The Bus Between Split and Sarajevo

I have a motto that goes like this: if its not going the be good, I better get a good story out of it. This is one of those stories. Most of the ride between Split and Sarajevo was very pleasant, but there was a very concentrated 15 minutes where it was pretty awful. Luckily I use humor as a coping crutch, so shortly after the adrenaline rush subsided, I was able to have a good laugh about it. 

The fun started before I boarded the bus from Split to Sarajevo

The trip hadn't even officially started when the first little nugget of drama kicked off. In the Balkans, you buy your bus ticket and then you spend extra to put your bag under the bus. It was always a modest fee, but I've found that when travelling and I'm about to leave a country, I either have only coins left or I have a big bill I'm trying to conserve so I have less random currency to try to trade in at the end. I had totally forgotten that I would need to pay for the bag under the bus and the driver refused to take the large bill (and was 0% shy show about communicating just how strongly he felt about the matter).

I found a vendor to buy a soda for the change, and when by the time I returned to the bus to pay, the driver had softened a little - I think he felt bad for being so cranky prior. I absolutely wear my emotions on my face, so he had probably seen how stunned and stressed I was. As I was situating myself on the bus, I realized that I was the only person who didn't have the language skills to communicate with either of the bus drivers. I'm not sure if its based on the distance of the trip or because we were going to be crossing an international border, but there were two drivers - one of whom I'm decently certain was Croatian and the other Bosnian (using the term "Bosnian" loosely to describe someone who lives in the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina - there are several cultural subdivisions within the country, and it has been my experience that some people feel quite strongly about being properly identified - so I just wanted to offer that waiver. I'll be offering similar notes in the upcoming posts about BiH, so you may see this again).

Ok, so we roll out of Split around 2:30pm and there were only a few quick stops before we hit the border at about 4:00pm. Crossing was very easy because border patrol enters the bus, the check your passport photo, take the passports to run them, and then hand the stack back to the driver. Since I was the only American, they didn't even need to attempt calling my name since I had stuck out so badly with the luggage situation earlier.

Many of the stops on the rout had been roadside pickups, so when we pulled into an actual station (Livno Bus Station - zoom out on the map below for some perspective on just how rural of a place this was) at 4:30pm, I was pretty pleased to have a bathroom opportunity. No one made an announcement that we were taking a break, but some older men got out to smoke, so I figured I had at least 5 minutes.

I took my purse (which is also my camera bag) and went into the teeny terminal waiting area. I found the bathroom on the far side of the room, and went into one of the two stalls. To paint a picture here, the stalls were tall. The walls and were to the floor and the top was about 8ft up, with about another 4ft to the ceiling. This all matters.

My whole time in the Balkans up until this point I had been noticing a scary trend: I couldn't seem to figure out how doors worked. Wild, I know. Imagine one of those commercial style door handles that are shaped like an "L" with the backbone of the "L" being the grip, and in North America, you engage the handle downwards and either push or pull the door open. That's not exactly how that same shape handle works in the Balkans. I learned the hard way in Sibenik that when the handle is at neutral, its soft latched so a light tug or push will pop it open. Engaging it upwards will usually vent the door or window open at the top (think: hinging at the bottom and open at the top). Engaging the handle downwards - does not open the door as it would in the US - but rather latches the door. Sounds pretty simple, but it took me an embarrassing amount of time to catch on because there were multiple doors I struggled with in Zagreb, Zadar, and Sibenik - until I had a hostel roommate that had to get up out of bed to open the door for me and had enough English to explain what I had been doing wrong. 

Ok, so back to Bosnia

I do my business and try to open the door - and it won't budge. Knowing that I'm real dumb when it comes to this type of door in the Balkans, I calmly try again with the handle at a different angle. Nothing.  I can feel  panic starting to lather since I had no idea how long the stopover was intended to be. I try jiggling the handle and realize that its not going to budge. So I decided to do the next most logical step and climb up onto the toilet so I can hoist myself over the stall into the other stall. Well.... as it turns out, my upper body strength was garbage and the best I could do was just kinda hang from the top of the dividing wall (and was about 10 inches thick). I also realzed that I would've needed to throw my bag that held my camera and extra lens (both worth about $1,000 total) over the top and let them fall several feet onto a tile floor.

I jumped down and went for the door again. There must've been something I was missing. Should I try hitting the lock? What about jiggling the handle harder? Was I ever going to get out of there? Omg what about my backpack? It was under the bus and the drivers were already a little annoyed by my presence and we were at least 5 hours from Sarajevo and in a tiny town and ohmygodamievergettingoutofhere?!?!

Back up onto the toilet. Turns out nothing had changed in the 60 seconds since my previous attempt and I was still unable to throw myself over the 8ft wall. Darker thoughts started creeping in: how long can I survive without food? Will I ever see my family again? Does World Nomads insurance cover whatever is currently happening to me?

Rinse and repeat that up and down toilet dance maybe two more times. Somewhere between minute one and minute two of being stuck, I started incorporating some loud sob-yelling (imagine yelling, but really pathetically).

I eventually decide that violence was going to be the only solution to my problem. I jostled the door handle with the vigor of a person who was about to be left behind in a rural foreign bus station... and it still didn't work. So I incorporate one big, angry shoulder-lunge into the door. 

And then I heard it.

It was quiet, but I definitely heard a click. I turn the door lock, try the handle..... and it opens. I pick up my bag, wash my hands, compost myself, and walk out of the bathroom like nothing had happened. As I passed the ticketing counter, I noticed the clerk had this concerned looked and was moving as though she was about to exit the office. Then I made eye contact with a man sitting in the waiting area, and I realized that he had had heard me yelling and probably told the lady behind the counter and she was coming to check on the banshee in the bathroom.

I picked up my pace and made it back to the bus and had a good stress-chuckle once I was situated, recognizing the absolute absurdity of the past like 5-7 minutes of my life.

The whole ordeal was pretty wild. The emotional arch from "I need to pee" to "I'm going to be here until my body is skeletal" and then down to "I'm safely on the bus feeling validated that it was, in fact, a stuck lock and not my user error" was a true roller coaster.

Aside from that fun interlude, the bus ride between Split and Sarajevo was pretty straightforward, and the daylight portion was beautiful!

  • What are some major travel mess-ups you've had?
  • Do you have any acutely scary travel stories?
  • What is the weirdest, most irrational thought/fear you've had while travelling?
More reading:  How To See Houston on $300
Posted in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Europe, Story, Travel.


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