I got pulled over in Montenegro (the misadventures of a dumb American)

March, 2023. Sarah had just left for a week to take care of family business in the US. I knew right away that I had to keep busy or I’d go crazy, but was concerned about extended solo driving in Montenegro. I’d just read two articles about the corruption in Montenegro’s police force (here and here). An excerpt: “…senior special police unit officers were communicating with one of Kotor-based Kavac gang leaders, sending him photos of police torturing a member of a rival Skaljari drug gang.” I certainly didn’t want to run afoul of the police, but “stupid is what stupid does,” and sometimes the line between badass and dumbass is very thin indeed.


Day 1. I started my keeping-busy program right after Sarah’s 6:30 AM drop-off at Podgorica airport. I drove to Cetinje, the former royal capital of Montenegro. Unfortunately, the monastery and it’s museum were closed. It did have a cool chapel (no photos allowed), with an Orthodox priest in his distinctive hat and robes standing there watching visitors closely. I followed a family in, and the husband physically kissed several of the icons and paintings and statues (eww, does everyone do that?). Then I went through the house/museum of Nikola I. Nikola I unified Montenegro in 1878, and he built roads and schools. The house (no pics allowed) was a poorly-presented collection of furniture, guns, and swords. A large high school group was going through it in front of me, and the director kept blowing a shrill whistle to get their attention, ouch. I hiked a path up to an overlook that had a bell in a small tower (during the war with Turkey, many captured Turkish soldiers were executed here, and severed heads were put on display-yikes), but it was too quiet in that town so I rang that bell!!!

Then I drove to the mausoleum of Peter II (a prince, bishop, poet, philosopher, ruler) at the top of Mt. Lovcen, with spectacular views over Skadar lake, and a panoramic vista spanning 4 countries (Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia), and views down into Kotor Bay:

Afterward, I drove down the “serpentine” road that drops 5,700 ft directly into Kotor. It turned out to be a very good day. The views of Kotor are outstanding as you descend.

Day 2. I hit the trail with Trixie. We hiked 4.6 miles up the 1,588 ft hill behind the apartment to Vrmac fort, an old Ottoman stronghold that was re-purposed for anti-aircraft defense in WW2. The hike is very interesting. You are by turns both in and out of the trees as you ascend up the side of Kotor bay. The top affords a big view of the other side of the mountain, stretching over Tivet to Croatia in the distance. Afternoon sunshine made me want to stay up there for at least an hour, but the time & distance & fading light made me treat the fort as more of a quick trip. I ate a sandwich on the roof of the fort and headed back down.

Back in Kotor in the evening, I got a haircut from an angry one-eyed barber in old town (!). He didn’t speak much English, but was railing about something that obviously bothered him, pontificating to his audience, the other customers while cutting my hair. I kinda liked the experience…

Pics of Kotor and the bay, what a lovely town:

Day 3. I was feeling it, stretching my wings, and I wanted to take a long drive. I dealt with my furry friends and it was time to rock on…to Ostrog monastery, (Serbian Orthodox originally 17c, carved into a rock face).


The roads in Montenegro are recently paved with wide lanes and very few towns. Most of the country is undeveloped and rocky, its like you’re driving through a barren moonscape. But weirdly, the speed limits are ridiculously low, by 20mph or so, for the size and track of the road and the lack of towns. You’re alone on a two lane hwy driving through long stretches where the US speed limit would be 65 mph and they’re killing you with a 50 km (30 mph) limit. A few people were driving the speed limit the rest of us were easily going 15-20 km over the limit. Several people were hauling ass way above that. Well, shit, don’t I get double-flashed by an approaching car with the universal, “police ahead” signal, but it’s too late, I’m the lead car at that time and I come around a corner and am immediately nailed. No one else was pulled over, as the system seems to be, ‘get the lead guy, and let the rest go.’

The cop leans in and by his gestures he lets me know that I was doing 90 in a 60. He seems pretty angry. Oops. Of course I say, “I’m sorry,” head down, am ashamed of the fact that I was breaking the law. Privately I’m thinking oh shit, oh shit. He asks in Montenegrin for my d/l and reg., but of course I know zero Montenegrin, so I shrug until he says, “dokumenata.” OK, got that one. But what to give him? I’m in a German registered (technically Sarah’s sister-in-law Kathi’s car) with ownership and insurance documents that I cannot read, no passport, only my US driver’s license. Envisioning jail time.

We’re in the middle of nowhere, in a pull-out with almost no traffic. A loose dog is running around the car. The cop’s partner is across the road in their car. I like dogs, we have dogs, this must be the cop’s dog, so in a blatant attempt to garner sympathy, I get out of the car and start petting the dog, loving it, whispering sweet nothings and hoping I don’t get totally screwed by these cops in the hinterland.

After a good 10 minutes I get called across the street to talk to the cop that remained in the car. He doesn’t get out of the car, but leaves the door open. He scowls at me, works a translation app on his phone and points to scrap paper on his clipboard that shows in hand calculations that I owe 40 euros. It’s about 4:00pm. His phone translation says I need to drive 20KM into Niksic and pay at the post office, then come back. No way! What if I can’t find the Post office? What if it’s closed by the time I get there? What if the cops are gone with my ID and whatever document it was that I gave them (it looked important) by the time I get back?

Channeling my deceased father, I reach into my pocket and grab what cash I have and ask him if there’s some way to just pay him. He says no. Dammit. Apparently I’ve found the one honest cop in Montenegro. So, back to the dog, “good baby, what a handsome dog you are, what a love, I love you baby.” After a few minutes of that, I tell him that I don’t know where the post office is, and I have know idea how to get there, and what do I do if they’re closed. He shrugs and points to his phone. I mill around. We wait. I offer to pay him again. He says no. We wait. I pet the dog. His fellow officer pulls over another car. I try to get really interested in the dog, figuring that if I stall him enough he’ll just want to get rid of me. It works! After 10 minutes he speaks into his phone and shows me the translation: “Don’t come back here again.” That seems a bit harsh, I mean, I was just driving a little fast. What if the only way back from Ostrog is this way? Well, maybe if I delay coming back until nightfall and they’ll be gone. Ok, I say, petting the dog one last time and trying to saunter both casually and to move as fast as I can to my car and get out of there before he changes his mind.

Day 4 A quick trip to Hercig Novi:

Day 5 I watched a ‘football’ game, gotta live like the Kotor locals!

Day 6 Rakija, couch.

Moral of the story: act stupid. Pet the dog. Shrug and don’t look threatening, and maybe you’ll get off with just a warning. Oh, and yes, dumbass, carry more cash and figure out your car registration and insurance paperwork. Finally, drive the speed limit!

Cowboy Jesus says, “Peace out!”

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