My best travel moments are the unplanned ones. I spent most of my corporate career planning…budgets, delivery dates, resource needs, tasks on a project plan, and I even planned what I was going to say – my work life revolved around planning. So when my taxi river in Dubrovnik suggested that he can take me and my friend on a day driving tour of Montenegro – I was intrigued. The taxi drive from my hotel in Lapad to Old Town Dubrovnik only took 10 minutes, but it was impactful. Honestly, I had NO idea where Montenegro even was – or that it was an independent country…but it sounded exotic, unusual, and unplanned so I was ready to take the bait. Plus it would be another country that I could add to my ever growing list. In fact, this would mean that I have traveled to 6 countries in one month…a new record for me! However, I did have to think about my travel partner, David, who was arriving that afternoon. As much as I like to make quick gut decisions, I though it best to discuss this unplanned adventure with him first. I told Mio, my taxi driver, that I would think about it. He said that he would discuss it also with my boyfriend when he picked him up from the airport that afternoon.
When David arrived and we got through the excitement of seeing each other, we discussed Montenegro – it made me feel better that he too didn’t really know where it was or anything about it! Apparently we both needed a history and geography refresher. We discussed the fact that Mio seemed like a good guy, he spoke English well, and he was from Montenegro – the makings of a good guide! The price seemed high, but we both agreed that if we could negotiate a lower price, then we’d go. I felt as if I were back in Asia at a market trying to negotiate the ‘best price’…how fun! Mio was obviously not familiar with the Asian negotiating game as he accepted my first suggested price. It was set – he was to pick us up the next morning at 9AM.
We knew nothing more than to bring our passports as it was only a 50 km drive to the border. We didn’t know where we were going within Montenegro, how long we’d be gone, or if we’d stop for lunch. Luckily, Mio was a complete professional which just goes to show that you have to trust your gut sometimes. He picked us up outside the Old Town walls, drove us to a fabulous lookout point to get out and take pictures of Old Town and then he proceeded to tell us exactly what to expect out of the day. He had a map and showed us where we were going to visit, where we’d stop for lunch and started explaining the history of Montenegro. From the moment we sat in the car, he started educating us – it was wonderful – like a Lonely Planet Guide come to life…but better as we could ask him questions about anything!
Photo: Mio, David and I at lunch…beautiful setting!
Sure we learned a ton about Montenegro, but in a 10 hour tour, we also learned about him. He grew up in Montenegro, was on the Yugoslav Olympic judo team and traveled all over Europe competing for Yugoslavia. He met his un-athletic wife in Dubrovnik as he was competing – it was love. Now he’s settled down with twin teenage sons in Dubrovnik. Throughout the day we learned about his view on politics, raising kids, and marriage. I liked Mio…I liked him a lot. He had a great view and perspective on the world, family values, competition, and athletics, and I was amazed at how similar our views could be halfway around the world. He was just a good, solid, moral guy.
On the map he explained that we would drive around the fjord and visit the towns surrounding it – Budva, Kotor, and Sveti Stefan. I searched my memory bank for my last fjord experience…New Zealand…but apparently this one was different. The Montenegro fjord was the only warm water fjord in the world. The other amazing fact that we learned is that Montenegro only became a recognized independent country last year on June 28, 2006. They became the 192nd member state of the United Nations at that time. Up until then, Montenegro and Serbia were a state (combined) and the people voted to separate from Serbia and go it on their own. However, you’ve probably heard of Montenegro from is warring, relatively recent past. In the early 90’s, as the Yugoslav Republic crumbled into independent states/countries Montenegro (as a part of Serbia) was involved the Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian War. It was the typical clash over borders, religion, and ethnic cleansing.