Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Day 24 Albania to Montenegro

As you can see, we are whipping through the countries fairly quickly. That is because we only have 5 weeks, and we have a fairly great distance to cover. As we left the camp ground, we took a wrong turn (we weren’t following the GPS at this stage), and ended up on the very road we had turned back off the night before when trying to find the camping. We decided to give it a go, and bounced our way along through the potholes, round the rock slides, and dodging low branches and blackberry on the side of the road, only to find about 20 minutes into the trip that the road ended in a foot bridge, that one wheel let alone the whole camper was not going to fit onto!! So back we went to the start again, and set off in the opposite direction. Albania would be worth more exploring (but perhaps in a smaller vehicle). We were fairly close (about 35km) from the Albanian border, so drove to Skroder and went for a walk up the busy streets in search of a red Albanian tee shirt, which Richard wanted for a souvenir. We had spotted a few as we drove through, but as is usual, finding parking for a camper is a bit tricky in the towns, so we drove to the edge of town and walked back. That meant we got a close up look at the various horses, donkeys and carts lining the sides of the street waiting patiently for their owners to return. Some had had their bridles removed, and had been given some grass, or a nose bag to eat out of, but most were tied up to fences and lampposts. I was saddened to see the state of some of them. Most were rough, with ill fitting harness, but a few were also in very poor condition with big rubs from their harness, which was mostly made out of webbing and a bit of leather. I felt quite helpless to be able to do anything about it, as even though they are work animals, rather than pets, like ours, they still deserve to be cared for properly. It is quite unusual to see a horse and cart, then a tractor and trailer, then a late model Mercedes all parked along the roadside (about as unusual as them seeing our camper I imagine), but it is all the standard way of life in Albania at the present time.

When we got to the market streets, we managed to find one of the shops selling the tee shirts, and with much excitement about language difficulty, we managed (with the help of an English speaking passerby), to purchase the shirt. On our way back, we stopped off at the fruit and vege stall, and pointed and smiled until we had purchased a loaf of yummy fresh bread, some cucumbers, bananas and oranges.

On we drove, and Richard’s theory about governments building nice pieces of road either side of the border posts was blown out the window, as we came across some very bad potholes (both sides!) We spent the rest of our Leke (not exchangeable outside the country), on soft drinks and chocolate, then merrily crossed the borders into Montenegro. Again, nobody wanted to check our camper, but we had seen posters about food we should not take with us... most of which we had!

A few more potholes later, the roads, improved, and the houses looked a little more finished, again painted in cheerful colours, and we made our way to Lake Skadar which is a national park because of its amazing bird and fish life. At the edge of the lake, Richard wanted to get closer to the water to see if he could see turtles swimming there (apparently living in the lake). The kids were also mad keen to take a look. Sadly they found no turtles, but found SNAKES! Both water and land varieties. Well, by this stage all three of them were wildly excited. Richard tried to catch one with a stick, but it got away, and the big brown land snake slithered away before he could get the camera out! The next stop was on the same lake as there was a cache Richard particularly wanted to find – it was at a castle on the waters edge (Le.........), and apparently turtles are often spotted swimming in the lake there. After wandering through knee deep grass in the castle surrounds, the cache could not be located, nor the turtles, but.... there were MORE SNAKES! Talk about screaming – Sarah reckoned she nearly walked on it!!

When we pulled up at the parking spot, a guy came up to us, and offered free camping by his restaurant/hotel. We were staying in a small village called Virpazar (which means whirlpool), but we didn’t see one! He also had details about boat trips on the lake, which sounded like quite a good idea for us. We arrived at the restaurant, and are now parked up on a little causeway thing right by the lake. Not too unpleasant a place, and it is free, and seems reasonably safe, so we are not going to complain. When we arrived the guy came out and showed us where to park, then arranged the boat trip for us, which we were to pick up down the road a bit as it had already left the dock. We jumped in his car and rushed off down the road, to the “port”, which meant rushing down some steep concrete steps to a derelict building which happened to be locked. No matter, we could climb through a low window with all the glass smashed out of it, and climb through another boat to clamber onto the boat that was taking us on a tour of the lake???!!! Anyway, the boat trip was quite a pleasant experience – there was just the four of us, and four French/Canadians on the little wooden boat, and we puttered around admiring the birdlife. We saw large black cormorants nesting in the high trees, but sadly no pelicans (it is the wrong time of year for them). Apparently over half of Europe’s bird species can be found on this lake. It is just teeming with life. We were also about a week to early for the flowering of the giant lily pads and irises which would have been a spectacular sight on the lake. As we returned to shore, we noticed many large frogs swimming in the water, which the kids later tried to catch, but couldn’t.

Richard and I went and had a beer in the Pelican restaurant while the kids were frog hunting, which was nice andrelaxing. The beer was nice and cold (it had been a warm day), and the owner brought me a free bunch of herby flowers, which are now hanging in the camper, a little bag of herbs to brew up as tea (best we drink it before we cross another border as we are not too sure which “herbs” are actually in it), and some floured figs to eat while we were drinking our beer. We felt quite well looked after. No doubt they wish us to eat in their restaurant tonight, but we intend to just cook tea in our camper after eating out for the last two nights.

We have just closed the mosquito nets on the camper as we are quite sure there will be many mozzies around tonight, but it is too hot to close the windows yet. This place gets to 40 degrees Celsius in the shade in summer, and the lake can reach temperatures of 30 degrees – no wonder the snakes etc like it so much!!! Apparently it can rarely freeze over in the winter as well! There are meant to be 250 species of bird which visit, or live here – so I imagine in the summer it is a spectacular place for a birdwatcher to take a trip on the lake. For us it was a nice break from our long days driving. Quite a few trains seem to be going past us, so we hope they slow down for the night time, or we will be awake every ½ hour!