Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Smooth Talking Border Patrol

Country #10, it might cause me a bit of a headache if I have to go the way I came to leave!

A border crossing basically involves showing your passport, maybe getting a stamp, and proceeding into the next country.  A simple routine procedure for most people, yet I’ve had some memorable and difficult border crossings on my long way home.

First there was the Spain-France border, no big deal because they are all part of the EU and you don’t even have to stop.  However, Vicens, decided to take me on the scenic route and after a long climb, there was an even longer descent on a narrow gravel road into Ceret, France.  The road was filled with pot holes and a storm rolled in, drenching us in water for 20 kilometers.  It was neither funny nor fun in the moment, but I look back now and laugh.

Crossing into Italy was uneventful, same with Slovenia.  However, I did a 40 km detour trying to get from Slovenia to Croatia.  I tried three different border crossings and even used the toll road border booth before I found an officer that realized there was no way for a non-EU passport holder to cross the border on a bike.

Coming into Bosnia was my first border crossing into a Non-EU country so I was caught a bit off guard.  I forgot that you have to be stamped out of the country you came from and stamped into the country of arrival.  I saw two different lines at the border, one behind the other, and I thought I would wait in the first line since it was shorter.  I must have been short on oxygen in my brain after all the riding because once I got stamped at the first booth, I simply detoured around the second booth.  My rationale for this was that there was no need to wait in the second line since I’d already been stamped.  Well, the Bosnian border police started yelling at me from inside the booth as they saw me pedal off and I shouted back, “I already went to the first booth for my stamp”.  Well, that didn’t cut it because they didn’t stop yelling at me, and it finally dawned on me,….I need a stamp for Bosnia too!  So I went back and got stamped and that was that. 

Now, every time there is a border crossing, I get a bit anxious and wonder what is in store for me at the crossing.  Today I left Macedonia (although I’ll be back) to go on a little detour up north to Pristine, Kosovo.  Entering Kosovo isn’t a problem, but if you try to enter Serbia from Kosovo, they won’t let you because Serbia doesn’t recognize Kosovo as an independent country. They think you’ve entered Serbia illegally and make you turn around and go back to Macedonia or another border country to enter Serbia.  I thought something was different when I  was using Google Maps to try to get from Kosovo to Bulgaria and they always had me back track through Macedonia.  Serbia doesn’t want to see a Kosovo stamp in your passport and the only loophole I’ve been told is to show them a EU residence card, especially one from Spain.  Spain doesn’t recognize Kosovo either  as an independent nation either because if they did, they would also have to also support the Basque country and Catalunya’s request to be an independent nation.  Politics,....I won’t go there, but they make traveling so much more adventurous!

I am stubborn and determined to find a way to enter Serbia from Kosovo in a few days.  In the kilometers leading up to the Macedonian-Kosovo border, I prepared my little speech for the border officers to request no stamping my passport.

As I handed my passport to Kosovo officials, I started to get a bit nervous.  As the officer saw the words, “United States of America” on the cover, a huge smile came on his face and a tone that expressed a sense of relief.  He said,  “Oh, you are an American!”  It was as if he was so glad to see me I could have asked him for anything, including a back massage. Now that the ice had been broken, I suddenly forgot the short formal speech I had prepared and I thad no problem explaining to him my plan for entering Serbia.  He briefly talked with his colleague and the two of them agreed that without a stamp it would be easier to get into Serbia.  I couldn’t believe how easily my plan had worked.  I was in Kosovo, country number 10, but didn’t have a stamp to prove it! I rolled into Kosovo with a huge boost of confidence, proud that my scheme for entering Serbia was running according to plan! 

On Thursday afternoon I head into Serbia, my plan is to first show them my residency card and speak Spanish, and if they ask for a passport, I will pull it out.  I don’t have a Serbian entrance stamp, but nor do I have a Kosovo stamp.  You might think I’m crazy, but I’m ready to take a chance on the Serbian border.  I will have to pedal an extra 50 kilometers if my plan fails, but I’m confident that I will get in. 

I truly believe that people treat you differently on a bike, especially if you are a solo female traveler.  In fact, I am certain there are countries in central Asia and The Middle East that would allow an American female cyclist cross the border without all the Visa requirements,……do I dare try?      


  1. Welcome to Kosovo! This is how Americans are treated here - everybody loves you for the simple fact that you are American. Nice, huh? I hope you have a great stay here - my kids are very excited to meet you at ILG today. Good luck with the rest of your trip!!

    1. Thank you! I did enjoy my visit to ILG. Afterwards I set off to Serbia with my fingers crossed, but I had to turn around. However, the Kosovo border police was soooo nice, I almost camped out at their little booth for the night! Interesting country and felt so welcomed between the UN and Kosovo people. Thank you!