Well – not the best cycling day, but fun nonetheless. I woke extra early, at around 4.15am, to get the rest of the gear packed up and back on Rowenna and get outside cycling whilst it was still cool. I decided that, despite the sordid rubbish and the stray dogs and the beggars and poverty, I love Albania. The stray dogs wag their tails and play with each other, the beggars look reasonably well fed and feisty, and everyone seems to respond to a greeting with a wave or a smile. I love the country’s rough edges and raw beauty. As I cycled out from Shkoder the mountains drew in and I was agog at their splendour as the cliffs soar up and retreat to the horizon in violet and blue-grey layers. I went up a dead end farm track, but otherwise made it to the lake/river with few mishaps. It was getting on for 11.30am and getting increasingly sticky and humid hot when I spotted a café and decided to try and hide out – especially as there was a grandmother on the verandah playing with her three grandchildren. I went across to say hello- I like to show the children the spindling – they’re interested in the whirling motion and then the parents get interested too. The daughter of the older couple who owned the restaurant turned up with her 9month old son – Angelina could speak reasonable English and so I was quizzed and I could quiz in return. They were interested in how old I was – I am 6 years older than Roza the grandmother (with her dyed black hair!). Roza and Antonjo have a smallholding out back, with pigs, veg garden, hens. They were amazed at my adventure as I think it’s really far outside their experience and probably quite an alien concept too. I had a lovely cuddle with the 9 month old but the toddlers were very suspicious of me, preferring to roll a toy lorry along the floor.
I ate at the restaurant (bits – a plate of salad, a plate of meat, some bread and cheese) and then dozed away the hottest part of the day – I find the Balkan people very indulgent of this sort of crass behaviour! Maybe it’s just one more stupid thing they expect foreigners to do, I don’t know. The Albanian people also – I think Roza, Antonjo, Angelina all thought it very amusing that my head nodded onto my chest and I was fast asleep sitting upright with my book open. Did I mention? I have a replacement book: an Australian guy at the Hostel gave me Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha” which I remember hearing of in my hippy teens but never got around to reading. It was first published in 1922 and translated from the German by Hilda Rosner. This edition of the book was published in 2007 and is not for sale outsde the Indian Subcontinent.
When I woke up properly and decided it was time to really get going thunder started rumbling with the occasional flash of lightening. A storm had been forecast so I was slightly concerned about being caught out in the sort of torrent Kathryn and I experienced in Dubrovnik. Antonjo insisted I get a lift and persuaded two of his customers to give me one for €20. I was still half heartedly considering cycling so I said no, that’s far too much. €15 then (Antonjo haggled for me). Oh OK – says I, once again being the wimp, thinking of rain and another 20miles of undulating road to the campsite. Ndue was driving and Alexsandri was my fellow passenger. They both smoked but tried not to while I was in the car, as I don’t, though both tried to persuade me to have one, when I told them I’d given up years before.
They folded Rowenna up and squashed her in the back of the Ford Focus Estate. I insisted on folding myself up and squashing in the small seat beside her – much to Alexsandri’s disgust (he wanted to squash in the back – leaving me the passenger seat in front). Initially we went for petrol – and then I discovered that Ndue was still expecting €20 – Alexsandri had agreed to less – but he wasn’t the driver! I gave them an extra 100lek. €15 isn’t very much, if you consider he’d have to drive back to Shkoder again afterwards.
The road to Koman was indeed beautiful – but in shambolic state – half the time, Ndue was on the wrong side of the road to avoid potholes in potholes – or maybe that’s just the way he drives! I would have enjoyed the ride enormously, I suspect – as there were plenty of down hill sections to make up for the uphill bits and the views back over Lake Komani were stunning, despite the many rusting electricity pylons draping wires everywhere. We stopped for photographs – and then we stopped for coffee – which became a beer for the driver and I (I paid – thus bringing up the amount I was giving them for the taxi ride!) – I noticed Alexsandri didn’t drink – he stuck to coffee – while the DRIVER was happy to drink – and indeed had Raki (local brandy) when we got to the campsite. I said hello to the woman at the side of café - curious to see what she was doing. I think she was chopping up rosemary shrubs with an axe – then filling sacks with the result – but the shrub wasn’t aromatic enough to be rosemary, so I’m not sure what it was. It did have a subtle perfume – but was quite dry and brown in places.
When we left we had an additional passenger – folded up alongside the bicycle. A policeman – in full uniform, with cap and gun and handcuffs – hopped off a scooter driven by a one armed man – and then (after negotiation) hopped in our car. I was now in front, despite my protests, and the other two guys squashed in back. Hilarious. I couldn’t understand a word of what was said, but the conversation was animated.
We dropped the policeman off at the top of the hill before going down to the bottom of the hydro-electric power dam, where there was a small campsite/hotel/restaurant. It was only €3 to camp – and I could buy the ticket from them for the ferry too - €5 for me, €5 for the bicycle. I was reluctant to do this at first, as I’d read Gail and John’s account on their blog of there being two ferries – one for locals (cheap) and one for tourists (expensive). But I’m glad I did in the end – as our ferry was just about empty with plenty space to sit and dangle legs over side or roll about the deck or whatever – whereas the other several ferries had all been packed to the gunnels. But that was for later.
Alexsandri and Ndue both (but separately) gave me their phone numbers to call if I encounter ANY problems whatsoever.
In the meantime – I made friends with Ulli (short for Ulrike) and Andy (short for Andreas) from Germany – on holiday travelling around in their VW campervan. We bonded over our travel stories and I appreciated their sense of humour - they were lovely and I got rid of another painting by giving Ulli one. In return I got a beer! I would happily travel around with these two. I also had spaghetti and sauce with a plain tomato salad and bread for supper (note to self – must start carrying just a few supplies as I could have made a better job of tomato sauce on my trangia stove).
There was a plum tree full of ripe plums where I camped – so that made a tasty dessert. As well as guests, the campsite was full of guinea fowl, hens, cats and one dog (several other dogs barked from kennels the other side of the hedge). The hotel owner also had three children who ran around playing with the aforementioned animals. The cats would occasionally wowl at each other and the dog would chase the cats – it was quite busy!
Andy went off to watch football with the other guys in the lounge while I did a daily drawing in the semidarkness (as a result, not so good) and Ulli kept me company.
For some reason (probably language breakdown) I thought the ferry went at 7am – in fact it was supposed to go at 08.45hrs and didn’t actually leave until gone 9.15hrs. This had the effect of me waking up several times in the night to check the time so I wouldn’t be late.