Into Serbia

I'm about to take you through our last two days and the only scene setting you need really know is that it is very cold. Our line that wiggles south on the tracker should create no delusions, it is as autumny here as anywhere and the daylight hours are dwindling.

I begin where our Wednesday began, entering Serbia. Leaving behind a spot on the river bank, our initial entry to Serbia was simple, we paddled past a sign on the river with a flag painted on it. We had crossed the border. Our rather more official entry was 10kms later in the village of Batina where we moored our boat and found a member of the border police. The uniformed man, pistol at his hip, then led us into a plain concrete building where they took our passports and discussed matters. We waited.

Shortly we were led into a warm office where we stood with four different people in four different uniforms. Here we were told we had to pay 8000 dinar. Slightly taken aback, but well prepared for such a scenario, we said we had no cash on us, a fact, and thus no real way of paying. They replied that it was a standard government payment and that we could pay by card. Having made sure we would get receipts, calculated the exchange rate on a calculator and generally become more assured that all was well in the world, we paid the shipping charge and took a seat in the office.

While our passports were checked and people did important things, we waited and accepted two hot coffees and the use of a computer with good Internet. The man in the office was friendly and a customs officer asked us what we carried and glanced in our bags. Before long Nathan was summoned to meet with more uniforms and look at papers with foreign words.

Several signed documents later and with our own copies of papers and receipts for the next border, we left the border control and were given back our passports. Out on the river we paddled away with a wish of good luck from the policeman and a positive feeling that it had all gone rather well.

Having swapped places in the boat on Croatian soil we had lunch in Serbia and felt like a couple of jet-setters (albeit jet-setters on a cold muddy river bank) and before long we'd paddled into late afternoon. Late afternoon was awash with many fishermen and one in particular who gestured that we should follow him in his boat and called out from later island to point at a brilliant place to camp. Just as, days earlier, the woman who offered us money was simply confusing, we struggled again between instincts regarding safety and strangers countered by the hospitable culture here along with our cycle maps advice not to turn down offers of hospitality from people you've just met.

Fortunately we didn't need to decide on the matter since it was still too early and we paddled for another hour before making camp amongst the trees of a nature reserve. Deer rustled in the night and birds cawwed all morning while Nathan did running drills on the mud. Then, after breakfast, we packed up and paddled along the Danube with blue sky all around.

The clear blue sky lasted for a pleasant but uneventful morning which ended with lunch in Croatia, Vukovar. Here we filled up water in the toilets of a rowing club that was unlocked and sheltered behind a wall as the wind picked up and the sky clouded over. The town itself never got a visit since we've crossed legally into Serbia and technically have no right to be on the Croatian bank, we ate lunch and left, like good boys.

A talkative afternoon took us to another spot on the river banks with space for the tent and logs to sit on to eat dinner. In that tent is precisely where I now sit. And those are the dramas: we're in a new country, having crossed through the border station, and the weather has been beautifully dry yet beautifully cold. With that I shall put on my thermals and crawl into my sleeping bag as another night tries to tickle minus figures on the thermometer.