Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Day 266 – Rafting in no man’s land. (Border crossing Montenegro to Bosnia Herzegovina)

The peculiar thing about the border town at the crossing between Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina was that it wasn’t a few kilometres away on either side as is usually the case, but instead it literally straddled the imaginary line dissecting Tara River. So we entered Šćepan Polje, a small resort village set up for the popular water and mountaineering activities in the area, and found the border post lodged bizarrely amidst the houses and restaurants.
Our passports were checked and stamped, our insurance documents for which we had paid €15 for one day were completely ignored and we were sent onwards towards our next destination. This no man’s land was peculiar; the only time that we’ve crossed one side of a border, entered no man’s land, and found ourselves in a town. It must be quite amusing for anyone who has chosen to stay in Šćepan Polje as a launching pad for the plethora of outdoor activities, and find yourself crossing either border to travel in any direction. It was all the odder for us because in winter of course, it becomes a ghost town.
We followed the road down to the river where a rickety bridge welcomed us to Bosnia Herzegovina. On the other side of the river we were waved down by a confused looking border guard, and we noticed that there was no insurance building – a good sign, which we were becoming accustomed to looking for. The usual documents were taken aside (passports, registration, Carnet de Passage and insurance), and we waited patiently to find out our fate (whether we had to buy insurance or not).
Of course the old green card question was raised, and we responded with our usual array of responses: “no green card, in Australia we don’t have green card, we have insurance though, valid for the whole world, etc.” But no, we were required to either have a green card, or purchase insurance at the border. But where were we supposed to buy it from? There was nothing there except a small hut with three guards, a welcome to Herzegovina sign, a river and a bunch of trees. Well to add insult to injury, we were pointed back towards Montenegro and told that we had to re-trace our steps and buy insurance from Montenegro, for a price they had no idea of, then come back and show it to these guards.
So back over the rickety bridge we went, past the “Thanks for visiting Bosnia Herzegovina” and “Welcome to Montenegro” signs, up the slippery hill, and to the opposite side of the original building we were stopped at. Ben took our documents to the nearby cafe which doubled as an insurance broker, where he found two men drinking beer and chain-smoking whilst enjoying a European handball match on their retro television set. He established that insurance was what he was looking for, and waited while one of them retrieved an ancient piece of paper from a drawer and then ran his fingers along the axes of the table printed on said paper. For the first time we were offered a minimum of three days of insurance (ironically for the only country we were planning to spend more than two days in since Greece). Unfortunately it was still more expensive than 15 days in Montenegro had been. Three days would cost us €26, and five days would be €50. Ben made an executive decision to go with three days, made the payment, and waited for the paperwork to be filled in.
Back down the hill, across the bridge, farewell Montenegro, hello Bosnia, and to the Bosnian guards. This time we were approved and with a smile and a wave, were allowed to pass into the country.

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