What a beautifully underestimated country. I say 'underestimated' solely on my personal lack of knowledge prior to showing up at its border, and stalling our rental car at the customs booth.
And oh yes.. How ‘bout that drive in? We last left off with our pickup for the rental car. Historically, a pretty standard procedure for us, although this time we lied about knowing how to drive stick shift: the only car they had left available.
When we first got the keys, we sat in the car and he went to start it. There was a loud screech and the car just stalled. We tried a few more times and watched some YouTube videos but it wasn’t enough. We decided I’d run back to our Air BnB to grab our luggage and ask them for help while Koy continued to try out different pedals and gears as he lit the ignition. Unfortunately our hosts were not home when I got there but their non-english speaking mother was, and she called them off the land line. Dear Mira and Tony immediately dropped what they were doing and drove to meet Koy and me in the rental car parking lot. (I know Koy is the driver-hero here but also please, give me some credit for running uphill in that Croatian heat, then back down will ALL our bags- yes that’s right, it’s the Sydney Show.)
By the time I made my way back to Koy, the rental car staff and our hosts had already come down to the lot to help us as well. So there was just a big party of nervously amused people with all eyes on Koy. No pressure, eh.
After about half an hour he somehow learned how to drive and shift to certain gears and we hit the road. We left the lot not sure if we’d be able to stop or start again on our own but we had a schedule to stick to. We pulled right out of the lot and did not make a full stop until the Montenegrin border. We passed crosswalks and lights but I either put my head out to apologize or we just slowed down to a roll and cruised on through the situation as slowly as possible so no one got hurt.
I still don’t know whether to thank Oryx for their trust in us, or to be very, very concerned about the number of other renters on the road who have zero idea what is going on. This situation was so intense for us I didn’t even document it the first day. We decided while we knew it would be funny to look back on, in case we didn’t make it then no one needed to know what idiots we were being.
Contrary to how ‘Customs and Immigration at the Montenegro border’ sounds, everyone working there was about mid 20s, randomly really good looking and totally chill. They were chirping us a bit for stalling the car and not being able to restart it to drive on out, but they gave us some pointers and we both agreed that it was just a ‘poor quality rental car’. Classic poor quality rental cars!
As soon as we got ourselves together and zoomed off into this new country the feeling was just pure exhilaration. TBH, it really didn’t look that different than Croatia but to us it did- ‘cause we were in flippin’ Montenegro bro!!!!
As navigator, I used our Maps app to navigate through the unchartered territory- just a couple extra loops round a couple round-a-bouts, and one mistake to ‘take a faster route’ along the beach which took us to a dirt road under construction where we had too many close calls and heckles from lazy beach bum families aimlessly wandering around. We took the next turn off that road as soon as we could but ended up on an insanely steep, skinny uphill road where we had to pull over to let a garbage truck by. It is still a mystery to me how Koy managed to restart the car on that incline, in front of a bunch of locals hanging on their porch, without us rolling down the hill. After this, we agreed upon no more deviation- stay on the highways as long as possible. Safety over scenery.
In the New York Times, Koy had read about this €3 million mansion located in a beautiful tiny beach town named Perast, population 350. We were mentally exhausted but absolutely HAD to stop here. We were too nervous to think about getting the car onto the ferry anyway, and this route- although out of the way- I give you my word, it totally worth it. As you can see from my professional photoshopping skills: We crossed the border on the far left, and had our accommodation in Budva that night (Past Kotor, starred). Instead of taking the little ferry across the bay we drove around to Perast. Now let me tell you about Perast.
A little ancient town on the water with a small strip of restaurants and a few hotels. We got there around 5pm and just wanted to calm our nerves with some seafood at the Hotel Admiral (Koy had stumbled upon a review of Perast that mentioned this spot while looking at AirBnBs) but there was a guy about our age named Stefano who was relentless on taking us out to the two tiny neighbouring islets in his boat.
Just €5 later and boy were we happy we gave in to Stefano. Just off the shore there are two tiny ‘islets’ and they each have a chapel. Ostrvo Sveti Đorđe is one; a natural islet, and then Gospa od Škrpjela is a man-made islet. Legend is that local sailors found an image of the Virgin Mary here in 1452 and after every successful voyage they had afterward they would place a rock in that spot. They continued doing this until it became it’s own island that could have its own chapel built on it.
Although, we’d finished exploring the Gospa od Škrpjela in about 20 minutes (including these photo ops) and we joked that perhaps the return trip wasn’t included with the €5, and if Stefano did return that it’d be another €50 to get back. After all, we were at his mercy on this little islet.
Of course, this country and its people continued to be wonderfully genuine. Stefano came back right at the half hour mark and brought us back to the tiny town. He was the dream. We asked him for another favour: to back our car out for us and re-park it by backing in so we could just pull forward when it was time to leave. He laughed and then told us not to worry, as he’d seen tourists just that summer who had parked their manual rental car there, and had it roll off into the water!
One we had peace of mind knowing we had a realistic shot of pulling out of Perast safely following dinner, we headed down to the Hotel Admiral. It wasn’t Stefano’s most recommended spot but it was the reason we were out there so on we went. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
It was hard to leave this picturesque town, especially as the sun was setting so perfectly but we knew had to get to Budva, and with minimal night driving!!
Stay tuned for Budva, Sveti Stefan and Kotor.
Have you driven in Montenegro? Or been to Perast? We want to hear about it.
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