Blizzards, snow ploughs and potholes
Trip Start Nov 28, 2010
121Trip End Sep 29, 2011
We began to discuss contingencies
Once back in the van we followed our new directions and sure enough found our way to the edge of town on the correct road for Budva. We had decided to skip breakfast until we reached the bottom of the mountain and escaped the snow. It was still falling, always heavily, and we wanted to avoid any possibility of getting stranded. The man in the hotel had also conveyed to me an approximate distance to Budva of 25 kilometres and an assurance that there would be no snow there. Just as we left town we stopped to fill up the tank, and the man who filled our tank for us confirmed that Budva was snow-free and that in fact we would already be beyond the snow only five kilometers away. This gave us some relief, though it wasn’t totally clear how the climate could change that quickly. We drove on, still with snow falling but with plenty of other cars and some buses on the road with us
Five minutes later we saw some cars stopped ahead of us, so we slowed down until we could see if it was safe to pass them. It was an odd scene, with a couple of vehicles seemingly parked diagonally and a few others parked along the side of the road. As we got close we realised that some cars had become stuck as the road began to slope upwards. Their tires were spinning but they couldn’t make any forward progress. As soon as we realised this I sped up again, determined to get around them and not suffer the same fate. Our fancy tires made it around a couple of cars with ease and I made the mistake of starting to feel proud of our trusty little van and its shiny tires. The van suddenly began to lose a little grip as we tried to press forward. Then it lost a lot of grip. I knew what was about to happen and announced that we were about to get stuck. We made it a couple more yards but then the wheels lost all traction and spun pointlessly, as the rear of the van started to slide out to the side. I took my foot off the gas and allowed us to roll back a little before trying again. But it was hopeless. We rolled and reversed to the side of the road between several other contestants who had failed. I asked the driver of the delivery van in front of us what happened now
We didn’t have to wait long. Within a few minutes we noticed two snow ploughs making their way through the throng of stuck cars towards our position. The first was just ploughing, the second was ploughing and dropping grit behind it. We were able to pull out right behind them and try again on the now grittier road. There was a precarious moment where I wasn’t sure we would make it, but then we found enough grip to get past the spot that had defeated so many and we drove directly behind the ploughs. The uphill portion continued for a while, but driving directly on the newly-dropped grit we had no problems. Once over the crest of the mountain the ploughs pulled aside and for us it was plain sailing down to the bottom. The snow continued heavily for most of the way down so we took it very slowly, and as Budva became visible below us the snow turned into rain
After we set off again we actually ended up back in snow. The route we were on to the Albanian border began to take us back up a mountain and into some very ugly-looking weather. A quick look at the map showed us an alternative route through the capital of Montenegro and to a different border crossing, so we turned around and drove back down the mountain. The new route took us through snow as well, but on a larger and more travelled road and, by chance, we found ourselves behind another snow plough which we followed for quite some time, until the bad weather had abated.
Eventually the snow was behind us and we drove the rest of the way to Albania through rain. These last portions of Montenegro were not attractive. It is not a rich country and all its beauty is of the natural kind rather than anything man-made. Though it was the Garden of Eden compared to what was coming next
So back to the roads. We spent the first hour and a half driving at five miles an hour through the most diabolical roads we have ever encountered. Apparently the other border crossing, which the snow had blocked from us, would have led to much better roads. But not this one. A constant slalom between holes in an unpaved, muddy dirt track is what awaits new arrivals through this border crossing. Once we finally arrived at a paved road we soon saw for ourselves the other difficulty when driving in Albania. The drivers appear to have no fear of death whatsoever. We were constantly overtaken directly in front of oncoming traffic, or on blind bends, where I don’t understand how a collision could have been avoided had I not applied the brakes. And though the roads were now on the whole paved, this doesn’t mean they no longer had holes. The only difference now was that if we hit them we wouldn’t be going at five miles an hour and we would probably snap the van in two.
Happily we did not snap the van in two and a couple of hours later we arrived at our campsite, run by a Dutch couple and their three children who moved here a few years ago. I was greatly relieved to turn the engine off and contemplate all the different kinds of scary that the day’s driving had involved. Though in winter their restaurant is closed, that night the Dutch couple offered to cook us something anyway and we had a nice dinner in their little Albanian-styled dining room
We had decided to stay a second day, so we spent it at the campsite getting things done and relaxing a little. There was an intensely cold wind blowing during the day, so not much time was spent outside. The boys did play a little football though. That night the wind had really picked up and the sound of it blowing outside was eerie, as was the occasional shaking of the van. Which I assume was from the wind and not some crazed Albanian hill-dweller. Tomorrow we head for Macedonia where we will stay in a hotel for a couple of nights. I was unable to find a single open campsite and it is a country that does not look favourably upon wild camping. Plus we all felt like a nice hot shower and a warm bedroom.
(I should point out that we obviously have not been to any of the attractive sights Albania may have and should not dismiss it out of hand as a tourist destination. Apparently there is a nice lake somewhere up a mountain. Whether this is a mountain of trash is not clear. We didn't explore the southern half of the country or its lengthy Mediterranean coast and I don't imagine we'll be hurrying back any time soon. But it might be quite lovely.)