Travelling by Pedalling


Mixed feelings

Our last day in Montenegro has arrived. We fell in love with this country in a very short time. Nature is here in its full glory! We see and hear life everywhere. The last day is a tough one with three steep climbs. We have an end goal and that is a social eco-farm in Albania.  We don’t think we can make it. But we make it to the border and say goodbye to Montenegro with a heavy heart, even though we know that we will come back here one day, so goodbye!!

We look forward to seeing the border to Albania. There is a long queue of cars and people are shouting at us. After some confusion, we understand that we don’t have to stand in traffic and can join the pedestrians. It’s busy there too. All men whose working day is over. They tap on the window and give their ID to the agent and if he isn’t paying attention, they open the window themselves to throw their ID on the pile. After a while, amazed to see how it all goes, we get our passports back and we can continue on our way.

For the first time we feel like we are really far from home. This border is a very clear one. It’s like we stepped into another world.

There are many people who move here by bicycle. We see someone sitting on a cart pulled by a donkey, everywhere are small shops with local vegetables. People are working in the fields and men are drinking together on the terrace. Meanwhile, we hear the evening prayer over the loudspeakers of the local mosque.

We arrive at the farm and are warmly welcomed. We get a room and can use the kitchen and common areas.  There is a friendly atmosphere. We enjoy the beautiful evening sky with the hills in the distance that keep changing color.

The next day we start talking to a Polish girl who is staying here. She has already traveled a lot by bike and is now in Albania for a while. We have very nice contact with her and we wave her goodbye when she leaves. Then we leave by bike to the city of ‘Shkodër’. The cycling city of Albania and we notice that. Usually we don’t like to cycle in cities, but this time it is very relaxed. Suddenly we are in the center! We arrive at the market part of town. Every shop or market stall sells its own specialty, a lot is happening around us. The fish are on the ground and in large bowls with running water, nuts are sold, sweets and lots of fruit and vegetables. We park our bike in a quiet street with one street food cart. A man sells sandwiches with Kofte. We buy a sandwich from him and he indicates that he will keep a close eye on our bicycles. Super! Then we can explore the city with peace of mind. We walk around a bit and arrive in a somewhat richer part of the city, there are filled terraces everywhere and many expensive cars drive by. We walk past several mosques, one beautifully decorated and the other very neutral.

After a while we got hungry again. We are looking for a place where we will find good local food. We come to a man who has many pans on the fire. There are some bar stools where we can sit. The man calls a friend of his to be his interpreter because he does not speak English. In the end we have no idea what we ordered but we let it come to us. We get a bean soup and a soup with meat in it, pickled pepper and rice that he has thrown all kinds of things over. It’s all delicious. The moment we want to leave, his neighbor, a restaurant owner, asks if we would like to come and have a coffee with him in the restaurant. He would like to brush up on his English. We’ll go with him and have a chat! After a nice coffee and a good conversation we leave again. We walk to the market to buy vegetables, where we get a lot of demand from all the sellers. There will probably be few foreigners doing their shopping in the market. When we have everything we go back to the bicycles, but the man with his stall is gone. Well, luckily the bikes are still there.. but not much later the man comes out from the bar on the corner to show that he is still there. He takes us inside and orders us coffee and Rakie. He can’t speak English so we show some pictures and the map and thank him for the coffee.

What a special day in the city. I’m used to people in the city being a bit more introverted, but this city feels like a village in many different ways.

We are back at the EcoFarm and decide to take a rest day tomorrow. We rest well, call home, use an extensive kitchen and meet more cyclists who also stay on the farm.

The day that we are going to move into Albania has arrived. We cycle through the inhabited world all day long, there is not a moment that we end up in a piece of nature. It’s flat and the miles go by quickly. We’re looking forward to it. But today I have an uncomfortable feeling, a feeling of homesickness, a feeling that something is not right. Even though it’s a beautiful day to be on the bike and I know the feeling will pass. People happily say hello to us, children wave and say hello, but when I say hello back, I am repeatedly scolded by groups of young boys. They shout the same thing every time.. ‘fuck you bitch’. So I decide not to respond to hello from guys anymore, but Q does say hello back. Many cars honk and give us a peace sign and wave, there is someone who drives slowly next to us, gives us both a red bull and says ‘welcome to Albania’! And then drive on again.  We cycle through cities, but there is also a village feeling in the cities, trucks loaded with hay drive right in the center and there is a smooth transition from houses with pieces of land with vegetable gardens and animals to more densely built-up areas.

At the end of the day, someone comes riding next to us. He wants to offer us a drink and tells us to cycle after him to his neighborhood. While we are cycling along I get an uneasy feeling. But there’s nothing wrong with talking to him and drinking a Coke. Q gets a beer and a joint and I stay sober to keep a close eye on everything. We chat about life here and how things are going in his neighbourhood. This boy doesn’t work, but does drive a big expensive car and tell us about the corruption, the weapons bought by young boys to scare the police and the wild animals that are all for sale here. Tigers, bears, zebras… they have everything. The conversations also give Q the feeling that he wants to get out of here. We thank him for the drink and leave. We decide that we don’t want to sleep in the wild and look for the nearest campsite.. but that is still a long way from cycling. While cycling we come across a piece of forest for the first time and decide that it can’t hurt to sleep in the wild.

But we soon find out that we would rather have stayed at the campsite. We lie in the tent and hear machine guns going nearby. We are terribly afraid of a stray bullet. In between we try to put things into perspective.. it is a very small chance that a bullet will come our way just by chance.. but when we hear shots again we are with our hair on end again. The sound goes through us completely, our heart rate goes up and all the sounds come in very sharply. The birds that first let out their singing in full conviction have fallen silent, we hear the leaves rustling in the wind and we hear animals around us… all we think is, as long as it isn’t human.

 I have never been so afraid of people as I am right now.

The next day we are both emotional.. we have decided that we want to give Albania a second chance. But it’s easier said than done. We are tired, looking through gray glasses and want to get out of the country as soon as possible. We decide early in the day that it’s ready for today, we go to a hotel and take a moment to call family and clear our heads by watching a movie.

The next day we enjoy the landscape again. We go more in height and see the beautiful sides of this country. We have decided not to camp wild anymore and during the day we do feel safe in this country. So we cycle with the next campsite on the map as our goal and can enjoy everything that lies in our path.

I want to end this piece with that everything we experience here in Albania does not have to be the rule. We have heard from many cyclists that this is one of their favorite countries. We think that we have been too much in civilization and that we should have gone into the mountains. The south of the country is also more touristy. But despite this knowledge, we are ready to leave this country and cycle to North Macedonia tomorrow!