Thursday 20 July 2023

Road trip in the Balkans - part 4

As soon as I left the port town of Igoumenitsa behind me, I started feeling that my adventure had begun. I was driving in a northeastly direction towards the hills, and finally, the border town of Kakavijë.

In northewestern Greece

At random, I met with a road turtle, an Albanian living in Zürich and his blue coccinelle, a goat that appeared in the middle of the road after a bend, some donkeys hobbling on the side of the road, a cow on a wall and how did she get there and many local drivers scaring me a little.

Unfortunately, I'm not skilled enough drive and shoot at the same time. I have to concentrate to drive safely first, which is not always easy.

The famous road tortoise is quite common around here

As said just before, my trip started with the beautiful bushy dry scenery of the lower hills of western Greece. The landscapes there are amazing when you don't see them every day. I had to make myself stop and take some pictures, or else I would have regretted it later. But stopping in this heat, taking off a glove or both, is just no fun at all. The least fun is when I have to put them back on. Especially the gloves, they went from perfectly normal motorcycle gloves to smooth, soft and stretchy bastards that are hard to put on. If they were cold, it could almost feel like snakeskin with a live snake inside.

A mountain pass in Greece

I decided that if I was going to go for Albania on the day of my arrival, I would at least have to get lunch in Greece. I passed a nice looking restaurant with some guests on its terrace, but for the reason of being too early, I failed to stop. I thought I'd see some other nice ones on the way. Except... except that soon after that, I had to take a left turn on a much smaller (and nice) road towards the bigger road to the border. I finally found a restaurant in a small hilltown of which I know nothing at all. The owner made me understand, first in her language, that she could only get some green stuff ready, and her friend or daughter or whoever, managed to tell me it's Greek salad or nothing. Perfect, my first Greek salad in Greece. I was kind of amazed that they call it Greek salad in Greece. French fries are called that only in the States or wherever, Swiss bread is nothing like bread (it's usually sliced toast bread) and Gruyère was Emmental in France until recently. I digress...

South Albanian scenery

I think it was before the restaurant that I met my first ever road turtle. I didn't even know that was a thing until I saw this specimen. It looked a bit scared when I approached it, but I took some pictures anyway, and put it a little off the road. I didn't want it to become squashed road turtle.

somewhere in southern Albania

After the restaurant, I continued on my small winding road to the border. It merged with a huge road which went to the border. There, there was a huge queue of vehicles. I thought it to be strange that such extensive checks were made between two countries of the European Union, but hey, it's not France vs Switzerland. So I drove all the way to the start of the queue to get into the shade. The cars have their AC's, I don't. And there I waited for about half an hour to get to know nothing about why nothing was moving. The first car in the queue was there the whole time, until at some point, they were allowed to leave. I jumped back on my motorbike and flashed my ID at the customs officer who winked me by. I had to stop at the customs office a few twenty meters later to show my ID and vehicle card (carte grise).

In Albania, I had to show my documents again, but it was over real quick. A nederlands guy told me they went by this same border a few days earlier to get into Greece and they were just driving. No documents to show, no stopping. It was over in a matter of a very few minutes. 

River down from the Blue Eye in southern Albania

After that, the roads got slightly worse - in Greece the roads were really good - but not too bad either. Let's put it that way, the road to the col des Mosses is much worse. Soon after the border, I could get off the main road and get on a small winding road specially made for motorcycling. It was quite narrow and had some concrete blocks aligned which gave it a nice crenellated feel viewed from above or below.

On the Adriatic coast in southern Albania

At some point during this trip, I saw this cow which was eating grass from up a wall and down a really steep slope. No cue how it got there, but it seemed to be happily munching away the good stuff.

In Albania, I went to have a look at its famous Blue Eye. It's an underwater water source, or something like that. If you're not happy about the description, just go and Duckduck it. I was already sweat-dripping hot on arrival and had only about five deciliter of water left. I started walking with my motorbike pants on, my vest under my arm, my plastic bag with swimming suit and towel in the same hand and the tankbag with my camera and some other valuables. Stuff I didn't want to leave at the parking randomly. I could have left my bike pants there though... I was starting to feel really hot and tired after a little while. The heat was crushingly hot, it felt like thick hot air that was difficult to walk through. It was the middle of the day and over 40°C. I managed to get to the blue eye without damage and took a couple of pictures without too much enthusiasm. I figured I could have gone buy a two Euro bottle of water before that, but I thought I might as well s tart with the good thing. That wasn't the best thinking. I mentioned the two Euros because the guy who sold me looked at me like it was expensive. I would have given him more than that a that point. One and a half liter of water later and a refreshing bath in the cold river rejuvenated me, and I took a second glance at the blue eye. It was quite impressive, how the clear water rises from below. The blue comes from its depth. At some point, a random tourist went into the water there, although forbidden, and swam through it.

The Blue Eye, southern Albania

I wasn't going to stay there eternally, and the walk back felt much easier after the various refreshments at the eye. I put on my gear over my almost dry t-shirt which I had wet for further cooling, and started off after paying a small parking fee. Funny thing, the parking fee cost four times the entrance fee to the natural protected area.

Dam near the Blue Eye

66 kilometers to Dhërmi took me no less than one and a half hours of driving. Not just because many Albanian drivers swerve out fully onto the other lane before entering a curve, but also because it was a tricky little road to drive on. The turn signs always came a bit late, and quite often, the curve would tighten towards its end, but mostly on the ones that wound inwards the mountain, so you couldn't see what was going to happen. Driving carefully was a must. Moreover, that little goat was as surprised to find me on the road as me the goat. It didn't know in which direction to run, which made me break, which made me swerve a little. Hot roads, hot tyres and all that. We both came alive out of it. Otherwise, I would have had grilled goat for dinner.

But it must be said that the winding coastline road is absolutely wonderful. The sights are magnificent and the scenery is gorgeous. Ok I'm overdoing it a little. Let's just say I'm happy to have taken on the adventure, even though my sciatic is playing dirty on me... I couldn't figure out how to sit on the bike anymore during the last third of the trip.

Vuno, southern Albania

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