Into Montenegro – Shkoder Albania to Utjeha (57/16,757k, 425m)

(written by Nancy)

We had a nice breakfast at the hotel this morning – Dave even managed to get fried eggs instead of the usual omelette, which he was nice enough to share with me (I did share my omelette too).  We also got a great cup of espresso – always a nice way to start the day.  It was warm already when we started about 7:40 and by the time we got to the border, about 14k from town, the temperature on Dave’s computer was already showing 28.

The border crossing was easy, and a bit unique in that both the Albania and Montenegro border patrol share the same buildings so there is none of that ‘no man’s land’ that you usually get when you exit one country and have to travel a bit before you hit the entry gates for the other country.  There was a bit of a queue of cars when we rolled up but there seemed to be a separate entry spot for people on foot so we rolled up past the cars and right to the window.  That saved us sitting out in the hot sun for a good half-hour I think.  In no time at all we were exited out of Albania and stamped in to Montenegro – no fees again.

We left the border post and hit brand new tarmac, which after Albanian roads felt like heaven.  Unfortunately, less than a kilometre along we ran into the road crew working on the road, and from there the road was dirt, under construction for about 20k or so.  Most of it wasn’t bad, as it had been prepped for paving so was relatively smooth but there the farther along we got the more rocky it got.  And the trucks bringing more dirt and gravel kicked up some pretty big dust storms – so much for our clean chains….

We stopped for a drink at a nice clean petrol station (another LukOil one) and had our first experience paying in euros for a long time.  Yes, that’s right, Montenegro uses the euro as its official currency.  A bit funny but nice and simple for us.  Just after we left the servo we came upon an Italian couple cycling the other way.  We stopped to chat for a bit – they were headed to Greece on a 5-week cycling holiday and had stayed in Ulcinj last night, and that was the area we were headed to.  We gave them some info on the road ahead and waved goodbye.  Sorry, but we missed their names.

The road was a bit twisty and turny as we made our way through the hills toward the coast.  The hills were not too bad and the twisty road slowed the traffic down a bit, though it wasn’t too heavy anyway.  As we turned a corner we saw another two cyclists coming our way.  Jorge and Pedro were from Romania and were on a two-week trip looping down through Macedonia and back up to Romania.

After we said our goodbyes we made our way into the town of Ulcinj, hoping to get some info about campgrounds up the road.  The town seemed pretty busy, though tourist season has not started –apparently in July and August the town is flooded with holiday makers from Serbia and Kosovo.  We pulled over to get something to eat and try to figure out where we could get some information.  Very quickly we were approached by a friendly fellow who had apartments to let.  We were told it doesn’t take long to find a place to stay as they usually find you!

After getting something to eat and sorting out a new sim for the phone we decided to press on a bit to see if we could find the campgrounds.  Two people in town had told us that the area up ahead where the campground was located was a nice village with a good beach so we figured we could try to find it and if we couldn’t we would just keep riding until we saw some more rooms to let.  One more stop for a cold drink before we left town and we were on the road in the afternoon heat.  We actually had to back track a bit to get out of Ulcinj and back on to the main highway that would take us up the coast.

Not long after we got back on the highway we were riding past a restaurant when I noticed a loaded touring bike leaning against the building.  Of course, we stopped to see who it was and met Peter from Belgium, who is on a month long trip from Athens back to his home in Bruges.  He had started in Shkoder as well this morning but had bypassed Ulcinj.  He was trying to make it to a town called Tivat, which he had just discovered was almost 100k away.  We ended up riding with him until we hit the turn-off to the campgrounds at Utjeha (about 11k or so north of Ulcinj), where we wished him good travels.

Utjeha is just a little blip off the main highway down at the sea but there are two campgrounds and some rooms to let.  As we rode in people from both of the campgrounds (which are right next to each other) came running out to the roadway to convince us to come into their campground.  It was quite funny, both were talking to us at the same time.  We pulled into the first one, Camping Oliva, to take a look.  The owners escorted Dave all around the property and he came back saying it was fine so that is where we ended up, paying 9.50€ for a tent site.

We had to come up on their porch for a glass of cold water and a chat before we could make our way to the site and set up.  They seem like a nice family and while there is no camp kitchen like we would find in Australia they have given us a cooker to use (of course we could use our own stove but since they offered….).  They also gave us a dongle to use for internet access as there is no wi-fi here.  Pretty funny – competition is sometimes good for the customer!

No major issues getting the tent set up and we are a grassy spot in the shade of olive trees so it is pretty pleasant.  Showers were hot and there is even a washing machine so we did a load of laundry. There are some other tents and campers here but it is not too crowded so hopefully will be a quiet night.   There is a small beach across the road, which is where most people seem to spend their time.  It does seem that we are already in mosquito season though, so we had to break out the mosquito repellent that we bought, fortunately, a few weeks ago.

We will be cooking our own dinner tonight for the first time in a long time – looking forward to a nice plate of pasta with some veggies.  I think it is not supposed to be quite as hot tomorrow, which is good.  It does seem pretty humid along this coast, or maybe it’s just that we have not had hot weather in some time so we are not really used to it anymore.

Off to check out the beach and make dinner.  Tomorrow we are heading toward the town of Kotor, which is at the southern end of the Bay of Kotor, sometimes referred to as southern Europe’s most spectacular fjord.  From all we have read it sounds like a beautiful place so we will probably take a day there to see the area.  We’ll post a little Montenegro history in the coming days, country count is now 15.

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