Saturday, July 14, 2012

A lot to say about Albania

We’d heard a lot of stories about Albania (positive and negative), but you can never really know what it will be like until you see it for yourself…

Assumption: The roads are in terrible condition. (One Albanian blog post from other bicycle tourists was titled “Never Again” for a 60km stretch of steep gravel road).
Reality: Crossing the border from Montenegro, the road went from smooth tarmac to rough gravel, and we mentally prepared for days of tough riding. But it turned out that this small section of gravel was one of the last sections of new road that was still under construction. We sailed along into Shkodra on fresh tarmac wide enough for four lanes of traffic, and we’ve continued across the country on similar newly-finished asphalt.

Glorious smooth tarmac

Assumption: Albanians are reckless drivers. (One round-the-world cyclist described them as the worst in the world. A driver actually got out of his car and punched the cyclist for being in the way).
Reality: We have never felt unsafe about the cars and trucks passing us. We have stayed off the highways, so traffic has been pretty light and everyone gives us wide clearance or slows down if necessary. We were told that a recent law means that the car is at fault in any collision with a bicycle, but whatever the reason, drivers are as courteous here as anywhere.

We don't have many photos of cars passing us(we actually weren't passed by many cars, since the back roads are so deserted).

Assumption: Albanians are all very friendly and hospitable.
Reality: This was confirmed to us the moment we crossed the border and struck up a long conversation with a friendly cab driver, who offered lots of advice and told us to call him day-or-night if we had any problems or questions. All along the way, we have met very friendly people, who seem genuinely interested that we enjoy ourselves in Albania. Unfortunately, a bad experience can overshadow all this. While stopped for a meal, a couple teenagers approached us, smiling and checking out our bikes. They seemed friendly, but when we turned our backs for a moment, they stole one of our panniers and disappeared. This shook us up pretty badly, but we kept trying to tell ourselves that these were just some stupid kids.

Assumption: We would never see our pannier again. (All the Dude ever wanted was his bag back).
Reality: Arriving at the next big city, we went to the police station to report the theft. We had little expectation that they could help, but we wanted to at least record the incident (“Are you going to find these guys, or, you know, I mean, do you guys have any promising leads?” we’d ask. The cops would laugh and sarcastically say “Leads? Let me just call down to the crime lab. They got four more detectives working the case. They got us working in shifts. Leads!”)

The local police station
To our surprise, within one minute of explaining the situation to the desk clerk, via a translator, the chief of police rushed out, jumped in his car and escorted us at high speed back to the “crime scene.” We were eventually joined by 6 other police officers and the local baker came along as translator. We re-enacted what had happened, and several policemen headed out to investigate. We were taken back to the city, where the police chief took us out for coffee and bought us lunch. 

Lunch inside the police station (courtesy of the police chief)

Returning to the police station, we were informed that the police had apprehended the two thieves and retrieved our missing bag! It took a couple more hours to fill in the necessary paperwork and make an ID (they took us into a small room with the boys and asked “is this them?”) but the cops went out of their way to make sure we were having a good time.

 We left the police station, with our pannier in hand, and a renewed appreciation for the kindness of Albanians!

1 comment:

Andy said...

Did you find the Creedence tapes? ;)

I have been following your blog on and off for a couple of months now and your trip appears to have been going very well! We can't wait until you return to Canada.