Friday, 16 July 2010

80k BaKiN uP aLBaniA MNtnS dEn RoLL iN2 MaKedoNia

Macedonia, Ohrid.

Faithless, maybe Tricky playing in the background. Sitting on the patio of a café on the shores of the lake, sipping a cold ckoπcko, the only thing that works to quench the endless thirst of these to(h)rrid days.

It was a hard push out of Albania and an easy slip into Macedonia, although that particular day ended at sunrise. The border as usual was on a mountain, but this time we pedalled all the way to the pass without stopping once, our legs getting stronger and stronger, our lungs now able to swallow this chastising heat in one big gulp.

At the foot of the mountain on the Albanian side there were dozens of little places offering lavazh, car wash. These are generally manned by 6-14 years old who advertise their services with hoses spraying a constant stream of water up in the air and onto the road. It looked surprising when viewed alongside the little sign we had found next to the shower in the Tirana hostel which suggested to be parsimonious with water as there is a drought throughout Albania. Cycling by we are bombarded by an onslaught of “çiklist” and “whereyoufrom”. The answers don't seem to be so important. Isla gets whistles and “wantsex”, but I often wonder whether some of these kids even know what they are talking about they are so young. Really it just sounds like a taunt.

Albania was tough, witnessing poverty is never easy, but at the same time it was great to work against the prejudice that Albanians seem to be tainted by. People were friendlier here than in any other place we crossed and everywhere we were met with a smile. In Tirana we also had the best meal out to date. In a small tavern of simple but graceful décor we tasted many traditional Albanian dishes. The cook had gathered many recipes from the mountain villages around the capital and turned them into a flavourous but unfussy selection. Vegetarians can live quite happily around here. The bread was freshly baked and warm, the stuffed peppers with goat's cheese (stuff paper wiv cheees) delicious, the vegetable pie (akindofpie wiv spinach an cheees) toothsome and the honey and nuts dessert brick saturated with syrupy yumminess.

Either way late for lunch or ridiculously early for dinner we were the only people in the place. The room was dimly lit, with long braids of garlic hanging from the dark wooden counter. We sat at a low circular table, the cushions on the long benches decorated with the same traditional weave as the tapestries hanging from the walls. Linear patterns of red and black on white backgrounds among the sepia of photos of old folk and youngsters posing in front of their houses in remote little villages long lost in the Balkans.

We had reached the capital in the early afternoon and checked into a lovely hostel run by Claas and Lira, two great host(ellier)s. If anybody feels inclined to visit Tirana, the left-of-centre Hostel Albania is a definite recommendation. Isla and I had a real strong urge to have a break, explore and meet some people on a slightly deeper basis than the usually utterly practical exchange of “can I have” and “thank you, goodbye”, but our Turkey deadline was looming and we could not afford to lunch out too many days. I wonder for how long the need for movement will stay stronger than the desire to stay, as the pangs for stillness and the chance to socialize are getting stronger (Note from the Future: 2 ½ weeks later in Istanbul we had to stop and spend 8 instead of the planned 2 days resting, partying and meeting people).

The Albanian capital is bustly, chaotic and fervent with activity. In fact it is in such ferment it feels like swimming in a huge vat of kefir, maybe kombucha. We watched the sun set behind the city from the sky tower, while very slowly sipping two extremely expensive beers (6€ each in a country where the average daily wage is 14€). When we entered the sky tower the chap at the ground floor reception even invented and tried to extract a 6€ tax for the privilege of taking photos from the terrace. We smiled, declined and declared that of course we were not going to take any photo.. here they are.

After sundown we walked around the nightlife neighbourhood Blloku. We looked at groups of friends hanging around and drinking together, totally made up girls tottering in miniskirts and high heels, huge hummers and suped up übercars driven by gangstarish wideboys in the midst of street moneychangers waving about thick wadges of cash, beggars, contraband cigarette sellers and offers of exhaust covered corn-on-the-cob roasted on tin coal braziers low to the ground.

We would have liked to find a party but without an 'in' from somebody and no interest in going clubbing we returned to the hostel just after 10. Our chance to shake a leg on the other hand did not take too long to arrive. In fact a few days later, after a long slog up and down barren mountains on dusty Albanian roads we coasted into wooded Macedonia and straight into a great big technival. The air on this side of the border felt fresher already and, even having liked Albania, we breathed a sight of relief at leaving it.

P.S. Sorry about the lack of photos. Turkey, where we now are and from where we are trying to update does not like google. Hence Picasa (as well as many other google services) is throttled to death. This has caused us quite a lot of annoyance and inconvenience, but we are unable to do anything about it. Maybe I'll look into a Linux uploader for Flickr..

P.S. Update. Well, on and off Picasa and google services seem to work.. Can't stand how dependent we are from the ****ers, but they're just.. soo, mmh not evil?!?

1 comment:

kat said...

hello lovelies, I'm enjoying reading your adventures and my tummy is rumbling at the thought of those delish dinners! I long to drink a cold beer in a hot country (something I picked up in spain the last time!) so make the most of every sip!
we just went camping for karns birthday, Tess found a flippin fantastic farmer who lets you hire a whole field to yourselves, despite a few rain showers we had a bloody lovely time, only you two were missing! put some picis on facebook if you have enough internet time...!/album.php?aid=198679&id=714165142
we'll have to make it a regular occurance - perfect flat land (ignoring the cow pats) near the river for playing in, only 30 mins away, our own little bit of countryside, hooray!
other news is s and p are expecting! we still haven't sold our flat so keep your fingers crossed and fifi book is coming out v.soon.
big love

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