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It Was Bound to Happen at Some Point


sunny 38 °C

I’ve decided to type up this entry straight away as things are happening.

Yesterday we crossed the boarder into Albania, with the pure intention of overnighting once before we got to Greece. I’d found a camp online (Camping Albania), which was set up by a Dutch couple who moved here with their children a few years back to assist with regeneration projects, and ended up helping travelers by providing space, power, a pool, a restaurant and beers ☺

Again, it was more of a “follow the signs” job as we got in the country and showed boarder patrol our passports and ownership documents… Albania has the highest ownership of Mercedes anywhere in the world; we’d heard every 2nd car you would see was a Mercedes. And most of them had started out as stolen and brought into the country, so they really crack down and check cars coming in.

Really, every 2nd car you see is a Mercedes. Not even close to exaggerating.

We’d also heard the roads here weren’t the best. They are indeed fairly shocking – the road into the country was a dirt track for a few kilometers before it turned into bitchumen… then dirt road… the bitchumen again… and so on for awhile. It’s almost as though they’d been given enough gear to tar 10km of road for a 20km stretch and did it a kilometer at a time to give you a bit of good road every now and then.

The drivers are pretty crazy, not as hostile as Italy though… helmets on motorbikes are optional, so are seatbelts, we’ve seen people overtake people who are overtaking on a single lane road which are fairly narrow and yes, you still do have to share them with donkeys and horses carrying big bales of hay. We’ve seen a couple of really close calls so far, but it’s clear accidents are all too common judging by the amount of roadside shrines and flowers we’ve been past.

One of the best roads, with standard donkey and cart hazard

Sadly, one of the more common roads

We made it to the campsite without any major issue (apart from a random, unmarked monster of a speed hump which we hit much too hard – but more on that in a second) and got ourselves set up – the field at the house is surrounded by corn fields which was kind of cool. Even better were the free range chooks and the rooster pottering about :) So far, we thought Albania was nice.

We left around 9 this morning intending to get as far as south as the Greek border, which was going to take us about 5-7 hours depending on whether Google maps was right, or whether Tom was. At around 2pm we had to take a turn to start moving away from the coast, and we were just heading past a large petrol station when we hit a small patch of terrible road without any warning. Paul couldn’t slow down enough and we hit a crater-sized pothole at about 50km/h, after which we heard a loud bang, followed by a resonating crack… crack… crack… crack… emanating from the front passenger side wheel. We knew we could have a problem thanks to the condition of the roads but had hoped we would at least make it to Greece before we had to do anything.

We pulled into the station and the manager came over to help us have a look at what turned out to be a shattered shock mount, no doubt initially busted when we hit the speed hump the day before, then completely failing 3 million potholes later… The manager of the service station thankfully speaks a bit of English, enough to help us find a mechanic just down the road, and to write a letter to them in Albanian to explain the problem as it was unlikely they’d speak any English (our Lonely Planet phrasebook doesn’t contain Albanian). We found the mechanics, 3 young guys who understood the letter and took the van in to have a look (on a Sunday when they should have been at the beach, bless them). There was a bit of chatter going on and they seemed to be trying to tell us something to do with the part or what they had to do but the communication barrier was too great. One of the boys had called someone who I’m guessing was a friend or female relative and handed the phone to me (I offered it to Paul, but the boy didn’t want him to take it), she spoke a little bit of English but not enough for me to understand, plus the line kept breaking up. I ran back up the road to the service station to grab our manager friend and drag him down the road to help with translating. It turns out the guys were trying to tell us they don’t have the part on hand to fix it and will need to go into town to buy it, but the parts shop won’t be open till tomorrow and they’re not too sure how much it will cost yet, which is fair enough.

Knowing we couldn’t stay in the van, we started to worry ourselves a little and contemplated how we were going to try and find somewhere to stay when the station manager said they had some motel rooms for EUR30 a night back at the station, so we left the van with the boys and went back to check the rooms. Fully expecting them to be dingy, tiny little things, they actually have 2 really large rooms, and one big studio, all looking really clean and relatively new. We picked the smallest one (which is still massive) then had a couple of beers downstairs to try and relax. We chatted to Endri (the manager) as best we could, and he told us how he’d been learning English for 4 years on his own without any schooling and he’d only been at this job for 4 days. He taught us a bit of history about the country, and told us it was quite hard to get work in Albania but because their earnings were so poor they couldn’t really go anywhere else. I think he and his colleagues were a bit surprised I was having a beer – Paul had noticed earlier in the day that we don’t see a lot of women out and about, then I recalled something from the Lonely Planet guide saying that whilst it is a safe country for women, it is men who tend to go out and drink at bars etc. Even Endri said that here men are still the boss while the women tend to hang back, and we all had a laugh when Paul explained that Australia was the same about 50 years ago, but now men are more or less, bossed about by their wives. It then made sense why one of the guys at the mechanic didn’t want his female friend to talk to Paul as well.

So we’ll go to bed after some ordered in pizza and hope that tomorrow the van will be not only still here, but also fixed so that we can continue ☺

It is morning! Paul has been and gone to check on the van, it’s all sorted… It’s ended up costing about EUR75 for the part and labour, which is no doubt more than they would have charged an Albanian, but a lot less than it would have cost in the UK or back home so we didn’t mind letting them keep the change. We’ve also just paid for the room for the night and gave Endri a tip and a big thank you for helping us out so much – we aren’t loaded and we don’t have a lot ourselves, but we’ve seen how hard it can be over here and to be able to help them in some small way when they’ve gone out of their way to help us is the least we can do.

Off to Greece now!

Posted by Mr n Mrs Awsme 03:46 Archived in Albania

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Well handled Guys :)

by Keith Ashdown

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