Saturday, 19 January 2013

Day 265 – “Slow down, life is one.” (Montenegro)

The drive from Pristina to the border with Montenegro was a spectacular one, right up there with what we were faced with as we entered Albania (Blog Day 261 – A snow-coveredborder crossing, and an abundance of stolen vehicles). Reaching the border post at about half past three in the afternoon (or evening I suppose it should be considered in this part of the world at this time of year), dusk was approaching, and the sun was setting behind the tree-covered snowy mountains that we were winding our way around.

Leaving Kosovo was simple; no more than a flick through our passports before we were waved forwards. Usually no man’s land is anywhere from no distance at all – ie. the two borders literally share a fence as was the case between Turkmenistan and Iran, to a couple of kilometres between the zones. This one though seemed to go on forever. We left Kosovo’s border area and expected to find Montenegro’s just around the corner, but instead we travelled 10km, which took 15 minutes on the windy, icy mountain road. We were starting to consider whether we had either missed something, and were even thinking that perhaps Montenegro didn’t control their own border at this point, but sure enough just as we were preparing celebrations for an unbelievably easy crossing, the small group of huts and shelters appeared over a crest.

We were of course asked to stop the vehicle, present out passports and car documents, and open the back of the car for inspection. One man disappeared with our passports, another shone a torch into our boot and decided it was probably fine, while another took care of the car documents, which of course involved the tedious questioning of our possession of a green card.

“No,” we had to frustratingly inform the guards that we are not in possession of the Europe-wide insurance document known as a “green card”.

“You need green card,” was solemnly re-iterated.

“In Australia, no green card, we have insurance for the whole world though,” but of course they don’t care about the actual nature of insurance that one may or may not have, as long as they can tick their paperwork boxes.

So yet again, we were sent to the conveniently placed insurance broker at the next building who entered our details into a surprisingly official looking computer program which told him that we should pay 15 for the minimum 15 day time period. This is another annoying thing – with our very rushed tour of the Balkans in order to reach Budapest by Christmas, we were only spending a couple of days in each country, yet 15 days seemed to be the standard minimum for insurance purchasing.

While we were waiting for our passports to be stamped and our insurance papers to be printed and signed, a very friendly and easily excitable guard approached us and handed over a bunch of pamphlets entitled “USPORI, ŽIVOT JE JEDAN”, or in the English translation “SLOW DOWN, LIFE IS ONE”. Aside from a detailed map and a useful list of emergency phone numbers, the pamphlet was laid out with some graphic car crash photographs and a list of concerning road traffic statistics, beside the reassurance that “Risks in road traffic are on the first place of harmful consequences they have”. The campaign is obviously directed at holiday makers in summer, making use of Montenegro’s fine coast line and beautiful landscape, and consequently forgetting how to drive. None-the-less though, we were provided with some very useful information about the most common causes of traffic accidents being things such as fatigue, speed and “bad cognition of the road or part of the road”, and the most common time and place of traffic accidents being weekends, near seaside towns and “1st and 15th day of a month”. Despite some amusing oddities and translations though, we actually considered that this was the first piece of safety awareness advertising that we have received on this whole trip. Go Montenegro.

All in all the process took 50 minutes, including 15 minutes driving through the most impressive no man’s land we’ve experienced yet. (Unless you include China to Kazakhstan, but that was impressive in a military in the desert type of way: Blog Crossing the Chinese - Kazakh Border, by Ben Crowley.)

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