Mérida or Bust — Day Seven: Laredo, TX, to Matehuala, San Luis Potosí (Mexico!)

Total Kilometres to Drive: 5,400

Kilometres Driven Today: 575

Total Kilometres Driven: 3,430

Kilometres Left: 1,970

Amount of Trip Completed: 63.51%

The first time I drove down to Mexico, I was so broke I had to sleep in my truck as much as possible. It hit me last night in Laredo just how much my life has changed as business has improved. I was staying in a studio apartment in an extended stay hotel that was very luxurious (which you can always tell when there are different soaps for different parts of the body!). Sure, I got a great deal on booking.com, but it was still a $75 a night room and right on budget. I’m starting to feel like I’m “middle class” and I’m wondering how living in Mexico, where I will pretty much be wealthy, is going to change me and my values…

At any rate, I actually slept pretty well last night and would have gone the night through if the very loud alarm of the person sleeping in the room above mine hadn’t gone off around 4AM. I still managed to fall back asleep after, a very good pre-border night! I finally got up around seven and refused to be rushed. I’m travelling at a time of year where the days are longer and I only had about 500KM to do past the border, so I had some of my coffee before taking off, although I definitely was in no mood to eat (the hotel sent me off with a granola bar and I had bought more bars yesterday as well).

Getting out of Laredo and to the Colombia Bridge crossing was more trying than it would have been had there been some signage saying that I was on Mines Road, which takes you up to the Colombia crossing road. The portion of the road between Mines and I-36 is a tollway for which you need a pass. So if you don’t have one, you have to go all the way into Laredo and then back up again. I was going about 80KM out of my way, 40KM on each side of the border, to cross at Colombia, but research told me it would be a quiet, non-busy, one-stop crossing, compared to using one of the crossings in Laredo. The only caveat is that staff there don’t have much, if any, English. So I don’t think this is a good crossing for inexperienced non-Spanish speakers.

It was only as I approached the bridge that I realised there might be a toll to cross it and that I’d left my last few dollars as a tip for the hotel cleaner! Thankfully, they took pesos. The exchange rate for US to MXN today was 1:20. So 1USD=20MXN. My bridge toll was 3.50USD, so 70MXN.

Unlike when you cross at Nogales, the checkpoint is right at the border. Signage was a bit confusing, but I saw a sign for Banjercito and vehicle importation, so I pulled over to deal with that. A customs officer promptly came over to check me out. She said to go in and do the visa and vehicle stuff, then return to the truck and she’d do the declaration thing.

It was maybe 8:45 when I entered into a very neat building where all the windows were numbered to make it clear in what order  to do things. First stop was INM where I asked for a 30-day entry since I have a residente temporal visa sticker in my passport. I didn’t have to fill out anything. The officer just stamped some stuff and gave me my entry paper. I had no fee to pay since I’ll be paying muchos pesos for my residency card when I arrive!

Next stop was a copy shop for a copy of the entry paper, then Banjercito for the vehicle import. That was easy since I’ve done it twice before. The lady started to explain that I only have a 30-day TIP (temporary import permit), but I told her that I know all about that and that I have friends at my destination who will help me get sorted with aduena so I hopefully don’t lose my 200USD deposit (but I’m already resigned to losing it).

I then went back out to my truck and pulled out my inventory list. The customs lady (about my age, maybe younger), came back over and explained to me that I wasn’t eligible to bring in everything for free because I didn’t have a consulate certified menaje de casa (list of household goods). So she was going to have to go through everything, figure out what it was all worth, and then charge me 16% IVA (tax) on it all.

Thankfully, it was still cool out! I began to pull out things and she went though a bunch of it. You can see one of my Mexican blankets there — it was wrapped around a painting, then wrapped in paper and a garbage bag. She actually handed me a knife to get into the garbage bag, which was taped pretty solidly.

I suspected I was in trouble when she started to count the number of DVDs I had in one of my boxes (hundreds!). She made me go almost all the way to the back of the truck bed, but not entirely, and she cut open several bags of clothes while asking me if I had any weapons of any kind (only kitchen knives!). We then went into the cab and she made a note of the printer and stuff I had in a bin. Finally, she told me to leave everything out while she went to calculate what I’d owe for import duties while a colleague came by with a sniffer dog.

I was just rewrapping my painting when said dog came and he was clearly very bored by my truck. His handler gave me a big smile and a gracias before telling me that I could repack. Just as I was doing that, the customs (aduena) lady was back and telling me that I owed 800USD.

Needless to say, I had nothing in the truck save maybe my computer that would be worth paying 800USD for. I didn’t even have 800USD to give her! I finally told her flat out that I couldn’t pay and she gave me a horrified look and apologised for not having been clear. What she actually meant was that she had evaluated my stuff at being worth 800USD and that I had to pay 16% of that, which she pegged at 120USD. So if I agreed to pay that 120USD, she could clear me for customs and I could be on my way. I’m still laughing with relief.

When I met up with her inside, I made sure to thank her for being kind and patient with me so that it would be clear that I was not upset with her and that I respected her job and the fact that I had to pay this money. I’d only been upset because I hadn’t expected to have to pay a huge amount and couldn’t see my way around doing that besides having to leave my things behind! She and I had a good laugh and she said it was a good thing my Spanish is so good or we might have had to wait hours for an interpreter to come! She finally got the bill together and I was able to pay it. She told me to present it to her colleague at a booth I would drive by and I could be on my way.

Well… I got to the booth and was sent off to have Moya X-rayed! Holy smokes are these folks thorough! I followed the instructions to get Moya to the X-ray booth and then stepped out to a safe area. The man doing pantomimes for me was very grateful when I told him he could just speak Spanish to me. LOL We had a nice conversation while we waited for the X-rays. As it turns out, he just recently did most of my drive since he went on holidays with his family to Playa del Carmen. Can you tell by now that this was a very relaxed border crossing with lots of chatty, friendly folks?

I then had to go back to a waiting area just after the booths to wait for the results of the X-ray. Finally, a guy came over to let me know I was clear. Woohoo!

Pause here to make a guess in the comments on what time it was when I finally pulled away from the border station…

It was only about 10:15. I’d been there at most an hour and a half!

Before I go on, I just checked the Montreal consulate website’s fees page and see that a menaje de casa is $178. I paid about $160 in duties, so I not only saved money by not having a proper menaje de casa, I still have the option of getting one done at a later date if I have something valuable to bring into Mexico with me. So my stupidity paid off. 😀 I think the woman’s evaluation was incredibly fair and extremely low ball, just based on the amount of electronics I had with me. I feel that she gave me a break because I declared everything I had with me. She matched my list to my boxes and there were no surprises. The amount certainly didn’t feel punitive.

Moving on, I got about two minutes from the border before I pulled into a very nice rest area to use the bathroom. I then pointed Moya south towards Monterrey, stopping in at the first Oxxo I passed to add $200 to my phone to get 1GB of data for a month since I knew there was a strong chance I would not have internet at the motel tonight (I must be psychic).

The first bit of my drive was painful like driving down MX-15, with huge variances in the speed limits. But once I got onto the cuoatas (toll roads), I was in a whole other world than the Mexico I’m used to, with good speed limits and no endless parade of stops at military, federale, and fruit checkpoints! I did have one inland customs and border checkpoint, but was able to just roll through it.

But the toll booths… OMG. So many tolls. Over $600 (40CAD) worth, starting with a big one at $219! I did something stupid at one booth and got in the wrong lane (in my defence, I don’t think any were actually marked). This was a no cash, tag only lane. Some very angry truckers honked at me for blocking it and a lady in the booth next to me yelled loudly to wait for her. I got exact change change ready for her and was quickly out of there, only to be flagged down immediately by a federale.

Well, it was bound to happen sometime that I’d get a moving violation here. Right? I pulled over in front of him and looked back to see him waving me off. I think he saw my out of country license plate, correctly figured that I’m a stupid gringa, and decided to be forgiving. 🙂

There is a dearth of taco stands on the road most travelled, so instead of not eating all day while hoping to find good food, I stopped at another Oxxo and after much label reading, found a ham and cheese sandwich with no mayo that looked almost edible. It was surprisingly soggy though, and one bite told me why — jalapeños! There is something about the combination of ham, American cheese, and jalapeños that is very “Mexico” to me, probably because of Panamá’s bakery, so my rather uninspired lunch ended up being satisfying.

I drove pretty hard all afternoon since I need to get used to the pace. I was very comfortable, not quite “home,” but definitely more than a tourist.

I was perhaps an hour from my destination when I pulled into a Pemex. I took on $500 of fuel and the attendant tried to scam me when I paid, telling me that I gave him only $50, not $500. He was very young and I let him have it, telling him he should be ashamed of himself. I left him practically in tears, but doubt that he learned his lesson. Always be sure to count bills that you hand over, make eye contact, and get verbal confirmation that you’d handing over the correct amount. I got lucky on this one.

Just as I was pulling out of the Pemex, I saw a sign for “dulces de guayaba” (guava sweets) and I roared to a stop by a couple sitting under an umbrella with their ware. I bought this huge triangular portion for $35. I knew I didn’t stand a chance in hell of eating it all, but I wanted some guava flavour and texture, dangnabit! I got through about a third of it (it’s not very sweet), but threw out the rest after it was in a hot car all afternoon. The texture of this sweet is a bit tough to describe. It’s a little gritty and it holds together. You can’t just break off a piece and it’s not gelatinous like Jell-O. Anyway, YUM.

I had more tollbooth fun when I exited just before the Matehuala tollbooth to find a bar across the road. A man came running in my direction and said, “No worry, no worry. I speak very good English! My colleague he comes for your money. 23 pesos!” His English was not good and I failed at getting an answer as to whether I did something wrong turning off where I did. What I suspect is that traffic was light and instead of staffing the little tollbooth at the off ramp, they just had a young employee run down to collect money and open the bar for the odd car. The toll was actually $24. 🙂

It was then a very short drive to the Las Palmas Midway Inn, which Croft and at least a half dozen other people recommended highly.

I was quoted over $1,000 for a room and asked if they had a better price. I was offered another room for $864, with the only difference being that I’d be at the opposite end from the pool. Not a big deal! I was then led to my room by a man on a bicycle who showed me everything and gave me my key. The room is pretty basic, but nicer than other hotels I’ve stayed at in Mexico except for Durango. The bed is actually pretty comfy!

First order of business was to get my bathing suit out! I jumped into the freezing cold pool and enjoyed the dip immensely even though I didn’t stay in long. Despite wearing sunscreen, my left arm is pretty burnt from the drive today (should have listened to myself this morning and stuck to long sleeves), so the cold water felt nice.

Then, I went back to my room to start on this post before going to the attached restaurant for dinner. I had their pork chop special and that suited me just fine. Mexicans tend to prepare their meat the way I like it, well seasoned and well cooked. Some might have found these too stiff for their taste, but they were perfect for me. I just didn’t expect that much meat! I made it through half of my jalapeño. That’s a Victoria beer in front of my plate and some very bland salsa that I had with totopos. I teased the server that I got served the Gringo salsa and he understood what I meant, bless him. That’s why I have Tabasco sauce to the right of my plate and a jalapeño. LOL I have to get reaccustomed to eating spicy food, but the learning curve won’t be super steep since I did eat hot peppers often in the Balkans.

I added Coahuila, San Luis Potosí, and Nuevo León to my Mexico visited states map today, and also went through Tamaulipas!

The next three days are going to be long. I was going to go all the way to Córdoba tomorrow, but Google is telling me that’s a 10-hour drive (865KM) and I’ve got too much Mexico experience now to commit to that. I’m going to aim for Puebla (713KM, 8 hours).

That would leave me 628KM (8 hours) to Villahermosa on Thursday and 600KM (8 hours) to Chelem on Friday. I’m going to be wiped when I get there but, really, the budget can’t support more than two more hotel stays and, frankly, I’m ready to get there. This was never meant to be a tourism trip and I’m not on holidays.

Well, I think that’s everything. It was a full day! Yay for being back in Mexico!

Mérida or Bust — Day One: Haven to Douglas, WY

Total Kilometres to Drive: 5,400

Kilometres Driven Today: 830

Total Kilometres Driven: 830

Kilometres Left: 4,570

Amount of Trip Completed: 15.37%

Google says I did 871KM, but my odometre says 830KM.

Okay, I know I have A LOT to catch up on. What I’ve concluded from the last week is that it is no longer possible for me to be “semi-online.” My 10 months in Europe have made me accustomed to living in the 21st century and I’m lost without access to Siri and the ability to be able to do what needs doing online when I need to do it. It has nothing to do with not being able to unplug, which I absolutely can do, just not in the context of trying to plan an international move! I was so discombobulated and disorganised this past week. 🙁

I am going to try do proper backdated posts about the myriads of things I had to do to prepare to leave this morning, but here’s the short of it:

-I returned to Haven late last Tuesday night, thanks to my neighbours C&C picking me up in Regina;

-I stayed with C&C so that I could more easily pack up (never mind that Haven had no power, water, or Internet). They have tons of room and a similar routine to me so this worked out super well;

-Caroline kept me well fuelled with one delicious meal after another. Here’s the brunch she made for the two of us on Sunday, what she calls an “apple pancake,” but which I find is more like an apple upside down cake even if the apples end up floating to the top:

-I had some work done on Moya to ready her for her final epic voyage. Among the things I tasked my mechanic to resolve is why my overhead light stays on, requiring me to pull the fuse when I park lest I drain the battery. That wound up being harder to diagnose than expected, so he told me to keep pulling the fuse like I’ve been doing and gave me this to make it easier:

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I was suitably amused by his solution, especially since he didn’t charge me for poking around;

-I was able to renew my driver’s license, but it didn’t come before I left so now I have to figure out how to get it to Mexico (my host in Chelem suggested I have it sent to her in Ontario for her bring it down in the fall rather than have it couriered to Mexico);

-I got my property tax assessment and went to town ready to pick a fight because I thought that the amount was a mistake at best or a cash grab at worst. Turned out that the number was real and reflects the current market. So Haven is now valued at 5.35 times what it was valued the last couple of years and I’ve been assured I will only get a token property tax increase. Looks like the expected real estate boom has started!!!

-The traitorous weather was not conducive to packing:

It was freezing in Miranda and I was not able to give her a cleaning before taking off again. By the way, I had some serious mouse damage (my scarf drawer was decimated), so that’s another reason I couldn’t have stayed in Miranda since she needed serious disinfecting.;

-All the Tetris I played as a kid paid off. There isn’t an ounce of space left in the truck:

Here’s how I loaded the cab, filling it with boxes…

And then stuffing soft items into the gaps:

I got about 95% of my most prized possessions into the truck! I’m not that disappointed since I’m headed into a humid climate and so it doesn’t make sense to bring all my journals, photo albums, and the rest of the books into that climate until I fully commit to it. I am going to have to fully unpack when I get to Chelem otherwise I risk packed items moulding over the summer.

So today was departure day. I’d hoped to leave yesterday, but that was a moving target and I was fine with leaving as late as Friday. For one thing, I desperately wanted one day before departure where I could just stop to sit for a moment and think about anything I might have forgotten. I managed to get the afternoon and evening off.

Caroline made her amazing homemade pizza (with homemade venison salami!) for dinner so I could have leftovers for my drive today! After dinner, she and I sat down at her computer so I could show her a few things. She has moved to a Mac and has had basically no learning curve. I’m so proud of her and happy that she now has a computer that works well so we can keep in touch better. It’ll also be so much easier to help her troubleshoot issues, although based on an email she sent me today, I think she’ll be able to handle many of her own issues. We then played cards, visited a bit with my immediate neighbours K&T, and I ended up going to bed way, way, way, way too late, well past midnight.

I wanted to be up at 6:30, but was, of course, awake at 5:00. I got up around 6:15 and was delighted to find Charles up and the coffee already perking. The border didn’t open till 8:00 and I had less than an hour drive there, so I sat for a bit before dressing and putting the last of my bags in the truck, as well as mug of coffee for the road.

Goodbyes are always difficult, but we all three vowed to see one another again in two years in Mexico!!!

Standing by the truck, looking east. Goodbye, Canada, it’s been good knowing you, but I’m heading somewhere new…

I made a pit stop in Coronach and got to the border at 8:30. Based on my experience recently at airports, I made the decision to cross while wearing a wig rather than a headscarf. The atmosphere at the crossing was very different than it was under the Obama years, much more no nonsense than conversational and friendly. For example, I was greeted with “Passport?” rather than, “Hi! How are you today?” I was asked the usual questions about where I was going, where I live, did I have any ATF, etc. All seemed to be going well, but soon as the officer opened the rear of the truck, he asked me to step outside and go into the waiting room. There, he had me fill out a customs form. As I did so, I overheard him say to someone, “This one is going to take a while.”

Well, at least they weren’t making me unpack the truck, but, dang, I’d forgotten my coffee! When the officer came back after just a few minutes to get my declaration, I asked if I could get the coffee and he said, “We’ll be done in a few minutes.”

Curious.

Sure enough, he had me back in the truck a minute later, at most 12 minutes from the time I’d started the interview! The last thing he said to me was, “You wrote a book?” which tells me that they have Rae as an alias on file for me, that he Googled me, and that whatever he found told him that I likely was not carrying contraband or otherwise a threat (by the way, I had provided him an inventory of what I have in the truck).

One of the questions I was asked was how I plan to support myself in Mexico and he didn’t seem happy with my answer that I was going to work there for myself and that Mexico was satisfied with that. My answer should have been, “That’s what made it possible to get my residency visa.” He also asked me if I’m keeping a Canadian bank account and it was obvious that he liked my answer that I am not cutting ties with Canada at this time.

So it was another absolutely uneventful and easy, it not particularly welcoming, entry into the US. I pointed Moya south, fuelled up in Scobey, then continued south towards Circle, where I made another pit stop, before pulling into a Wendy’s in Miles City at 12:30 to get some lunch (most of the pizza had been breakfast, with a bit left for an afternoon snack!), use their WiFi, and find a room for the night. The greeting there was so friendly and a reminder of why I’ve so enjoyed my travels to the US in the past.

After a bit of research, I decided to push on to Douglas, Wyoming, where I would land around 6:00. That was a much longer day than I wanted to do, but there aren’t a lot of cities in that part of Wyoming so I would either stop too late or too early. I’m staying with one of you lovely readers just south of Denver tomorrow and will have a relatively short (400KM) day from Douglas, so I can get a late start.

I just love this corner of the US, just rolling hills not unlike home. It was a very isolated drive, of course. I stopped in Broadus for fuel and coffee and then drove straight to Douglas, with only one pit stop at a rest area about 45 minutes from my destination. After weeks of GREY, it was amazing to get blue sky the deeper I got into Wyoming. There was a brief thundershower right before Douglas, but it cleared quickly.

The hotel rate I was quoted was 79USD. I asked if they had an “Exhausted Canadian driving to Mexico” rate and… got a 14USD discount. WOW! That covered some takeout and a beer for dinner. The liquor store is right next to the hotel and the lady there was super helpful and friendly in showing me what they had for single beers. Interestingly, I no longer get carded when I buy booze in the US so I must be starting to look my age at last… 🙂

I’m sure there should be more to this already novel-length post, but I’m ready to drop. Hopefully, I’m back to a more regular posting schedule. April really has been sheer madness. But I’m on my way!

I learned about this song just before heading down to Mexico for the first time. It no longer applies to me, but I love the tune. So here’s an earworm for you. 🙂

Kotor, Montenegro to Prizren, Kosovo (by way of Albania)

It was a late start yesterday since I didn’t have to take the bus till noon. My host brought me coffee and treats for a final breakfast on the deck and I had a note prepared thanking her for her hospitality that I think said what I hoped it said… I had her call me a taxi around 11:15 and was correct in thinking that she’d get one not driven by a scammer. I actually gave her a hug before getting into the car!

There was a cruise ship right in town. I could not believe how huge this thing was and that it was practically parked on main street! Not a single one of these was taken with a zoom!

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I didn’t know how to pronounced Ulcinj, so I had it written down. The ticket seller look at my paper, then up at me and said slowly and kindly, “Ool-seen.” So there you have it! The bus showed up a bit late, enough that those waiting for it were starting to look concerned enough for the guy manning the gate onto the platform to call the driver to make sure he was incoming. I think we ended up leaving five minutes late, at most.

There is so much traffic coming into Kotor, not very practical for busses trying to leave town! Here we are stuck trying to make the left-hand turn.

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I was sent off with a giant bag of mandarins and I promptly tucked into it. This was the best one yet. Some have been super tart.

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It was lovely to do the return drive to Budva in daylight!

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I kept seeing this graffiti in several towns and it made me laugh every time. It says “PFK,” which is KFC (the chicken place) in Quebec. I have no idea what the letters mean in Montenegro, though. All I could find was the Maritime Faculty in Kotor or a Russian sports team.

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We arrived in Ulcinj around 3:00. At this point, I had no confirmation that there really was a 4:00 o’clock bus to Prizren, but there was. Woohoo! But I was disappointed that there was nowhere nearby to grab a quick lunch and that the convenience store was useless, having only junk food, nothing with which to put together a picnic. I didn’t fare any better at the grocery store next door as there was nothing in individual-sized portions.

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As I sat down to have a small snack in lieu of lunch, a stray cat jumped into my lap, burrowed in, and started purring. I was shocked… but not as much as when a second cat did the same thing! Do I reek of cat pheromones or something?! I named them Watson (the one with white) and Holmes. 🙂

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My layover went by really quickly and before I knew it, the bus to Prizren was boarding. I was a little disconcerted when I was asked for my passport by a kid without any sort of ID and it wasn’t returned to me by the time we pulled out. But everyone else had handed over their documents, so I figured it was okay.

We headed into the mountains again.

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The road was twisty and narrow. We frequently had to pull over to let cars pass.

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Before I knew it, we were at the Albanian border.

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We were at the Albanian border for a long time. The kid who had taken my passport kept coming to ask people to follow him into the customs building and the people returned looking a little harried so it was a bit disconcerting. But we were finally cleared and got our documents back. It ended up being just one stop, so it probably wasn’t really as long as it felt. I was really disappointed that I did not get an Albanian stamp in my passport. 🙁

I hope to come back to Albanian properly one day. Because I’m heading to Spain a little early, I had to choose Tirana or Prizren and going to Kosovo felt more pressing.

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I liked the coloured houses we passed in Albania. Here’s a bright yellow one.

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Another land of mosques.

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A Pepto-Bismol pink house.

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Another mosque.

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And another. I never get tired of these, the way I never get tired of beautiful churches.

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There was a fortress on top of this mountain.

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Yet another mosque.

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Yet another pink house.

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We eventually got onto a proper motorway and then what I noticed was the number of gas stations. It was just one after another after another. And then, it got too dark to see anything. 🙁

The boy passed out candy at one point and when I saw that they were coffee-flavoured, I accepted. Yum!

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He also passed out Coca-Cola, but I refused that.

We finally reached the Kosovan border and a very surly officer came on board to get our passports, then promptly returned them. It was a super fast crossing! I didn’t get a stamp again, but this time it made more sense, because having a Kosovo stamp can cause problems with entering in countries that don’t recognise Kosovo’s independence, such as Serbia and Russia.

Prizren was right over the border, so my journey was almost done. But when we got to the bus station, I didn’t know if I was really there because there was no signage. As I looked around trying to figure out if I was at the bus station or just at a bus stop the gal in the seat across from me said we were in Prizren, so I got off.

I was immediately accosted by taxi drivers. I told them no because I had seen food coming into the bus station and I was really hungry, but once I realised how cold it was, I just wanted to get to my hostel to find more layers before going to search for food. So I finally got in a cab and did not get scammed! 🙂 It was only a 1KM ride, but it was late and dark, so there was no way I was walking.

The owner of the hostel, a fairly young guy, immediately came out to get my luggage and take it up to my room while he had another guy get me a beer. WOW. Welcome to Kosovo!

They let me drink most of my beer while we chatted and then invited me to join them for dinner. Oh, awesome! I assured them that I eat meat and off we went to a nearby restaurant that serves typical Kosovan food.

The official language of Kosovo is Albanian and I’d been warned about how different it is from the other Balkan languages and unlike any other language on Earth. Well, that’s complete horse hockey. Visually, I can see a lot of French, Italian, and even Spanish influence to the language. The menu at the restaurant made more sense to me than most Serbo-Croatian or Bulgarian menus ever did. But I had my host order for me as this was my first time going out for dinner with locals and I wanted to see how they do it.

First, a giant salad came. It had two kind of marinated cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, potatoes, and more. The guys (five of them) told me to help myself and that they would just eat off the plate together.

Then, French fries topped with shredded cheese came. I had a few of those.

Then, our mains came. Mine was a huge steak stuffed with ham and cheese and topped with a creamy sauce with a side of carrots and broccoli! Wow! I hadn’t had a nice piece of meat like that in ages and dang was it good! The meat was marinated so it was flavourful. There was a basket of flatbread as well for mopping up the sauce.

We were there for a long time, which explained to me why people in the Balkans eat their food tepid to cold — they linger over it so long. I would never have thought I could get through that steak, but I found my second wind. 🙂 I had a nice glass of white wine with dinner as well.

The guys then decided we were going to move on to a bar for more drinks. I wondered how the bill would be split and the guys told me I just had to pay 5 Euros for my steak and part of the tip and they were covering the rest. WOW!

We went to a nice little bar not too far away and I had a few beers and shooters. We gabbed, mostly about Canada and my travels, and it was a very nice time. But as we got close to 2:00, I knew I had to get in. I only have the one day in Prizren and didn’t want to spend all of it in bed!

Prizren is small and, like the rest of the Balkans, safe, so I had no issue with the thought of getting back to the hostel on my own without an escort. My host gave me the most foolproof directions back to the hostel, not the most direct, and made me repeat them to make sure I’d get back okay. Sure did! And, get this, the guys said they would cover my bar tab!!!

I got in, had a shower, and lost consciousness. 🙂

This is the artwork in my room. I get such a giggle out of it as this is from a show, La Linea, that I used to watch as a kid. It is really good and the link takes you to a compilation of segments.

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Sarajevo, BiH, to Kotor Bay, Montenegro

I had a lovely stay in Sarajevo, but I would lie if I didn’t admit that I was relieved to go this morning. It is good that I went, but I felt such overwhelming grief at being there. Everywhere I turned was a reminder of what a lost cause humanity is. I came to Sarajevo with so many questions and left with no answers.

The alarm rang at 7:00. I’d had a pretty good night, but hadn’t slept the night before, so I was rather groggy. I was almost all packed, so I finished that, dressed, did a final tidy up, and was out the door by about 7:30, with the bus being at 9:00. I made my way down to the taxi stand at the bottom of the hill and arrived to find… no taxis. It was 7:45 by this point, I had no idea how traffic was going to be, and I didn’t know where to get my bus ticket once I got to Lukavica station. So I really didn’t have much time to wait. I looked around trying to pick out a business that was open that might be willing to call me a cab when one came down the hill! I flagged him over and not only was he was available, but he quoted me a flat rate of 20KM! That’s what I paid for my transfer on arrival and a full 5 to 10KM less than the expected cost of a taxi to East Sarajevo. I was very happy with that!

There was no traffic down “Sniper Alley” and we got to Lukavica just past 8:00. As it turns out, the bus station is tiny. I followed the “tickets sold here” sign (prodaja karata/продаја карата) and found two windows. One had no lineup and an attendant who appeared to be on break and the other had a short line up as well as a sign for the Sarajevo-Herceg Novi route I wanted. So I got in the line. Got to the head of the line, gave my destination, and the man pointed to the other line. Ah, I love buying bus tickets in the Balkans. 🙂

My destination was Budva, Montenegro. I was ultimately going to Dobrota, but there was no direct route. The owner of the hostel where I’m staying said to get off at Budva, take another bus to Kotor, and then take a taxi from Kotor. I was going to go to Tivat, which is closer to Kotor, but when I looked at a map, I understood why she said to transfer at Budva as going to Tivat would mean having to double back.

I noticed today how much calmer, for lack of a better word, I am about getting around. I remember when I was looking up the route to Belgrade and freaking out that I’d have to get off in Nish and figure out how to get buy a ticket for the Belgrade leg! But today, I was serene. Research told me there were a bunch of buses from Budva to Kotor and if there weren’t, a taxi would be less than paying for a room in Budva and the room here in Dobrota. Might as well sit back and enjoy the scenery.

Ticket bought, I went into the very smoky onsite café and ordered a coffee, then went back to the terrace to wait for it even though I could see my breath! A great espresso was just 1KM (0.78CAD)! I can’t get over how cheap coffee good coffee is out here. I drink my coffee black in restaurants, not willing to pay the hefty surcharge for milk. But I’m not quite ready to drink it black at home.

Before getting on the bus, I decided to brave the toilet, expecting a squat one. Nope!

I was surprised that we got a little bus, not quite a mini, but not full size, and was pleased that it wasn’t packed. I was able to spread out and be really comfortable for the very long ride to the coast of the Adriatic Sea.

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Leaving Lukavica station.

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Countryside mosque.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was pretty as a postcard, all verdant green under the fog.

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We began to climb a mountain and before I knew it, SNOW!

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But blue sky at last!

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We stopped for our first pee break in Foča. Google the name of this town at your peril. I wish I hadn’t.

I really hoped it was our pee break as we’d been on the road almost two hours, but nobody moved to get up until the driver stood and said something of which I understood “pause” (pronounced “pa-u-za,” just like in Spanish) and “15 minutes.” I was out of there fast! 😀

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From Foča, we continued climbing on the other side of the river. This would be the day, just going up and down switchbacks at a glacial pace. Thank goodness the scenery was great!

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I saw lots of beehives today and honey (med) for sale.

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We sometimes got way too close to the edge of cliffs.

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This was terrifying! The bus was bouncing so hard I thought we were going to bounce of the road entirely!

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We eventually reached the border of Montenegro, which had the cutest border control officers ever! 😉

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It was here that I had a I’M SUCH AN IDIOT revelation. I had crossed from Bulgaria to Serbia, Serbia to BiH, and now I was going from BiH into Montenegro. With the first two crossings, I thought that we went through two different checkpoints, one customs and the other immigration. No, no, no, no. The first one is basically an exit interview! This is why the guy on Serbian border day was so interested in how long I’d been in Bulgaria. He was a Bulgarian, not Serbian, official! It was only today that I realised that his stamp was to mark my exit and so, no, I did not get two entry stamps into Serbia. So this is why they collect and return the passports twice!

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Take my word that this is a welcome to Montenegro sign. 🙂

The area we had just passed is rafting country and apparently the deepest canyon in Europe.

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It was at this point that we actually went through the Montenegro checkpoint. The official came on board and asked the driver how many passports were on board (as opposed to national ID cards) and the driver replied two. Yes, I understood that exchange! I’m getting enough of an ear for the language now that it’s not entirely gibberish and I can pick out some words. I was really excited listening to the radio this morning when I heard, “Good morning! And now, for the football results!” 😀

Interestingly, the other passport on board was Canadian. But owned by a Montenegrin, who was not as excited as I was that there was another Canadian passport on board and just glared at me when I asked her where she’s from…

Instead of taking the cards and passports, the official came on board with a portable scanner (kind of like a debit machine) and swiped all our documents one after the other. Then, he went out to get a huge stamp. He opened my passport on top of the seat back in front of me and stamped it there. So informal! But I was in, no questions asked again.

The scenery continued as before, but grew exponentially in its faery tale nature.

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There was a pothole or something right in the middle of the bridge and the driver had to conveniently nearly stop completely.

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I couldn’t believe this place exists.

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I was surprised by how many roofs in Montenegro are metal, rather than the terracotta tiles I’ve been used to seeing.

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We stopped at a little cafe before Podgorica for another pee break. I was disappointed there wasn’t any food. You see, I woke up at 3:00 this morning famished and could not go back to sleep unless I ate something. So I ate my breakfast for today, which means I had my lunch for breakfast and my snack for lunch and ran out of food. 🙂

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Our little bus.

I’d heard that some bars out in this part of the world serve hard boiled eggs in lieu of, say, peanuts, but had never seen it. Until now.

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We continued on.

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Then stopped minutes after the break to get fuel. I’ve only ever seen fuel pumped into Coke (or other “non-approved”) containers in Mexico!

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It was late, nearly 4:00, when we reached the capital of Montenegro, Podgorica. I’d heard of it described as “the armpit of Europe” and as a shockingly unappealing city in one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. Indeed, I saw nothing in our long meander through town that made me want to stop there, just new construction next to tenements. I know bus stations are rarely in a good part of town, but there didn’t seem to be a good part of this city.

Except maybe this view.

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I’d be annoyed if I lived in the building behind this one and lost my view and light through my windows!

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This appeared to be the pedestrian core and should have been appealing, but wasn’t.

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But, wait, palm trees!

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“Crnu Goru” is Montenegro in Montenegrin.

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I had thought that the Podgorica bus station would be a good place to get a snack, but the driver said “Five minutes!” so there was no time to go exploring.

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First glimpse of the Adriatic Sea/Mediterranean Sea high above Budva.

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We went down an impressive series of switchbacks. The effect was rather like landing with an airplane.

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The promised rain appeared to be incoming. 🙁

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We arrived in Budva around 5:30. I went to the ticket counter to ask about a bus to Kotor and there was one in 20 minutes! Unfortunately, there was no food other than pastries or junk food, so I preferred to stay hungry.

The Budva bus station is in scenic surroundings.

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The bus to Kotor pulled up and left a few minutes early! Thank goodness I had stayed by the platform! For some reason, I thought it would be another hour to Kotor, but it was less than 30 minutes. From there, I had a five-minute, 5 euro taxi ride to the hostel. I did have to argue with the driver and threaten to get out as she wanted to charge me 7 euro. I was told that a ride should be 3 to 5 euro!

I’m glad that Montenegro’s currency is the euro because I’m starting to have quite a bit of small change left when I leave each country. Always less than 5CAD because I’m pretty good at budgeting, but those piddly amounts are adding up. I’m also going to get some experience with a currency I’ll soon be using for several weeks!

The hostel wound up being disappointing so far, although the host is super friendly (I appreciated the offer of a coffee upon arrival even though I declined!). I was sure I’d booked something with a private bathroom and desk, but she does not speak much English and we couldn’t sort it out. I checked my booking and I think she’s correct and that I looked at the wrong picture. At any rate, it’s super cheap compared to everything else I’ve seen out here, clean, has a comfy bed, is convenient to Kotor, and there’s a kitchen I can investigate for self-catering. I also appear to have the floor (and bathroom) to myself at this time. So it’s a bit of a shock going from my cosy Sarajevo flat to this, but it’s only for four nights and, again, a bargain for the location. I will make do!

I regretted not investigating food around the bus station as there is no restaurant handy. My host wanted to send me off in a taxi, but no. Thankfully, I had a smooshed bit of a loaf of still fresh bread and a full jar of peanut butter in my suitcase and I made myself a couple of sandwiches for dinner. Emergency rations at their best!

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Here’s a map of my day.

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And here are the Balkans and my journey from their east to west coast over the last four months. 🙂

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