overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
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Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

Hello my name is Cyril and I'll be your new alphabet

Written by Martin Pitwood. Uploaded 31 August 2005.

Serbia & Montenegro, Country 7, Diary entry 18-24th Aug 2005, Total distance in Serbia & Montenegro: 894 KM

After Trogir and Split not quite living up to expectations we were not expecting great things of Dubrovnik but we found it to be exactly what we expected the other places to be like.

DubrovnikThe first thing we did after arriving in town was check out where the bus station was so that Frazer and Beatrix could buy tickets for the bus that evening to Zagreb, from where they were heading onwards to Hungary to see Beatrixís friends and family there. That done, we headed up to find somewhere to park near to the old town with zero success Ė Croatian drivers once again (for one last time!) causing our tempers to fray a little and we ended up almost back where we started at the bus station and walking up.

DubrovnikThe old town Dubrovnik is a walled city dating back over 1300 years and much of the original city remains despite many attacks over the years, most recently in the early 1990ís when it was held under siege by the federal army. We walked along the main street looks wet, the marble being so smoothly polished by 1300 yearsí worth of tourists, snapping photos left right and centre, lost ourselves in the back streets and then finished off with a walk around the city along the top of the city walls.

After dropping Frazer and Beatrix off at the bus station (and nice chat with Irish couple who fed us grapes and feta cheese) and doing some food shopping we headed out to find a spot to spend our last night in Croatia. We ended up at the top of a hill on the edge of a large graveyard car park, which was at least very quiet, even the next morning!

So the next morning, after spending our last Croatian kuna on whatever we could find in a small shop just before the border, it was onwards to the next country on our list:

Country Seven - Serbia and Montenegro

Actually Montenegro, Serbia comes later. We had been expecting hassle at the border so armed with a couple of packs of Marlboro each to put on the dashboard in case the officials fancied a smoke we headed off to the border. Actually the formalities were totally painless. Having read stories about people having to pay US$180 for insurance we put $200 in our budget plans for this, but they recognised my insurance document so I passed no problem, and though Alex was supposed to be insured they made him buy another one but it was only 15 euros. So weíre RICH for saving that money, we can use that to buy more ice creams.

Having thoroughly checked the latest exchange rate for Yugoslavian or Serbian dinars on the internet we were a little surprised to see all the prices in euros, but it turns out that Montenegro decided to use the euro despite Serbia still using the dinar. Things were much cheaper than in Croatia, and everything is less touristy, but it looks like theyíre starting to try hard on that. Most of the cars around here have Serbia/Montenegro or Bosnian licence plates with of course some Dutch who seem to get everywhere. The first town across the border is called Herceg Novi and we stopped there because we wanted to check out some diving there, so after eventually finding somewhere to park (common theme here) we eventually worked out how to get to the marina by following the pompous communist style music one of the bars there was blaring out, we all felt very morally uplifted. I decided I wasnít keen on the diving because it was a little deeper than I wanted to go as Iím still getting back into it after not diving for a few years, not because it was too cold before anyone says it, so the plan was that Alex and Maz would dive the next day and I would drive up to the Tara River Canyon and check out the situation for white water rafting there, and onwards to the nearby Durmitor National Park to go walking. What I thought would be a 2-3 hour drive turned out to be 6 hours but the road took me through the stunning gorges and mountain passes.

Durmitor NPThe town nearest the Durmitor park is a ski resort called Zabljak. Ski resorts out of season are always a bit tatty and lifeless - Iíve seen a few after living in the French Alps for a while Ė but Zabljak is a total dump. Hopefully it looks better when all the building rubble and piles of rubbish are covered in snow, but the nouveau-concrete style of the buildings will still be there for all to enjoy year-round. I went into one of the tourist booking offices and talked about rafting and the options were 50 euros for the standard 15km trip or 110 euros for the special 40-something km trip. I was assured that around half of these costs were National Park entry fees (a.k.a. tourist tax), as if that makes any difference. In the office I met Roman, Thomas and Lukas, three Austrian guys who were trying to book the longer trip and needed extra people, and they started asking what I was doing in Montenegro, which is now always the start of a long conversation, so we took the conversation to a nearby restaurant where they kindly bought me a beer. After contacting Alex and Maz to see what they wanted to do, they wisely decided not to drive all the way up that evening so I made my way back down the mountain to a camping spot Iíd found earlier in the day for my first night all alone in the woods. There were a few animal noises around me, which I am sure were bears and leopards and stuff, so I didnít hang around outside my tent long and quickly retired to the safety of the tent on the roof of my car and went to sleep.

Durmitor NPThe next day after a late start with the first part of the morning spent in my tent reading a book and sheltering from the rain storms, I went walking in the Durmitor park as planned, but the walk itself wasnít quite what I had in mind. Hereís a hint for you: before going off hiking on your own, learn the local alphabet. Although most of the signs Iíd seen for important stuff had been in our lovely familiar Roman alphabet, I was halfway along the walk for a particular mountain lake when the signs at one of the junctions were only in the Cyrillic alphabet. That, coupled with going the wrong side of a particular tree and missing a particular sign, meant I walked for about half an hour uphill the wrong direction until finally I decided to go back. Then I saw the missing sign and found the lake I was looking for, and it was worth the trouble, a perfectly clear and unspoiled little mountain lake with the fir trees and mountains framing the setting.

Rafting Tara RiverI met up with Alex and Maz that afternoon and they had already had a long chat over coffee with a very nice chap called Goran from Tinaraft based at the spectacular Durdevica Tara bridge spanning the Tara Rover gorge, and they came away with a trip arranged for the next day. We went off for a drive into the mountains to try to find a spot to peer over the edge of the gorge, and then after stocking up on some food we went back to the same camping spot as Iíd used the night before (nothing had attacked me so it must have been OK).

Tara RiverThe rafting was very pleasant passing under the bridge and along the Tara River but without very much white water. Two of the Austrian guys Roman and Thomas were by coincidence booked on the same boat as us and they said they were bored Ė I remember thinking the same after my first rafting trip so I guess I was a little better prepared for the quiet stretches this time. Since we had a long drive ahead of us we didnít stay around long afterwards except for a quick stop at the side of the road to fill our water tanks from a spring. We could also pass the water through Alexís heat exchanger and use it to shower, so we did. We had a lot of strange looks from the passing cars as we were lathering up at the side of the road but the shower was so good that it was worth it!

This takes us up to 23rd August and we had made plans to be in Bulgaria the following day so we had to get some kmís out of the way, a time consuming task but a necessary one. After a little while we came to the border controls between Montenegro and Serbia, which was a bit of a strange concept since politically Serbia and Montenegro are supposed to be together. It was the most difficult border crossing so far! We have definitely got into the territory of unfriendly suspicious border guards who love the power of their jobs just a little too much. Fortunately the Serbian translation of our flyer eased our path a little. The one guard who could read started reading it out to his colleagues and eventually threw it back at us and waved us off.

Not much to report in Serbia (apart from an increasing proportion of incomprehensible Cyrillic signposts) as we only did half an hour or so before crossing yet another control into Kosovo, the Serbians giving us the usual friendly treatment as we left their part and then to enter Kosovo the controls were manned by United Nations staff where we talked to a very friendly Indian chap while the paperwork was processed in an office to the side. We didnít get your name, sorry, but send us an email!

We drove through some small towns in Kosovo and attracted a lot of stares. It was quite a miserable experience to see the state of the towns - it was all old buildings falling down or new buildings going up, there didnít seem to be any complete buildings anywhere. A lot of people were out walking the streets presumably because there is nothing else to do and it was quite a humbling experience to see the state of the place and imagine the lives of the people who live there. It doesnít look much fun now, but itís impossible to imagine what it would have been like a few years ago. We stopped at a restaurant where Alex and I had a typical Kosovan meal - a big plate of meat including pork which was a bit of a surprise - and Maz didnít eat much because she was feeling a bit ill, and witnessed our first accident of the trip. Well, we didnít see it but we heard the crunch and then saw someone trying to drive their car out of a field. To be honest itís rather surprising that this was the first weíd seen, as they all drive like lunatics round here. We crossed back into Serbia and found somewhere to stay for the night and then the following day resumed our driving east towards Bulgaria and its capital Sofia where we had a dinner date arranged, but more on that to follow in the next instalment...!

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Comment from Eric
Nice blog, nice trip. Have you spilt yoghart on your car seats yet? I'e got some spare car seats from my 1981 Chevette (special edition ones with adjustable backrests) if you need them.

p.s. I didn't see how much you guys gave to Care? I showed my friends your website before you left and they commonly said two things; firstly that you will be burning up loads of fossil fuels and secondly that if you didn't go then you could give all the money you spent directly to Care. By that reasoning the amount raised must exceed the total budget of the trip in order for it to be "morally accountable". Personally I think you should just go and have a good time and forget the charity bit as it is an unecessary distraction. Mind you, you did get some free kit out of it...
01 Sep 2005 @ 12:25:12

Comment from Eric
and just to make you feel better, I now have to go back to work (still remember what that is?)
01 Sep 2005 @ 12:26:47

Comment from Jim
Great Blog - Great Trip - ENJOY - Unless Eric's friends are cycling or walking to work and are living in unheated houses they are doing their share of burning up fossil fuels! It is so easy to criticise when sitting in an armchair! Long live your spirits of both adventure and charity.
05 Sep 2005 @ 10:09:32