pumping out soot. On towards Mostar a town highly recommended by the Slovenian tank biker. The city and the country were stunning and the people equally fantastic, and all my pre conceptions were gone.
Another day and another set of boarders to cross. this time into Montenegro. Taking a backroad to cross the boarder it took about 10 min for stoney faced boarder guard number 3 to let me out of Bosnia, back on the bike round the corner and then boarder guard number 4 the Montenagrin spit of Hank Schrader. “Green card, where is your green card”, well I had no idea what it was never mind have the ability to produce one. As I later discovered it’s something I could have got free from my insurers before leaving and something that in this part of the world they deem more important than a passport. He was a jovial fella but was adamant that unless a green card was magically produced or boarder insurance bought there was no way in, simple solution purchase the insurance for €15, except I didn’t have any cash! Not Euros any way and he just turned his nose at the Croatian Kuna. No problem, go back into Bosnia ride back into town and find the cash point. Back on the bike, back round the corner and hello again stoney faced boarder guard no 3, quick explanation of the situation and “no green card? where is your boarder insurance? no insurance, you must buy €35 to enter Bosnia”. Then I released what boarder guard number 2 yesterday had been looking for. What a predicament, cant go one way, cant go the other, stuck in no mans boarder land much to the amusement of all involved bar me. After ping ponging back and forth for a while I remembered my secret stash of dollars for just such a situation and hot footed back to Hank Schrader and greased his palms with a $20, filled in the paper work and I was back in the game.
Change of country but no change in the weather, heavy rain but this time with the added bonus that something had recently bled its oil all over the mile after mile of winding roads down from the boarder. Sheening like a rainbow the path ahead was twisting and slipping like an eel. Cautiously heading forward I rounded a blind bend to be greeted with carnage in front, a head on crash, two smashed up cars blocking the way and glass and debris all over the oily tarmac. On the brakes the back end twitching, one of the dazed passengers began to scream, off the brakes and regain control just in time to pick the line between the crumpled bonnets and through to safety on the other side. Fortunately everyone was OK just a bit shaken and after checking that they didn’t need my help headed on wards and back down to the coast.
Pulling up in front of the fortified city of Kotor, the natural harbor on one side, the looming city walls on the other I quickly befriended a gang of 5 Polish bikers who looked equally like drowned rats. After deciding enough was enough for the day we found an apartment to share and headed out for food and drinks, we never really managed to find the food, but did locate some potent Raki in a back street bar tucked away behind the walls.
By the morning the skies had cleared but my head certainly had not, time to head further into the Balkans for more boarder games………