Wednesday 2016/04/27

From Shkodra to Krujë


Our first full day in Albania and of course we want to do what we have planned for this tour: riding off-road. We are curious what this day will bring.

Breakfast at Kaduku is pleasingly good. After breakfast I visit a currency exchange office nearby to change money. I get 42000 Lek for my 300 euros counted by hand from the money exchange guy. He counts to fast for us, but we feel that he will not trick us. Here you still trust each other!

Then we visit a Vodafone store, which they recommended us in the hotel. There is currently a special offer for a one-month SIM card with 20 minutes of phone calls to other European countries, 200 minutes of phone calls in Albania and 2GB data volume for only 5 euros. Well, I would like to have such offer in Germany! After presentation of my ID card, the exchange and the activation of the SIM card is made in a couple of minutes and we are back in the hotel in no time.

Since we have heard from hotel staff that snow is still on the pass to the Theth Valley and the weather forecasts for the north is not very good, we have considered going to Burrel, even if there is nothing special and the hotels there do not seem to be very nice. We just want to see how far we can go today. Of course that depends on the off-road routes and how we cope with it.

35 kilometers are still on asphalt. Then a gravel road goes off the road. That's ours. Finally the time has come. After a few kilometers, the route winds down into a valley. In the distance we see a rather washed-out valley, which we hope we do not have to cross, because it seems a bit flooded.

After about 40 minutes and about 9 kilometers, we arrive at a bridge, which unfortunately only exists partially. The foundation bases on both sides are still waiting for the bridge and probably they will do that for a while yet.

A resident nearby waves to us, signing that the right path is on the other side of her house, right through the river. Hmmh, were we really aware about what offroad riding actually means?

The river is not deep. We are looking for the next exit on the other side. There is a path in the direction of a hill. Although we can not detect a parallel path along the hill, but assume that there must be one there. We check the water depth and the condition of the subsoil. Mostly pebbles, but especially near the exit also some rough stones.

Note: If you are looking for an exit from the river, check beforehand that this exit will take you somewhere!

For Markus and me it is the first major river crossing and so we handle it carefully. First we take all luggage down from the motorcycles. My GS is the first through the water. Markus should stabilize me and the bike. The first 30 meters are easy to ride, so Markus can't follow any more and only calls "not so fast!". At the exit out of the river, it gets a bit more difficult, but we manage to safely bring my GS to the shore. Markus also manages the crossing without further problems. Now we catch up with the panniers and luggage. Everything back to the bikes. We ride on. Well, just to the end of the dirt road in about 200 meters. Beginner's mistake! Note: If you are looking for an exit from the river, check beforehand that this exit will take you somewhere!

A young man walks down from the house on the hill. Fortunately, he speaks English so well that we can communicate with him. He tells us that we have to continue along the river. Unfortunately there is no alternative. The real exit out of the river is about 50 meters down the river. He shows us the exit and we walk along the river. Unfortunately, this part is more rocky, in the same way as near the first exit. But it seems feasible to us.

So again panniers/luggage down. Our young helper offers to carry our suitcases along a path of the shore (which you can not ride on with motorcycles). We plunge back into the river. Now we already have some practice. It 's not easy but we get our bikes back to the shore. Of course we have a bit more audience already. Three boys are also here (probably informed via SMS from our helper) and the neighbor opposite of course wants to know where we come from.

Asked from why he can speak English quite well, our helper reports that he was in Germany for half a year, on "asylum" and that he was sent back. Many young men will tell us the same story during our journey. But they do that without any grudges. They are not resentful to Germany or the Germans, that they were sent back. Nevertheless, they talk good about Germany and welcome Germans. I think that's really amazing.

“We are in Albania, you know.”

I give our helper a Lek note for his help into his hand. I do not want the others to take too much notice of it. He looks at me uncomprehendingly and I explain that we want to give him something for his help with the panniers. Anyone who has ever worn a heavy pannier for 50 meters, knows that this is really hard work. He does not want to accept the money. I have to convince him. But he still wants to invite us to the water, coffee, something, but we refuse. We want to ride on. After all, we still have about 30 kilometers offroad ahead of us. Although we now have the information that there are no more river crossings without bridge, but who knows.

Finally we ask our young helper why the bridge was not finished. He just answers: "We are in Albania, you know."

Fortunately, we can relax a bit on the following 32.5 kilometers offroad. The river crossing was quite exciting, so much that we even did not think about any "live" documentation. But the rest of route has no more major challenges.

We decide to have lunch in Rrëshen after these efforts and excitements. We ride a bit criss-cross through the "center" and then park our motorcycles near a building that seems like a restaurant to us.

Three young men approach us, actually only one of the three, who speaks English very well. He asks me if he can ask me something. Well, he already has and since I like to communicate with the locals, I agree. He would like to know the price of my motorcycle. First of all, I explain to him that my bike is 13 years old already and that I do not really know what it would be worth today. I really do not want to talk about the price, I have payed for it as it was new. In Albania, we encounter so much poverty that it seems a little perverted what we actually do here. However, one can also note that there are many rich Albanians, at least if you can judge the wealth by the cars driven. There are many big car that most people in Germany couldn't afford.

But I have a question to the young man too: "Where can we eat something here?". He tells us to come along and so we go around a few blocks to a kind of bar. Apparently the people of a funeral has just joined together here. We hesitate, do not want to disturb. Our guide says that he asks in the restaurant and comes back with the positive answer. The funeral does not gather in the restaurant, but in a hall next to it.

The three boys say goodbye to us and are happy to have helped us. Really great. We always experience that the people of Albania are helping us without any expectation. Everyone we ask. I not sure foreigners in Germany will be treated that way!

The restaurant has a small kitchen and a solid food selection and we would never have found it by ourselves. The pasta, which we order together with a large bottle of water, are excellent. The bill makes us stunned. We just pay 5 euros.

At the meal we decide that we don't ride on to Burrel. It is already three o'clock in the afternoon and we are afraid, the route may be really bad. I suggest we ride to Krujë, where I was already in 2013. There I know a good hotel and the place is worth seeing. We take the fastest way (62.5 km) to Krujë and arrive there around 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

The Hotel Panorama still has a room, even with a view to the castle (Kalaja). We are just in time to visit the castle, which has been visited from many German and worldwide VIPs, as the ticket inspector tells us, with whom we have some conversation. The castle houses the Skanderbeg Museum and is a kind of national shrine in Albania.

For dinner we stay at the Hotel Panorama. You can hardly eat better in Krujë.