When I Shared Fruit With Smugglers

09 Sep 2011
Posted by Marisa
Marisa's picture

Or: That Time We Went to Bulgaria

The trip to Bulgaria was much more exciting than I had anticipated. It was our last train ride in Europe, heading out from Belgrade in Serbia to our final destination Sofia. Based on our other train rides through the Baltic states I imagined that the ride would be very hot and rather long. It turned out instead to be full of smugglers.

2011.08.29 - Belgrade to Sofia

We were sharing a compartment with a couple from Australia, when a little more than half way into the trip two old ladies barged in with lots of bags. They had lots of bags. And they were sharing the room with 4 backpackers, so that's saying something. Despite helping them to get all their possessions stored in the racks, for the next hour or two the ladies would take turns jumping up and doing something, whether going out into the hallway for two minutes and then coming back, or trying to rearrange their bag. Of course rearranging the bag required them to stand on the seat, and they would sometimes shoo us out so they could thoroughly move their bag from here to there. And back again. At one point one of them took a smaller bag out of their bag and stuffed it behind Jordan's backpack, giving him a wink and putting her finger to her lip to indicate that it was "their little secret."

It was all a little disconcerting when compared to the peace we had been enjoying earlier.


Eventually we reached the Bulgarian border, which meant we were headed back in the EU which we had been out of for a few countries. The nice thing about going over the border on the train in Europe is that they don't make you get off the train. Instead, the customs officials come to you. What an idea! So you can just keep watching the movie on your iPod while they try and figure out what's going on.


In this case we were still sitting around long after they had run off and run back with our passports. So I looked out of our cabin into the hallway and realized the officials were back and they had taken the ceiling off from the neighboring compartment. Quick discussion amongst our cabin, with a tip from a fellow German traveler from a different compartment, determined that they were checking for cigarettes. The ladies sharing our space at this point were looking very nonchalant.

Eventually the officials came and kicked us out of our room so they could take the ceiling off and check for illegal contraband. One of them was holding a small bag of confiscated cigarettes. They didn't find any in our ceiling. Once the train started moving again though, it became apparent that a) just checking the ceiling was perhaps not very thorough and b) everyone on the train was smuggling cigarettes. As the train chugged into Bulgaria the hallways and compartments took on the feeling of an Easter morning with everyone going around and reaching their hands into unnoticed nooks and crannies and pulling out cartons of cigarettes. The ladies in our compartment pulled back their stash from behind Jordan's backpack, untied nylons stuffed with their spoils from around their waists and then relaxed and made no more movements for the rest of the ride, having successfully smuggled their goods over the border.

2011.08.26 - Sarajevo to Belgrade