Dark rails into serbia

Trip Start Jun 05, 2006
Trip End Aug 22, 2006

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Flag of Serbia and Montenegro  ,
Saturday, July 1, 2006

Been feeling this sense of trepidation lately, a sort of feverishness as my path winds further east. Upon returning from the highlands of Zabljak yesterday (after a prolonged stopover in grubby Podgorica) I opted to join Beth on her train ride into the town of Kolasin, where I would rest briefly before taking the overnight train to Nis (a connection point in Serbia, pronounced "Neesh", which has services onwards to Bulgaria).

Kolasin was the base for Beth's volunteer workcamp, which seemed comprised of a raffish group of Balkan youths all crowded into one abandoned jailhouse at the edge of town. I could sense apprehension in Beth's voice as a group of Montenegrin volunteers offered us some white bread and Nutella for dinner. But the neon jumpsuit-clad leader eased our worries by taking us out for Turkish tea and impressing upon us the wonders of Kolasin nightlife. The two of us could not help but marvel at the multitude of discos and outdoors cafes lining the one downtown street, a familiar case in so many rural towns throughout the Balkans.

We walked up the unlit, forested road later that night, to wait for the long slow train from Ploce. The man in the austere grey box by the station scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to me, and after waiting for what seemed like an eternity, we could hear the rumble of the wheezing relic train coming around the mountain. The surreal atmosphere out on that dark and windy platform had me feeling a bit spooked but maybe it was just jitters leftover from too much Turkish coffee. As I said goodbye and hoisted myself up the ladder I had the sensation that this iron horse was bound for the Underworld.

It was midnight and bodies were sprawled out in nearly every crevice of the dim boxcar. I managed to find a vacant seat in one of the humid old compartments, with an older Serb couple who were nice enough to shove a sleeping man's arms out of the way to make room for me. As the train rumbled on for hours over the mountains of southern Serbia I barely slept a wink. Repeatedly I would wake up throughout the night, only to be startled in my delirium by the unknown sleeping faces across from me, full of stern but dignified composure. Eventually came rainfall at first light; then sun breaking through the clouds over the pretty, ramshackle villages near Nis.

After eleven hours of silently avoiding eye contact with the couple across from me, the man suddenly broke into a warm smile and asked, in near-perfect English,

"So... where are you from?"
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