Belgrade to Prokuplje and almost to Skopje
The Hajji winds came blowıng after EXIT, sending us South to the former capital of Yugoslavia, the big badass first city of Serbia: Belgrade!!
On the outskirts of town, Tannis' scanning eyes found us a campsite on a ridge above the Danube, and we rolled in - Hajji's fırst night of trueblue-down-to-earth-back-to-the-basics nature tramping. Uneventful, except for we were again reminded of the Michelin-level grub that Hajji never fails to provide for us: roast chicken, mashed taters, and stir-fried veg. The morning saw us into the city for a short affair wıth Serbian nationalism, before yet again smacking the highway, bound for the world's newest nation, Kosovo!
With Paul Walker manning the steering and pedals, and 7 more drivers ın the backseat, we got lost. Highways gave way to roadways which turned into country roads before becoming small-town Serbian streets - we lost Kosovo, but gained Prokuplje. Sitting on the side of the road, debating what to do as the day disappeared, honks and hoots came out of the night. A car pulled up and a young man emerged, voice excited, telling us he recognized Hajji from EXIT. What were we doing ın Prokuplje, a town of 20,000 in the south of Serbia? Did we need a place to stay? Were we hungry, thirsty? Milan, this angel of a man led us to his family home, where we were to spend the next three days living with him, his sister Anna, his mama and papa, and his tear of a granddad. He spat out some Serbian and immediately his mother was arranging sheets, apples, drinks and even packs of condoms at the head of our beds. We said such generosity was not necessary, but the Serbs were not having it. Kosovo could not compete with the likes of this and we found ourselves having an incredible time in the unsuspecting village of Prokuplje (little fact, it was the first town bombed in the Yugoslavian War some 15 years ago). Lauren and Paul still very much wanted to see Kosovo so split off in the afternoon and had quite an adventure as the Hajji could not enter Kosovo (registration was forgotten at the house) so they hitchhiked across the border and explored the less than 2 year old country for a couple hours. Helicopters, UN troops, barbed wire and machine gun nests ran amok and the sight really opened their eyes. The rest of the crew (Ben, Cous, Tannis, Adster, Jalil, Milan, his sister Anna and their dog [Latif stayed home to book his flights...] went to a gorgeous lake in the afternoon and then were fed a MASSİVE feast which his mother appartently spent all day creating. A huge bean dish, fried fish and peppers, meat, wine after wine. Lordy lordy it was nice. That night (July 15th) was Latif and Paul's last, so we headed into the historic city center and celebrated with scores of Serbs, young and old.
A few hours of sleep later we quickly saddled up the Hajji and began to head to Skopje where Paul Walker and Latif had their flights to start the journey back to Canada. Little did we know what this day would hold. Our first mishap was about an hour and a half later when suddenly the Hajji puttered out and would not start. We diagnosed a lack of fuel, the diesel had run low and we were in a hurry to get our friends to the airport. Lucky for us, we had a super Serb on our side as Milan had tagged along for the journey. Ben and Milan hitched to the nearest fuel point and filled a massive water jug with diesel. 30 minute delay. No problem. Still plenty of time to make their flight in a few hours. We fueled up and Adam decided he wanted to try his hand at driving the Hajji. Uh oh. Changing from 2nd to 3rd the engine suddenly erupted and was holding firm at what sounded like a million screaming bees. Clutch we shouted! Change gears! Adster knew what he was doing, but the Hajji would not follow his lead. Suddenly smoke cummed from her loins and filled the entire van so thick you could not see your own moustache. Escape!!!! Paul Walker led the batch to escape and Latif and Jalil both bunged up their legs smashing into the unforeseen guard rail which lay mere feet from Hajjis doors. Marcus was sleeping in the back and awoke in a cloud of smoke, slowly crawling to the front to ask Adam (who decided to sink with the ship, feet off all pedals and keys out of the ignition) "Addy....whats going on man?"......"İ DONT KNOW!!!" he shouted. After what seemed like an eternity of insanity with the better part of our crew scattered in a Serbian field, some bleeding, lungs full of smoke, and echoes of screams wringing in our ears the Hajji rumbled a final breath on the hot black asphalt road, and died......
to be continued......