Imagine you’re about to be arrested in a foreign country. Now imagine it was for something you had no idea you did. And for good measure, imagine that country is Bosnia. Throw in an Andrew Lloyd Webber song and this story is just getting started.
We are driving on a rural road in Bosnia bound for Sarajevo when we are pulled over by roadside police officers. Stolen vehicles are a serious issue in the region and we were warned that this might happen. No biggie. We slow down, pull over, show the rental car papers, smile like the polite Canadians we are, and are on our way. Easy. No sweat. Well … maybe a little under the arms.
Sure, the first couple of times we got pulled over were fine. Fun even. Coupled with the border police, what I like to call our “four armed soldiers emerge from the fog and surround our car” moment, we thought we had some great stories to tell when we got home.
But it’s now about 2 a.m. and the drive has grown tiring. We just want to get to Sarajevo. 45 more minutes. We need some tunes with a little oomph to keep us going. So, that’s where Take That Look Off Your Face comes in. It’s a good song. No. A great song. It’s a makes-your-foot-a-little-heavier-on-the-gas-pedal song, if you know what I mean. It was keeping us awake but also what got us in trouble.
And then came the third, and final time. We slowed down, pulled over, handed over our papers, and smiled. But this time it didn’t seem to be enough – and I don’t mean to brag, but we have great smiles. There was shouting. Lots of it (and not by us). After realizing there is a serious language banner – we conclude that crudely drawn pictures barely worthy of a drunken game of Pictionary are the only way to communicate. A few sketches later and what we thought were cute sketches of houses, are actually not-so-cute pictures of a Bosnian police station. Oh, and did I mention they already took our passports?
It appeared as though we did something wrong. Really wrong. That damn song had us driving too quickly. There were no signs, could we really be blamed for breaking the speed limit? Yes, apparently. Saying Andrew Lloyd Webber made us do it didn’t exactly translate, so we were fresh out of excuses. Now while I’m in the car going through the Bosnian phrases in my Frommer’s guide for “Please don’t arrest us,” my friend is outside playing ambassador. With our passports out of our hands, she’s playing extra nice and I’m really trying to perfect that Bosnian accent.
Eventually, the police cut to the chase and drew their final image on the notepad – €20. I question whether I feel lucky for not being arrested or duped for opening my wallet.
I left Sarajevo for Croatia three days later with two key memories: I’ll always know how to say “Please take me to the Canadian embassy” in Bosnian, and, despite all of this, Sarajevo and its people are easily worth €20.
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Editor’s note: A previous version of this story made reference to the Austrian-Bosnian border. Bosnia does not border Austria. This version has been corrected.