Tuesday 21 May – On our second day in Albania, we were leaving Vlore to head for Sarande in the south and then cross the border into Greece with Teo. But before we left we headed to the local fire station.
Teo has been tasked with collecting the distinctive badges on each firemans uniform by his friend back in Spain. His friend has been collecting the badges from around the world for the past few years and he has yet to visit Albania. Teo and the fire-fighters cannot understand each other but as soon as Teo presents a Spainish badge and gestures an exchange, a big guy rips off his badge and hands it over on seeing its Spanish, the fire-fighters call out Barcelona and Madrid, a few man hugs follow and we set off on our way.
Only a few kilometres out of Vlore and what a difference from yesterday, this part of Albania we soon discover, is the part of Albania the lonely planet was referring to and is definitely worth finding. The road begins by climbing up into Alpine forestry and reaches an Albanian ski resort. We pass around a few more bends and we’re at the coast, also known as the Albanian Riviera.
The distance is only roughly 80 miles but takes us around 4 hours to navigate the crazily steep hairpin turns. Taking this road however is well worth sweating with anxiety the entire journey as the views of the Ionian sea are amazing as we’re so are so high up I think around 1000m above sea level.
At some points we end up choking on the fumes of the slow chugging 1960’s buses which are carrying school kids. When we stop all the boys want to talk to Paul and they surround the bike. There is one guy who can speak quite good English and is our translator for the next 5 minutes telling the others where we are from and where we are heading. He also takes delight in ripping the other kids for not being able to speak English. After our brief encounter with the youth of Albania we press on and begin to head more inland.
We came across a worship spot where the whole town and a local film crew had congregated in the middle on the road. It annoyingly just happened to be on a really steep road and the visitors were driving really slowly and speaking to their friends as they drove down. The bike is pretty hard to hold when were not moving and I have to freeze into position so that I don’t rock the weight. Thankfully the guy in front only knew half the town so he moved on more promptly near the bottom.
The scenery is just as spectacular for the rest of the journey and as we approach the border there are huge flat plains surrounded by mountains which Paul refers to as the Serengeti of Albania. This sums up the look pretty accurately only swap the native tribes for gypsy slums which I mistake for rubbish dumps on first glance, and the herds of elephants for gypsy kids riding carts pulled by horses all excitedly waving and you have a more accurate picture.
As with all the other borders we have encountered so far, we moved through quickly and had no problems. Of course we were greeted with the ever stern face of the border policeman who mistook my India visa as my photo page in my passport and inputted the wrong details but it still seemed to allow me to enter Greece.
We said goodbye to Teo not long after the border as he was now heading East a lot quicker than us due to his visa requirements for the upcoming stages of his journey. It was a slightly strange sad goodbye, as we’re on our own again and it felt like we had known him longer than just two days.
It’s very obvious we have crossed into Greece, not only are the roads in much better condition everything just looks slightly more tidier which I guess is because there is less rubbish dumped. After a short drive we arrive into Ioannina which is a pretty university town with a lake and a castle.
It’s a laid back and trendy town with lots of cool bars and cafes. The only campsite is on the edge of town and is part of what seemed to be the university rowing club. It’s a bit of a mosquito hell, but it’s got nice views of the lake and mountains. Although it was advised not to swim in the lake as it’s polluted – expected that in Albania not Greece.
At the end of the day Paul was a bit delirious as we hadn’t drunk much; he was aimlessly walking around the supermarket making absolutely no sense. We were both really tired and planned to have a day off the next day before continuing on.
Below is the graphic I mentioned in the previous post for the best roads and you will see the Vlore to Sarande road on here.