Do you want to run my chapter as a sampler on your list?
The book is there (in my head). I just don't organize myself enough to finish it.
As it turned out, the flight on JAT's aging DC9 was uneventful. For an airline that had either mothballed its fleet during the United Nations embargo, or leased the aircraft to other airlines, JAT's service while not flash was more than adequate. Only a couple of air services had been kept open during the years of the international embargo - a domestic service to Podgorica (formerly Titograd) and the flight to Tivat that I was on. I had booked the flight on a whim so as to avoid a long time waiting around Belgrade for my evening train connection to Bar. Oh, all right, it was the softening effect of a couple of glasses of vinjak offered by the charming girls from Montenegroturist in central Belgrade that did it. They made Montenegro sound like such a nice place and they maintained that to enter the region by any other means other than by air would have been to detract from the balmy magic of the Mediterranean coast - their Montenegran Riviera. Besides, I was feeling expansive. I had trundled into Belgrade from Skopje on a less than impressive sample of Jugloslavenske Zeleznice's rolling stock so I might as well make up for it by flying - all in the name of solid research, you understand.
The thirty five or so minutes of flying time afforded me little view of the cloud-covered ruggedness of the land which we were overflying. It was only on the final approach to Tivat that the magnificence of the scenery became apparent. The plane shaved the top of a rugged, stony mountain ridge then dropped alarmingly to a series of valleys below while hanging a forty five degree starboard turn to line up with what looked like the tiny runway at Tivat perched on the edge of the vast fjord of the Kotor Bay. The exciting part of flying for me is low flying - being able to look into people back garden's or make out vehicle types on the roads while landing or taking off - particularly landing. On this approach the inhabitants of the villages clinging to the valley sides were able to look down on us as we swept between the valley walls searching for the re-assuring thud of rubber on tarmac that meant one more safe landing.
The sweet thyme-soaked air and the clear, clean Mediterranean light that met us upon disembarkation were a world apart from the grey drabness of Belgrade. I felt immediately at home. This was the Mediterranean world that I had come to love; the world of sea and rock and olive trees; a feeling of openness and homeliness. I felt that I was back in Greece. I felt as if I had come to another country. I was content.
It had been over twenty years since I last set foot in Montenegro and I couldn't remember a thing about the place. On that occasion I had driven from the UK to Greece, freshly graduated from University and looking for adventure instead of being sensible and getting a job. With my travelling companion Steve, we had navigated our way across Europe and down the Adriatic coast of the then unified Yugoslavia, around the Bay of Kotor and had passed through Tivat. It could have been Timbuktu, for all I remembered. I don't think we even lingered in Montenegro, keen that we were to circumnavigate the northern bulk of Albania and get to Greece before the seas off Mykonos became to chilly to swim in. That was then. In the interim, Yugoslavia had politically imploded and militarily exploded and the narrow neck of territory separating Croatia and Serbia just beyond Hercegnovi on the northern side of the Bay of Kotor now marked a border through which Steve and I had freely driven twenty one years previously, but was now as firmly closed as the border with neighboring and Stalinist Albania had been at that time. How times change.
My immediate concern was transport and lodgings. The always-optimistic and proud-of-Montenegro young ladies at Montenegroturist in Belgrade had helpfully suggested that 'something should be open' in Budva. I had figured that JAT would run one or two bus services around the coast for arriving passengers - and they did - and so resisting the temptation to take off for some freelance research of the beckoning delights of the Bay of Kotor, I opted for the JAT bus to Budva. Besides, Budva was on my hitlist for updating and it was a convenient spot to start my review of the Montenegran Riviera. Our Guide to the town was not very illuminating when it came to what might be open in late April, so I took pot luck as soon as I arrived at the JAT terminal close to the old town.
I opted for a nice-looking hotel overlooking the old town. It was called the Mogren. It was a good choice - I think it might have been my only one since it was the only establishment that I could find that was open. My room overlooked the ramparts of the old town. I had palm trees shading my balcony, I even had satellite TV and a phone. I liked Budva immediately - even though it was still quiet and considerably out of the tourist season.
The 'Old Town' is actually a bit of a misnomer. It was destroyed by two violent earthquakes in 1979 and was re-built as a tourist attraction. A kind of Montenegran Disney World, but without the excesses. Strolling through the impossibly narrow polished cobbled streets of the old town is like a game. You are never quite sure where you are going to end up, but you know that wherever it is, it will be nicer than where you were before. There are arty shops and little mini-markets as well as a selection of expensive-looking restaurants. If you can find the well-hidden access stairway, you can climb onto the walls of the Old Town and walk almost right the way round, startling snoozing cats in backyards as well as the few remaining permanent residents with equal alacrity. It's a photographer's paradise, despite the obviously contrived nature of the ambience.
Now apart from finding a clean and pleasant place to stay whenever I arrive in a new town, the next most important job is finding a decent restaurant to eat at. This fulfills two basic aims; satisfying my physical needs for food when all I might have had all day is a sandwich or - as was my case today - an insipid McDonalds hamburger in Belgrade and allowing me to make an objective assessment of the establishment for possible recommendation to other travellers. The Guide was not too helpful, but it was spot-on with regards to advice about restaurants that did not display prices. This could have been because it was too early in the season or they hadn't garnered enough energy to write them up. I am spoiled when it comes to restaurants at charming little seaside towns - after all I cut my culinary teeth in the Mediterranean in Greece. In Budva I could not find one place that seemed to provide me with that cozy, rustic ambiance that is so easy to find by the sea in Greece. Budva's restaurant scene just did not appeal to me and I was getting hungry - it was already 8.30 pm. I did the unimaginable and opted for a 'Chinese Restaurant'. It must have been an inner need for me to get my hands on a pair of chopsticks again or, more likely, it was my disappointment at not finding that little waterside restaurant with grilled octopus and a half-litre of house white to wind down my day with.
I don't know why I bothered. The decor was passable but the cuisine was enough to make you pass out. I forced my way through a couple of plates of pretend noodles and stir-fried prawns and beat a hasty retreat. I should have known better, expecting succulent Szechuan beef in a reconstructed old town in Montenegro. Such illusions.
I decided to visit Centinje the next day. It was on my list of 'to do' locations and Budva was ideally situated to make a half-day visit to this former capital of Montenegro, perched high up on a plateau not far from the looming hulk of Mt Lovcen, Montenegro's original Black Mountain and after which this mountain state is named. Cetinje looked on paper like a reasonably promising sort of place to visit. At the turn of the century all the large European states maintained embassies in Cetinje, it has been sung about in epic poems and songs and was a town with history, grandeur and stature. Besides it might even have half decent restaurant to make up for that ghastly Chinese repast that I had erringly chosen the night before.
The bus to Centinje from Budva's modern and seemingly efficient bus station soon began spiralling dizzily upwards from the coast up an almost vertical cliff over the top of which my map told me lay Cetinje only thirty one short but exhausting kilometres distant. I like views from heights as a rule. There is a certain rush you get when you look out over a cliff, or from a mountain top at the world below. You feel almost superhuman and singularly superior to the rest of humanity below you. However, I get decidedly nervous when I view that same height from the window of a wildly swinging bus over which I have no control whatsoever and the only person who can prevent you from becoming an airborne part of that view is a patently bored driver who has probably done this trip score of times before and whose mind is more likely to be on what is for lunch that day, or perhaps on whether he really did tighten those wheel nuts after the last wheel change that he conducted on that hairpin bend with a thousand metre drop to the sea below just beyond the crumbling low stone wall.
Cetinje finally appeared, like an oasis, amidst a desert of barren rock and abandoned villages, without warning. The bus dropped a small contingent of passengers, including me at Cetinje's small bus terminal, and continued on its way to the current capital of Montenegro, Podgorica. It was quiet in Cetinje, in fact it was a decidedly different place to the comparative liveliness of the coast. Orientation was no problem; a couple of parallel main streets with a main square linking them and an obliging large wall map showing where all the main sights were. A quick check, yes they were all there, as per the Guide. No-one seemed to have demolished them or decided they were no longer relevant like they did with many political museums following the fall of communism in Eastern Europe.
Grey stone seemed to predominate and permeate the atmosphere of this former capital and now sleepy backwater town whose most impressive feature, in my humble opinion, is the striking, tabloid hulk of Mt Lovcen looming over the landscape some twenty odd kilometres to the West and at this time of the year still sporting a Winter mantle of snow. At 1,749 metres, Mt Lovc=en is one of the highest points in Montenegro. It is this mountain - the 'Black Mountain' or Crna Gora in Montenegran - that gave the region its name, known widely today by its Italian translation - Montenegro. A winding road leads to the summit of the mountain where the mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic Njegos, revered poet and ruler has been built. The views from here would have been totally ethereal and I would have loved to go, but time and clime did not allow and Cetinje beckoned to be re-researched.
About the most exciting thing happening in Cetinje was the lopping of the trees in the main streets where the Milicija and council workers had colluded in a rare display of co-operation to supervise the removal of huge branches of trees that had literally overgrown the power lines running down the main street. The whole town had come out to watch the spectacle, but I was getting hungry again. Time to research a restaurant. Sadly, Cetinje didn't offer much in the way of establishments of haute cuisine. A Couple of promising-looking places were closed - for repairs, Winter hibernation - who knows, so I settled for a plate of pasta and a couple of Tuborgs at a little cafe called the Spoleto before racing back to the bus station to catch my 1.15 pm bus back to Budva. So far so good.
At about 1.20 pm the bus arrived. I boarded and settled in for the hair-rising ride back to the coast. Things began to look as though they might be going wrong when the bus driver took a left turn after entering the main highway. Visions of Budapest flashing past the train window reared their familiar head. The driver must be heading for Budva via a new road I optimistically surmised. After five kilometres of steadily eastern and contrary progression, I realized I was on a bus bound for Podgorica not Budva. I didn't panic, but just discontentedly resigned myself to the thought that my afternoon siesta was going to be unceremoniously converted to an unsolicited side-trip to Podgorica and an equally undesired return trip to the coast via Petrovac. With a bit of luck I would be back in Budva by nightfall.
Luck was on my side, however even though it was the ill-fortune of the bus driver and my fellow passages that enabled my 'escape'. After about ten kilometres the bus broke down; it simply 'failed to proceed' as the makers of Rolls Royce vehicles would have it. Passengers resignedly disembarked; the men lined up to take a communal leak and the women broke out the bread and cheese. Breakdowns must be a common occurrence, I glibly concluded. Now was my chance. Either I stayed with the bus for an indeterminable period of time and possibly get back to Budva before the next day, or I had another adventure. I decided that an adventure was better than guaranteed uncertainty.
There is nothing like the feeling of simply doing what you never intended to do, or which logic dictates that you shouldn't be doing - like streaking at a cricket match, or performing a bungie jump (I have never done either of them, I might add, but you know what I mean). Walking off into the Montenegran mountains back the way I came, daypack in hand and not a care in the world was one of those rare illogical treats. I figured I would hitchhike, if ever a car came along. If a car didn't come I would walk the ten kilometres back to Cetinje. Or was it more like twenty? I could not give a hoot; either way I was going to be back in Budva late. Besides, it was warm, the mountains looked pleasant enough, the butterflies flitted and life to me right then felt invigorating. Nothing like a brisk walk or a brief adventure to get the vim and vigor stirred up. So I ambled off, leaving the disconsolate bus passengers mingling aimlessly in the warm afternoon sun staring, without comprehension, as a lone passenger headed back on foot up the road they had just come along and were now destined to remain for God knows how long.
I must have walked five kilometres before I got a lift from a young guy in a battered Yugo. Smiles and gestures go a long way when you have no common language to communicate with your fellow human being. My attempts at Serbian from my phrasebook were met with wild enthusiasm from my driver who assumed I must have been a fluent speaker since he hit me with a stream of unintelligible Montenegran. He must have figured I wanted a lift back to Cetinje because that's where he dropped me off, or at least on the main highway just outside Cetinje where the bus driver had turned towards Podgorica about an hour previously. The good thing about being a professional traveller is that you develop an eerily accurate sense of direction no matter where you are dumped. I just knew that that bus driver was going the wrong way, so I took the other road and settled down to wait for a lift.
I was shortly joined by a young woman who introduced herself as Gordana. She thankfully spoke passable English and she too was hitchhiking to Budva. She obviously figured she would be better off teaming up with me - security in male company, that kind of thing. I felt pleased. As it was, I owed my own return to Budva to Gordana's familiarity with the local community. A large truck with an impossibly bulky load of marble stopped to pick us up. The driver recognised Gordana from their schooldays and picked us both up. Travelling up that winding mountain road from the coast in a rickety bus was one thing - travelling down it in a lumbering truck with twice its weight in marble was another thing altogether. I began to pray that the driver whose name was Milan had had his brakes serviced recently.
To take my mind off the descent, I chatted with Gordana. She was a Croat from Dubrovnik and she had married a Montenegran from Niksic, in fact she was on her way back from Niksic where she had been taking some units of study at the university to her husband and son in Tivat. She, like most of the residents of the former Yugoslavia, had been greatly saddened by the carving up of her country. Dubrovnik, a mere stone's throw in distance terms from Tivat might just as well have been relocated to the moon. Not only were road communications firmly closed, but to even make a phone call was more or less impossible. Not even letters travelled across the border. Her husband had left an inflatable dinghy in Croatia before the war. In order to retrieve it he had to engage in the kind of espionage tactics worthy of the best James Bond movies of Frederick Forsyth novels, involving 'agents' to recover the dinghy and a clandestine smuggling of the 'recovered' contraband back to Tivat via Slovenia, Hungary and Serbia.
I asked Gordana if she thought that Montenegro would ever want to go it alone. She looked at me coyly and finally admitted that it would probably be better if it did. Only local faction fighting had led to a pro-Belgrade clan seeking maintenance of Montenegro within the Serbian federation, or rump Yugoslavia, whereas others might have preferred a more independent status for the mountain state. Serbia would no doubt take a dim view of their provincial cousins seeking to distance themselves from Belgrade. Montenegro provides Serbia with its only access to the sea, via the port of Bar. No country likes to have its sea access removed from it nor its access controlled by foreign political and military forces. Wars are fought over territory and the Balkans have had their fair share of them. The track record in this part of the world is not good.
Gordana was Croatian and may have had her own agenda for wishfully thinking Montenegro as independent (once more). But other Montenegrans I spoke to, in the bars and hotels on the buses and in the restaurants echoed similar sentiments. Their views were not fired with the same kind of nationhood desire that marked, say, Macedonian discourse, but was couched in phrases such as 'Why not' or 'It's a good idea'. Political reality and economic pragmatism make the idea of an independent Montenegro more of a pipe dream than a likely scenario in the immediate future. I think that the Montenegrans are more interested in the good life of their beautiful land than in fighting about it and ruining its currently peaceful status. And I don't blame them.
I reached Budva with even an hour or so left over for short siesta - very important in this kind of work. That evening I took the safe course and ate in the hotel dining room, before retiring to write up my notes of my two days of updating. I slept soundly. Tomorrow I was on the move once more and I had quite a bit of ground to cover.
According to the plan, the next stop was Bar a large port - the port - further down the Montenegran coast. Our Guide recommended it as a convenient base to tour the coastline, though it didn't seem to offer too much for the discerning traveller. The bus trip to bar was very pleasant. Sveti Stefan, the mini-peninsula resort once favoured by such luminaries as Sylvester Stallone is just south of Budva. I would like to have visited the place, but I could think of no real reason to break my bus journey to examine a resort where readers of our books are very unlikely to ever be in a position to visit. I gave Sveti Stefan a wide berth and made a mental note to visit it when I retired.
Bar was not a great thrill. Fair enough, it is primarily a port and an important link for Montenegro and the outside world. Three passenger boats a week run a cross the Adriatic to Bari bringing much-needed commercial traffic into the country. Sanctions on Yugoslavia had only been lifted several months previously so there was an optimistic air in the talk of the travel operators that I spoke to about a resurgence in tourism. Montenegro had suffered very badly during the embargo and the Bari-Bar ferry link was of vital importance to the area. It was also the most convenient way into the region from Western Europe, the long haul via Hungary and Serbia being less attractive to would-be travellers or ex-patriots. Still, movement to and from Italy in late April was still fairly limited, though I imagined that things would pick up during the Summer months.
There wasn't a lot to keep me in Bar once had done my basic work and in any case I has set my mind on spending the night in Ulcinj. This Albanian-speaking town was a further twenty seven kilometres down the coast and hard up against the Albanian border. It used to be a popular holiday resort during its boon period of the 70s and 80s and boasted a huge expanse of beach - the Velika Plaza over which hoards of northern European sun-seekers would drape themselves from May to September each year. The place had first attracted my attention in the early 70s when its proximity to the mysterious and closed Albania and the visions of gun turrets on the beach guarding the last bastion of Stalinism exerted a perverse attraction to me. I always wanted to visit Ulcinj and now the time had come.
I boarded what was patently the school bus service for Ulcinj students who attended school in Bar. I was an obvious anomaly with my backpack, combat jacket and computer bag vying for seat space among a throng of teenage students whose interests lay way out of range of my own interest in their home town. An old lady with a white headshawl was the only indication that I was heading for Albanian-speaking territory leaving Christian orthodoxy behind for Albanian Islam. No-one paid me much attention anyway, since I am sure they had been used to many tourists or travellers in the past. The trip was pleasant and the bus passed through a series of small villages, while all the time barreling through road tunnels built by the Yugoslav military in more unified times. The trip took and hour and ten minutes.
My homing instincts and usually unerring sense of direction in the most alien of places rarely let me down. They did in Ulcinj and badly. Arriving in a strange town with a Lonely Planet guide and street map are sure-fire ways for finding your footing and getting yourself established in the least amount of time. We didn't have a map for Ulcinj, but David Stanley's arrival directions looked encouraging enough. The bus stopped at what was obviously not the main bus station, but on a street more convenient for people to get to central Ulcinj. I confidently hung a left upon meeting the main street convinced in my homing pigeon sense of direction that the street would somehow lead me to 'downtown' Ulcinj where I could pull up a chair, order a beer and get my general bearings.
I must have walked for half an hour with my heavy pack and computer bag and the houses were beginning to thin out. It was only as I rounded a bend and came across a field of bemused cows that it dawned on me that my usually impeccable sense of direction was on strike that day. I sheepishly asked a small boy which was the way to Ulcinj centre. He pointed back the way I had come. I walked for another half hour back past all the people who had thrown me curious glances on my first passage and who were now totally convinced that the tourist among them had totally lost the plot. Why else would someone carry a heavy pack out of town just to show to the cows if they weren't suffering from terminal lunacy?
Finding a place to stay was no easier task. The Hotel Mediteran which was listed as a 'pleasant modern hotel' wasn't even open so that meant another long hike with my twenty kilo pack. In desperation, I looked for people who might have a room to rent or, at most, might take pity on me and let me sit on their porch while I worked out he next stage of this so far disastrous visit to Ulcinj. I struck paydirt at the first request and soon found myself a tidy little room in a private house overlooking the main street that led down to Mala Plaza - the small beach that served the town as opposed to the Velika Plaza to which I had almost managed to walk an hour or so previously.
Some societies play golf for relaxation, in others people crowd into the football stadiums to watch their tribes participate in surrogate war, others go to movies to watch war but people in Ulcinj watch sheep fighting. I came across this unusual sight while out taking my usual orientation stroll. A group of boys and young men had gathered in a clearing just off the main street and were attempting to get a couple of rather disinterested rams to butt shit out of each other. I think sheep have rather more intelligence than we credit them for. These two rams with their fearsome-looking horns decided to half-humour the exited youths and exchanged a few half-hearted butts before turning their attentions to the green grass that grew in abundance in the clearing. I never found out what they called this sport locally, but I thought 'Rambo' would have made an eminently suitable name.
I turned my attention to the town of Ulcinj. It was quite a nice place and had it obligatory fortress. Ulcinj had been a centre for piracy and slave trading in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and even had its own small black community - descendent of the slave trade that had flourished here. Within the walls of the fortress and in a series of traditional old stone houses lived a scattering of families in what must pass a the choicest real estate in the whole of the town. I spent a pleasant hour or so meandering among its cobblestone allies and open spaces watching people going about their lives in a timeless and unhurried fashion. I drifted towards what looked like a reasonable fish restaurant and enjoyed a splendid meal of prawns and salad washed down with a fine local wine, all in solitary splendor. I was the customer for the evening. I have never had such attention lavished upon me.
I awoke to the sound of the muezzin or at least the pre-recorded version of the Muslims call to prayer, for this was a predominantly Albanian Muslim town. I got up early because today was going to be a long day and I had no idea where I would be spending the night. I was going to have a controlled adventure, allowing myself to go with the whims and vagaries of the Montengran and later Kosovo transport system. I walked along the awakening streets of Ulcinj to the bus station as the faithful were making their way to morning prayers. My bus back to Bar left at 7.15 and I wanted to be on the road and moving once more. I had made the decision in Ulcinj to head back to Greece and take in Kosovo at the same time. I had nagging worries about my security in Kosovo, but I had to check it out first hand and see if travel in the region was possible or even desirable. I planned to head in the general direction of Kosovo and hopefully make Pec or Pristina by nightfall. I planned to take whatever transport came my way and travel all day and night if necessary.
I felt happy to be on the move once again and heading back to my base in Greece. I had done well so far with my washing and other basic on-the-road chores, but I longed for some rest and recreation without having to worry about writing about it and time to unwind and recharge my batteries for my upcoming circuit of Albania.
I knew there was a train from Bar to Podgorica shortly after my arrival back in Bar and that would give me a good head start for the day. Wishful thinking! The train was two hours late. No explanation from the authorities or seeming concern on the faces of my fellow passengers, just an acceptance that trains scheduled for 9.15 sometimes leave at 11.15 - big deal! The train was oddly deserted and I managed to secure a six-person compartment to myself which I enjoyed in total privacy all the way to Podgorica. The scenery was beautiful. After a short coastal run the train cut sharply landwards and tunnelled straight through the coastal mountains emerging on the other side on the fertile plain that led up to Lake Scutari. The line runs across the lake at a certain point and it certainly was a pleasant ride. I like trains - if you haven't already gathered - and this was definitely the way to travel. That was before we hit Podgorica.
I wanted to alight at Podgorica and look for an onward bus, but most of Podgorica wanted to get on my train and were not too particular about using conventional doors to do so. I saw the milling throngs as the train slowly pulled in. Their excitement turned to agitation as the train screeched to a halt then all hell broke loose. It meant little to these determined throngs that there was at least one person who wanted off at Podgorica. I was swamped at the door of the carriage by desperate passengers who were resigned to a system that had never heard of seat reservations or queues. These frenzied would-be passengers now attempted to board the train through any opening made available to them - windows, doors, hatches and I would imagine that there would have been at least half a dozen of them trying to force their way in through the carriage roof.
My body got through the crowd first, but my bags - still attached to my hands - were on the other side of a wall of seething humanity that refused to allow the bags to pass through them. I struggled for what seemed an eternity to retrieve my bags and most of all my laptop computer with its valuable data and exhausted and disgruntled I escaped the masses and headed for the exit. What a welcome to Podgorica!
Thankfully, the bus station was adjacent to the railway station - at least they got some things right - and a quick glance of the timetable was not very re-assuring. No onward buses to Pristina until much later that day and I had no intention of spending five hours waiting in a decrepit and depressing bus station. There was a bus to Pec or Peja as the Albanian speakers called it, leaving in five minutes. I bought a ticket immediately for this bus with the intention of getting off at Berane. At least it would get me some of the way along without having to remain needlessly immobile.
I dozed most of the way to up the Moraca canyon, a spectacular fissure in the earth that delivers the river of the same name from the Montenegran highlands to the coast. The view is best enjoyed by train and by now those seething throngs who had met me off the train in Podgorica would have had their fair share of it. And best of luck to them, they could have all the canyons in Montenegro for all I cared. There was no way I would have travelled by train with a dozen hefty Montenegrans and their baggage in my lap. I was travelling in the relative comfort of my own seat in the company of a contingent of what seemed to be mainly ethnic Albanians and they were minding their own business concerned, like me, only with getting from point A to point B with the minimum of fuss.
I was the only passenger to get off at Berane - or Ivangrad, as it used to be called when Soviet heroes were in favor. There were ten or more Kosovar Albanians waiting in the bus station clamoring to claim my vacated seat. They almost didn't let me get off - not unlike the wild crowd at Podgorica railway station earlier that morning. I immediately began to think that Berane might not be a popular destination. Still, I had buoyed myself with the idea that morning in Ulcinj that this day was going to be a day of adventure and that I would simply adapt myself to the circumstances as they presented themselves. Nonetheless, Berane looked as though it could be a challenge. There was an obviously eager crowd to get out and I was the only one to get off the bus that was going on to Pec in Kosovo.
My immediate plan was to move on from Berane in the general direction of Skopje. In retrospect, I could have stayed on the bus and got off at Rozaje, or even Titova Mitrovica. Little did I know that at this time of the year the bus could not take the snow-shrouded pass from Rozaje across the Mokra Gora mountain range to Pec, but would take a long detour through Titova Mitrovica from where Pristina, or even Skopje were within a striking distance. Still, that's what adventures are made of and I wasn't going to let Berane get me down.
My plan was to look for a bus onwards to Pristina or Skopje, but there was nothing going in that direction for at least four hours. The bus station was a dismal-looking place. I was also hungry- I had not eaten since very much earlier on that morning. It was about four o' clock in the afternoon. At least the weather was pleasant enough. I sat in the deserted waiting room and pondered my options. My only companion was a soldier who was ostensibly on leave and looking for a bus to meet his family or girlfriend. He didn't look too friendly, nor particularly interested in me. After half an hour of studying the various permutations of bus routes that originated in, or passed through Berane I decided that some kind of more productive action was in order. I secured a bar of ghastly chocolate and some indescribable soft drink to satiate my growing hunger pangs and noticed a line of cabs and their gregarious drivers engaged in animated conversation just outside the gates of the bus station. Now, I don't give up easily and I don't like hanging around when I want to be on the move, especially for four hours in a drab and uninspiring bus station such as Berane offered. I approached the most likely-looking driver and attempted to bargain, in German, with him for a ride to the next town of Rozaje which was 30 km away over the next ridge of mountains. We agreed on 20 deutschmarks and to the smiles and muted expressions of congratulation from his admiring fellow taxi drivers at their colleague's skill in securing a lucrative fare from probably the first foreigner they had seen that year, we set off for Rozaje, at breakneck pace, in his battered Peugeot.
David Stanley had warned that this might be the most difficult part of the trip, with a wait of several hours for an onward bus, but he had optimistically suggested that there was a 'comfortable hotel' in Rozaje, even though 'there wasn't much to see in Rozaje, other than the view of the mountains from the white war memorial'. I could cope with that for one night. All I wanted was a comfortable bed and a nice meal in some cosy tavern. Besides, I could do some first-hand research on an obscure destination and in an even obscurer town. There could well be other travellers next year depending on my astute observations on travel in this part of the Balkans. Yes, this would indeed be a most appropriate thing to do.
At first glance, Rozaje did not look promising. It was a nondescript country town, strung out along the main road and a parallel main street. It had the usual array of crumbling socialist housing blocks, muddy streets, uninspiring shopfronts, and no restaurants that could be earmarked as we drove in along the main street to the Rozaje Hotel. This sole place of repose for weary travellers had a vaguely Bavarian look about it. On closer inspection its outside facade was decidedly jaded - worse still the hotel seemed to be completely deserted.
I presented myself to the dingy and unattended hotel reception and after drumming my fingers for several minutes on the worn and dusty counter, I decided that a subtle forced cough might elicit a more favorable response from whomever was supposed to be receiving guests. The manager, who eventually emerged from another room, where I could see he had been engaged in social intercourse with a garishly-dressed red-headed woman was indeed very surprised to see me, but despite that, managed to proffer the kind of smile that you would normally expect from the family undertaker.
'Govorite li Engleski' I uttered in that well-practiced fashion that travellers can expansively afford after a certain number of well-practiced attempts.
I had no idea where we would go if he couldn't speak English. It would have been a one-way communication affair with a string of non-sequiturs from my phrasebook with requests such as 'does the chambermaid deliver room service' or 'could you bring me a copy of the London Times with my pot of Earl Grey, toast and Robertson's marmalade for breakfast'.
Don't get me wrong, phrasebooks are really great - I hope so, I wrote one! - but they do have the tendency of convincing the listener that you have a greater grasp of the language than you really have. If, like me, you can deliver a request or pleasantry with a fair approximation of the pronunciation of the language you are effecting to speak, you are more than likely to be hit with a stream of unintelligibility that forces you to attempt to retract what you have just said and convince your interlocutor that you really don't speak his or her language at all. Very confusing for both sides.
'But of course, I speak English, dear sir' replied the undertaker-manager. 'I also speak, Bulgarian, Polish and Albanian' he added brightly. Fat lot of use to me, I thought, darkly.
'Do you have a room for me for this evening?" I enquired, hopefully.
Given the decidedly empty nature of what was allegedly a lobby, I assumed that his reply would be a sine qua non.
'Let me see' came back the uncommitted response.
He grandly surveyed a bank of little boxes every one of them sporting a key to the room that the box presumably represented.
'Yes, I think I can give you a room for tonight'. he came back with a smile of self-satisfaction.
'Are you alone?' he asked.
I looked behind me in the off-chance that I had been quietly joined by a nubile, blond Norwegian backpacker in a similar state of temporary homelessness as I, and replied with a level of mild disappointment.
'I am, unfortunately ...'
'You may take room number 32'
Now why the undertaker-manager decided to give me room 32 when every single room in this God-forsaken hotel was patently unoccupied, I shall never fathom. I mean he could have taken the first key off the rack and said:
'Lucky you, sir, you get the pick of the lot. We are totally empty tonight, so you can have room number 1'.
But no, he had to choose room number 32 which, as luck or bad fortune would have it, was on the top floor at the very end of the corridor from the stairs that I had to climb with my backpack. The hotel didn't sport such modernity as a lift. Perhaps he twigged that I was reviewing his hotel for a tourist guide and thought that if he gave me such an arbitrary or seemingly high room number I would be unwittingly convinced into believing that the Montenegro Boredom Society had taken over the whole block of preceding 31 rooms and that I was extremely privileged to have been granted a room at all. Where all the member of the aforesaid Montenegro Boredom Society had gone was beyond me. Perhaps they had gone out for the evening - en masse - bored with the incipient necrosis that this particular hotel seemed to inspire.
Room 32 was a hole - a broom cupboard with a bed, actually, and a hole or two to perform one's ablutions. I wedged myself in between the wall and the bed and managed, with a degree of athletic dexterity that I did not believe I was capable of, to include my backpack and computer bag into this incredibly minuscule piece of living space, designated as room 32. I was decidedly underwhelmed at the luxuriousness of it all. It was only 5.00 pm.
As is my wont upon arrival in a new place, the first priority is to check out my departure details. In the case of the Rozaje Hotel, this policy had an air of urgency about it, so I set about looking for the bus station which, according to David Stanley was close by. He was at least right on this count.
I like departure and arrival points in general. It matters not whether they are airports, bus stations, train stations or car-hire offices - even bus stops and taxi ranks have an air of expectancy about them. The Rozaje bus station - if you can call it a 'station' had no air of expectancy about it. It didn't even have a timetable, so you couldn't even reassure yourself that buses actually came through here. There weren't even any people who looked as though they might know anything about buses. The ticket office and waiting room looked as though they had just been gutted. There wasn't even a bus on the forecourt. I began to have second thoughts about Rozaje.
There are times when you make decisions that defy logic and fly in the face of sanity, but when made, leave you with an indescribable sense of satisfaction and calm. Such a decision was made at the Rozaje bus station. I wanted out of this hole of a place and didn't give a fuck where I was going to end up.
I marched back to the Rozaje hotel in triumph - my triumph being that I knew I was not going to spend the night in a broom cupboard and that, given that the night was young (it was barely 6.00 pm), I was going to be on the road once more to who-cares-where. This is the stuff that adventures are made of.
The undertaker-manager was unimpressed. I suspect his ego suffered more than the bank balance of this ostensibly state-run concern. I mean, here was I, a foreign traveller - from the other side of the world to boot - and I had imperiously decided that there were more things in life than a night at the Rozaje Hotel. He accompanied me assiduously to my room to check the bed linen, just in case I had had a nap or some casual sex in his grubby bed linen in the forty five minutes that I had been out of the hotel. I thankfully grabbed my passport and checked out in high spirits. I hadn't the foggiest idea where I was going or how I was going the get there.
When the going gets rough in the transport sector, use your wits ... I wish my mother or father had said that to me, but I just made it up. Believe me it works! I thought hitch-hiking might be the way out of Rozaje given that there was no bus out there until quite late that evening - the same bus that I could have taken from Podgorica to Skopje. Taking into consideration the wild scenes that accompanied my de-bussing in Berane, I somehow doubted that there would be a seat on the bus, let alone a bus. I settled in for some serious hitch-hiking with a resigned feeling that the real adventure was just beginning.
Believe it or not, I enjoyed the hour or so that I stood there at the side of the road, near the Rozaje bus station, watching the sun sink over the mountains and observing the local mothers and fathers taking their children to the local early childhood clinic - well at least I assumed it was, why else would a procession of locals drive or walk up to a nondescript building at 6.00 pm in the evening, child in tow, and depart 30 minutes later. They were happy in their cloistered and uncomplicated world in the mountains of Eastern Montenegro, irrespective of whether I thought that it was a decidedly unattractive world, and they were totally oblivious to the presence of a foreigner in their midst who was keenly seeking a way out of it.
I noticed a cluster of taxi drivers congregated near a cafe and reassured myself that, if I really got stuck, I would fork out some more deutschmarks and take a taxi to Pristina. When I casually enquired how much they would be interested in for a ride to the capital of Kosovo, they muttered, shook their heads, looked doubtful and claimed that 120 deutschmarks might be enough to seal a deal. I figured hitch-hiking would be a better fiscal option.
By 7.00 pm the sun had set and it was getting dark. My adventure was full-on. There was no way I was going back to the Rozaje Hotel hell-hole. The bus to Skopje might turn up at 8.20 pm, then again it might not; there might be a seat or, at a pinch, a spot in the luggage locker and then again I might be there all night. In my younger days, I had gladly hitch-hiked all night from Dusseldorf in Germany to Ostende in Belgium with barely the money in my pocket for my ferry ticket back to England. On another occasion I had arrived, at midnight, at Heathrow airport in London without my luggage and under the heavy influence of the free whisky that I had imbibed all the way from JFK airport in New York to Heathrow. I still managed to retrieve my luggage from Gatwick, where my luggage had been accidentally sent, hitch-hike home to the North of England and still smile about it. With these sobering and reassuring thoughts in mind, I strolled back to the cafe for a coffee and a re-assessment of my plans. I was not too concerned.
As I sipped my coffee, pondering how great it was to be travelling and writing for Lonely Planet, I noticed a Nissan Patrol with German license plates draw up at the cafe. From it emerged a policeman and a civilian, both about my age. They entered the cafe and ordered some food. While they were waiting, the cafe owner, who had been aware of my efforts to find a ride eastwards mentioned to the duo from the Nissan about my plight. The civilian approached me.
'So where are you from?' he asked in genuine curiosity and with a friendly smile. This is the bit I love, because whenever I say I am from Australia - even though I was born in England, half British but half Norwegian and consequently spent the first 22 years of my life there - there is always a gee-whiz response from people when you tell them you are from the bottom end of the world.
'From Australia', I ventured, mustering as much nonchalance as possible, as if it was the most natural thing on earth for an Australian with a backpack to be seeking a lift from the backblocks of Montenegro to Kosovo on an already darkened April evening. 'From Australia?' mused the civilian, as if he had heard me wrong. Most people think I really mean Austria, since there are only two letters missing from Austria before it becomes Australia.
'Yes, Australia' I re-iterated with a pronounced stress on the 'al' of Australia, 'I am just touring around Yugoslavia. I wonder if you might be heading towards Pristina? I am kind of stuck here and I need a lift'.
The civilian was mildly hesitant, but eventually explained that he would be going to Pristina that evening, but that he had to drop in to his village to see his wife and children and that if I didn't mind tagging along, he could take me to Pristina much later. He asked me if that was OK. I asked him if the Pope was Catholic - which in retrospect was a dumb thing to do because neither Serb Orthodox nor Albanian Muslims give two hoots about the Pontiff. I secured my lift. However, I couldn't figure out what role the policeman, or the civilian for that matter, played. I didn't give a fuck; I was on my way once more.
I climbed into the back of the Nissan Patrol and we set off for Pec over the Savine Vode pass that the bus I had travelled on earlier had not been game enough to tackle. I was in a good mood and I knew that my immediate travel plans were out of my hands for the moment.
I also knew that Rozaje was close to the internal border with Kosovo and that we would soon cross the internal checkpoint marking the border between Montenegro and Kosovo. I was also uneasy. David Stanley, in his description of Kosovo had warned that all travellers entering the region would be stopped and searched and that anyone other than bona fide travellers could be subjected to interrogations and delays and even then 'bona-fide' travellers were likely to be lumped into the category of 'reasonably suspicious'. Human rights activists, journalists, or people with unfavorable comments in their possession about Serbia and Kosovo could expect trouble.
I was neither of the first two, though I did have in my possession a laptop computer full of historical and political data on Kosovo, I had a manuscript about the history of Kosovo which was not all that flattering, I had names and addresses of people throughout Macedonia and Yugoslavia who had assisted me in my research. I was above all not a bona fide tourist - at least in the presumed opinion of the Serbian police.
We reached the border crossing within minutes. At this point the policeman got out clutching a bag and I was invited to sit in the front seat of the Nissan. The policeman greeted a mean-looking detachment of other policeman who looked at us with some interest, but not enough interest to detract them for the prospect of just-delivered food to satiate their hunger pangs with perhaps a bottle of raki to ward off the late Winter cold and we were summarily waved through. I was perplexed, but summoned enough courage to ask my now sole travelling companion and driver.
'What was all that about? Are we now not in Kosovo?' I timidly suggested.
'Fuck those bloody Serbian police bastards!!' came a distinctly disgruntled response from my driver.
'I am sorry, my name is Johannes' he continued, 'it is my pleasure to have you as my passenger. But please excuse me, I hate Serbian police. They are vermin - they are the scourge of Kosova!'.
He explained that the Serbian policeman that he had just dropped off had commandeered him earlier on that evening as he was trying to cross that same checkpoint back into Kosovo. Three Serbian policeman at the checkpoint, Johannes explained, were hungry and had decided that he should buy them some food. Johannes was already late in getting home, but that meant nothing to three hungry and belligerent policeman. Besides they had the guns. Johannes had been ordered back to Rozaje to pick up some food for them, at his own expense, and to help him in the task, one of the three policeman was dispatched to assist him. I had come across them as they were picking up the Serbian policemen's meal at the cafe. Johannes was a justifiably miffed driver and, in sympathy, I immediately took a dim view of Serbian policemen.
Meanwhile his Nissan barreled steadily upwards across the Savine Voda pass, the banks of snow on either side of the road getting taller and taller as we wound our way upwards through pine forests in the final light of the early Spring evening in Kosovo. Johannes spoke excellent English, despite the fact that he maintained he had only learnt it through television and radio. He also spoke German, French, Serbian and Albanian. He was, in fact, an Albanian - a proud Kosovar Albanian. His real name was not Johannes, but he had adopted the name Johannes during the years of study, work and imprisonment in Germany. He was what you would call a 'character'. One of those gems of people that you rarely meet, but when you do, they fill your consciousness and intellect with pure stimulus. He had had a checkered career. He had studied in Germany, got busted for drugs and done time in prison and had converted to Christianity and was now working for a German company that helped to distribute Christian literature to Kosovar Albanians. He had also worked extensively in secretly importing Bibles into Albania during the Hoxha tyranny. Albanian border guards, easily bribed with money, cigarettes or alcohol had for years allowed the clandestine import of Christian material into the atheistic state during the repressive years of Albania's Stalinist regime of Enver Hoxha.
He pulled out a photograph from the glove box and gave it to me. It was a picture of him and Mother Theresa, a Macedonian-born Albanian. She had been impressed with his ability to secure huge monetary funding for a Christian seminary in Kosova and had sought a meeting with him when she visited Kosova in 1991. He was also a man with a fervent bee in his bonnet about Serbian repression in Kosovo.
We crossed the Savine Voda pass, alone and by now in darkness, slipping and sliding in the treacherous snow in his Nissan Patrol and I listened intently. I listened to the stories of Serbian repression, imprisonment and outright murder of Kosovar Albanians. It was an outpouring of passion and pain, an account of how 80" of the population of this rich region of Yugoslavia is Albanian, but who are treated as colonial subjects and who are subjected to persistent and systematised repression and harassment. Johannes had a long story to tell and I had a lot to learn. I began to understand why Serbia took such a dim view of people showing too much of an interest in Kosovo. We were descending into Pec and Johannes was concerned about Serbian police blocks showing too much interest in us.
Johannes, obviously used to the intricacies of dodging random Serbian police blocks, took us away from the town centre of Pec, or Peja as Kosovars call it, over potholed back roads more used to donkeys than 4WD vehicles until we came to a secondary road leading to his village of Istok where we were to meet with some 'associates' in a back-street cafe to discuss 'some political issues'.
I was cautiously introduced to the group of associates, but heartily welcomed by them with beer and smiles. Albanian, not Serbian, was the language spoken in these parts. I felt that I had left Yugoslavia already. Johannes took me to meet his wife Stella and their four children. Stella, obviously used to Johannes' foreign guests made me feel very welcome and was visibly relieved to see Johannes home again, but obviously peeved at his insistence that he had to take off almost immediately on 'business' in Pristina. Her main concern, as it turned out, seemed to be that he might have girlfriends awaiting him elsewhere. I confidently assured her that his mission in Pristina was purely professional. I think she half-believed me. Then again I wasn't 100% sure myself.
Stella and her children were a delight. I could happily have spent the evening in their company. The whisky she served Johannes and me was most relaxing and I could have happily relaxed a spell longer, but Pristina beckoned. Johannes was to meet a Danish delegation later in Pristina that night. I didn't ask who they were or why he had to meet them. My mind was already full of stories of intrigue and subterfuge. It was getting late and all I wanted to do was have a good sleep after a hard day of adventuring on the road.
Upon leaving Johannes' house we were joined by an eloquent English-speaking associate of Johannes who had agreed to accompany us to Pristina for the ride. His own stories of repression and harassment matched those of Johannes. He pointed out clandestine schools where the Albanian language was taught- he told us how his passport had been confiscated because he had dared to visit Albania without good reason. He had been arbitrarily imprisoned and beaten by Serbian police. He was not a happy Kosovar, yet through all his accounts of mistreatment at the hands of the Serbs, he maintained a dignity and politeness that I had not seen to date in any of the Serbian police whose path I had the misfortune to cross.
Don't get me wrong. I am not against Serbs. I don't doubt that Serbian police officers when they are off-duty are as equally engaging and hospitable as anyone else in the Balkans, but Serbian police when on duty, particularly those assigned to the difficult posting of Kosovo have a definite red-necked and gung-ho attitude to policing. They also see it as their God-given task to give Kosovar Albanians a hard time.
I don't even want to get involved in the ins and outs of Serbian-Albanian politics here - this is after all supposed to be an account of a journey, not a political or social treatise - but it is hard to avoid it. I am a political animal by nature. I have over the years maintained a morbid interest in the repressive regimes of Albania, North Korea, the Cambodia of Pol Pot and in East-West intrigue and espionage. I would love to have stood on the Gleinucke Bridge between the former East and West Berlin during an East-West spy exchange. You know, with the swirling mist and searchlights and men in trenchcoats looking real mean, just like they used to do in the James Bond movies. I am fascinated and inextricably drawn into Greek-Turkish and Greek-Macedonian politics. Kosovo politics was beginning to have that same appeal. I still don't know who is historically, socially or morally right in Kosovo. Balkan politics are not convoluted for nothing. What I do know is that a majority population is subject to the whims and policies and repressive policing by a minority population. It doesn't matter which way you look at it Mr Milosevic and the rest of you in the Serbian political leadership in Belgrade, you are basically screwing up in Kosovo and the future consequences of your actions are too dire to imagine.
For the record, Kosovo to the Serbs is as much strategically important as it is historically and culturally. Despite the fact that they are now a minority in the region, Serbs regard Kosovo as their spiritual homeland. Kosovo is also a rich agricultural region like Hungarian-speaking Vojvodina in the North. It is no accident that Slobodan Milosevic revoked the autonomous status of these two regions after assuming power in the mid 80s. Take Kosovo and Vojvodina away from rump Yugoslavia (Serbia) - and let's include the restive Montenegrans into the calculation - and you basically have an emasculated Serbia without a granary and without vital access to the sea, Srpska Republika and arch-villain Karadzvic or not. Milosevic coincidentally hails from Kosovo, a point not lost on Albanian Kosovars.
We were stopped by a police checkpoint shortly after leaving Istok. It was a tense standoff. The carbine-wielding police were more interested in Johannes as the driver than in us passengers. Which was just as well, since I began to get a loose feeling in my bowels. These checks, Johannes, informed me later, were as regular as they were pointless. Their main aim is to intimidate and show who is boss. If the police found a minor irregularity in the vehicle papers, or even invented one, they could quite easily confiscate the vehicle or march you off for questioning, or jail, or subject you to a combination of all three. I gave them that kind of fixed smile you give your worst enemy at a cocktail party and pretended to be very insignificant. They thankfully ignored my amateur theatrics.
Johannes and his friend delivered me safely to the best hotel in Pristina - a crumbling affair that would barely deserve two stars in the third world - amid vows of eternal friendship and solidarity. Johannes, I thank you for your timely appearance and companionship on my day of adventure. May you and your Kosovar compatriots' struggle for acceptance be realized in due course.
I took a tawdry room with no curtains on the 8th floor of the hotel. Not even the lift would stop at the 8th floor. I suspect the 8th floor must have been reserved for foreign subversives who were obliged to take the fire escape to the 7th floor in order to take the lift down. I imagined that the emergency stairs sported hidden cameras, or worse still hidden machine guns so that the authorities could tidily dispose of undesirable foreign guests, should they deem it expedient, by dropping the resulting corpses 8 flights down the middle of the stairwell to a secret pit in the hotels basement. I tried to confuse them by taking the stairs to the 9th floor and summoning the lift from there.
I took breakfast the following morning in a sparsely-patronized dining room which seemed to be full of men in ill-fitting suits and tense expressions. One exception was an obviously out-of-place woman reading a copy of the UK newspaper The Independent seated at the table next to me. I rarely instigate conversations with strangers, but today was an exception. I just wanted to share my experiences of Kosovo with someone else. The woman with the Independent was as equally happy to swap stories as I was.
Anna was part of a high-flying trade union mission from Brussels that had come to talk to Albanian trade union representatives in Kosovo. It immediately occurred to me that they would be about as popular as a brewery in Riyadh. Anna seemed to regard her mission to Kosovo with the kind of stoicism and resignation that you find in insurance salesmen who were once bank managers. I naturally assumed that the men in ill-fitting suits scattered around the dining room would be intently focused upon our interaction. I opened the sugar bowl to check for bugs.
'So what's a fellow Pom doing in this out-of-way place?' I ventured. She had that kind of accent that gives you away.
'You from Australia, or something?' she replied slightly askance. I had obviously managed to introduce enough of a nasal drawl into what I had assumed was perfectly respectable English.
'Can I get you a coffee and you can tell me what you did wrong in order to be sent here?' I countered.
Anna's job was slightly less threatening than mine, though no less difficult. The Serbs would have a lot more explaining to do if she and her colleagues from Brussels disappeared into the 8th floor stairwell, but the authorities were non-too-happy about the 'interference' of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions poking around in their dirty linen. She was happy to be leaving for the security of Brussels later that afternoon after what promised to be a testy and challenging set of morning meetings with Albanian trade unionists under the watchful eye of the Serbian militia. For my part, I needed to get myself out of Pristina to Skopje and then back to Greece via Macedonia.
I still had to arrange transport back to Skopje and the bus seemed the most logical option. I took the hotel taxi a couple of kilometres to the bus station, through a city where the tension on the streets was tangible. There are not many places where I have felt uncomfortable about walking around; Pristina was one of those rare exceptions. The expressions of the people on the streets looked almost hostile. The police presence was very obvious. The place felt repressed- it was not a town to linger in- it was not even an attractive town. I wanted to leave Pristina in all haste.
There was a timetabled bus to Skopje at 9.00 am. I arrived at the bus station at 8.30 am and optimistically bought a one-way ticket to the capital of Macedonia. As I waited on the bus station platform, I stood out like a sore thumb, an obvious foreign presence amidst suspicious-looking Albanians, Serbs and police - lots of police. I became consciously aware of my incriminating intelligence on Kosovo residing on the hard disk of my laptop computer hanging from my shoulder. I tried to convince myself that my computer bag only had dirty washing in it, so that I would at least look composed. The blue-clad Milicija gave me cursory, but curious glances. I was convinced that at any moment they were going to ask me to open my computer bag and demand to know what I had in the Kosovo directory of the Yugoslavia sub-directory on the C drive of my laptop. Paranoia can do funny things to you.
By eleven o'clock the bus to Skopje had still not arrived. I returned to the ticket counter to enquire about the delay. The English-speaking ticket clerk ominously took my ticket back and refunded me my money. I had a sinking feeling that I was not going to be leaving Pristina by bus in a hurry.
'Maybe there will be another bus later this morning ...' was the clerk's unconvincing reply. I desperately wanted to leave Pristina and get back to Greece and complete my write-up of Yugoslavia. I had had enough of the place at this stage and once I was into a mind-set that told me I had finished this job and it was time to move on, it was awfully hard to shake it off.
I had noticed the taxi rank next to the bus station and once again I was drawn by the quick and painless, but much more expensive option of putting distance between point A and point B. I didn't even ask how much it would cost to get to the border post at Deneral Jankovic. I got into the taxi and silently took off on the final leg to the border. By the time I reached the border post and an hour and ten minutes later, two Serbian policeman had been shot and wounded in Pristina. Three Albanians were shot dead in reply. The tension that I had witnessed on the streets of the capital of Kosovo that morning had not been without reason. I uneventfully crossed the border into Macedonia and looked for a ride for the last 20 kilometres into Skopje. The difficult bit was over.
(C) 1997 Paul D. Hellander