Arriving to Montenegro
August 22, 2006
So, equipped with a new mission, to find some European property in Montenegro for a friend of mine and a pension for another, I was ready to hit the road again.
But first I had to pick up my liability insurance in Makarska. Back in Zivogosce Croatia, I was having a conversation with a visitor from Moravia (who was kind enough to give me a bottle of homemade Slivovice – plum brandy) about his travels to Bosnia, and the one thing he said they control when you cross the border there (note that you have to drive through Bosnia for a small section before getting out of Croatia on the east end) is that you have liability insurance. That is when I remembered that mine was about to expire. Turns out that the past 30 days of travel were so much fun that this point of procrastination managed to slip my mind. I looked in my wallet and discovered I had three days remaining. So I hooked up my laptop to the internet through the mobile phone, logged into my bank account to transfer the necessary funds, and wrote Allianz an email to send me a new copy to the local office in Makarska.
Had to admire my solar panels.
That having come through for me about one week later, I hit the road, and when I made it to the highway I found my very first hitchhiker: a Pole speaking four languages and living in Switzerland who was hitchhiking down to the region to check out the supposedly newly discovered pyramids around Sarajevo.
He agreed to help me out with gas, offering 10 Euro per day, which became my benchmark for new "customers". We had a great time, he bought me beers and I showed him the art of living cheaply and partying in a small village.
Meanwhile, I was smsing with a Taiwanese Canadian girl who decided to take a bus down from Sarajevo to hook up with me in Dubrovnik, to drive with me down the coast of Montenegro before making it back up to a film festival in Sarajevo on the 18th.
I drove my Polish friend to the Bosnian border and then it was off to Dubrovnik, spending one evening in a small village by the coast, Blace.
We did a quick tour of Dubrovnik after I picked her up, and decided we’d rather evade the tourist scene and spend the evening in, yes, some small village along the coast. The coast became a lot more steep after that point and it was not until the very eastern end of Croatia, near the border of Montenegro, in the town of Molunat that we found a nice place where we could park near the ocean. The scenery was much more lush and forested in this area than anywhere else along the coast, perhaps because it might rain more in that area. Well it was certainly raining that day, the first time during the 30 days of my travels, the sky filled with juicy lighting and bursting thunder.
Both of us were rather bored sitting in the truck watching the rain pelt on the ocean surface, so I suggested to her my recent idea that, when no shower can be found (which was the case the last few days of my travels), why not just try standing in the rain. So we went for an interesting dip in the ocean while some locals played water polo, and then stood outside rinsing off for a few minutes.
It was cold and I was not in the mood for another cold dinner, so I decided to make my first warm meal in the truck: a big pot of my famous Chinese noodles balancing nimbly on a small camping stove. I realised I had some work to do what concerns anything resembling cooking facilities inside the vehicle.
The next morning I went to the local post office to send some postcards and some important invoices, and we were off to Montenegro. Crossing the border was rather easy, where they usually uttered the words "autokemping?" after sticking their heads into the window, and then let us through. At some point I asked her about the possibility of picking up hitchhikers, and like me, she too has hitchhiked a lot in the past and wanted to return karma the favour. Later that day I passed a bearded fellow who seemed a little shady to me and I was prepared to barrel by. I asked her what she thought, to which she replied, "Why not?". So I slammed on the brakes to find two more people accompanying him (altogether two guys and one girl – all of them Polish). Like my first hitchhiker, these also were waiting about two hours, and were apparently glad enough that I picked them up that they agreed to throw in 10 Euro a day as well.
Eventually arrived to Kotor and decided that something must be wrong with my phone, because I was not getting internet since I crossed the border.
Suspecting that it could be a provider issue, I let them tour the city while I would go to do some work at an internet cafe, and then to resolve my roaming internet problems. But it seems I was not in the habit yet of properly training my new travelers, because the Taiwanese girl, Yanun, did the biggest no-no I have trained myself never to do: lock the door before closing it. I was in the process of considering to shut the door when she slammed that for me, and luck would have it that just that time I managed to forget my keys in the ignition. So that was one more headache to deal with. She approached a car wash, whose attendant said he knows a mechanic who could help, but that he will be back there in an hour.
Realising I was no longer on t-mobile but on some mobile provider named ProMonte, I asked around where this company was located and found out that the girl there was new and that she did not know how to deal with my fancy pocket computer. In any case, t-mobile does not have coverage in this country and I had to figure out a way how to get internet through ProMonte.
Arriving back at the truck an hour later, the mechanic showed up on a moped with four tools: a long and thin metal rod, larger pliers, and two screwdrivers of different sizes. Within about two minutes he had the vehicle open, I was 20 Euro poorer, with once again increased doubts concerning my overall security situation.
I was seriously thinking of sending my hitchhikers on their way so I could drive back to Croatia, to ensure an internet connection, but their 20 Euro a day was definitely handy, I wasn’t getting any work at that point anyway, so I decided I would risk it and continue driving east along the coast and try to resolve my internet problems the next day at another ProMonte shop.
In Herceg-Novi, first city on the way, where I discovered I had an internet problem.
There I learned I would need to get a local sim card with them, managed to get my internet working, and decided it was probably for the better, since I would save money on text messages and could receive incoming calls from customers or friends wanting to travel with me. Which was actually the case, because the friends I was partying with in Zivogosce decided they wanted another mini vacation, and phoned me within five minutes of when I activated the sim card (hence a proud new owner of a Montenegro telephone number). So now, in addition to finding a property for my friend, I was supposed to find a nice pension in Montenegro for my friends to hook up with me.
We went all the way down to the east end of the coast, where the beaches were sandy and the ocean was windy (we enjoyed our day on the beach next to a school for kiting). But we decided that, for a change, we’d like to spend the evening by some lake, so we drove inland to Sasko. One of the Polish guys mentioned that this end of Montenegro is about 75% populated by Albanians, who generally are much friendlier. I noticed that a lot of signs in Ulcinj, the larger city on the east end of the coast, were in Albanian, or in Azbuk characters. Driving down a narrow and winding dirt road and trying to find the lake, Yanun offered to step out of the truck and ask for directions from some residents in one of the homes we were passing.
She came back informing us that they were nice Albanians who wanted to invite us in for coffee, which is supposed to be a great sign of friendship in the Muslim world. In Turkey it seemed to be tea.
The restaurant where we parked by the lake.
But since I don’t drink those, I brought with me my two litre bottle of beer and we spent the next two hours in their living room, a part of their loving family life, trying to negotiate a conversation through German (the Polish girl spoke the best, so she was translating everything for us). Turns out that you will see almost nothing other than Mercedes vehicles in Albania, because much of the population goes up to Germany for work and comes back with a used vehicle. The Albanian woman suggested we ask the restaurant owner by the lake if we could park on his property, and after giving us one last gift – fresh goat milk – we left their nice home and were off to the lake.
We arrived there and Yanun with the two Polish males went to the restaurant to ask the owner. The Pole spoke English with the waiter, who eventually directed them to the owner, who was having dinner with some important Chinese colleagues of his. So we eventually negotiated our campsite that evening via his guests, who translated from Chinese into Albanian Yanun’s request.
Cookin up a storm and partying by the restaurant
Since we received official approval to spend the evening there, I suggested we cook a dinner instead of eating the cold meals we’ve been surviving on for the past few days. I convinced them to let me do it and I was glad to treat my first customer guests to one of my beloved hobbies. After each of them pleading several times, "Actually, I’d really prefer you did not put that goat’s milk into my portion of spaghetti," I told them no one complains about my cooking, did it anyway, and they were pleasantly surprised, as one should expect.
They slept outside under the stars and I in my truck with the back doors wide open.
The next morning we exchanged MP3s, me managing to add a robust selection of Polish underground alternative music to my roadtrip collection, I dropped them off on the main highway so they could hitchhike their way back to Poland, and I drove Yanun back to the coast so that she could hitchhike west to catch her bus from Bar to Sarajevo. It was great having company for a change and made me look forward to the success of my cheap travel Europe tour guide services.
The beach where we hung out before heading to the lake, above.
I caught up on some neglected internet work (it can be busy entertaining guests, you know) and started winding my way back westward along the coast, as part of my original mission.
Heading back west. Always good to bring yer camera with ya, eh?
On our way eastward and after Kotor, where I managed to get my internet finally together, it was another hot and frustrating day of problem solving and I suggested that the first thing we do is pull over at the next beach and go for a swim. They agreed and we spent an hour at what was a rather interesting area. Not run over by tourists, possibly because the road was rather narrow and the beaches were rather meagre (locals and fishermen would lounge in the sun on these cement blocks extending from the shoreline), and surrounded by mountains with a beautiful view. This stuck in my mind during my drive back westward along the coast, and the more villages I checked out the more I was looking forward to choosing this region where I could find a pension for my friends driving down from the Czech Republic, due to arrive in a few days.
I hit all the large towns, walking in each for about four hours accumulating email addresses of all the real estate agencies, in between perusing the coast checking out properties and various beaches, until I arrived at my preferred region, and spent two hours walking up and down the coast approaching various "zimmer frei"s.
The first time around at my preferred location, heading east when we took that dip after Kotor
Chose one autocamp, and decided I was getting tired of parking everywhere in secret, and crapping and brushing my teeth the next day in secret, so even though I was still not making any money, I’d stay in the camp until my friends showed up. Besides, it was so cheap and nice there, and I spent all that effort looking for the best pension for them, that perhaps my friends would not mind each pitching in an extra Euro a day to pay for the 5 Euro a night it would cost me to stay there.
The first night I was there I was going to write this third chapter, but my monitor decided it would not work. Perhaps it was because I was shaking it violently trying to get the sand out of the keyboard, or because it dropped on the pavement earlier that day.
In any case, I was planning on writing the chapter at the camp’s bar, when the woman’s eyes bulged out and she was excited to learn that I was a computer expert. So instead of writing the chapter, I spent the next hour fixing their computer so that their children could have more computer games.
Trying to fix my computer the next day. I thought if I took it apart and cleaned it of sand and sea salt with some Q-tips, the monitor would work. Nope!
We became good friends, they are very nice people, they let me go into their house when I need internet, during which I usually install more games, remove more viruses from their computer, and generally make their computer run better.
Sometimes I like to work outside on the lawn chair. This place is truly peaceful and will require more pictures to explain it properly.
I decided that this was a perfect place indeed and that I should try to offer my services somehow in exchange for a free parking spot. Maybe, using the various older laptops I have with me, I could set up an internet cafe for them. Or I could help them behind the bar, considering I’ve bartended for six years through university.
Walking in Dubrovnik before meeting Yanun.
Or occasionally make some of my fancy Czech Canadian cooking, adding specials to their rather meagre fast food menu. Or teach English to their kids. She said she could drive me to the city the next day and take me to her computer repair people, so during the drive there I thought it would be a good opportunity to propose this exchange to her. But her cook became sick and she could not go to the city to help me fix my computer. As luck would have it though, that next morning I received an email from an old customer informing me they have a lot of translation work into English and need my help. So I worked hard that day and managed to earn enough to pay for an entire month of staying at that camp. Meanwhile my friends showed up that evening after a very long drive filled with many disasters, but after staying an evening they decided they did not like the place and wanted to find a real beach.
So here I am, at the end of yet another chapter, with a month fully paid for, and think I will stay here for a while, hoping to receive lots of translation work, and use the stability to get better set up financially and work on finding new customers. I can continue to help them with their computer, make better friends with them, start to ask them about finding a property for my friend, while continuing to advertise on the internet looking for travelers to pay for gas so I could go on roadtrips somewhere.
I rather like it here and will use this as a base, hoping to make it down to the southern coast of Turkey by the start of winter. On the other hand, I was told today that it hovers around 10 degrees C here during the winter, so who knows how things will end up. I’ll enjoy the stability, work on making contacts for my property seeking friend, and wait for the next adventure to happen.
Nothing like a natural and really wide screen while you work!
Driving around the inlet at Kotorski
Zaliv. Took a few hours but entire time circling around
these two islands.
Went for a walk in Ulcinj, on the east coast. Every larger town, like Dubrovnik in Croatia, had an old part which was called Old Caste/Town, which was often an old fortress and always worthwhile to walk through.
Doing the standard around 60 km a day (10 Euros worth of gas), we chose a small town Canj to dive down from the highway towards the coast. Turned out to be a cheap place where locals far and wide would go. Big party on the beach, with a fairground and obnoxious stereo wars between beach bars till early in the morning.
Decided to park right on the beach but the sand was soft and gave way, drove a little bit too close to the shore and of course piggie got stuck. But that was an opportunity for the locals to get involved, with about 12 people pushing the front end as I struggled to back up, other standbiers with shovels, or just watching the circus. Would have made a great picture!
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Published - December 2008