Now we are on our way to ALBANIA! Wow we never thought we would say that when we were kids. We needed to make a stop to stock up on supplies for the ferry. The boat leaves at 10 pm, but the check in closes at 7 (actually 9, but on line it says 7). We arrived at 615 to Bari. You just follow the signs to the port and you follow then about 2 km past where the boats are docked. Finally there is the port entry. Here you follow the signs to check in. It is a bit unclear, but first you make a left to the actual ferry company check in. Here you get your tickets for you, you bike, security, and your cabin.
From here you are directed to the security check.
Next you are let into the boat area, which is back the 2km on the inside road. Here there is a further ticket and passport check.
You are then directed to the loading area and ushered on board. As usual we are up on the second deck. Here there are friendly Filipino crew members getting the vehicles parked. The bikes are tucked under a ramp. The cars and trucks must back into the ferry.
We grabbed our supplies and made for a cold drink and a shower! It was a bit of a rough nice and not because of the sea. The vibration of the ferry was strong, but we did not sleep much since the frequency kept changing so much it would wake you.
We were up and out of the cabin at 7 and we could see the port of Durres. The offloading was quick. Once you unload you head to the police check. Here they want your passport, title, and green card and you get a passport stamp. This was very quick.
From here we were waved thru the next gate and then waved into the area to by Albanian insurance (15 E each for 2 weeks).
Then we were fancy free in country 46 Albania. There is certainly no shortage of gas stations (and car washes) here and at least unlike Italy all have a very similar gas price (1.10 -1.15 E). We stopped for a coffee and cold drinks at a cafe and again for a much more reasonable price. The plan today was to get up to the north part of the country to ride in the mountains. We hoped to ride as far as the loop to Kolsh, but had a back up on the SH30 thru Gojan if time ran out. Since we were off the ferry and out of customs by 805 we will likely have time. The gas attendant spoke English perfectly.
Another great change here from Italy is the drivers here follow the rules of the road and drive like normal people!! They are very courteous. We booked it up the highway and then took the secondary roads. We came across a few small towns and lots of people in the fields. All were friendly and lots waved and yelled out Hello!
We took a small off road detour to see this mosque we could see in the distance.
Dan did a little mountain climbing with his Anakee 3!
We stopped at the turn off of the SH 30 to decide if we should continue on the longer loop or take the cut off to Rubik (73 vs 133 km) . Several locals stopped to tell us to keep going and not turn off on the way they we going on the SH30. They all seemed very concerned we follow their advice. Since it was so early is the day we followed it.
This took us up again into the hills and then along several valley.
The hotel we had booked was in the middle of no where up a small road off of the SH 30 and along side a creek.
From here we were headed south to Berat, but decided on an off road route. We are well aware of the risk of an off road route in Albania, where the conditions of the roads can be very bad, but the plan was about a 20 km stretch or so we thought. The first part to Klos is paved as is the first 2 km up the “20 km” side road.
It is then unpaved and much of the time un road like. It was a challenging 8 hours to finally get back to the pavement. As usual as the road got worse, we got more tired, and the stress level increased the photo taking was abandoned. You can see how close together the every 15 min SPOT dots are at times. So here are some pics of the easy bits.
The initial part was up over a mountain pass and then down across a bridge into a small village. We met this herdsman who actually spoke English very well.
We stopped for a drink in the “restaurant “ in Xiber murriza and headed out again. And looking back now we had mad a turn somewhere off the main road. How we are not sure, but after here is where the route got really tough at times and mostly donkey track.
In the base of several of the valleys the route was more like a river bed and there were a number of water crossings.
There were some pretty steep and rocky up and downs and a lot of switch backs.
This is the only other vehicle we saw and this is 5 hours in.
These bunkers are located all over Albania. There is a great article done by Merlin and Rebecca
“Over 700,000 bunkers in Albania were constructed during the nearly forty-year rule of Enver Hoxha – one for every four inhabitants. The bunkers are still a ubiquitous sight in Albania, with an average of 24 bunkers for every square kilometer of the country.
Hoxha’s programme of “bunkerisation” resulted in the construction of bunkers in every corner of the then People’s Socialist Republic of Albania, ranging from mountain passes to city streets. They had little military value and were never used for their intended purpose during the years of Communist rule (1945–1990). The cost of constructing them was a drain on Albania’s resources, diverting them away from more pressing needs, such as dealing with the country’s housing shortage and poor roads.
The bunkers were abandoned following the collapse of communism in 1990. Most are now derelict, though some have been reused for a variety of purposes including residential accommodation, cafés, storehouses and shelters for animals or the homeless. A few briefly saw use in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.”
Here is one from the south.
At about 6 hours in it started to poor and luckily we came upon a village soon after. Here we took shelter under some trees, but were soon asked into a grocery shop for shelter. Here the family gave us cold drinks, peaches, and walnuts from their tree while we waited the worst of the downpour out. We stayed about 45 min, but as we still have a long way to go we headed out again.
Lulu did have a few dirt naps today.
We came to this cross road and after scouting both routes they were both really technical. We went back to the last settlement. We stopped again to ask these kids for direction and again they spoke English well. We had missed the turn on the “road” since it did not look very road like.
The route then was across a river bed for a km or so, but at least we finally saw vehicles!!.
After this the last half hour finally the route was like a road and we could make some time. We hit the SH 61 finally for a maintained gravel road.
This brought us to the capital Tirana at about 730 pm. At this round about we were in the left lane and about 3 minutes later we were pulled over by an unmarked police car. This would be the first time in 4 years. He cut Dan off to force him over 3 lanes and could have caused an accident. This was all just to warn us that in Albania motorcycles are not allowed to drive in the left lane. Hard to know since there are almost no motorbikes or scooters in this country.
We then still had 123 Km to go to get to Berat on the highway.
We arrived here after dark and had to get directions to the hotel, which is actually inside the walled hill top Castle of Berat. This is up a brick road and into the walled city. Here we were warmly greeted out on the road by the owners, who had begun to worry about us since we arrived so late. They could hear the bikes coming up the hill and came out to make sure we found the way in the dark. We felt so grateful for the family of Bora, Leo, Xeno, and Klea for taking such wonderful care of us. We were so exhausted we stayed 2 nights.
We rested most of the day but did take time to tour the small old city and the museum and take a walk down into the city to see some of the churches and mosques.One of the Mosques is just for historical interest only and is the “Halveti Teqe (Tekke) of dervish who through physical exertions or religious practices to attain the ecstatic trance to reach Allah.” (whirling Dervish). We also visited inside our first local active Mosque.
We headed this morning out of the castle walls and then cross country to the city of Fier. Nearby is the ancient city of Apollonia, which was a very important place in the past.
You don’t see a boat shaped building very often!
We saw so many people cutting and raking hay by hand and plowing fields with animal draw plows.
In Ancient Apollonia we toured the museum and the ruins.
From there we are going to the coast and down the scenic SH8. Some of this is thru the Kombetar Llogara National Park. (Goggle will not route thru from Ducat to Dhermi in the park). The road climbs up and down the mountain over numerous switchbacks.
From the top you have a view of the southern Albanian coast and the Greek island of Corfu. We ended the day in the beach side town of Sarande.
The road to the Greek border from the west coast is again up and over a windy mountain pass that lets out into a huge valley.
Here the road meets the main highway that ends at Kakavia.
Next we are off to Greece!!!!