Friday, 18 May 2012

The ride through Albania

(Can't do pictures today -rubbish  but free internet connection. Will post asap)

Had a mad day today and saw some weird things. Rode down to Tirana. Left the hotel later than we'd planned but that seems to be the way it is everyday, but then this is not a race but a ride, so it doesn't matter. Two German bikers stayed at the same hotel last night, and we all met in the garage this morning. Nice guys, from Bavaria, and very amused by our trip.

There was bedlam outside the hotel. Everything and everybody everywhere but that is clearly just the way that town runs. The road was up, there were channels and holes in it but it was still in use and one woman was even riding her pedal cycle along a freshly dug trench. Maybe that was safer than the road. But nobody bats an eyelid at any of this; they just stare and point at us.

First weird thing I saw this morning was a giant fish, freshly caught, in a standard fish tank like you get at home. It was only about 10 cms longer than the actual fish and the poor thing was obviously temporarily housed there pending its execution.

The road to Tirana wasn't too bad but it rained quite a bit, probably because of the surrounding mountains. Passed a woman walking a cow on a lead, a dog sitting in the middle of the carriageway at a roundabout, a man with such a big load of freshly cut grass on the back of his motorcycle that it looked like a moving haystack, and a horse standing on the back of a flat bed truck, tethered only by a halter, and travelling at about 40mph. It didn't seem bothered though, and looked like it did that everyday.

Tirana was interesting. It was a free for all with the traffic, with people riding and driving wherever they wanted. My rear light, brake lights and right indicators stopped working so I fitted right in because nobody there uses them anyway.

Also noticed a very high number of British registered cars – but very local looking drivers. The vehicles also looked local and bore local stickers, so its probable that they had been pinched off the streets of the UK. Definitely not bona fide imports!

A cool Albanian word is " shitet " which despite what is sounds like, is actually Albanian for  "sale" or " for sale" etc. But it also serves as a good indicator of some of the stuff we saw.

Spent the afternoon riding in the mountains, literally with our heads in the clouds. Many hairpins, mad drivers and worrying gaps in the barriers where somebody had taken a shortcut to the bottom, and then zero visiblity due to cloud at the top. But the locals were still flying along on the wrong side of the road and high speed, and local vendors kept stepping out of the murk at the approach of engines to try and flog us all sorts. It was a bit like one of those old fashioned ghost trains; go round a corner and dodge the scary thing that suddenly jumps out.

Later on we rode as far as Podrodec an stopped on the lake opposite Macedonia. It is very cold and blustery here because the wind is coming off the Macedonian mountains, and blowing icy wind all the way across the lake. But we've got a nice hotel right on the shore – 30 Euros for both of us with breakfast included. Can't grumble at that price and I think we are the only guests.

To get here, we again had to ride through hills on roads that had masses of diesel spilled on it. Not good anyway, but especially in the wet, as Nadine found out. A bit of fishtailing and a front wheel slide but she stayed rubberside down so that was OK. But both of us are grateful for the recent rough off road experience we had across Africa.

The towns on the way here are surprising too. Lots of what look like brick works line the road but most seem to be derelict. Not sure why but there doesn't seem to be much work about. There is some farming activity but they've clearly had better days here and many bars and restaurants have closed down and are now derelict. Shame because there is clearly a thriving local population.

Through this bit of Albania, there are many small round topped concrete bunkers. Apparently, former dictator Enver Hoxha was a bit on the paranoid side, and ordered the construction of 750000 bunkers, or one to everyy four Albanians. They dot the landscape, now in varying stages of disrepair. Not sure how useful they would hav been though, given the four minute warning and the fact that it takes bloody ages to get anywhere in Albania.

As for the bikes, mine now needs a clutch fixing session, the rear lights sorting and the brakes tightening. Nadine's is fine, although hers does run a bit rich and tends to run out quicker than mine. Think we'll do that first thing as we leave here this morning.

Useless snippet of information just added by Nadine – Albanian has 27 words for moustache and 27 for eyebrows. I am so glad we found that out.