Custom officers… *sigh…*

It started to go wrong at the “border” of Serbia and Kosovo. Which isn’t a border at all, but you can’t cross it anyway. Bas, Niels, Marc en Jan could cross it, but Wouter (a.k.a Cash) and me couldn’t because we had all the equipment with us. And without any explanation we had to turn around and try to get in to Kosovo somewhere else, which meant a 400 km detour through Macedonia. Perhaps the customs lady should consider surgically removing the broomstick out of her arse.

So Cash and I turned around, back to the main road, with some effort found the way back to the highway and started the long trip to Macedonia. The roads there are quite bad to say the least, but once we were on the highway the trip was smooth. For about half an hour… The highway stopped all of a sudden en we were back on a crappy road through the mountains. Which actually was a very beautiful part of the journey if it wasn’t at night and you could see the landscape. But since it was 12 o’ clock at night all we saw were car lights.

After 2 hours of negotiating sharp corners, dodging traffic and avoiding plummeting down steep mountainsides to certain and most likely very flat deaths we arrived at the border of Serbia and Macedonia. This actually was a real border so we could cross it but not without any difficulties. Everything went ok, except that apparently the car-insurance-green-card-thingy of the car was expired and we had to buy a new one for €50,- from an old fellow in a little house next to the customs office. And they were a bit surprised about the cargo but after explaining we carried the music equipment of a very famous band (and I guess a bit of ATA Carnet papers and Cash’ beautiful smile had got something to do with it as well) we could cross the border after we’ve shown the ATA Carnetpapers at a booth on the side of the customs office. The only problem was, there was no booth at the side of the customs office… At least, none we could find. So we searched and we searched but we couldn’t find anything remotely looking like a booth. Apparently there wasn’t actually a booth but more of… well, just a window. At which we had to wait for about half an hour before a lady opened it, took the ATA Carnetpapers, checked them, franticly made some copies with papers flying around in her office and gave them back so we could finally, after 1 hour, be one our way through Macedonia.

According to the map the way through Macedonia wasn’t that difficult and it wasn’t. There was a highway again and we could actually driver faster then 40 km/u. But then there was Skopje… Again; according to the map the way through Skopje wasn’t that difficult, just one road through the centre and we’d already seen some road sign that said that Pristina was just straight ahead. But then in Skopje the signs stopped… And then the road stopped, well it didn’t actually stop but you couldn’t call it a road either. So we got lost. No signs, no proper map and no way of telling how to get out of Skopje. And no music anymore. Didn’t I mention that? After 15 hours of hard work DJ Shuffle of the iPod Club was tired and went to bed. Leaving us with just 2 CD’s and (as it turned out to be) 7 hours of time to kill. Anyway, back to the main story; we found a taxi with a taxi driver (obviously) and asked him if he could tell us where we were and how to get to Pristina. Then he started laughing and agreed to bring us to the right road which would lead us to Pristina, for the proper amount of €5,-, of course.

So we were on the right road again up to the next and last border of that day. We arrived at the border at about 5 o’ clock in the morning and we had all the paperwork ready; passports, car papers and insurance papers and the ATA Carnet papers with which every border crossing would be a nice stroll through a beautiful park (right…). Like we did at every border we went to stand in the queue for the small vehicles. There we were send back up the road to go to the cargo queue and there the real challenges began…

First we stopped at the first little building, went inside and showed the ATA Carnetpapers to a customs officer behind the desk. He looked at them, couldn’t make any sense out of it and called 3 of his colleagues. Apparently it takes 4 guys to check some paperwork. This took about 15 minutes and finally we got the proper stamps. Then they send us to building number 2 at the other side of the road where we had to get a white piece of paper with some unrecognisable scribbling on it. We had to take this piece of paper back to the customs officer in building number 1 and from him we got another piece of paper, of which the colour I can’t remember, and had to take this to a police officer at another desk across the hall. We showed him the paper along with our passports and car papers and after that we could finally go to the barrier at building number 3, which should open after we gave the paper with the colour I can’t remember to an officer there. Except there wasn’t any officer to be seen. After some searching it appeared that there actually was somebody but he was sleeping. After his colleagues woke him we had to pay €5,- for no apparent reason and we could go to the other side. To the Kosovo side of the border where it got really interesting…

On the Kosovo side of the border were working the best employees of the customs bureaucracy department. Now pay attention ‘cause this could get a bit complicated. First we went to building number 1, to give our passports and car papers to a customs officer through a really high window.  Of course the insurance paper we bought at the Macedonian border was not valid in Kosovo, because, well let’s face it, then they couldn’t make any money out of it. So we had to buy another one at building number 2. There Cash had to wake up a guy so he could buy the insurance papers for €85,- ! And I had to open the car so the customs officer could check the cargo and ask questions like: “Where are you going?” and “What are you going to do there?” and “Who invited you?”. After we answered them he called a colleague who asked the same questions.

Communication between customs officers is not very high on the priority list of customs school. Inserting broomsticks in cavities, which are originally not meant to insert anything in to, apparently is.

Cash showed them the ATA Carnetpapers and for once that was sufficient to satisfy their curiosity and we could close the car. Then the 2 customs officers went inside building 1 to discuss some unfathomable customs subjects and we had to wait. After a while a police officer came out of building number 3 and we had to open the car and answer the same questions all over again. I think the police officers there go to the same school as the customs officers, ‘cause he called a colleague as well and he asked, yes you already guessed it, the same questions.

After they left, the customs officer from building 1 came outside and apparently do they not only don’t communicate, they also suffer from short term memory loss, because he began asking, again, the same questions. After the regular question he finally understood that we were carrying the equipment of a band. Music equipment to make music. It’s not exactly rocket science, guys. After answering all the questions, again, we thought we could finally go and be one our way. But no. At that point he told us that they would keep Cash’ passport, my car papers en half of the ATA Carnetpapers and that we had to wait for 2 hours, ‘till 8 o’ clock, at building number 5 for the chief customs officer to arrive and approve all the paperwork.

So we went to building 5 and there was another customs officer who had no idea whatsoever what we were doing there and send us back to building 1. Back there, again, they said we had to take a yellow paper, which they’d given us, to building number 4. So we went to building 4, gave the yellow paper to an officer with a lot of question marks floating around his head, also he had no idea what went on at the other buildings, and he told us that the yellow paper was incorrect because the license plate number written down on it was not the same as the license plate on my car. I wonder what went wrong there; did we step accidentally in another white Opel Combo with almost the same license plate accept for one different letter which just happened to be at the same border and just happened to have the same ignition key or did the rocket scientists of the Kosovo customs office wrote down an ‘R’ instead of a ‘P’? So we went back to building 1, had the license plate number on the yellow paper changed, back to building 4, showed the yellow paper and we got another white paper which we had to take back to building 5. The customs officer at building 5 looked at the white paper and did absolutely nothing with it. And we waited…

At 8 o’ clock, after 2 very uncomfortable hours of no sleep, the chief customs officer came and we went to his office in building 5. He asked us the same questions again, I think you can see a pattern of no communication here, and after being satisfied with the answers he gave us back Cash’ passport, my car papers en half of the ATA Carnetpapers and a piece of paper with which we could, finally, cross the border. So that was it. We finally could be on our way to Pristina. So we thought… Before we could go we had to show the last piece of paper we got from the chief officer to an officer at building 6, where we had to pay some kind of tax of €40,-. But at that point all our money was gone on insurance papers and imaginary taxes and the banks at the border didn’t have ATM machines to get money with our bankcards. So Cash and one of the customs officers from building 6 went into Kosovo to get the money, came back, paid the tax and then… finally… yes, Ladies and Gentlemen… we could cross the Macedonia – Kosovo border after just 3 and a half hours!!!

The trip after that was quite uneventful. Again a lot of crappy roads, an average speed of 60 km/u and a lot of buildings, either under construction or demolition. But after a short hour we arrived at Pristina at 9:45 a.m! The other guys would be checking out of the hostel not long after that so we decided to go to the bar where we would meet Hana (a girl from Pristina who is helping us arranging the gigs and performances) at 12 o’ clock and have a couple of beers. I think we deserved them after a long day of hard work…

Good night ☺

-X- Dave (a.k.a. Sabine)