Albania is bringing us plenty of encounters. As we were told by a Norwegian pastor living near Tirana for years, Albania is the oriental part of Europe.
In Shkodër, we stayed at one of the warmest Warmshowers we’ve had experienced and met there two other couples of cyclotourers. They left the day after we arrived, but we were cycling on the same direction and some days later we met Clare and James in Durrës on the Albanian coast, then in Vlorë, where we stayed at Pablo from Couchsurfing.
From that moment, we’ve been cycling and camping together. Farnaz and Meithi from Iran, joined the gang couple of days later, after we met them randomly on a road curve two days before Sarandë. Like cowboys, we were entering villages and towns, the six of us cycling together.
Albania brought us contacts with cyclotourists, but also with local people. Albanian is a different language than the rest of the Balkan and the only words we learnt are thanks (falemenderit) and two (because it’s the same pronunciation as in French). However, we tried to learn more with Bashkim’s children. We met Bashkim in a town near Tirana as we were wet and desperately looking for a hotel. He was cycling with his 9-year-old daughter behind him, looked at Xavier with a smile and asked what we were looking for. Xavier answered “we’re looking for a hotel” and Bashkim said “oh you’re staying at my place tonight”. His smile was trustworthy and we followed him and his cute daughter.
At home we met his wife Eva and their younger son. As they had spent a year in Germany, the kids could count and say some words in German. It’s not always easy to communicate when you don’t know the local language and while Bashkim went out to get some fresh bread, we played games with the kids They treated us like kings with a big meal and a warm bed, more than what we would have expected. On the next morning, we took the children to school. Xavier got rid of his 30kg of bags and took instead the little boy and asked Angélique to stay behind and watch after the child.
The five days from Shkodër to Vlorë were landscape-wise not interesting and the traffic quite heavy, especially on the Albanian highway that you’re almost forced to take time to time. Cars, bus, trucks, you have to get ready to feel the wind blowing when they pass close to you.
But Claire and James will catch up in Vlorë, at Pablo’s and we will discover the beautiful, and hilly, south coast of Albania together.
So did we our first mountain pass, 3 hours uphill to reach 1050m high. We were skeptical and looking forward to see how good, or bad, we will be with our heavy luggage. But it went good and proudly we would start the downhill to the beach on the other side. We will have three days of nearly 1500m elevation each day to reach Sarandë. Challenging, but all camps have been nice and the weather was with us, sunny and no wind. Even if wild camping is allowed in Albania, being a six bikers group makes us feel more confident. Every member was adding his own good vibes.
We reached Sarandë with big smiles and will keep it on during our two rest days there and gargantuan common evening dinner. Xavier and James will even find the opportunity to get a winter swim in the see.
This was our first month of traveling. Bags are full again and we are now ready to head to Greece.