Bummm! The light went off and one could not see anything - no gas station, where I sat checking maps, or a sizeable hotel right next to it and its modern restaurant with a rather wealthy male customers. Cars as if nothing had happened rolled down the main road leading 30 to Tirana, The road that according to Murphy's law from a wide, equal and rather empty changed late in the day into a narrow and bumpy, which does not help obviously when you are riding a bicycle, not to mention doing it after dark. After a few minutes, the howling of a powerful generator heralded the return of a brighter reality and life revived.
In fact, it just still went on as usual. Generally after dark in Albania little can be seen, because here the state street lighting hardly exists and homes are powered by their own generators, What, I have an impression does not prevent people to function normally.
Welcome to the Albanian darkness actually was a day before, when (I entered the country) and crossed the border just before dark. Houses in Albania are often surrounded by high walls, protected by fence and closed gates, which reminded me of similar pictures from Kosovo, where I was a few years ago. After my not-so-pleasant accommodation adventure a few days earlier in Montenegro I promised myself, the more often I'll knock on people's doors to put my tent in the garden, But these locked gates did not give the possibility to ask for it. Hmmm.
I rolled through probably already third village, when suddenly - yes, here it comes, Catholic Church! Full of people, mostly as I see children and youth, nuns, the priest – it is Sunday, saint mass inside. I did not expect to find a Catholic church, but as it turned out, my mind is still full of stereotypes - Albania means Muslims. Yes - three-quarters of the people are Muslims, but it is mainly in the hinterland, in the mountains. Coming then along the Albanian coast I have seen almost exclusively Catholic or Greek Orthodox churches. After all, Mother Teresa was Albanian.
Sister, could you help me with accommodation? I do not see any possibility to rent a room, and it is already dark, I'm afraid to go a little further. to Shkoder, (which is the nearest town) it is still like 10 km.
When, the young nun talked with another one I was surrounded by a herd of children and youth, that ran out of the church after the mass pressing against me and my bike. Touched everything, see, ask. supposedly harmless behaviour, but I was getting anxieous.
You will spend a night at our place, in Shkoder. We will go slowly by car, and you will follow us, OKe?
Although it did not solund good to go in the darkness I accepted this offer with relief and gratitude I was also pleased, to discover that the nun like that and as it turned out, most people on the Albanian coast speak a little bit of Italian. As I later told Italian is also being thought at schools and apart from the only Albanian TV channels ose time ago one could also see Italian ones.
Finally we agreed, that I would go at my own pace and we will meet at the church at the entrance to the city.
Do you have money? There is a cheap hotel nearby, costs only 10 EURO. You know, We can not wait for you forever, We have our responsibilities and we live on the other side of the city (p)said the nun, when we met at the appointed place already in the town.
Yep, yes, I have.. well. I understand. Goodbye. Uhm.
I went off maybe 10 meters and simply cried out. In fact, it is difficult to determine why - I was already in the illuminated city, finding accommodation was not a problem, the situation was not a difficult one, there had been worse ones. I guess I felt like just a little sad and disappointed.
I feel, that someone takes me by the arm. The nun returned. Apologizes. Again apologizes. Asks me to go, We spend the evening together, After all, everyone makes mistakes. I do not want to go there, now I absolutely do not want, but as well I do not want to soun d offended so OK. Give me an address, I'll find you.
When I get there I see more nuns, including perhaps the most important one.
Where are you going, What are you doing here? What's the name of your project? It is not a project?, really? It is impossible, everyone has a purpose, there must be a purpose and goal, So what's your project? Where do you take money from? We help those in need, the poor, but as someone like that coming.. And I have heard you cried. You was handling your travel for such a long time , and suddenly - tears?
No need to be a master of psychology, to know, that emotions are born for a reason and we do not really have an influence on them. They appear because of something. We do not always know right away why, sometimes you have to dig in yourself long and it is still hard to figure out. Happy? sad? Let's not undermine someone's feelings and emotions. Yep, I'm a big girl and I started crying, Not a shame after all.
But it is somewhat true about help. I think about it long at night, the question comes back to me - had I crossed the border somewhere, overused people's help and hospitality is not abuse - especially as far as the church is concerned, Although for a few months "I knocked at its door maybe twice. That the church is not a hotel, that no one has an obligation to help me, because otherwise half of the travelers would just go there.
I am accommodated in ambulatory room and locked. It's a warm shower there and a comfortable bed and even heating, Get enough sleep. In the morning the nuns are completely different, Open, joyful, the shadow of suspicion disappeared somewhere .
I'm sorry very much for yesterday- the superior nun said in the morning. You know, Now the world is so dangerous, particularly Albania. You know, We do not know who you are, It is very unusual here, such a journey, have you heard of these terrible bombings in Paris, we are scared. Once again - apologies, do not thinnk bad of us. Take care of yourself, last year in the mountains killed two poeple on bikes .(?!?)
I was relieved to accept this explanation, but listening once again a dangerous Albania somehow does not affect positively on my moreale at the beginning of my journey through the country.
After leaving the gas station I got to the small gueshouse. Price from 25 EUR drops to 15 What also I accept with a heavy heart, but again sometime, ok. ok. The bike already inserted into the cell, we go to the rooms. A little depressing look they have. In one TV is not working (what I would have done without that one channel?), Here the heating, Finally, there is one room - everything works. At the last moment I check the bathroom. So, There is no hot water? In general, there is no water? And that's all to me, thanks. I return to the darkness again. But another time, I take the room when everything is new and clean. Lottery.
I chose the coastal road on purpose, simply because it is warmer by the sea. But the first few days the road is leading pretty away from the coast, wetlands. Flat - good for a while. But however here with conjunction with the casualness of the environment - junk everywhere oes not cause positive feelings.
I realize, that it must be an effect of the past and the disastrous state of the economy in the country and the fact, that there are no resources for such activities as street cleaning, but somehow apparently already I lost tolerance for chaos and disorder. Albania is for me European Asia - where Asian is obviously a big generalization. The fish sold directly from the pavement on the main street. Chicken carried by tightened legs, hanging on both sides of the motorbikes. The landscape haunted by concrete structures, partly built houses, as if someone had given money or exempted from taxes only pouring concrete foundations and to finish there was no money. This may also aftermath of the end of the 90s, when the financial pyramid ruined again rising after Edgar Hodza rule . This latter one I recall not fondly from time to time when passing seeing scaring the landscape bunkers. What psychological or other dependencies rule the world, that nation surrenders to the silly will of one man and spends billions on these unnecessary concrete structures while people are starving? Large coastal cities, such as. Vlora, where you see a hotel at the hotel, brand new, and just under balconies no man's land, dirt, mud, sand, garbage. And this "beach" which is a misconception mud. But - apparently beaches is being organized now, maybe it will be better.
After leaving the hotel I had towards the airport - it looks like, I might be able to sleep there. And suddenly from the depths of darkness emerges a lighted by own generator (I hear it) hotel 4 star and by its side . camping. Let's add- open – camping! After entering sweeps me even greater amazement, when I see two tents and four bikes there. For the first time since he set off in September I see open camping and the first time you meet on your way bike travellers.
This trio of young French and Spanish, who met on the way and some time go together - like I did go towards the sun. It is niced to chat that night, oh nice.. but the trial of going togehter for a day does not work for me at least. This one wants to go to the Bank, the other one to pee, now shopping, then again shopping.. I also surely want something.. „Not for Speed”, which I consider to be its motto take on another dimension. One can be slower than me! We spend more time the following night and my new friends amaze me by cooking a multi-course dinner and giving a concert of guitar-flete-accordion. They play beautifully and as it turns out gave a street concerts in every major cities including supporting its travel budget, although this idea came to their mind when they started traveling.
More and more I see ideas to support your traveler's budget. Two weeks ago I met a couple in Montenegro, who stood on the main square Kotor, place as much beautiful as touristy and their bikes were full of their travel photos-postcards. They sold them for donations, and as it turns out there was a lot of people interested not so much in buying postcards at the aid of their budget. Interesting idea.
The road along the coast begins to writhe, climb, fall, However, rise more than fall ... is it just me? climb to 300 m, down to sea level, then again 500 and again 300 Downhill. and so all the time. It seems to me, that they produced these 10%v signs 10% and according to them they built roads. Yep, surely it had to be this way! I do not see other signs as 10%. It is beautiful here, but. I can not push anymore, people, I can not even push! Distance 25-35 km a day is the last standard. At this pace I will not get to Athens even for Easter.
In the end is coming - pass Llogara. Clim to the 1000 m n.p.m. it takes me more than a day. In the sun I wore sandals, in the shadow it is icy. My ambition is to make the climb in one day to find accommodation at the seaside on the other side of the mountain. I push the remnants of forces and one hour before dark I have yet like 3-4 km to the top. It might work, cold as hell here.. When I stand for a moment to breathe a teenager comes to me.
Can I help you? asks. You may want to sleep here, there is such a nice place over there, to the top yet 7 km! For free, for free! he adds. He is very nice, speaks good English well, and these 7 km steep push to the Summit is quite convinced me. I put up my tent by the road, near a few houses, We put bonfire, talk.
It is hard in Albania. my father is dead. I go to school 20 km, but I cannot fford a ticket. In exchange for the chassis of a bus I work for driver on weekends – Grazing sheep. Look - he shows the seam on his hand. Broken, there was one German here he gave me 200 EUR for surgery. We do not have anything for free. that's, and now the tooth, look -trying to show me something in the depths of the mouth although I do not want to look there. Do not believe me, I see, you do not believe, but so it is!
I feel bad. For sure I have a lot more than him, but at the sametime now my money nearly finished. In the morning, when leaving and pasing by their house I see a woman, his mother probably and she shows me with international gesture of rubbing two fingers saying for clarity, the words "money" .
No, "No money" I answer and I see her face contorted in a grimace. Then goes away and grumbles angrily "no money, no money”! Yep, I was if he is still thinking about it, to leave something for the guy but the more grumbles, the more I feel angry because I did not even sleep in their yard just along the, road, I took nothing from them and I do not know whether this whole story of the boy was true to be honest, or not, but probably yes, but somehow I find it hard to like all this twig.
In Sarande, large tourist village just before the border with Greece I find a hostel, I leave my things and for a change I'm going by bus to the mountain village of Gjirokastra. Stone, pinned to the slopes of the mountain town of Ottoman architecture convince me, that heart and charm of Albania lies in the mountains. Maybe one day I get there.