Post 48: Albania
Albania, ..... where do I begin?. We cross the border from Montenegro between the towns of Sukobin and Muriqan. The roads are narrow and dusty as we approach the border post, hot, dry and tired. Passports and formalities, ... we pay an entry tax of ten Euro's each which slips neatly into the trouser pocket of the official, .. no doubt later to be shared with his two equally well armed colleagues, ... like I'm going to argue?
We're on roads that appear neither on my map nor Alan's SatNav, .. but the compass says East, that's good enough for us. Some of the roads in Albania are really quite bad, but the rest of them are much worse than that. We soon reach the edges of a town that again has no name, ..... the streets are lined with discarded rubbish and young kids are rushing at our bikes, touching, grabbing, waving. It's friendly, ... but it's also claustrophobic and we push on as best we can. We come to a bridge, .. the crowds around us growing quickly. The bridge is narrow and made from wood with too few fixings, ... traffic is coming from the opposite side, ... it's single file only. Bugger it, ..... twist the right wrist, stand on the pegs and rattle across the rubbish festooned planks and hoping that nothing sleeps beneath them, .... welcome to Albania,.. welcome to travelling.
We're heading for the town of 'Puke', .. well you have to really. It's getting dark, the prospect of rough camping is not really filling either of us with much confidence and we're still only in the town of Shkoder, ...... which does appear on our map at least.
'England?', ...... 'I Love London', ..... I see the bike, 'Aprilia 600' I think,.. but something is missing. The guy is waving, shouting, .. I wave, smile and head on over the brow of the hill. I look back, .. Alan has vanished. Please,.. not here, anywhere else but not here. I think for a moment, ...'Engine', ... the thing missing from the Aprilia 600 was an engine, ... his bike had no engine but he was still riding it. I turn around, ... I see Alan riding towards me with a sillouette in front of him, .. a bike of some description. 'Meet Jack, ... he's taking us for a cup of tea'.
Jack lived in London as a refugee for five years, he's now back in Albania and has built his own home,.. it's close,.. we're invited, .... result. We follow Jack back to his home, its dark, no street lights and his bike which I see is fitted with a replacement Honda C70 engine has no lights, ... the Tiger lights the way for him down dark lanes, no houses,.. old factory units, across countless railway lines, .. and finally the family home. It's big, .. it's nice and his family are great. We eat, .. we share food they can probably ill afford to give and they refuse to take any money in return. We drink Raki (homemade and very strong), we eat salad, cheese (homemade), drink wine (homemade) and then Goulash, .... fantastic. Our bedroom is their bedroom, .. heaven only knows where they slept.
In the morning we inspect his Honda-Aprilia-Bitza, .. it's a minor miracle that it actually still works. He shows us his garden, .. he gives us 3L of Raki for our travels, .. he leads us to the mountains to catch the ferry to Kosovo, it leaves at 10am. Halfway up the first hill,.. he wobbles to a halt,.. rear puncture, .. unlucky. He refuses help, refuses money, ... he wishes us well and sends us on our way.
Albania may not have the infrastructure of other European countries, .. but it has an amazing heart. It it were not for the rubbish strewn everywhere, .... this place would be on every traveler's most 'beautiful list', .. especially mine, .. though possibly not Alan's.