The ferry ride was over. We peeled ourselves from our make shift sleeping arrangements: the carpeted floor and bar booth seating – overwhelmingly happy to see the sun finally shining through the deck windows. Our van once again joined the slow procession of vehicles leeching their way into the port. The variety of “authority” figures spun at the first sniff of fresh foreign meat, their tired eyes brightening at the sight of our English number plate.
Fighting our way through the paper waving crowd, I was pleased to be seated safely between the boys as a collection of voices began shouting of “insurance” to travellers in broken English through our regrettably open windows. Our escape was approaching: a gated exit harbouring empty space and constant vehicle speed. As a swarm of sweaty men in dress pants and long sleeved shirts surrounded us, Kyle hit the accelerator. The man was faster than expected with his crutches in hand, suddenly he bounded purposefully to block our way. Kyle swerved, I swore loudly, we exited the port and did not intend to stop our vehicle any time soon.
Welcome to Albania.
The first thing we noticed is that Albania is travelling at a different pace. The naturally dry, sandy landscape was littered with uncompleted structures. Stuffed children’s toys and teddy bears were strung by the neck from aged exposed rafters to rid of evil over decaying sites. Pre 1990, Albania was sans cars. Many roads are still in the making, the art form of which has not yet quite been ‘perfected’. Highways are full of unexpected encounters.
The immense difference in lifestyle and environment from surrounding countries was shocking to my eyes, ears and nose; I was so intrigued with the every day normalities going on around us.
Piles of human-used goods littered the streets; covering the sand to the very edge of the clear blue ocean. Children wore torn clothing over their stained tan skin. Countless citizens took part in the national past time by standing roadside and staring as we passed in our English van along the coastline. Fresh meat hung in the form of various farm animals from hooks roadside, the butcher putting the garden hose to good use. Unfinished chunks of motorway sat suspended in time above the highway. Staircases were long forgotten and lead their climber to no where in particular. In the city of Vlore, palm trees swayed oceanside; the busy traffic slowed by high heeled women weaving between vehicles.
Eventually, highway turned to dusty dirt roads; the enormous mountains calling us over to explore. With our useful GPS apparently unfamiliar with the country, we headed south along the coastline through towns and across highways. The striking contrast between the ancient, mountainous environment and the modern, concrete jungle was highlighted by the warm rays of sunlight.
We had no idea of the incredible beauty that awaited us in the south of Albania. No matter how different the culture to what I had expected, my memories of the landscape and the gleam in their stares are intensely fond. It was the first time in my life that I was seriously well and truly cut off from the world, lost with no form of contact, no other outcasts in sight.
It was just brilliant.