At any rate, the main road to the border suggests none of this. It's like a class three Vermont highway: badly paved, potholed, without signs. A customs station appears like the set for a grade-B film, complete with dusty idling trucks, men lounging on the hoods of dented cars, and guards whose suspicious gazes linger on an Audi A4 with two gringos aboard. A guard scrutinizes our papers, then disappears inside.
I'm not feeling good. My luck has held for days, but half an hour ago, at the last gas station in Montenegro, a talkative attendant said, "The fuel in Albania is bad." Still, I didn't fill up. It wasn't smart. And my back hurts. The Audi's great ergonomics and supportive seats notwithstanding, all the miles and hours in the A4 seem to be catching up on me.
A theatrical character, official-looking, with close-cropped white hair and a pistol riding high on his hip - he's a Montenegrin through and through, I think - comes to the Audi, looks it over, then at me in the driver's seat.
"No stampa," he says. He holds out a paper that says Audi provided the car for this trip. "No stampa, no stampa," he repeats, making a stamping motion on the admittedly unimpressive little document.
An Albanian guy came to the car a few minutes earlier. Curious and killing time, he said, in decent English, that he passed through here every day and that he did a little business across the border. I look at him for guidance and wonder if I should offer a bribe. But the friendly Albanian looks down at the dust as if to tell me not to aggravate this guy any more than he's aggravated by this lousy job already.
The guard does make one thing clear: there is no way this Audi is crossing his border to Albania, a quarter mile away.
"How are we supposed to get out of Montenegro if he won't let us out here?" I ask.
The Albanian translates. The guard gestures back at the trucks and cars behind us. "Get out the way you came in."
"Well, damn," I mutter as he starts waving me around in a U-turn.
I turn to the Albanian. He shrugs, as though this happens a lot.
"It's the Balkans," he says.
My luck has snapped. Irritated, reminded that not all the surprises of a great road trip are good ones, I bump over the median that separates those going into Albania and those coming out. And we're out of there.