July 3, 2011 § 1 Comment
On the train crossing the border from Serbia to Romania, a crew of police officers came on board carrying large screwdrivers. They asked me to leave my compartment after which they closed the curtains and proceeded to hack away with their tools searching every nook and cranny inside. I assumed they were looking for drugs being smuggled across the border. 5 minutes later they were still there and I nervously wondered if they might plant drugs in my compartment and try to elicit a bribe.
Fortunately they finished with no issues, although upon reentering my room I noticed the leftovers of their work. The ceiling vent had been unscrewed and not fully reattached. The metal molding used to house electrical wires had been unfastened from the wall and the screws were scattered on the floor. My seat had also been pulled back off the wall. I suppose the Romanian police can have their way with the Serbian train company.
The train was stopped for a total of 45 minutes and it didn’t seem at all like a routine border crossing. I wondered if they may have been tipped off of suspected drug smuggling activity, but in the end it appears they left empty handed.
Fast forward 2 hours. We’re about 5 minutes from reaching our final destination, passing through some fields, when I hear the outer door of my train car opened. I go out to see what’s happening and there’s a little old lady sitting on the floor with her legs dangling out over the steps while the train is still moving full speed. Does she need a breath of fresh air? Nope. From behind another woman hands her a medium sized package wrapped in tape and plastic, and then she throws it off the train. The package tumbles down the slope next to the tracks and into the empty field. A minute later I see another package go tumbling out on the other side of the tracks.
I couldn’t believe it! These sneaky old ladies are the last people on the train I would have guessed to be smuggling something over the border. They had simply put the packages in their duffel bags and the police never bothered to look.
I learned later that the product being smuggled was likely cigarettes. Since Romania is in the European Union they have to heavily tax cigarettes, whereas Serbia does not. A pack costs $4 in Romania compared to only $1 in Serbia, and a lucrative black market for cigarettes has emerged. It was pretty cool to see it first hand. Now if our travel funds ever get low we know how to make a few extra bucks!