Sunday, April 25, 2010

Day 22 Greece to Albania

From our campsite, we had an early start, as we estimated about 6 hours of driving to get to our destination in Albania. It was about an hour’s drive to the border, which was in the middle of nowhere up in the hills. On the way, up in the forest, Richard and I are quite sure we saw a wolf on the side of the road eating roadkill... well it could have been a dog, but it didn’t look like any dog we had seen in Greece, and it definitely looked like a wolf to us (the fact that I think wolves are nocturnal has nothing to do with our siting of course)! First we had to exit Greece, which was a slow affair, and a bit of confusion over which piece of documentation we had that actually said we were authorised to drive in Greece. Finally we located what they wanted, and were allowed to cross into no-man’s land before entry into Albania. There were no problems there, but we were disappointed in the very average looking stamp in our passports. As with other places, there seems to be interest in the kids brand new passports, which look quite different to Richard’s and my older variety. They now have a chip inside them, a silver fern on the front, and coloured pages showing all sorts of bits of NZ history.

We didn’t quite know what to expect from Albania, but Richard had read about lots of concrete bunkers everywhere, and that was the first thing we saw once we had crossed the border. They are dome shaped, and made of concrete, and stick out of the ground about a metre. They have a rectangle shaped viewing window on one side, and entry on the other. They must go under the ground a bit. They are sprinkled everywhere, on the flat, on the hills and along the coast. I guess it would cost more to remove them than to leave them where they lie.

The next thing we noticed was all the little sheep/goat herds, which had little enclosures for night time. There were no fences, so whenever they were out, they had a herds person with them. We saw them on the sides of mountains, on the side of the road, in flat pastures.... just wherever there was a bite of grass basically. Their enclosures often seemed to be covered in plastic that looked like baylage wrap (recycled maybe???) There were also lots of donkeys and mules, and a few horses. They all looked like beasts of burden, working hard to earn their living by either carrying the herdsman, carrying loads, or pulling carts, often heavily laden with grass, which was being harvested with a scythe, and loaded by hand onto the cart piled high behind the little donkeys. There were also a number of cows, but mostly not in herds, just one or two, also being tended, or tied up by their horns.

Once we had gotten over being excited by the livestock, it was time to concentrate on the roads. Richard commented early in the piece that the road was really good... that lasted for about 1 hour, until we came to the first town! Potholes are the norm, with quite severe drop off on the sides of the road. The drivers here are not the best, and seem to pass at every opportunity, and come hurtling down the centre of the road with little regard for speed limits or even traffic lights. We are guessing that the towns look after their own roads, while the government looks after the national roads (which seemed to be in a better state). On the mountain roads, there were many slips, and as long as one side of the road was clear, they just seemed to mark it off with rocks round the bottom and leave it there, rather than clear it away quickly. The views were spectacular, as we had some massive climbs above the coastline. At one point, we wanted to get to the local beach, and investigate whether the camping was open. It was listed as a dirt road. I did try to convince Richard that campers aren’t designed to go down these sorts of roads, but no, we went anyway. It was like a dirt/sand track, with large potholes and overhanging trees, quite steep in places, and many parts only suitable for one vehicle, not two side by side. At one point ¾ of the way down, a house had been built ON the road, so the road had been re-routed through a couple of trees, and up over a few bumps, back onto the track again. After much complaining (by me who was driving), we made it to the beach. The beach itself was stunningly beautiful, with brilliant blue water and a stony beach, with nobody for miles. There was a lot of building going on, and the campsite was located, but we couldn’t get the camper to it due to major potholes and mud on the road. So.... it was drive back up the dirt road, round the new house, avoiding trees and potholes (and other cars), until we made it back to the sealed road again. One of the roads we went on was quite well maintained, but literally climbed up the side of an enormous mountain by zigging and zagging in hairy hairpins, which was mostly OK if I didn’t look over the side (I was driving again), but when a truck came the other way it was downright terrifying! Anyway, we made it up in one piece, thankfully, and stopped to enjoy the view from the top. It was many more hours before we finally reached our proposed camping spot, which is out the back of a hotel, amongst pine trees, with a tiny little building housing a squat toilet, outdoor shower (with no surrounds), and a place to plug our power in. At only 12 Euro I guess it will do for the night. On the way we stopped in Vlore (a biggish town), to use the money machine and get some Leke – we think 1 Euro is worth about 100 Leke (well, that is what we are guessing, and I hope we are right, as you cant change Leke outside of Albania.)

We ate dinner tonight at the restaurant where we are staying. The menu meant pretty much nothing to us, but with the help of the waiter, we managed to order... wait for it.... steak, chips and salad!! (Oh and a local beer each!) We all really enjoyed it, as we haven’t had real meat (barring salami and sausages) since we left NZ (except Sarah of course, who still enjoyed the chips and salad).

There is a lot of building going on in Albania – houses, roads (though you wouldn’t think it), etc, and the locals must have seen so much change over the last 15 years. However, to us, it is quite a different place to experience. There are piles of rubble everywhere – meaning rocks, as it is a very rocky place, and nothing looks properly finished. Houses often have one floor built, with columns up and metal reinforcement for the next floor, but look like they have been like that for years (just in case they want to add another floor at some stage I guess). Most have stairways going up the outside at one or both ends. There are also piles of rubbish. Not all over the place, but piled up, and often up mountain roads, you would find piles of rubbish that looked like many dump trucks worth, just tipped over the side of the hill.