Borders are interesting.
They say the world’s most unequal border is between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. I should know, I live in the former and have visited the latter. Today it’s a harsh militarized border, but back in the 1970’s it wasn't unheard of to see people playing volleyball using the fence as a net. (Or at least I saw that photo once somewhere. To be fair, it was probably never very common…)
Another fun border is Little Diomede Island to Big Diomede Island, where less than 2 miles separate the United States from Russia. It’s even possible to load a jet-ski with some extra fuel and cut across the strong, freezing Bering Strait currents until you reach Russian soil. On arrival, you’ll promptly be arrested, because there’s a Russian military base right there. Your jet-ski will be impounded and taken to the chop shop. The rims will be taken off, the stereo jacked (Taylor Swift CD and all), and you’ll have to sit in a holding cell for 48 hours before being sent back to Alaska to sit and think about what you did. When you return you’ll have an awesome story. And no jet-ski.
While women weren’t the primary goal of this adventure, they helped fill time in the off-hours. When I would find myself without playing cards to throw into a hat, or quarters to spin, they provided some brief distraction from the silence that would otherwise consume my mind for the worse. After all, there’s a reason solitary confinement is one of the worst punishments -- nobody really wants to be left alone with their thoughts for too long.
In blogs, forums and books, much has been said about women from eastern culture versus western. Some these mantras bear repeating, while others are cop-outs and greener-grass thinking, but one aspect still surprised me on this recent adventure: just how narrow the border really is. My journey from Budva, Montenegro to Dubrovnik, Croatia may as well have been from St. Petersburg to Madrid, so day and night was the cultural difference.
I arrived to a cold and rainy Tivat airport. The airplane landed on a runway that looked the size of 2 basketball courts. Most of us had to sprint across it, not actually having umbrellas for shelter and, once inside, wait through an arduous customs line. Looking at the arriving flights monitor was interesting: “8:30 Moscow, 10:20 München, 12:20 Moscow, 14:25 Moscow, 16:00 Moscow….” I had arrived from München. It looked as though I was in the minority there.
After a taxi and a bus ride, I met my friend at the Sea Dance Festival, our first stop. A recent addition to the notorious “EXIT Festival” in Serbia, Sea Dance was designed as a 3 day pants-off-dance-off for hipster Europeans to drop MDMA, spin their glowsticks, pass out in or near their tent and, most importantly, not shower. Think of a slightly more structured version of “Burning Man” or maybe Electric Daisy Carnival with camping. (I haven't been to Burning Man or EDC, so this is mostly speculation on my part.)
When he arrived, my friend regaled me with stories of the drive in. Smoking hot women hitchhiking everywhere, bottles of Slivovitz in hand, with neon clubbing outfits. God bless Eastern Europe.
Inside, it was like any other concert, except maybe more so. A terrible smell permeated most areas, broken glass was everywhere on the beach, and one guy was being tackled by no less than six security guards for some crime I had sadly missed. Still, it was, and I’m going to steal the opening line from Mirror’s Edge here, “pulsing with energy…. dirty and dangerous, but alive and wonderful.” Next to a distant fence, a local was selling beer for 2 euros out of the back out his beat-up VW- a delightful discount from the 12 euro officially sanctioned beer tents. (Later in the night I saw him being arrested.)
Away from the hustle and bustle of the the main stage, my wingman and I found two Serbian women, both 21 years old, and both on summer vacation from Belgrade. One spoke considerably better English than the other, but both were passable and we conversed for some length. Ultimately we agreed to meet up on the beach the next day. Having had our monthly fill of thumpy electronica music after only one night, we decided we would relax on Budva Beach hereafter.
Over the course of the day, we came to know both Serbian women well: going suntanning, eating, and boating with them (although both insisted we stay close to shore as they didn't know how to swim). At night they ultimately had to leave. We didn't ask too many questions.. they probably both had boyfriends. Still, they were sweet and kind, and we traded contact info in case they ever made it to the states.
With no time to waste, we headed to Croatia. The drive was only 20 miles or so (which is a different number in kilometers), but took close to 2 hours between a ferry ride, winding mountain roads, and customs. When we arrived at the hostel the view was impressive.
(The two of us went dressed for undercover work)
I could tell right away that the Croatian women we were talking to were a little jaded with Westerns. From the overwhelming numbers of drunk Brits and Aussies I saw, I supposed it made sense. Still, charming as ever, I was determined to win them over with my Yankee wit and charm. There were very few other Americans in the area (it’s a long flight…) so I figured she had no reason to hate us yet.
After a few minutes the Croat passed out some unsolicited advice. “Ok here is how you pick up Croatian girl” she said with a smokers rasp, even though I hadn't mentioned anything about wanting to pick up women, “Buy her drink. This is trick.” This was a terrible trick, I thought, but remained polite. “Ok, great,” I responded. “How about right now? Do you count?”. “No I do not count.” And like that the conversation ended. It was a theme that more or less carried on for the rest of the night.
Ultimately, judging Croatia by the nightlife in Dubrovnik is probably like judging the United States by seeing spring break in South San Padre -- it’s an odd microcosm that’s not necessarily representative. But all I’m saying (if there is any point to this blog post, which is questionable) is that if you’re going to travel to Eastern Europe, make sure you go far enough east. If you’re slightly scared, good, because maybe that means hoards of drunk Brits haven’t paved the way quite yet.
Leave your comments below. If there are comments from 3 different people I'll do another post someday. Oh, and if anybody is interested in going to Kazantip 2015, drop me a line in the comments too.