Today is the day we’ve been waiting for……after a quick ferry ride from Corfu back to mainland Greece, it was only a few hours’ drive weaving around rocky mountains until we came to another border crossing. We were leaving the green hills, small quaint villages and picturesque views of Greece and padlocking our bags, packing away our passports and hiding our wallets as we crossed into Albania. You might think it sounds over the top but ask yourself what do you think of when you hear the country Albania mentioned. All we had heard were horror stories of a whole country stuck in a time warp after decades of being shut off from the outside world. Stories of communist propaganda, goats getting slaughtered in the streets, gypsies clinging onto the bottoms of buses at boarders and all sorts of seedy men. If you have seen the movie ‘Taken’ then you will know there is the whole human sex traffic thing going on as well. Therefore it was with apprehension and also excitement that we drove through the border and made our way through this eye opening country.
After all the stories we had heard we weren’t too sure what to expect or think, but what we found in reality in Albania is this. Almost as soon as we crossed the border the landscape changed from rolling hills covered in green vegetation to a baron wasteland. Every direction we looked in the countryside was scattered with concrete bunkers, they are everywhere with over 600,000 in total, just a gentle reminder of the paranoid communist period which once dominated this country. We didn’t actually see any goats being slaughtered but we passed countless roadside butchers where the killed goats hung and we did also see a few being skinned with the carcasses left out in the in the sun for the benefit of the country’s population of flies. (Note to self don’t eat goat or in fact any meat whilst in Albania). One butcher we passed had two cows one under a covered shelter already killed, skinned and being diced with the second tied up out the front enjoying its last supper of straw. Patiently waiting its turn it was oblivious to what was going on. To say the country is stuck in a time warp is very accurate, donkeys outnumber the cars on the road. There aren’t many supermarkets as everyone grows and kills their own food. There isn’t a brand name clothing store in site as everyone looks to shop at the same op shop and wear the same thing. Fashion hasn’t reached Albania yet.
They must have strange beliefs and superstitions as pretty much every building is under construction and to ward off evil spirits during a build they hang a stuffed toy from a noose on the front of the house, shop, hospital or petrol station. Note to self don’t bring stuffed toys to Albania; it’s not safe for them. Green Peace and just about any wildlife or ecological foundation would have a field day in Albania and we guess it is only a matter of time until they do. We passed many a goat or sheep herder (shepherd) and they would have in one hand a whip and in the other a big stick, the term cruelty to animals has yet to be introduced in Albania. Being cut off by the iron curtain as they were, they found and drilled their own oil to refine for their own use. Since the curtain has been raised they no longer need to mine their own oil but no need to stop the drill and clean it up, it has just about flooded an area the size of the MCG and continues to trickle out and into the nearby river. The river in question flows for hundreds of kilometers through the centre of the capital Tirana (note to self don’t swim in Albania, don’t drink water in Albania and basically stay away from anything that would have had contact with water in Albania).
In the capital city of Tirana where we stayed the night that is if you can call it a city was where we had a brief but unforgettable chance to wander around the streets just to check it out. To say we felt like aliens is an understatement. They (the Albanians) just couldn’t understand why we were there. We saw the local boot polishes in the main street and business was booming. The few sets of traffic lights were only mere suggestions. Public toilets haven’t made it to Tirana yet but that doesn’t stop people from going to the toilet in public. We are not sure if they know what cameras are for or if they believe they will capture their soul? Who knows? What we do know is that they really don’t like having their picture taken. There were more than a few locals that shouted at us, turned away or lunged at us. Probably shouldn’t have been pointing our massive Canon SLR in their faces. Note to self be discrete when taking photos in Albania.
When we finally arrived in our accommodation in Tirana it was almost 10pm, and we had spent almost 10 hours on the bus, gotten lost (don’t ask), found ourselves climbing and descending the windy mountain roads in pitch black dark, listening to our guide who had become delirious from cabin fever. He advised that the tour was just a front and we were all to message our loved ones and say our goodbyes as he was taking us to his friends’ place where they would proceed to cut us up and sell our organs on the black market. Funny? I don’t think so, not when we are in no man’s land, in the strangest country in Europe and it is so dark you can’t see out the windows, Wanker! Needless to say we all had a few stern words with him when we were safely checked into our rooms and had downed a few overdue drinks.
All we could do was look on the brightside; we would wake up (hopefully) and in the morning be on our way to a new beautiful place, which is exactly what happened. After all Albania wasn’t that bad.