On a dark and stormy night… I crept into Albania

Yesterday was a milestone day on my journey. It marked three months of being on the road, with another three to enjoy. It marked two months spent in Greece, feeling more at home in every place I visited, but also my last day in the country.

On the stormiest day I have seen so far – the first day I’ve donned my hoodie, jacket, scarf and sneakers – I stuck out my thumb, heading northwards to Albania. Getting there was an adventure in itself, full of the kind of interactions that make travelling such a fulfilling experience.

George and Jennifer, my hosts in Amaliada, left me at the traffic light out of town and I hung out on the side of the road with my thumb out for Patras for about an hour, feeling a little anxious as the wind picked up and the clouds rolled in. A young man offering windscreen washes at the light came along to ask me what I was doing, and when he saw I wasn’t having much luck hitching a ride, offered me a few of his hard-earned Euros to take the bus. Wow! I kindly declined, gave him my apple and called on the universe to find me a ride. And finally I did, for about 30kms.

At this stop I picked my spot and stuck out my thumb and then saw the bus. So I hailed it and paid €3.20 to get to Patras. And luckily I did because the rain started coming down. In Patras I had planned to take the ferry from the port a few kilometers out of town across the chanel and then hitch further north to Ioannina. But at the bus station I found the bus leaving to Ioannina so I scuttled off to stop the driver and jumped on. For €24.20 I spent the next four or so hours warm and drop while watching the rain pelt down on the passing countryside.

Continuing my stop start journey, in Ioannina I learnt the next bus to Kakavia, the border with Albania, was leaving in 15 minutes – enough time to have a good luck wee and buy a few tasty cookies from a bakery across the street. I felt a little apprehensive continuing in to a new country in the dark and rain, but there is always a plan to be made so I breathed out the worry and settled into my seat.

It seems Greek busses don’t cross the border, so we hopped off, walked to the post to have our passports stamped out of Greece and then walked the few hundred metres to the Albanian border post for another stamp. By then the rain had let up.

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Those small kindnesses I mentioned? I never have to worry about finding my way in a new place because there are always people willing to help me out. Between a young Albanian woman and a border control officer who spoke English, I found a taxi that would take me to the door of the hostel I had found in Gjirokaster, about 20km from the border.

Marlen, the taxi driver, and I set off, filling the journey with a half-baked conversation in broken English and the three words of Albanian I knew, mostly with him repeating, “beautiful girl, beautiful girl”. Funny what a pair of blue eyes will do for you!

Arriving in Gjirokaster we found the hostel I was looking for, but it was closed. Strangely, the other one I had seen online was right next door and the owner was keen to show me a room – unfortunately three times the price I was hoping to pay. Again my blue eyes served me well as he dropped his price to what I asked because I’m a “beautiful girl”.

Along with my double bed and hot shower, Qazim, the owner of the hotel, offered me warm mountain tea and a small bite to eat. Again, why need I worry when there are always people willing to help me?

And so I find myself in Albania, wearing all my clothes as it rains like it will never stop. I left South Africa in July to escape the winter, but after ignoring the fact for as long as I could, winter has caught up with me here. I may need to buy a pair of warm, wooly socks pretty soon.

imageAfter a night and day of heavy rain, the clouds lifted, revealing the high mountains surrounding Gjirokaster.

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imageimageGjirokaster Castle.

imageimageSyri i Kaltër or Blue Eye, an underground water source an impossible blue colour.

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