Friday, August 8, 2008

The Long Way 'Round (Part 2)


If you don't remember what the last post was about you may want to have a little recap. Part one of this epic day can be found here: (Part 1)

As I approach the Hungarian - Croatian border I start to get a little nervous. I did purchase additional insurance in Frankfurt but it doesn't cover you in certain countries. Croatia is one of the countries I'm not covered in. Of course the fact that I have Canadian license plates on my bike is more than enough to confuse anyone. Exactly how did I drive here from Canada? But I don't think that's why I'm nervous. It's been awhile since I have seen any border crossings. The EU has created a travelers paradise in Europe. Now crossing the border into Croatia I find myself wondering how they are going to react to a motorcycle painted up with Canadian emblems and using 50mm ammo cases for panniers.

Oh right! I've also had about three beers in the last thirty minutes and I know Croatia is known for zero tolerance. What gives with that? How can you have zero tolerance in a culture where it is normal to start drinking at 7 in the morning? Besides, it's nearly 40 degrees Celsius (104F) you just sweat it out anyways.


As I get closer to the border a little Volkswagen cuts me off to get in front of me. I see the plates say the car is from Italy. Figures. I've driven in Italy. That was a normal merge for an Italian. I guess he wants a nice cold beer on the other side of the border more than I do. Car by car, I inch closer to the crossing. I've turned off my bike, removed my helmet, and I walk the bike as each car clears the crossing. This is the first time I've crossed into Croatia by motorcycle and I'm a little confused. There are two sets of people checking things. I'm not sure what the procedure is but as long as I keep moving forward I'm doing OK. The officer in the booth hands a couple of passports to the VW in front of me and it moves forward. I approach the first customs officer with my passport clenched between my teeth. I stop and hand my passport over. He takes a long look at it, stamps it and hands it back to me.

"You are from Vancouver", he says with that deep voice most Croatian men are born with.

"I am", I reply. "Have you ever been there?"

He laughs and says,"No. I just used to love the Grizzlies. I was sorry to see them move from your city."

"The Grizzlies!", I think to myself. Here I am out in the middle of nowhere and I happen to meet the only person outside of the Greater Vancouver District that even remembers we used to have an NBA team. What are the chances?

"I hated seeing them leave too", I lied. In truth, I had only been to one game and although I did enjoy being there I have honestly never taken much of a liking to basketball.

He ushers me forward. I pull in behind the VW at the secondary checkpoint. It's so hot out here on the tarmac and I can see it's getting to the woman they have inspecting vehicles as they pass by. She's talking to the Italians in front of me. She looks at their passports again and asks them something. I'm not sure what, but from my angle I would guess that she wants them to open their hatchback. Of course I go across the Canada - US border quite a bit so I know most of the things that border guards want from you most of the time (pray that they don't put on the rubber glove). Now I can see that being in the EU has some disadvantages. It has taken this man's ability to decipher the obvious intentions of this border guard. So instead of 'popping' his trunk I see the reverse lights come on as I brace for impact as he begins to back up.

The girl yells, "STOP", at him at the top of her lungs and he stops about a foot away from hitting me. Whew! That was close. She starts talking to him very sternly. I'm pretty sure that neither he nor I understood a single word of what she was saying and now that I'm practically sitting in his back seat I get to hear the conversation more clearly. Now I have very poor language skills, but I'm pretty much sure that one of the words she kept saying meant "stupid". She points at his trunk again and continues talking to him.

Boom. He hit me? He hit me! The rotten bugger backed up again and hit me. I just barely managed to keep myself upright and now it looks like a garage sale around my bike. Everything that wasn't attached is on the ground now. Fortunately the bike wasn't in gear so it moved backwards after impact. What a place for this to happen. I put my bike on it's center stand and dismounted to start collecting my belongings. I'm just glad I had my helmet looped around my arm so that I didn't drop it.

Meanwhile the couple in front of me (a guy and girl in the late 20's early 30's) are both out of the car and now there is a lot of yelling going on. The customs officer is yelling at the man, the girlfriend is yelling at the man, the girlfriend is yelling at the officer, and the officer is yelling at the girlfriend. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying the show. I look around to see if there are people sneaking across the border. I only say this because if I were trying to sneak across this would be exactly the kind of distraction I would want.

The other officer comes out to join the fray. Perfect. I'm never getting through. The female officer keeps repeating, "No,no,no!", and pointing at the way back to Hungary. Even I know what she's saying now.

She hands their passports to the other officer and he tells them in English that they must leave back to Hungary and they must not try to come to Croatia again. The girlfriend starts crying and the boyfriend starts yelling at the customs officers. As he approaches them, arms flailing wildly the way only an Italian can, the lady unholsters her semi automatic 9mm Beretta. Nice gun!

The gentleman, I use the term gentleman now because that is exactly what he's become once the lady aimed the piece at him. The 'gentleman' returned to his car slowly, his girlfriend in tears as they followed the other officer around to the other side of the crossing. I see him hand their passports back as they peel out and return from whence they came. That will make the trip back to Italy long and quiet.
(The border crossing satellite image)

I approached the secondary inspection as the girl was returning her gun to her holster. I couldn't buy a story like this. How exciting! I go to hand her my passport but she has no interest in it. She lifts the gate and ushers me through. "Don't worry. I'm OK.", I say to her in my 'Inside Voice'.

Should I mention that I have drugs in my bum?

I ride through the crossing and I pull over at the cafe on the other side of the border. The first thing I see is the Karlovacko awning and umbrellas. I'm so happy!

(to be continued...)

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