Going Where Even Fewer Venture
Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
108Trip End Oct 23, 2009
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Remember the cashier in Beograd who went bananas when I tried to buy one? I took that lesson to heart in Skopje and while buying a banana watched very closely to see how the label machine measures the weight to dispense a price. Of course after just one observation I felt ready for the big leagues and took the training wheels off in Ohrid. Feeling all smug that I figured out the banana code all on my own, I tapped it into the the machine that was 100% Cyrillic by the way
I just casually stepped aside and gave her one of those "who, me?" looks. Even unplugging the machine five times didn't reset the damage and I prayed they didn't have a you broke it, you buy it policy. Each time this Cyrillic wonder was plugged back in, it had to count down from ten and luckily not once did the clerk get upset. It must have been my American charm or something, right? Can you imagine crapping up a machine at WalMart? That is one 500 pound clerk I don't want to mess with. Five embarrassing minutes later I finally had my banana and a proper price label. You know what though...I can't even stand bananas back home, but for some reason I am craving them enough over here to put up with these shopping indignations. Weird, huh?
After asking around and getting different info, I determined that a bus left Struge, Macedonia at 11:30pm for Tirana and that I could take another bus from Ohrid to Struge and then somehow find where the bus to Albania leaves from
The taxi let us off right where the bus was to leave and had I taken the first bus by myself, I never would have found the bus stop hidden in some dark industrial complex not even close to town. When I say remote, all that was stirring were some stray dogs and crickets. This joint was down a side streep about a quarter mile from the main road.
One of the girls was from Croatia and could speak to a guard there and he said sometimes the Tirana bus stops, sometimes it doesn't. We would just have to wait and see. By 12:30 in the morning I was wondering if this was one of those nights where it just doesn't feel like making it down that side street. As luck would have it, this piece of crap rolled in and we were on our way in a diesel exhaust filled bus. I am actually glad the bus was a little later because that meant getting unceremoniously dropped off at 6am in Tirana rather than 4:30am.
Nothing beats arriving in a stange new land before sunrise and for a Sunday morning I was surprised that things began opening by 5am
Tirana has no official bus stations so buses come and go from wherever and asking around is the only way to find out where that elusive "wherever" is for that week. I decided to continue on to Shkodra to make my way in Montenegro rather than hang out in Tirana. Deep down I know I am doing myself a disservice by not scratching the surface here and jumping right in but a combination of an imminent downpour, some serious language barries and being exhausted have all taken their toll on my normal wanderlust. A lack of sleep makes rationalizing so easy and after walking around a while I decided to bid Tirana farewell.
I found the proverbial needle in a haystack on my fifth attempt asking if anyone spoke English and was pointed to a sidestreet where a bus was randomly idling with a sign for Shkodra in its window
With about 45 minutes to wait I trusted the busdriver that my items wouldn't be taken and set back off on foot to find some food. What luck...bureks and orange soda for cheap. I enjoyed my gooey cheese filled pastry as I took one last look at the surrounding neighborhood of buildings filled with satellite dishes and laundry hanging out to dry. Scarf clad gossipping women huddled in the streets selling bottles of milk, veggies, and even toilet paper. Well, I am guessing they were gossipping judging by the amount of laughter and animated hand gestures. The good times would abruptly come to an end when I walked by and I would just get a dozen pairs of eyes glued all over me. You have to understand that the former Dear Leader Hoxha oppressed this society for decades and effectively kept it cut off from the world so foreigners are really a foreign concept even today.
My bag was indeed safe for those 45 minutes and I settled into yet another busride. The bus driver's mix of folk music and American hip hop blended in and out of my head as I went back and forth between consciousness and hazy awareness of my surroundings. If those old folks on that bus only knew what was playing. As that Mercedes bus rolled on through the Albanian countryside we were treated to "Back that ass up and press it on me.
My destination of Shkodra is like a mini Tirana and a fascinating place to watch Albanian life unfold. It is a curious mix of old Mercedes sedans and horse drawn carts. I read somewhere that a lot of these Mercedes are actually stolen from Germany. So Helga from Berlin, if you are looking for your car still, direct the police down here. For such a poor country it just amazes me that 90% of the cars on the potholed streets were Benzes, illegally gained or not. Now that is how to be poor with some style.
Look past the odd blend of traffic and wooden sidewalk tables piled high with everything from toothpaste to red peppers sag in the dust and exhaust fumes. At the same time I was gawking at all things Albanians, these folks were staring at all things American. You would have thought that amidst their market stalls hawking all things tacky a martian had landed. I am more than happy to be a novelty for the locals and I can hear the conversations now. Honey...guess what I saw in town today...yeah...some American dude taking pictures.
I am going to press on to Podgorica, Montenegro at some point as I need to be back in Osijek in a few days to catch my six Euro Ryanair flight out
As for finally stepping foot in Albania...what can I say? It is somewhere I have been wanting to see for a long time and for a long time the dictator Enver Hoxha kept this small country closed off from me and the rest of the world. It is only recently that people have been able to start visiting this remote corner of the Adriatic. The road to and through Albania has been one of the most challenging of all my travels but one of the most rewarding as I proved to myself that I can somehow navigate through yet another place where Americans wouldn't dare soil the bottoms of their shoes.