Week 4: Albanian hospitality and views to die for

I’m now in Greece and back in the EU for a few more days. But the last week I spent most of my time in the neighboring country Albania, which was something out of the ordinary. Already in Croatia people I met started giving me warnings about Albania and its criminal people. I was even told not to go there alone because of the risk that someone would either shoot, rape or rob me. ”When you cross that border you leave Europe, keep that in mind!”, a tourist guide told me just after he had stated that ”all albanians have guns, you know, they are crazy”. I was happy to meet another tourist guide in Montenegro who confirmed what I already suspected, that there was no reason to worry – ”You will have a wonderful time in  Albania”, she said. And how right she was! 

I entered Montenegro Wednesday for a short and beautiful visit. Quite hilly of course, but as I’ve stated before there are always the downhills afterwards that make it worth struggling a little extra. At the top   of a hill close to the city Budva there was a restaurant where I decided to stop and actually have a real, cooked meal for a change. A good choice, it showed. The nice waiter Dejan, who also worked as a basketball coach and appreciated my effort, gave me a kilo of fresh grapes and a whole bottle of locally produced wine as a gift. 

I spent my only night in Montenegro at a great camping spot in Sutomore: outside a restaurant about 20 meters from the beach (with permission from the owner). The only problem was the noise from other tourists partying almost until the time when I normally wake up. I still felt sleepy when I started biking towards the albanian border, even if I tried to wake my body up by jumping in the (not so cold) sea at 6:30 pm. Anyway, the border crossing went cool and quiet. When I was standing in the line at the border check two spanish guys started talking to me. We chit-chated a little bit, but then I moved on. 

As I had biked only a few km on albanian ground a guy on a motorbike started rolling beside me and filming me with his Go Pro camera. It showed that he and the two spanish guys from the border control were a tv-team with a travel program in the making. And they wanted to interview me for the show. So they did. I must have looked quite funny, wearing my tourist cap and an old trashy t-shirt that I had picked up from a container in Montenegro the same day, because I didn’t want to look too rich. But it was nice talking to a real travel professional like Miquel Silvestre, who has travelled about 100 countries by motorbike. He gave me some useful advice about the countries I plan to pass in Africa. He also gave me around 20 protein bars from one of his sponsors. They were useful too! 

That thursday afternoon I continued rolling on the flat road towards Tirana. After a while it started raining and the wind became more and more violent. It soon got hard to stay on the side of the road since the wind pushed me out towards the cars. The sight was really bad too, so I realized I had to stop to avoid the risk of getting hit by one of the not so conscious car drivers. I did, and as by a coincidence there was a bar at the side of the road with a man giving me sign to come in. Despite some communication problems, I was offered coffee to warm up, followed by some beer and food. As it continued storming outside, me and the four locals sat there enjoyning the meal. I felt this was a good moment to open the bottle of wine that I had got from Dejan in Montenegro the previous day. It was a good wine indeed! Thank you Dejan! I would have loved to bring it home to Sweden, but when you travel by bike you need to make some choices concerning what’s necessary to carry or not. When we had finished eating and taken some group photos in front of the albanian flag the sun slowly started to return from its hidden place behind the black clouds. There was even a rainbow as the optimal sign for the ”storm” to be over. Warm inside and out of food, wine and hospitality I went back to my bike and the road. That night I slept at a camping in the town Leize. 

Next day was long and tough. Passing through Tirana by bicycle is for sure an interesting experience, but in the same time exhausting. Albania is a country full of contrasts. The streets are trafficked by goats, cows, mopeds, trucks and shiny new merchedes all fighting for their space. That is sometimes quite chaotic for a swedish cyclist used to order and a separate bicycle lanes. But I managed to get out of the city alive. The same evening I had to climb up a hill to get to the city Elbasan. The view from the top was outstanding. As I got down it was already dark and I didn’t know if there was any camping in the town. I had to stop to ask in a little shop outside the city center. Fortunatly, there was a young guy, Mario, there who spoke english. And it soon became clear that I had asked the right people! The owners of the shop, Marios parents, immediatly offered me to stay in their house for the night. They were absolutely lovely. I have to say that the hospitality the albanian people I met showed me was unbelievable. When I stopped at a gaz station for a coffee I was offered food and even a shower at the owners’ familys’ place in the neighborhood. I continued biking two hours later, clean and with a full stomach. I’ve learnt during this journey that there are good and bad people everywhere, but so far it seems like only the road angels come to cross my roads.