(written by Nancy)
Breakfast was decent this morning when we finally got served (after the waiters finished their breakfast – cigarettes and coffee) – a nice omlette with cheese, bread and a delicious macchiato.
We rode out of Denbar and were at the Albanian border a mere 5.5k later. The border crossing went smoothly and border guards at both the Macedonian and the Albanian borders were friendly. We were accosted just after crossing into Albania by several guys that were hanging out who turned out to be money changers. We had a bit of Macedonian denars left and stopped to see what rate they were willing to give us. Dave tried to bargain a bit but was unsuccessful trying to get a better rate so we rode on, figuring we would change it when we got to a town.
We rode through several small villages, with many folks yelling out hello to us – we haven’t really heard so many hellos since Laos or Cambodia. The scenery was pretty stunning as the road followed a gorge through the mountains. The mountains have some trees on them though the top of the mountains are just rock – looks a bit like an ice-cream cone with topping (or perhaps I was just getting hungry at that point).
We had heard rumors about how bad the Albanian roads were and unfortunately we found out today that those rumors were correct. While we did have some good road surfaces for a bit of today we also had some really shocking bits today. Not just potholes but roads that were completely gutted with big rocks, gravel and holes. Very hard to look at the scenery much when you have to keep your eyes glued to the road to avoid falling into a deep hole.
We did see several (many) of Albania’s unique landscape feature – the bunker. Apparently Albania’s leader, Comrade Enver Hoxha, ordered that over 700,000 concrete bunkers be built between 1950 and his death in 1985. The bunkers are made from concrete and are apparently almost impossible to destroy as they were made to withstand significant bombing. They are tucked up into the hillside and even right down near the road – little mushrooms sprouting everywhere! Perhaps the concrete could have been put to better use in the roadworks…
We ran into another pair of touring cyclists today – Phil and Tom left the UK 11 weeks ago and are headed around the world. They have a great website – you can follow their journal at www.daringdynamos.com. It was great to talk to them a bit about the route ahead and we handed off our Macedonian map to them as they did not have one.
We stopped at a town called Bluqize to see if we could get some water and find a bank. We pulled into a little café, where the proprietor kindly gave us some ice cold water to fill our bottles with no charge. He pointed up the street when we asked for a bank but it turned out the ATM was out of order so no money there. We continued on, climbing a bit until we reached the top of the pass, where we stopped to eat our sandwiches while we enjoyed the view of the valley below.
The road surface got continually worse as we continued toward Burrel – a shame as we couldn’t really enjoy the downhill run! The last 4k into Burrel was the worst and to make it worse it was uphill and very hot. Dave realized that his handlebar bag hangar, that he had welded back in Turkey, had broken as a result of all of the bumpy roads. We rode past a car repair shop and Dave ducked in to see if they could help. Sure enough, several of them swarmed over the bike trying to help. Dave had to convince one guy that he could take the bracket off the bike before he started to weld it, though it took a bit of convincing. Anyway, we left 15 minutes later with the piece welded back together – no charge for the repair but I’m sure that they will be talking about Dave and his bike clothes for a while. We’ll see if the weld can withstand another day or two of Albanian roads!
We pulled into Burrel and spotted an ATM machine. After getting some money Dave headed into the Vodafone shop across the street, leaving me out in the shade with the bikes. In no time I was surrounded by little boys who were very interested in the bikes. One young fellow who spoke some English asked question after question about the bikes, where we were going, where we had come from. All of the kids were interested in looking at our maps, pointing out their town and the ones along the way. Finally, after about 30 minutes Dave finally came out to rescue me.
There was a hotel across the street and Dave went over to check it out but came back after a few minutes saying there was no one about. We had the name of another hotel and one of the young kids offered to escort us there. So, off we went, and ended up at the Vila Bruci Hotel. It is a funny little family run hotel that sits just on the edge of a big valley. The rooms were a little bit spendy but includes breakfast and by this time it was after 4pm and we were both pretty tired from the ride so we took it.
We had a nice meal at the restaurant – veal steak, salad and potatoes – all very tasty. The daughter of the proprietor speaks English very well, and there is a gal here from the UK who helped us with getting some food and drink. She is the niece of the proprietor and grew up here until she moved to the UK when she was 10.
So, we’ve entered our 14 country, got some local money, a phone SIM, an ok hotel room and met some nice folks along the way. Maybe I didn’t need to worry over the border crossing quite so much. Perhaps I wouldn’t worry so much, if Dave worried a little… All’s well that ends well. Tomorrow we have a long day – we are trying to make it to Shkoder, about 100k from here. If the roads continue like today it will be a long day!