Approaching the border of the UN-administered region of Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was probably the most nervous I have ever been crossing a border. Not only was I rolling towards the border in my Avis-rented Ford, but I had absolutely no idea what to expect. The reason for my crossing was that I ultimately wanted reach Montenegro, but it just so happens that the quickest route from Macedonia to Montenegro goes right through the heart of Kosovo.
I, like most of the rest of the world, had no real idea of what exactly Kosovo was like. Just the word Kosovo triggered such phrases as ethnic cleansing, mass graves, and refugees. I had no idea what I was about to get myself into. In fact I wasn't even sure if I was able to actually enter Kosovo without some sort of special permission, but I was determined to find out. The worst that would happen is that they turned me around.
As I rolled up to the Macedonian border, I figured that the guards there would make it clear if there was something odd or dangerous about my trying to enter Kosovo, but the guard seemed not to show any sort of emotion as he approached my parked car. Of course, I had Macedonian plates and had no real "foreign" look about me. I rolled down the window, he greeted me with a dobra don, and I replied, using up about the extent of my Macedonian. As he continued on in Macedonian, I just gave him a blank stare and handed over my passport. He looked down, seeing the blue cover emblazoned with a bald eagle and apologized, exposing a shaky command of English. The guard asked no real questions and expressed no real surprise at a random American trying to enter Kosovo (I'd later discover that Americans stationed in Kosovo often hop over to Macedonia). A few stamps later he waved me on.
Entering the no-man's land between the borders I was feeling slightly better, but still had a sense of nervousness that made my stomach queasy and filled my body with adrenaline. I started to think of all the so-called "dangerous" places I had traveled before, Palestine, Lebanon, Georgia, but this, I decided, was definitely the craziest. The second thoughts immediately followed.
Before I could think too much, though, I was standing at the Kosovo border with a UN soldier in a blue beret staring down at me. He spoke out it Macedonian (or Serbian, I'm not sure). I innocently shoved my passport out the window and the guard switched to English.
"So who do you work for in Kosovo," he asked.
"Nobody," I replied, starting to worry, "Do I need a work permit," I wondered. The guard looked at me puzzled and asked, "Well, what's your business in Kosovo, then?"
"Tourism, I suppose," I replied, but when I saw his worried look I added, "Well I'm on my way to Montenegro, so I'm just passing through." He seemed to understand this better. After a brief search of the car, he handed me back my passport. He hadn't stamped it, which disappointed a stamp collector like me, but I assumed that since this isn't an "official" border, there were no stamps to be collected. He asked if I had any other questions, I shook my head. The guard then smiled and said, "Well, have a good day and good luck!"
Good luck was not what I needed to hear.
By this time my heart was starting to calm down and the adrenaline subsided. I was actually in Kosovo, there were no problems entering and now all that was left was to drive the entire length of the country, which just happened to involve an unexpected overnight stop in Kosovo's fragmented capital, Prishtina.