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Balkan Odyssey Part 17: The Long Road to Dubrovnik
In today's modern age, getting from Point A to Point B is often very easy. Of course, there are exceptions; such as when Point A is Ulcinj, Montenegro and Point B is the Dubrovnik airport where your girlfriend is flying into.
I sort of got the hint before embarking on my solo journey of Albania that if I wasn't at the Dubrovnik airport to meet my girlfriend when she flew in, the rest of my trip would be solo as well.
So, here was the challenge: I had to travel the entire length of Montenegro, cross the border into Croatia, and be standing at the arrival gate by 3 p.m.
There is a very convenient bus that travels this entire route but it left Ulcinj at 12:45 p.m. and arrived at Dubrovnik too late to get me to the airport on time. The lady at the ticket counter suggested I take the 7 a.m. bus that traveled a town called Igalo near the border. I figured I could easily find transport onwards from there.
So, I woke at 5:30 a.m., caught a taxi to the bus station and jumped in a minivan. The coastal journey north towards Croatia is a very nice drive with plenty of scenic ocean vistas and wonderful homes and chateaus tucked in the hillsides. My girlfriend and I were planning on coming back to Montenegro after spending a few days in Dubrovnik, so the journey gave me a chance to scout out possible locations to visit.
Igalo, my minivan's final stop, had appeared to be a small town right on the border when I consulted my map at the Ulcinj bus station. This was not true. The minivan dropped me off in front of a beachside hotel in Igalo which turned out to be about ten kilometers from the border. To make matters worse, there was no transport whatsoever to continue my journey.
A helpful woman at the hotel's reception desk sort of laughed when I explained my predicament and told me I had to go back to the main bus station at Herceg Novi, a town I had passed through on the minivan about ten minutes earlier. To get there, I grabbed a local bus just outside the hotel and rode it nervously as it headed in the wrong direction for a long time before circling back and eventually dropping me off at the bus station.
Despite quite a bit of activity at the station, there was only one bus scheduled to head across the border to Dubrovnik. It left at 3 p.m. I was a bit angry to discover that it was the same 12:45 bus from Ulcinj which I didn't take because it would not get me to the airport on time.
My only option at this point was a taxi. Unfortunately, the driver wanted 50 euros for the journey. So, I came up with a far cheaper solution. I'd take the taxi to the border for 10 euros, walk across, and grab a taxi or bus on the Croatian side. Easy enough. I've done it before and it has always worked out.
When the taxi dropped me off, however, the border post was almost completely empty. There were no busses waiting to cross or even taxis. I walked up to a window on the side of the building to get my passport stamped but the official waved me over to the little outdoor booth where two cars were waiting in line. I had to go and stupidly stand behind the last car, breathing in its nasty Eastern European exhaust, and wait my turn.
I thought it strange they didn't have a window for people walking across the border. But, I quickly discovered why.
Once over the border, I entered No Man's Land, that strip of earth that lies between two borders. Normally this area is less than 100 yards. But, as I started walking, I realized I couldn't see the Croatian border post. The frontier was in the mountains and the road was curvy but every time I came around a bend expecting to see the border, all I saw was more of No Man's Land stretching out before me. This was bad. I would have hitchhiked but not only were there no cars passing by, but I really doubted anyone would pick up a stranger in No Man's Land. That's like offering to carry someone's bag through customs.
About a kilometer into my journey, all hot and sweaty, I stopped for a break and was taking a pee in No Man's Land when I heard a car coming around the corner. I just had time to zip up before it blew past me, stopped for a moment, then slowly backed up. There was a man and women in the front seat but the back seat was empty. Without saying a word, I pulled open the door, threw in my bag and jumped in after it.
"Hi," I said. The couple was all smiles and said hello back. Juraj and his wife were from Slovakia and had been vacationing at a friend's house in Montenegro. They spoke a little English and I spoke a little Czech and suddenly my Hellish journey into No Man's Land turned into a very pleasant one.
It was another 4-5 kilometers before we hit the Croatian border post. I would have been walking a long time if they hadn't picked me up. I asked where they were heading in Croatia and they told me they were dropping off their rental car and flying out of Dubrovnik Airport. Perfect! I asked if could catch a ride the rest of the way and they had no problems with that.
Juraj did, however, want to visit Dubrovnik first before going to the airport. What I didn't realize was that the airport is on the road between Montenegro and Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is actually another 20 kilometers beyond the airport. I'll bet that 12:45 bus from Ulcinj would have gotten me to the airport only a little bit late and I probably could have taken it after all. Damn!
So we spent a quick hour in Dubrovnik (that's Juraj above on the main street in Old Town) where I learned that, in addition to picking up strangers in No Man's Land, Juraj and his wife run a small hotel in Kremnica, Slovakia called Stefanshof. Be sure to visit it if you're in the area. We then headed back to the airport just in time to catch their flight and to meet my girlfriend at the gate.