I returned to the bus terminal where I had arrived in Kosovo a week before. I had a bit of time up my sleeve as I wasn’t sure exactly where my bus for Serbia would leave from. A walk through the terminal area and I was none the wiser. I couldn’t see a sign for my bus company anywhere, and the people I asked had no idea where the departure point was either. I ended up messaging the provider who remotely guided me to a point on a freeway flyover nearby. It all seemed a bit unlikely, as there was no bus stop as such. There wasn’t even an emergency lane into which a bus could pull over and stop. I sent the operator a photo of where I was, and he assured me it was the right spot. After a while a small group of people gathered near me, which gave me a little hope. Sure enough, although a bit late, my bus appeared, drew to the side of the road, blocked the lane, and we get on.
It was about a 25km drive to the border with Serbia, where our passports were collected as we sat on the bus. After a while the bus staffer returned and held up my passport (I was the only Aussie on the bus, and possibly in all Kosovo, so I knew that little navy blue book was mine), which is never a good sign. I walked to the front of the bus, and followed the bloke down the steps to the road. ‘They are not going to let you through with this,’ he said. ‘Can I speak to the border guards?’ I asked. Without waiting for the answer I walked over to the guards’ office.
A bloke in uniform came out and started to explain. ‘We are a border checkpoint here. We are not an international border crossing. We have no customs facilities. We do not have the necessary stamps for your passport.’ ‘Well it would be good to have found this out before now’ I said. ‘The bus booking agency didn’t think to mention it.’ The officer was pleasant and sorry for my predicament but explained there was nothing he could do. He suggested to enter Serbia through North Macedonia, as they had an international border crossing there. ‘You’re kidding!’ I thought. ‘Back to North Macedonia?’ I was about 90km from my destination Nis, and I was going to have to do a 340km log-cut to get there. I walked back to the bus, shrugged my shoulders at the driver, and collected my things from my seat as the other passengers watched on. The driver opened the baggage hold for me and I grabbed my backpack. We exchanged shrugged shoulders again.
I walked to the edge of the road and plunked down my bag. It was getting on for 1600, and the sun was already low in the sky. It was cold. The bus started up and drove away into Serbia without me, as I stood under the big roofed border control area and wondered what the fuck I was going to do now. There was bugger all around, just paddocks and a few buildings on the road towards Pristina. I figured I would walk back past the Kosovan border control point and see if any buses came through from Serbia which I could catch back to town. If worst came to worst I would pull out the camping gear, sleep the night in the bivvy bag somewhere, and try to figure out what to do in the morning.
I walked down towards Kosovo, and was yelled at by the guards to approach in a particular lane. I did so, and when I arrived at the office two blokes came out to meet me. I explained my predicament and they commiserated and shook their heads, muttering something about it not being an international border control point. More shoulder shrugging, then I made my way out of the official area and started towards town.
I must have looked like a particularly sad bastard, having been chucked off the bus, walking forlornly down the road with my bags. There were some closed up stores near the road verge, and what looked looked like a little canteen. There were a couple of cars outside, and as I drew up with my bags, a bloke came out and said ‘Taxi?’ I said ‘bus’. He said ‘No bus’. I couldn’t see any taxi either. I said ‘Yes, taxi.’ He put his head back inside the canteen and called out, then walked to the back of one of the cars and opened the boot. I put my bag in and we both climbed into the car. ‘Pristina please. How much?’ We agreed on a price, and away we went.
My knight in shining Skoda didn’t speak much English, and me no Albanian, but I managed to get across that they had refused me entry into Serbia. My driver asked where I was going after Pristina, and I said I would try to get a bus to Skopje. We drove on through the twilight in silence. A little while later, my driver offered me a price in euro to drive me on from Pristina to Skopje. I thanked him and explained I had already blown money on my first bus ticket, so would try and get a cheap bus fare to Skopje. We drove on. A short time later he revised the price. I thanked him and politely refused. A little further on he cut the price again, and I thought bugger it I’ll take it to save time and hassle. I didn’t know what the schedule for buses to Serbia would be when I reached Skopje, but I still hoped I could get to Nis before dawn the following day.
I contacted the apartment I had booked in Nis and told the owner about my dramas, and said I would let him know as soon as I did what time I woud arrive. My driver said something about the Macedonian border, and I assumed he was telling me he would drop me off on the Kosovan side. Eventually we arrived at the crossing, he did just that, and I thanked and paid him. Now I had to figure out how to get across the border into North Macedonia and on to Skopje.
It was bloody cold outside, and as I was considering my options a cab pulled up and the passenger window lowered. ‘Skopje?’ asked the driver. ‘Yes, Skopje please’ I replied. The driver nodded and I jumped in. After agreeing on a price we wound our way down the mountain towards the lights of the city. It was late evening when he dropped me off at the main bus terminal.
Looking around, I couldn’t believe I was back in Skopje. Where I had stayed during my time in the city was only a five minute walk away. Today certainly hadn’t worked out according to plan. I went inside the bus terminal, and up to the ticket windoww. ‘Nis?’ I asked. The staffer nodded and wrote a time down on a piece of paper. I nodded and bought the ticket. I would arrive in Nis at 0130.
I messaged the landlord of the unit and told him my new arrival time. He told me he would wait at the apartment for me. I told him to just leave a key out as I was going to arrive so late, but he said it was fine and he would be there when I arrived. ‘Well, up to you old mate,’ I thought.
I bought something to eat and sat out in the cold. I always found the Skopje bus terminal an uneasy place, and it was particularly so at night. I prefered to be out in the fresh air. I had finished my modest meal when I noticed a bloke in a hoody hanging around. I kep an eye on him, and eventually he approached, and asked for money. I had run down my funds as I was leaving the country, but I gave him what Macedonian cash I had left. It wasn’t much, but enough to buy someting to eat. He looked at the money I had given him. ‘What is this?’ he asked. ‘It’s all I have,’ I replied. ‘But this is nothing’. ‘Mate it’s all I have’. He looked at me. ‘But this…this is nothing…’ he started again. ‘Ok mate, it you don’t want it, give it back.’ I was tired and had run out of patience. ‘Come on, give it back.’ I held out my hand. He looked confused. ‘Give it back.’ He backed away, then walked off. I sat there in the cold a little longer. Then he returned. As he approached me I said ‘Mate will you go away?’ He picked in my tone that this was really a statement not a question. He skulked off into the darkness.
Unable to tolerate the cold any longer I walked back in to the treminal. The minutes were dragging by and I hadn’t even stated my 2.5 hour bus journey to Nis. After what seemed an eternity the bus arrived. I got on, relieved that, presuming I didn’t get turned back at the border, all I had to do was sit until I arrived in Nis. Skopje’s streets were quiet as we drove out of town.
Pulling up at the Serbian border, we all piled off clutching out passports and Covid vaccination certificates. When it was my turn, I approached the Serbian border control window and handed over my documents. ‘Oh Australia’ said the border control guard. ‘Ahh…well…Novak Djokovic….’ He was refering to the Australian Government’s decision to deport the Serbian tennis star for being unvaccinated. ‘Hey if it was my decision I would have let him play,’ I lied. The guard laughed and handed me back my papers, shaking his head and muttering about the rough treatment that Djokovic had received in Australia. Emboldened now I had a stamped passport, I held up my vaccination certificate and said ‘He didn’t have one of these, mate!’
An uneventful trip had me finally disembarking in Nis at 0130. I walked the 20 minutes through the deserted town to my accommodation, where as promised, the landlord was waiting up for me. Sharing no common language, he showed me through the apartment and its facilities using gesticulations and mime. I thanked him for staying up, though there really was no need, and when he had left I collapsed on the bed. Leaving Kosovo definitely hadn’t been the cruisy trip with mid-afternoon arrival I had planned, but I waas grateful to have made it in the end.
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