When travelling through the Balkans, the funniest thing is when you talk to the native people about the neighboring countries. They always say that the roads are worst in the other side, that the drivers are insane and to watch out for our staff. But what we have experienced is that that the drivers and roads are not the best, but the people keep being really nice.
Albania was one of the countries we entered with certain fear. So many stories about mafia, thieves, crazy drivers … the list is quite long. Probably it was due to our own ignorance about the place, so when people were so nice we were greatly surprised.
On the third day in Albania we crossed Tirana and headed south towards Elbassan. To avoid the mountains we saw that there was a tunnel, but it seemed like a motorway. We got closer and when nobody said anything we started crossing it. Suddenly the police came from behind, really slow, to block the traffic so we could go safer. We had the tunnel for ourselves! Amazing!
When we got out we realized that through the motorway we saved so many km that we were really close to the city, so we decided to start looking for a place to sleep. We asked some people and in a few minutes there were several options, but what we liked best was to sleep in garden of a family.
They were on their car and said to follow them, but the road was not paved and so steep that we had to push our bikes. We were having some difficulties, but the whole family came to help, even the 5 year old boy! Already sitting at their porch they offered us everything, coffee, tobacco that they grow, food … and rakia!
We had a great time, especially because the oldest daughter spoke fluent English and she could translate for us. Thanks to her we learnt many traditions from Albania, as well as they did about our countries. They were really interested in our lives and families. I guess for them is much more interesting to learn how other people live in other countries than the crazy story of two French, two Basque and an American riding around Albania. After all they already know their country.
The next day after breakfast we left when the kids had to go to school and in Elbassan we spent all of our last Leks, thinking that we would cross the border that day.
Jason, the American guy, went a different way towards Greece, but the French couple decided to come with us to the Macedonian lakes. The four of us crossed the mountains on the east, hoping to do lots of kilometers, but the weather and the roads didn’t help. And on top of that, Javi’s back wheel started doing weird things.
We stopped in a bar and we asked them to sleep on the second floor, which it was under construction. And again people treated us wonderfully. I can’t believe people dare to say that you should be careful with Albanians; it’s the place where we’ve been treated the best!
We didn’t have money, but we would not have needed it anyway. They treated us to everything! Luckily there was a guy that lived in Greece, so with the few things I managed to remember from my Erasmus year, we could communicate. It’s nice when you can do more that repeat the same 3 words you know in one language.
Next to the bar there was an internet café, and explaining to him that we had spent all of our Leks and that we needed to upload a couple posts, he was really happy to help us. He even started checking the website while we worked.
That was our last day in Albania and we left with a great feeling about what we had experienced and happy that everybody who warned us about this country was wrong. In this country we really felt welcomed, but it was time to check how Macedonia was going to treat the Biziklautak team and a French couple.