Saturday, January 31, 2009

Road to Albania - day 4 part 1 - Albania!

We wake up to the sound of drills and I am a bit surprised with our surroundings. When we arrived at our new friend's place it was already dark, and now with the morning light beating down on us we get a real sense of where we are.

We look over and notice the neighbor already up and working on his house, which is only the wooden frame.

"Good morning!" he greets us. I vaguely remember how he said last night that today was his birthday... and now, at 7 in the morning, he wants to start celebrating with a shot of plum alcohol.

"Oh no," I tell Radek and Mrazik. "No way I am going to start drinking this early!" Luckily, I am a girl and I can refuse a drink. They, however can not, so they head over to say happy birthday and good bye. We start packing up and the wife of the man who invited us tells us she is making some breakfast. Great, I am already starving! By the time I finish packing breakfast is ready: eggs over easy with lots of salt, some nice fresh bread and that salty cheese we saw in the mountains! I loved it and ate it up. It did not sit so well with the boys, after their shot, so I finished theirs off too.

After we finish eating in their outside dining room, I can get a better picture of some of the animals we saw last night. This one is my favorite.

Yes, it is an eagle! It seems they were watching this pet for a friend!

We thank our unexpected hosts for the meal and hospitality and head off once more on our motorcycles. And today the plan is to make it to Albania! Finally, our goal! As we start to head for the Albanian border we pass through a National Park in Montenegro. Though it is dry season the swamps have not disappeared. Never in my life had I seen so much swamp land!

There weren't many towns near the border of Albania, but there was no lack in scenery!

Finally, we reach the Albania border. Hurray! Now the challenge really starts as our Czech language is no longer of any use. At the border they speak English with no problem. Apparently we need to pay a motorcycle fee. Okay, no problem. We go to pay the fee. The man at the booth looks at us and says "Don't worry about it, you can go". Sweet. And we are off.

It seems the country side has immediately changed. We pass a very modern gas station (later we find out the last modern gas station we will see in a long time.

We take a left and decide to head up this road, not sure where it will take us. That is what the adventure is all about! All we need to know is that it will head into the mountains... and it did.

We see a small cafe, if you could call it even that, and decide to stop for a drink and figure out where we are.

The town is simply amazing. We are no longer on asphalt, and animals are just roaming around everywhere! There is a women dressed all in black (in this heat??), and I realize that I am truly in a different part of the world.

We go inside and order a cool drink. No diet cokes here! But they have some lemon soda, which I eagerly down. Mrazik's lighter dies on him, and he is dying for a cigarette. "Do you think they have a lighter?" I told him I thought it unlikely, but he went to ask in hand gestures anyways. Turns out they had lighter that had a flash light and a clock! I bought one for myself as well. As unmodernized as this town was, they had more advanced lighters than you could find in Prague!

We pull out our map of Albania, trying to find out where we are. We ask some local people. Where are we? There was one guy who spoke some English, which was interesting. The men take a look on the map. None of them can point out where we are! Hey, no matter, we are on vacation. We thank them, and head down the dirt road. Soon we are hit by an amazing view!

We realize we can take a road down to the river bed...

But it is not where we are planning to go and we think our detour has been long enough already. So we head back...

We head deeper into Albania, passing almost no villages and every once in awhile coming to a big city. It seems there are no suburbs or villages, that most people either live in the city or out in the middle of nowhere. After 2 or 3 hours of riding we finally stop and a village where there is a coffee shop.

It is hot so we get some drinks. While we are sitting and chatting we see a pig and a piglet taking a walk to the water well. I thought it was just so cool, and the little piglet was adorable!

As we are sipping our drinks we notice a big group of about 10 hikers coming by... carrying with them a Czech flag! Turns out they are a group of Czechs planning to hike the same area we are going to cross by motorcycle. They couldn't stop for long as they still had a long way to go. I was surprised to see a group of Czechs in Albania!

Soon we head off. The road is tough...

and there were tons of turns...

and I fell a lot! That is ok, that was the fun part. :D On this particular turn I ended up not making it sharp enough and jumping off a rock!

This is where I landed.

But I must say, all my scrapes and bruises were well worth it!

Especially when we made it to the top!

Now that we were at the peak we only had to make our way back down... that wouldn't be hard, right?

Road to Albania - Day 3 part2

"Hilary, come on, bring your bike!"

Exhausted, I push my motorcycle towards Radek's voice. I turn a corner around some trees and I'm surprised to see him standing next to an old woman, dressed in black with a scarf on tied around her head, sitting on a tree stump in front of a roughly built one room house.

She smiles at me, with more than a few teeth missing, and is completely shocked when she realizes I'm a girl.

She kindly gestures us to come into her house for food and drinks, and as I glance towards the small house another old woman with red hair and a purple dress comes out and waves us to come inside. I am exhausted and starving from our trip up the mountain, and I look forward to food and something to drink. We come inside to the one room house, where we sit on their beds, around a table.

The old women flutter around the place, bringing us fresh bread, home made cheese, packaged cookies, and of course some alcohol. I decline the alcohol, knowing our day is far from finished, but happily accept their bread and very very salty cheese, realizing how hungry I really was. After I get my initial bread fix, I start to look around their small.... cottage? Their kitchen was only a little corner of the small cottage.

I whipped my camera out and took a good look around.

Montenegro cottage

We sit and talk with the nice ladies a bit, the red head stating that she has been to the Czech Republic in the south, Brno! It is a small world after all. The inform us that their son is out herding sheep, and that they stay in this small cottage all summer long! It was unbelievable. They ask us to stay longer but unfortunately we need to head out, and we say our goodbyes and thank them again for the refreshments.

As we are leaving I look back at their cottage and notice that there are other ones, abandoned a long time ago..

Our day continues with more dirty and rocky roads. Exhausting, but well worth it just in order to see the beautiful nature around us.

When we make it to the paved road I could almost kiss it! Enough of the dirt already, I'm exhausted but we still have a long way to go... and now that we are out of the forest, it is HOT. We head down the mountain on a never ending serpentine, with the sun shinning down on us and no shade in site. From the mountain we have a great view of the countryside and we see about 3 or 4 fires, evident by the smoke rising in the distance and smogging up the view. It made me feel even hotter. However, we survive, and at the bottom we meet up to discuss what to do next. Should we head to Podgorica? It is about 4pm, and we have lots of day light left so we decide to go for it... Until we see a sight that makes us break.

WATER! Hot and exhausted, we flip a U and head down to where some locals are swimming. I quickly rip off my (stinky) shoes and dump my feet into the water... ahhh, so much better!

The boys join me and we ponder about putting on our swimming suits. Then we look up and notice a restaurant... FOOD! Wow, we found the spot :) So we go and order the Meat mix plate... And as hungry as we were, we couldn't finish it, it was just way too big!

Now we are full of beer and great meat, I change in the bathroom and we go swimming. The water is freezing but yet still relieving. We hang out there for the rest of the afternoon, figuring we will camp there for the night. Radek starts to plan the rest of our journey, Mrazik decides to follow the local's and start to fish. I help Mrazik a bit, but we cannot catch the fish like this one local fisherman can. So I decide to go to the store to get some previsions. Water, some breakfast (as we do not need to eat anything else for the rest of the day!), and on my way back I see these young boys out cruising the town that I just had to photograph!

As it starts to get dark we discuss setting up camp. We noticed that the guy who was fishing seems to be the father of our waiter in the restaurant. We ask him in our Czech + hand language if it is ok to sleep here. The man shakes his head, and it took us awhile to figure out that at night drug dealers and such enjoy this place. Oh dear, what are we going to do? We don't want to travel far, we are exhausted, and we have all been drinking. Before we can start worrying much, the man invites us, in his Montenegro + hand signals to his garden. He says there is no problem to camp out there, and it would be a lot safer than at the local drug garden. Happily, we agree, and his son, who is now off work, leads us to their place.

It is almost dark when we get there, but his wife is out and about working and looking after their 1 year old daughter. Their are in the process of building their house, and while they have bedrooms and the living room done, the kitchen and washroom is outside in their garden. His wife offers us some coffee and their form of cola, which we agree. Soon the son and father come home, along with another daughter of theirs who is older (and simply gorgeous) and who speaks some English! So we drop the Czech and try to converse in English (though I think we were better off with the Czech personally ;) ). Then some more people come over, neighbors of theirs, and it turns out we have another party, sharing stories as well as different types of alcohol. They show us their animals they have (though it is dark and I can't see much), and there are kittens and cats running around everywhere. A different kind of life, but one I could enjoy!

It was a fun night, but I was glad to turn in. As the party breaks up, we roll out our sleeping bags and don't even bother to set the tent. We fall asleep under the stars to wake up to another day on our adventure.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Road to Albania -Day 3/1 to Podgorica

The sun comes out and we slowly start to stir. Suddenly the houses covered in dark are revealed.

As I start to pack up and prepare for our long journey ahead, I am gestured over by an elderly man, who has water running from a hose in his garden and offers to let me wash myself. Though the water is freezing I gladly accept, being without a shower for a couple of days now. I give myself a quick wash, and I can safely say that cold water was a quick wake up. I offer the water to Radek and Mrazik, and go back to finish packing. Not long the elderly man calls us over to his steel table outside for tea, cake, and, of course, a few shots of their home grown alcohol made of plums. The boys are hung over and take the offer happily, hoping to sooner be rid of their headaches. I, on the other hand, respectfully decline.

As we sit and enjoy our tea and cake, we tell him where we are going, and learn about his life. He explains that he is a dentist in the city Niksic. He even has an old dentist chair outside of his house, which Radek jokes that it is one of the modern chairs in Montenegro (Czech humor).

We notice after a while how popular he really is in this village, with many visitors coming in the morning to see him, as well as people honking at him (or perhaps his strange visitors in his yard) as they drive by on the main road.

Finally we are ready to head off. We bid goodbye to our kind and unexpected host and head for the mountains of Montenegro.

The first mountain we head up is not to far from the village we slept in, only a few kilometers away. It is a steep climb but the road is smooth asphalt for the most part, and we make it to the top without a problem. Suddenly, the road disappears, replaced by red dirt. Hoping this is the dirt road leading to Podgorica, the captial of Montenegro, we continue forth.

And for what it was worth it did come with a most beautiful view of the landscape.

Eventually we realize that this road leads to nowhere, dead ending in a construction site. We ask the young man guarding the site if we can please go through. He explains there is no where to go. So we ask him where we are and how we head to Podgorica. We show him our map but he is unable to point out even where we are at this moment. We decide to head back, and even though everything and everyone is covered in red dust as if we have been on Mars, the views on the way back were worth the trip.

We come off the mountain and back on the road we are originally on, hoping to find the main dirt road to Podgorica. Within a few kilometers we come across it without a problem.

I for one am very excited to start the off road part of our adventure! The road does not look to hard, as it is mainly flat without too many big rocks.

But I seemed to have forgotten the mountain part of our journey. Soon the road turns into serpentines, and is no longer so smooth for a dirt road. I take my first fall and survive. And then comes a second, and a third, and a forth. But hey, I came on this trip to get a little bit hurt and I keep going. Falling here and there. Then *BAM* I fall and my mirror is crushed! Oh well, who needs two mirrors anyways?

We reach a split in the road and wonder where to go. Should we continue upwards, or downwards? There are no signs, so after a little rest (and I energize up on some wild berries by the road), we head up, hoping this is the way to the city.

We reach break in the forest and enjoy the view. However, it looks like this is not where we are supposed to be as the road is thinning out.

But the view is quiet worth the extra km.

I sit and rest a bit while the boys go ahead to scope out the area and see if we should turn around. Exhausted, and a bit bored, I decide to take a picture of my missing mirror.

It is then I notice the fence. I thought this was quite odd up in the deserted mountains, and wondered what is was doing there, seemingly in a random spot. A few seconds later I hear Radek calling my name, and my questions are answered.

Road to Albania - Day 2 part 2 Bosnia and Hercegovina- Montenegro

Last time...

Sitting at the illegal boarder of Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina, we contemplate... should we take the risk and cross illegally? Or go back and loose about an hour of travel...

It is a hard decision... we see that it is possible to bring the bikes around, carefully...

In the end we decide to go for it! After all, we are here for an adventure!

Once we bring the motorcycles across, we follow the dirt road a few minutes until, out of the middle of nowhere, a highway appears. So we hop on and head down the hill. Not after one minute of riding do we reach a boarder crossing! At this point I was a little disoriented to be crossing another boarder, but it turns out that it is the boarder to Bosnia...when we crossed to the other side on the "illegal" boarder we were still in Croatia!

So after crossing the boarder legally, we start driving through Bosnia and Hercegovina in this farm land. Nobody seems to be around.

There are some people around, a dog barking at us here and there, as well as random abandoned houses with weird 'Blaire Witch' things hanging there...

After a few wrong turns, we find the right way and head up a mountain. There is not much to see, with trees all around us. Eventually though, we break through and we see a great view of Bosnia and Hercegovina.

We ride a few hours through Bosnia and Hercegovina, and I wish we could have spent more time there. Though you can tell the country is poorer than Croatia, there are beautiful landscapes that we continue to come across.

We head up more mountains again to cross the boarder over to Montenegro. Again, we are driving another breathtaking view.

At the top of the mountains, we reach the boarder and cross it with ease. As we head into Montenegro, clouds start to cover the sun shine and I get a feeling of sadness. The mountains we are driving down are bare, with little greenery and lots of white stone. Again, abandoned houses randomly scattered about, even on this main road towards Niksic.

Soon we reach another view point, where we can see the lake Slano.

Unfortunately it is very low in water, but still beautiful none the less.

We drive through Niksic, which was not impressive. A very run down and flat city, with a river that was full of trash and dead dogs lying on the street. While the people were very friendly I was happy to get out of there as soon as possible!

We leave the city but it is late, we have not yet eaten and the sun is starting to set. We need to find a place to stop and soon.

As we drive further away from the city, the area between towns becomes wider and wider.

After a few kilometers, we stop and ask if there is a restaurant or camp where we can eat and sleep. The locals tell us to keep going and we should reach something in about 10km, and we eagerly head that way.

Of course, even though we are eager to get settled for the evening, I can still find time to take a picture of the Cyrillic letters. Interestingly enough, even though I can no longer read, our Czech is still useful and somewhat understandable when speaking with the people of Montenegro.

We reach the next town and find a small pub. Exhausted, we pull over and ask. They say yes, we can sleep somewhere on the ground here. And while they don't have food they let us bring our own food in while we drink their beer and some wine and relax.

Just in time to see the sun hitting the mountains, making a great picture!

After a few drinks, I am ready to pass out and sleep! So we ask where would be best. The bartender says that we could sleep across the street, in the yard of the house. Too tired to argue, we set up camp and go to sleep, not realizing where I would wake up in the morning...