From the moment we crossed the border we could see that Albania was different. Not the landscape, because to be honest I didn’t pay that much attention to it, but the buildings, the people and how they live. Till we got here we still felt a bit at home, but now the culture and the feelings start changing.
The first thing we saw when we entered the country was everybody saying “hello” and adding “where are you from?”, in English if they could, if no they would insist in Albanian. We didn’t speak the language, but we did our best to learn some words, so we managed to have basic conversations with the local people.
When we were close to the first city, Shkoeder, we were in a big dilemma: go to the city or skip it and find a camping place a few kilometers down the road. While we were deciding the American man we met a few kilometers back caught up with us, and talking to him we decided to try to get a cheap hostel.
Not even half way in we say another two cyclotourists and we started talking to them. A French couple. Everybody started talking about the routes and plans, but I had only one thing in mind: find the Little Prince in Albanian. I told Javi that we would meet in the hostel, and I left for my personal search.
Riding in Albania is crazy! It’s so chaotic that you don’t really know how to behave at first. Then you start looking at the local cyclist and soon you realize that there are no rules, pedestrians and cyclist are king! Even though it was confusing sometimes to go into the opposite direction or made a car stop, I never felt so safe in any other country. It was a great feeling!
On the first time I wasn’t lucky, but on the second bookshop they had the book I wanted “Princi I Vögel”. The other day I was counting, and I think it’s the 35th language I have it in.
Back to the hostel I could talk more with the French and we say that we were going the same way, so we decided to go together till Elbasan, were they would take the route south to Meteora.
I tried to cook some pasta for the five of us, but an Italian man said that I was not allowed to because he was going to cook for everybody. When I explained that I was vegan he said that it was no problem, and he did vegan food for everybody. Not sure how he was connected to the hostel but he was. In the dining room it was only us and a group of five Italian men that look like the “family” taking care of business.
The next day we started our way down towards the capital, Tirana. It was one of the nicest rides I’ve had in the trip: perfect weather, flat roads in a (more or less) okay condition, and new company to talk to. We started getting to know Robin and Opheli and we liked them, so the way seemed easier.
We crossed several towns, but we stopped at Tresh for lunch. That’s where we got our new group member … actually two new group members. The first was a pomegranate I picked up to eat. He had such a nice face that I could not eat him, so we drew a smiley face on it and we gave him a name: Mikli (short for Miklaban). Now Biziklautak has four members.
Then a guy crossed by with a city bike with two baskets and wearing only a speedo. At the beginning we thought he could be Australian, but he was American: Jason. He was going our way, so they five of us continued south.
The road started getting worst, and that’ when we had our little encounter with the Albanian mafia. A brand new fancy Mercedes passed us just to stop a few meters in front. They pulled out a gun, showed the bullets so we could see it was real, said they were from the mafia, and speeded off. Well, I’m not sure if they were mafia or not, but I think it would be better if we didn’t find them again.
When it got dark we stopped in a town, and before we even asked anybody if we could sleep in their garden, a kid with a bike came and asked us what we wanted. We said “gjum” (sleep in Albanian). He run and started telling people, and in 3 minutes they offered us a house under construction. We couldn’t ask for more!
There we did a pasta party to celebrate 3 months of Biziklautak on the road and the five of us had a nice talk. It’s the first time we get together with other cyclotourists and it’s nice. At least to change the routine. We are going to keep going together a couple more days. I really like having some new company!