So much more than 1000 words in this photo of a Eurolines bus that ran out of gas, with its door open to dump passengers (and their luggage) on a boulevard on a busy afternoon.

I asked Valida about transportation to Belgrade on our first day and was offered two bus options, as the rail infrastructure was so badly damaged during the war that there are no international trains. The first, an hourly morning Bosnian bus taking “approximately 8 hours” to reach Belgrade. Having experienced Balkan Time on the previous Bosnian transit, this option was unceremoniously nixed. The second option was more appealing: a Eurolines bus, air-conditioned and with a transit time of “about 6 hours.” The catch was that there was only one daily departure, at 06:00.  This was a no-brainer.

Although very sad to be leaving Sarajevo, we were anticipating comfortable and relatively short (all things considered) travel to the capital of the former Yugoslavia. Our spirits were not dampened when 06:00 came and went and we were still waiting in the bus terminal. Balkan Time is a powerful force.

At 06:25 our bus finally arrived, and we boarded to discover that a woman had taken our reserved seating. No big deal, we thought-the seats across the aisle from ours were empty, so we sat down.  Then we discovered why the seats were empty: the control box for the radio (?) was beneath the seats in front, leaving us with no leg room. Our guess was that the woman did not want “her” seat, either, and simply took ours.

At the first stop I asked if we could exchange our seats, to which she replied, “Typical American.” The passenger sitting behind us said something in Bosnian, and several other passengers laughed.  But at least she moved.

An hour into the travel the bus pulled into a station in a little speck of a town. The bus driver announced something in Bosnian that elicited groans from the other passengers, and everyone alit from the bus. The passengers dispersed for coffee and smokes, and we sad little Americans just sat on the bench, eating the wonderful breakfast that Valida had packed for us and wondering what was going on.  We must have looked pitiful enough, for the owner of the small market at the station came over and asked if we spoke Russian or German, then explained in German that the bus had a defect and we were waiting for another bus.

So much for “about 6 hours.”

A second bus arrived and we boarded. The woman who name-called, and the assclown passenger who joked about us, laughed at us when we boarded and sat in our reserved seats.  The bus rolled up and down hills, through towns tiny and tinier, and across the border into Serbia. Scenic, mostly, but not a trip I would recommend.

Our seats were in the second row on the passenger side, so I (and the guy in the front row) had a spectacular view of the bus driver. He was new to the route, and the auxiliary bus driver with us was helping him out. The bus had a manual transmission, which he stalled on several occasions. The new driver also forgot a passenger at a stop (who had foolishly gotten off to use the WC), and had to back the bus up on a busy road to return for her.

 With about 50km remaining to Belgrade, Front Seat Guy and I noticed the driver tapping on the dash, and in particular, on the fuel gauge. Auxiliary Bus Driver had fallen asleep. I texted Tony:

“50km to go and the driver is tapping on the fuel gauge. Think we’re going to make it to Belgrade?”

He replied, “Good luck is all I’ve got.”

Front Seat Guy and I sighed in relief when we crossed the Belgrade city limit sign, and before long we were in the heart of the city on a busy Saturday afternoon heading toward the bus station. The bus stopped at a traffic light, and did not start again.  The bus had run out of fuel!

From the reaction of the bus driver (and Auxiliary Bus Driver, and Bosnian passengers) this was not a new phenomenon. The drivers exited the bus, in the middle lane of a busy boulevard, and opened the luggage hatch.  Horns sounded and traffic swerved around us passengers as we wheeled our bags to the sidewalk, and, thankfully up the street to the bus station and taxi stand.

We may have purchased bus tickets to Belgrade, but the tickets had not specified where in Belgrade we would be deposited.