A Collection of Tales from the Road: #1 Albania

See previous post for introduction and context.

#1 Albania

Entering from the south western corner at the coastal border with Montenegro, Niamh and I pedalled inland through dried earth, drained by olives and grapes. We passed a house ablaze with more whipping flames then I’d ever seen, but then came the mind altering sounds of the fire engines from a distance. As we looked towards them knowing that we could do nothing, we saw Lake Shkoder for the first time. This would be the base for a boat trip called the Komani Ferry, winding it’s way northeast through fjord-like scenes along the Drin river and then across Koman lake. It was an empty part of Europe, so as we got further into what seemed like nowhere in particular, we wondered how we could possibly get to Kosovo as planned, on the same night.

Tour cyclists often get a lot of attention/funny looks from non-cycle-touring humans, but this was not the case at the terminal. I have since realised that tour touts and taxi drivers have no interest in cyclists coming off a ferry. So we stood there for a while, found a hut to drink in, and got chatting. Within a few minutes, we had a seriously upward and potholed ride to the border with a guy who wore a shell-suit well. Whenever I find or accept a lift on tour, there is always a part of me that feels guilty for not riding it. I have also come to terms with the fact that it is sometimes entirely necessary, whether because of flight bookings, visa expiry, extreme weather or sickness. This was not one of those times.

This whole day of scenic boat rides and connections could have been ridden in the time we had for the summer week tour, it’s just that they were going in a direction that was no nearer our tour’s final destination. So I swallowed it, and as we struggled up a mountain pass in an overloaded hatchback, with a unexpected human and non-fee paying passenger in front of me in the footwell, I was actually buzzing. But then came the border checkpoint with Kosovo. Not a place many tourists cross, perhaps for good reason. Kosovo was a word I had heard many times as a grew up, not really understanding the conflict, or the need for conflict anywhere. My mind’s eye saw many tanks, bad roads and sad stories, so I knew this border crossing wouldn’t be a normal one. It got a bit feisty, quickly. Our passports were pulled away then rowdy interactions ensued between our driver and an armed official. Then another official, and then one slightly less official, all the while shouting and demonstrating their masculinity through gesticulation. Turns out that our driver was brokering us a deal on a hotel, and the less-official guy owned it, the shiny Euro Hotel in downtown Gjakova. Turned out nice again.

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