On our next journey across the Balkans, we boarded a 5-hour bus ride to Sofia, Bulgaria. The bus was nice enough, clean, and comfortable. The scenery was cloudy and rainy across the beautiful landscapes of the Balkans countryside.
However, by the looks of him, we think the bus driver was either very sick, very hungover, or still half-drunk. This didn't seem too far fetched after we witnessed a group of bus personnel in uniform at the Ohrid bus station the other day, doing shots of brandy with their espressos at 7 in the morning! We have no idea if they were off-duty (we hope) or not, but it didn't leave a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Within the first hour of departure, we stopped no less than 3 times along the side of the mountainous road where our driver just sat, slumped over the steering wheel in his seat, then he would get out and go somewhere - probably to take a leak or go throw up. One time, he just killed the engine altogether, and we sat on the side of the road for what felt like eternity. He also made a pit-stop at a gas station where he ran out and bought 2 packs of cigarettes. After about 2.5 hours, he stopped for a group break at a small roadside trailer that sold some snacks and drinks.
At last, he was letting the passengers off the bus...only to discover there was no toilet in sight at this strange stop. So, the men just went around the corner and used the bushes, while the ladies...well, we just held it. After about 10 minutes, our driver proceeded to sit down to enjoy a sausage lunch!! There was about 30 of us just staring at him, waiting to get going. Once we got going, he forgot to close the bus doors (this is a big tour bus with front and rear doors), which was nice for ventilation but dangerous for passengers on these mountainous roads.
|Macedonia-Bulgaria border crossing. German shepherd waiting to sniff out another car.|
It took about 45 minutes to pass through both Macedonian and Bulgarian passport controls, which was weird in itself. The police collected all our passports, took them to some office, stamped them, and returned the entire pile of passport to a random passenger onboard to hand back. Interesting.
At this point, our driver finally closed the doors, and never stopped again to give us a break for the next 3-4 hours, even though we passed by big rest stops. Except, he did stop the bus at the side of the road one more time, so HE could go do his business in the bushes.
With our driver's 'special needs', our scheduled 5-hour ride ended up being closer to 6.5 hours. We felt sort of sorry for him but this would've been a good day to call in sick! This was indeed the strangest bus ride we've experienced in a while, and goes to show one should never know what to expect.