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November 8, 2006

Tommy the Party Preacher in Montenegro

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So I packed up my stuff, cleaned the truck, paid the bills for the 44 days that I stayed at camp Stoliv in Montenegro and headed out to my next destination.

Travel traveling through Montenegro
Traveling back east along the coast.

Travel traveling through Montenegro

While I was staying at Stoliv Montenegro, I noticed one guy who kept walking briskly up and down the shoreline. Never got a chance to talk to him but weíd always wave to each other and say hi. I imagined he was some recent war veteran who won some compensation from the government (fat chance) and hence could afford to walk up and down the shoreline, all day long and every day. I would often see him while I was working and sitting in my truck, or when jogging along the road, or swimming in the ocean or sunbathing by the road. He had longer hair, as mine was growing, a thick beard, as mine was growing, kept smoking cigarettes, as I would sometimes do, and somehow he felt like a brother. Anyway, after I finished packing up my stuff and revved up the beast to depart, who else but almost my only friend would be walking by. He noticed I was leaving, stopped, pulled out a cigarette, and waited on the road while I made my complicated maneuverings through the camp trees and around the various parked trailers, until I finally made it onto the narrow road to receive his friendly goodbye, cigarette in his mouth. We seemed to have a silent yet brotherly understanding.

Travel traveling through Montenegro Travel traveling through Montenegro

Went along the coast for a while and then dived inland, a steep climb to the interior.

By nightfall I was approaching the countryís capital city and picked up my first hitchhiker. Asked him about internet cafes in the city, he made a few calls on his mobile, but couldnít help me.

On the way into town I noticed a Mercedes sign, so I thought this town would be a good opportunity to replace that broken right hind light cover, which I noticed broken when I pulled into that autocamp those 44 days ago. After all, it may cost something to replace, all Mercedes parts being rather expensive, but this could be a lot cheaper than the bribes Iíd have to pay the rest of my trip to every policeman who noticed the misdemeanor and my foreign license plates.

Travel traveling through Montenegro
Up the steep mountains and inland.
Travel traveling through Montenegro

So I spent the evening walking around town with laptop over my shoulder and familiarizing myself. Great way to discover any city: walk around looking for something and asking people for directions. Half the people I asked didnít even know there was an internet cafť in town, but eventually I found it. I could not survive this crazy trip without my perseverance.

They told me that the internet is cut off at 8pm, so I came back the next day and tried to hook up. Was having problems so the waitress asked a youngster to help me. Found out that the internet on the second floor costs 1.5 Euro an hour using their computers, while on the first floor it was free, if I brought my own laptop. All I needed to know was the secret information, like the IP address, MASK no. and all that computer geek stuff the kid was helping me with. Who informed me that I can get free internet all over town, if I knew where to park. Of course he filled me in on some of that information, I filled him in on how I am running a business from a caravan while traveling in Europe, showed him how I have things set up on my computer, and of course the two of us computer geeks hit it off well.

Travel traveling through Montenegro

Travel traveling through Montenegro
Some big lake < near Podgorice, the capital city, at a castle ruin by the railroad and highway cutting through a shallow part of the lake.

We kept in touch and went for a beer a few times, but I was getting too drunk trying to do all my work in that cafť (for I feel guilty using the free internet while not drinking beer Ė guilt obviously the only reason why I kept ordering one after another), so I moved to one of his parking spot suggestions and managed to get a connection: right in the centre of town next to the national theatre. Yes, my big scratched up blue bus with Czech graffiti on the side smudging the streets of this capital city.

Soon enough Sunday rolled around, Sunday a day when one should not work but worship and glorify God. A potentially difficult thing for a workaholic like me. Or maybe I just work so much because I donít have anything better to do, or the money to do anything else.

Anyway, I was moping around town trying to figure out how to preoccupy my time and decided to go for a walk in one of the hill parks overlooking the city.

Travel traveling through Montenegro

Wandered my way into the park and noticed an old church to my right, with candle light flickering inside. Somehow these lights caught my attention and I slowed down my stroll, hesitant with each next step forward, wondering if I should keep walking up the hill through the park or take a right turn and check out the church.

This is when I noticed what struck me as a monk to my right, making the same hesitant steps, up the hill towards the church.

I eventually decided on the church and made my way inside.

On entering there was an odd looking fellow sitting at the reception. He seemed to have these immensely inflated and deformed cheeks, and I almost felt like running away. He looked up at me rather bewilderingly, I guess because I was an obvious foreigner, there with my shorts, sandals and no socks. I gestured to him if I was allowed to go inside, at which point he jumped up and started giving me a tour, explaining to me how it is a very old Orthodox church, how the Turks ransacked it a few times and how over the centuries it was refurbished several times. All this time I was sure he was going to nail me with a hefty tab on conclusion of his presentation.

Travel traveling through Montenegro
Sometime later I drove through the mountains in the background, for a Sunday trip (bottom of this page).

But nothing of the sort happened and we ended up getting into a philosophical discussion about God and various topics, by which time the monk had joined in.

The monk urged me to sit down, as he noticeably does not like standing, the two receptionists needed to close shop for a while and gave me some presents, and me and the monk went for a coffee/beer to philosophize further.

Tommy he liked to introduce himself as. Turns out that he was watching me saunter my way up the hill, rather certain that I was some goofy German tourist, considering my attire. Anyway, turns out that he is from a well to do family but chose this path in life. Got high marks in theology and worked for the Catholic church for a while, but apparently they were not generous enough for him so he went Orthodox, so he could travel around the world preaching. Heís also a professional drummer and apparently knows everyone in the world, such as high officials all over the place, and various rock stars.

Travel traveling through Montenegro
Nothing like eating quickly in the big metropolis!

Turns out he was trying to bum 10 Euro from that church so that he could make his way back to Belgrade, but we became friends and I invited him to crash the night in my pad. Picked up his four massive suitcases from the local train station, I paid for the cab (as I did the two beers each in the pub beforehand), and took him to my pad in the high class centre of town.

He was standing inside, his lower lip hanging out a bit, and while scanning the fine carpentry and nodding, he said, "You know, Carlo, Iíve been on three continents and twenty countries over the last thirty years, Iíve been served by blacks while in bed in Africa, I thought Iíve seen it all, but Iíve never seen anything like this. I must say I like it."

Actually, it was pretty entertaining with him the first week. We had much in common, a lot we could talk about, and his occasional jewel was quite funny. Like when he once said to me (those who know me well will certainly appreciate this): "Y'know, Carlo, before the original sin you wouldn't have any of that. No pimples on our face, perfect bodies, and none of those endless flatulations of yours...". Turns out he was hooked up with some older rich woman with a million contacts and they were planning to go to some monastery, but they got in an argument and he was forced to make his way back to Belgrade.

I said I was already interested in checking out this monastery, so Sunday we decided to head and check it out.

When we went to pick up his stuff at the train station a few days before, after I parked the beast a guy came running out to us, speaking broken Czech. He said I shouldnít really park there, and noticed how I was driving on a narrow city road where I shouldnít have, but noticing my Czech license plates, he thought that perhaps I was part of the Czech crew who were responsible for building the 150 million Euro rail project to another major city in the country. I assured him that I was nothing of the sort, but he thought I might have some contacts anyway, so he invited us for coffee to his place (only beer for me, thank you).

We drank that and chatted with his Czech wife, who went on and on how she was living here tortured by the machoistic mundane mentality of the male population.

On our way to the monastery we went back to the same elderly-couple-owning-a-billiard-hall and the guy drove ahead of us to point us the way out of town to the monastery.

We arrived to the monastery, picked up an old timer who was also on his way to the top of the hill, and drove up the skinny gutted road almost to the top.

Travel traveling through Montenegro
Monastery < snuggled into the mountains.

Turns out the Turks have been raiding and pillaging everything sacred throughout the area so that they built this monastery way up top of the mountain and embedded it into the cliff. There was some saint in a coffin there too and apparently John the Baptistís hand. Actually, that was one of the presents given to me back at the Orthodox church in Podgorice: a picture of John the Baptistís hand from this very monastery. A rather red and shriveled up looking thing, but amazingly preserved. But it turns out that the hand was no longer here but taken to a safer church farther south, I guess after they were approached (as explained to me by Tommy) by the Maltese Knights < who offered something like 150 million Euro for it. < They said it was out of the question because something like this is priceless, but thanks for instructing us to its financial value and we think we will move it to a safer place.

Turns out that the Turks even tried to bomb this monastery long ago, but their cannon balls could not reach. It is apparently a destination of pilgrims from all over Europe. While Tommy was having his billionth cigarette before going in, we saw one pilgrim monk, wearing a long black cloak and who trekked it up the hill from the bottom (I was willing to walk up, but it was out of the question for Tommy), all sweaty. He apparently just arrived from Bosnia. Tommy asked him about the possibility of staying there the night and eating for free, as he promised me would surely be possible, but somehow that did not pan out.

Travel traveling through Montenegro
View from the Monastery of the valley below.

Travel traveling through Montenegro

With Tommy later in a restaurant. My treat.

After the billionth cigarette break, we made our way in and followed the procession. Checked out the coffin where the saint apparently lay. The priest there offered some wooden staff or whatever it was, and it seems I was supposed to kiss that, then the coffin, put some money in the basket, and then be on my way. I somehow was not up to kissing some piece of wood which who knows how many people kissed before me, I certainly was not interested in kissing some coffin (which seemed extremely short, by the way), so I settled for a polite smile, wave, a Euro in the basket and was done with that procession. We climbed up the stairs in the monastery and ended up on the second highest floor, in the balcony. It was a beautiful view over the valley. There was some whimpering above us, we looked up, and it looked like some girls were crying in the balcony above. Someone explained that this saint John or other came a long time ago, touched the rock cliff face in which the monastery was embedded, and out popped a grapevine. Something that apparently cannot grow at such a height and out of the rock. I said, "cool, letís go check it out dude!". So we climbed up another flight of stairs. Sure enough, there was a grape vine there, but there were a lot of rocks piled up into a wall, filled in with rich soil, and from that grew this grape vine. Anyway, this could have been added later and Iím not saying I donít believe any of it, but it turns out that this woman was somehow moved by the whole thing that she started weeping, and just as she started weeping, a leaf from the vine fell into her open palm. Well, you can imagine she just started BALLING after that. So there she stood, with palm open to the sky and big leaf resting in it, the tears flooding down her cheeks while she explained to every passerby what had just happened.

I admit that I did feel a certain spirituality to the place, Tommy spent about five minutes praying, and then we were on our way.

Travel traveling through Montenegro
Keeping the heat out, and hiding what's inside.

We had a good meal at a very nice restaurant with fireplace at the bottom of the mountain, which I paid for together with the gas, of course, and then for a longer drive looking for a nice place to sleep. Found one at the bottom of the valley, and Tommy hung his big cross - which he likes to wear around his neck - from the front mirror, explaining that locals are nuts about this monastery and all the people who come from afar on a pilgrimage, such that the cross would indicate our purpose and keep us safe. So I took the opportunity, against Tommyís wishes, to sleep with the backdoor open, and we had a nice nightís sleep.

The next day it was back to Podgorice, but first to stop in a local grocery shop for breakfast. I demanded that I find a nice place overlooking the valley to eat our meal, and found a windy < road on the other side of the valley from the monastery, so I drove up that until we were essentially at the same level but on the other side.

Eating our lunch, an old man came out saying that I was parked rather close to the edge and that it might cave in and cause us to go tumbling down the hill. I assured him it was okay. Turns out he was blind and we must have been the party of the year for him, way up there up on the mountain, so we decided to make his day and go visit and chat with him. Then we took a long afternoon nap, waved goodbye and were off back to Podgorice.

Meanwhile, as they say in Czech, a fish and a guest starts smelling after three days, and something was certainly starting to smell in that truck (besides the usual me of course). Not only was I getting tired of hearing how every nation of people are degenerates and all the negative things about the various races and nationalities around the world, or watching him pluck his eyebrows and various facial hair all day, talking about all the famous people and homosexual priests he knows while I was busy trying to work in the back of the truck, I was also getting tired of having him throw in a pack of coffee and cigarettes every time I was at the cashier counter, to hear him say, "Pay for this too". The whole things was starting to get on my nerves, not to mention that I was running out of money, waiting for some to come in soon. He was also increasingly showing less respect to my "house rules".

Actually, watching his behavior over these ten days we spent together, it reminded me of an old housemate I had in Prague. Who muscled his way into my house with his two cats and all his stuff, after which I found out he had no money, and for six months I had to listen to one excuse after another how things are looking really good and he should land an excellent job any day now. He eventually bankrupted my dream home, forcing me to move to something smaller, and who else should email me out of the blue during these ten days than this the biggest scammer who ever had me? Could God himself be sending me a warning?

wifi in caravan while traveling
Wifi internet antenna on the roof. Everyone thought it was a camera and we were a TV news crew.
caravan computer workstation
It's amazing the uses
one can find for a steering wheel!

I started stressing to Tom that it was time for him to be on his way. Actually, the moment when I started to stress his departure was when I started to hear stories what a scary guy he is, with his long black leather coat, how even the mafia in Belgrade doesn't dare mess with him. I assured him that I am not the least bit scared of him and that if he tries to threaten me he may find himself and his stuff immediately on the streets of Podgorice. Or he said I might be surprised to find something wrong with my truck, insinuating that God would smite me if I left him stranded. I smelt a rat trapped in the corner. But instead of using his time constructively over the last two days of increasing stress, I think he did not want to go about town, on his own and without me to his various million contacts for the purpose of bumming some money for the train, because he feared I might drive off with all his gothic black clothes filled suitcases. So he would sit in the front seat all day, while I worked, playing radio dj with my rinky dinky truck am stereo, singing out loud, polishing his nails or nervously fixing his watch strap, waiting until I finished work so that I could escort him on his mission.

For two days he dragged me around town while he unsuccessfully tried to bum 10 Euro for the train. Not only was I skeptical that 10 Euro would suffice to Belgrade, but Iíd like to point out that the first night we were together he told me the reason why he was going to the church, so I offered to give him 10 Euro, even though I admitted I was rather broke but that the amount probably would not kill me. "Really?" he looked up at me with enthusiasm, and practically snatched the money from between my fingers.

So having failed the first day to get money, and sensing that I was getting anxious about everything, he said "Okay, tomorrow I leave for sure, even if I have no money and I swear on the bible". So I let him stay another evening.

wifi internet in caravan

The next day the same thing with filing his nails while I worked, and then I had to escort him to the catholic church. I wore my usual torn wool sweater, with shorts, sandals and no socks, and he wore his usual gothic attire. I was again skeptical that he could get money out of the catholic church like this, but went along with it. He was a procrastination king, always needing another cigarette, talking with this person or that, reading some articles in the newspaper. While reading the paper I was really getting fed up with his "Wait, I need more time. To relax." I was about to storm out when he said, "Wait, okay, I go ask for money." Of course nothing came out of that and then I had to listen how he could not believe they would not give him money. Perhaps it was because of his clothes and the way I was dressed, he speculated. "But this would never have happened in Africa! I could have dressed gothic all I wanted!"

Anyway, the excuses were a mute point and I reminded him that he was going to the train station, even if without money. Sensing that this was the final showdown and that he really had to leave, in the front seat and within about five minutes he magically flipped his clothes inside out somehow, changing his gothic clothes back to the preacher look when I first met him, and slipped the white paper into his collar. A true Houdini con artist if I ever met one. The next several hours were more procrastination and I basically had to muscle him to the train station. After parking there he wanted to leave his stuff in the truck while he tried to get more money. I said it was out of the question and the situation got rather heated, as I was prepared to throw his "shit", as I referred to it, out the window, and him with it if he didnít get his butt into gear.

Travel traveling through Montenegro

Interesting trees by another monastery.
They once again expected me to kiss a very short coffin, but I respectfully declined.

Travel traveling through Montenegro

I hung out with him on the platform, then moved his luggage to the Czech woman at the billiard hall, then to the grease stand where I ordered a burger and gave him a last Euro for two packs of cigarettes. He tried to convince me to drive his stuff to some other person in town, but there was no way his belongings would find their way back into my truck. He tried to bum another ten Euro off me, but considering I had only 8 left, I told him it was out of the question. So he asked for 5, and then 3. I hung out with him as long as I could and then finally, around midnight, I put my foot down and said Iím leaving. He grasped out, "Wait!". "Wait for what?!" I asked, raising my voice again. He said, "Okay, you can go". At which point I said goodbye, turned around, and walked away quickly without turning around, lest I turn into a pillar of compassion. <

It was definitely fun hanging out with him those ten days, but it just got too crammed with the two of us in that small tin can, among other reasons. I hope we remain friends and on good standing, but will be careful the next time I invite him or anyone else to stay with me like that.

Walked quickly to the truck and then drove far out of town, away from our usual parking spots, where I felt he could not find me that evening, if he tried. A rather traumatic experience and gave me second doubts about starting my cheap travel Europe tour guide services!

The next day I wanted to try out the wifi antenna I recently purchased but in another part of town. Someone drew on a map where some hotspots were, but the map was not very detailed and I had a hard time finding one. Eventually I pulled over the side of the road and went into a grocery shop to ask for directions. The girl at the counter was about to help when she was interrupted by some tanned fellow reeking of beer and with a rather astonished look on his face, like he just found a pot of gold. He gestured to me that he will show me the way if I drive him back to the grocery store afterwards. I agreed and off we were. During the way there and back, I learned that he was a Rumanian working in construction in the country (Montenegro). I couldnít understand him very well, so he spoke about three times as loud, and I still did not understand him very well.

Travel traveling through Montenegro
Garbage everywhere in Montenegro, here stuck in a bush from a receded river. Might as well try to make art of it.

But he kept talking about women, and p*ssy, and going back to his place for beers, and then would say "penize za penis?", where penize means money. Pulling in front of his house, I said, "Ya, sure, let me just turn around and park". I let him out, turned around, and as much as is possible with four tires on the back of a four tonne truck, I drove away screeching, never to be back again. Really didnít need a repeat performance of what I just escaped from, although this one would have probably topped the cake.

Travel traveling through Montenegro
Shoreline of big lake < , Albania in background (surrounding the other half of the lake).

Spent the next two weeks in Podgorice loafing off their free internet, and spending every second day pumping iron in the gym, where I would take my shower and do my daily duties as well.

This is where the part for my broken main laptop finally came in. My friend in Vancouver ordered it through ebay and sent it to me by DHL. On the advice from my computer geek contact back in Stoliv, I ordered an inverter for the display, but replacing it myself I found it still did not work. 90 dollars poorer yet still with a black monitor, I asked around and found a local computer geek, who told me that the inverter was not the problem but that the light was broken. Meanwhile it was getting colder and I was not looking forward to ordering and paying for another obscure part.

Oh yes, and the broken glass covering the right backlight of the Mercedes also came in. 35 Euro for a piece of glass which had to be shipped in from Germany. No wonder that company has fancy buildings all over the world. But I guess a policeman could try to get a hundred or fifty out of me, and not just one policeman.

So I picked up the Mercedes part the same day that I planned to do other errands at the local outdoor market. I replaced the broken glass cover over the rear light, drove to the market, and checked out one last section I did not have a chance to peruse the first time I was there. And low and behold, what would I stumble on in this maze of a market but some car parts stand where they had the same blimey glass but at one third the cost? So I went ahead and bought two more, because I was sure I was going to break it again, or someone else break it for me.

Travel traveling through Montenegro
Driving inland through the "black mountains".

Bought the other stuff I needed and made it back to the gym. I wasnít catching the wireless internet in my usual parking spot, so thought I would repark to another location to try my luck there.

Perhaps that tree over there was blocking my wireless connection or something. Was backing into the new spot when I noticed a lamp post jutting out of the sidewalk. For some strange reason, instead of choosing one of the free parking spots on either side, I felt it would be okay. But no, "CRASH". I stepped out of the truck and was ready to pull my hair out after discovering that the very same glass I had just replaced BROKE AGAIN!!! But it wasnít totally broken, I crazy glued it, and at that point decided I will make these future parts myself, or buy from a third party manufacturer, like the two spares I just purchased at the open market. After all, I was getting used to replacing things without Mercedes original parts, not to mention the total remodeling job inside, to the point that one day it might not even be a Mercedes anymore. Travel traveling through Montenegro

Anyway, speaking of not original parts, the new computer geek where I took the computer to said he will try to think of something, considering I told him it was getting too cold to wait for another part to be shipped in, and he managed to use a light from some scanner. He showed me the old light, which turned out to be a long thin fluorescent tube. He told me that the laptop companies do not even sell these fluorescent bulbs on their own but that you are forced to buy them together with a new lcd panel, as was confirmed to me over the internet, so I was glad that he got it working, paid him 50 Euro and told him Iíll bring him my other two broken laptops on my way north next summer.

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Travel traveling through Montenegro

Still inland around the backside of the big lake.

Travel traveling through Montenegro

 


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