I will have to continue this post as our only remaining Wallace has gone missing. He was last seen bartering with a wizened old man over the purchase of some antiquated padlocks. The price was settled at a bag of gold coin and Bas’ immortal soul. Bas certainly has an eye for a bargain. So with Bas otherwise engaged in an eternity of toil and servitude I will pick up where he left off.
We spent a night in Split mixing with the local salt-of-the-earth types and soaking up the sea air. Next morning the time came to pick up Kali, our first temporary team mate, Split to Istanbul. Kali is a good friend and keen singer of shanties in Cornwall. We pulled into Split Airport distinctly late. The huge tarmac rectangle was bare but for a lonely, laden figure. We promptly whisked her a few hours down the coast from Split to find a secluded camp in the mountains.
This, it transpired, was no mean feat as the Croatian mountains are not wooded, nor grassy but exposed and bristling with razor sharp shards of rock, not ideal for inconspicuous or indeed comfortable camping. We eventually found a spot in a small valley hidden from view where we prepared supper and settled for the night. In the still air we were able to perceive rumblings of distant thunder and glimpse faint flashes of lightning. Bas and Kali evaluated the location and movements of the storm using the technique of counting elephants between flash and boom. From this information we were reassured that the storm was far away and moving further still… within one hour we were wilting beneath the worst storm since Katrina. Guy and I peered out from the back of the Land Rover as the wind howled and rain beat against the rusted steel panels. I was overcome with a warm sense of “rather him than me” as I watched Rich dart around, all dripping limbs in sopping thermals, re-pegging the tent to stem the torrents. Rich, Bas and Kali definitely got the short straw in the tent that night.
The sun rose the following morning clear and bright, the tempest had passed. After breakfast and gathering up the crockery that had been chucked to the four winds we wandered up to the ridge beneath which we had camped. We were greeted by a handsome view of the coastal heights lying in cobalt rows before the sea. Rugged and almost bare of vegetation the mountainside was bleak and beautiful.
After a few moments for photos and posing in this spectacular mountain scene we jumped in the car towards Dubrovnik for lunch. Winding along the Croatian coast we were making excellent time until we arrived at the first of three border crossings that day, Croatia to Bosnia. Now I am not sure why the border police took a dislike to us but they decided to search us, I would hate to think it had anything to do with our appearance. “not a problem” we thought, “everything is legit” we said, “we shall be straight through”. Two hours later the entire car was unpacked and every single bag excavated down to the tiniest inner pocket. With faces sore from hours of “I have nothing to hide” smiling we set off again. We were not making nearly such good time anymore. If there is one thing that can be said for the Bosnian border control it’s that they are thorough. They are meticulously, ruthlessly and pitilessly thorough.
One more, less eventful, border crossing under our belt and we were in the ancient city of Dubrovnik. Too late to walk the ancient city walls our cursing of the Bosnian border control recommenced with new vigour. After a little scouting we found a hand painted sign “ViEw and Drinks” marking a tiny tunnel through the city walls to a bar on a narrow shelf projecting out over the sea.
We rested there and enjoyed fantastically overpriced beers as the sun dipped lazily into the sea casting orange rays all over us and the sandy-coloured walls of Dubrovnik. I suppose our delay was not so bad after all.
In the twilight we negotiated our final border crossing of the day into Montenegro and set off for Budva to find a bed for the night. Montenegro is an interesting place. This tiny former Yugoslav state has managed to maintain a decent economic position despite the global downturn and the failure to do so of its neighbours.
This may have something to do with the fact that the Montenegrin mafia apparently runs their government and the organized crime for most of the Balkan region stretching into Italy. This tiny unassuming coastal country has an exciting seedy underbelly of international crime syndicates and smuggling. No wonder a Bond film was set there.
Their ex-President sets a good example. A couple of years ago he privatised the Montenegrin national bank and then sold it to himself. He used it to provide loans for his family and business cronies. That’s the kind of business savvy the Rothschilds would be proud of.
Anyway we arrived in Budva late at night with no guidebook and stopped in a bar to ask for advice. The man we asked gave us his card, he just happened to own a bed and breakfast, what a stroke of luck. This hotelier was truly, as his business card proclaimed, “Always ready for action!” We parked up outside and were informed that we need not to worry about the car in Montenegro as they only had big crimes there. Apparently their mafia government has a tight control on petty crooks.
After being plied with tea and roasted chestnuts by our host’s elderly mother we ambled out into Budva for a beer. We were accompanied to a local bar and back home again by a pack of stray dogs. Clearly the canines in Montenegro have learned something from the humans and were running some sort of protection racket.
A brilliant commentary on teh Balkans, loved it!