As they say, this was truly one of those adventures where everything went according to plan. Just that these were not my plans.
The first stop was Szeged with an organized truck stop, where my buddies were already waiting, who were about to head straight for Greece after we dismantled a stand at the wine festival and loaded it onto the truck. That's it, it's 4 in the morning, so it's time to head for the Serbian border. The destination was Lake Ohrid, from there I would have continued by bike - I thought I would decide to go north or south, I had very good plans for both directions. We drove without stopping, then to the Macedonian border, where, seeing the smoke coming from the engine compartment, we decided to continue towards Thessaloniki, where there is a familiar mechanic.
This is how it happened that our paths diverged more than a hundred miles from the Albanian border. I didn't have to think too much about further plans, it was decided, I'm leaving from the south. However, in the evening we had a good barbecue party, with beer and some brandy, just because the cycling will be better with a hangover. A couple of 10 Kilcs national roads, and when it turned out that it continued on the highway, I looked for an approximately parallel, smaller road that led uphill past a beautiful gorge. With a small detour, many levels, but I was approaching Albania. Even so, the evening reached the border from here, I could actually have slipped through until dark, but I wanted to look for a bivouac place on the mountain, away from everything. This was completely successful - an abandoned quarry was offered as accommodation. There was a stream a few meters away, so a quick wash, cooking water, food and sleep, because I wanted to continue towards Korcsa at dawn. I didn't have any trouble with the tarpaulin, the concrete pylon of the milking machine was protected from the rain, let's say it wasn't hot - around 1 degree - but still bearable.
The morning departure went quite well, including coffee, cigarettes, packing, 40 minutes, of course half of the time is spent drinking coffee. 10 minutes at the border, then heading to Korcsa. A lively small town in southern Albania, with a beautiful old town and a bazaar, but big enough to buy a phone card and exchange LEK. By the way, the first Albanian-language school was also opened here, and Enver Hoxha was also a French teacher here. And the most important thing: the city is also the name of the local beer, which I think is one of the best in Albania.
Since rooming is quite expensive, it is worth buying a tourist card and, in preparation, since in smaller villages you can't pay with a bank card anyway, it's worth stocking up on some local money. Food is cheap in the cities, but this cannot really be said up in the mountains.
From there, the road led upwards through mountainous terrain, the landscape is relatively barren, there are few forests to be seen, interestingly shaped, eroded mountain sides, narrow, deep valleys - with periodic streams of water - line the road leading steeply uphill. I had already spotted a lake on the map, which I definitely wanted to reach by evening. It was at a level of around 1500m, it was a clear night, I thought I wouldn't be warm in the +10 sleeping bag. It didn't work out, I woke up at -3 in the morning, so leaving early was no problem here either. It's absurd that you travel to the south to freeze, but it's a mountainous region, I could have been prepared.
The terrain is getting wilder and the peaks around the road are getting lower and lower, well, I'm slowly at the top, at 1900. In this case, it could be guessed that the descent would not be smooth either, I rather expected a rock garden - it came.
As I approached the gorge valley of the Osum river, the road became more and more rolling, and finally a couple of campsites appeared - not that I was looking for accommodation - so some warm food, a beer and a regular coffee celebrated the arrival at the river. From afar, that is, from the top of the valley, there was not enough water for a good rafting. The packraft is light, normally it slides over a lot of things, but it's less of an easy feat when loaded with bikes and stuff. In low water, you can't vary much on the rapids, usually only one side can be used. After some hesitation, I still decided to go for it. I walked around the top of the valley, looked at the water in several places, of course the time passed well, it was more expedient to camp for the evening, but I already did this at the boarding house, on the river bank. Bathing, dinner, boat preparation, inspection. A calm night, a beautiful starry sky, and the monotonous babbling of a river after a while seemed like a distant conversation or music.
In the morning, neoprene, boat inflation, bicycle fastening, the other stuff goes into the raft's hoses, so the center of gravity is lower. Towards the water, a few small roars and I'm already in the gorge.
It's amazing how narrow the rock walls are, a magnificent sight. The water depth varies greatly, it is quite shallow near the rapids, but below it it is several meters deep. Sunlight only penetrates the valley in a few places, the walls of which can be as high as 100-150 m. I had to pull the boat by hand in a couple of roars, I tried rowing, but it definitely got stuck. It was a great joy when I just slipped through, in my carelessness I also took on one that crashed perpendicularly to the rock wall. I couldn't turn it in fast enough, mainly because the bike was hanging out in front. The raft filled with water in seconds and capsized. The water was quite deep, but I was up quickly, I caught the boat, the oar, turned it back towards the brandy and the water. These two things were not recorded.
Of course, the stuff in the bike got wet, the charger, battery pack, cigarettes. I regretted the cigarette, the rest remained functional. The phone is waterproof, and the Elfbar, which I got from my friends, held up and came in handy. I was looking for a stretch of beach suitable for drying off, relaxing for an hour, warming up, drinking brandy in the sparkling sunlight. On the one hand, I was happy that I got away, and on the other hand, I was confused as to why I got into such an obviously singular situation. The curse of low water, there are no two ways.
Rowing through the gorge takes approx. It was 4 o'clock, I got off at a campsite, causing quite a stir, with the boat bicaj combo. I pretty much dried everything so that I wouldn't have to carry a lot of extra water, packed up, and then headed for the mountain again. I still planned quite a lot for that day, I thought it would depend on the terrain.
It was early afternoon, fine weather as I approached the sea - getting warmer. I stopped at a small mountain cottage to eat a burek and drink a good Korcs. The aunt was very nice, but when she told me the price of the bureks, I went to the gate to check if the Hilton sign was there. But not. Anyway, I thought, tourist price. For that amount, I can eat the whole menu on the beach. Then I figured it out when the third German offroad jeep passed me, I guess no one else goes wrong on this road.
A rather demanding and long mountain section followed, the winding lasted into the night and even almost into the dawn. There was no suitable bivouac spot, even though I already took a nap while rolling. There were concrete drainage pipes criss-crossed in some places under the road, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look
. It was surprisingly comfortable, the bike fit in, and so did I, an armchair across, a bed along the length. It's a bit drafty, but it didn't matter for those few hours, I made a small wind shield with the boat's bag. I'm not picky about sleeping places either. I just throw out the inflatable mattress, sleeping bag, the steering bag under my head, and eight ducks. If it rains, I pack up and go on, or even in the evening I stretch my tarpaulin over the bicycle, it will protect against wind and water. Yes, it also works in winter, supplemented with a bivouac bag, I tried it down to -12. The main thing is, the coffee should be prepared so that I only have to light the gas burner. The friendly hiss of the gas instantly makes any rough region feel like home.
I reached the beach at noon, I love mountains, I'm not particularly a fan of the sea, but this was a miracle. One of the entrances to the Porto Palermo submarine base was already visible from the coastal road. This is guarded by two nasads, so there is no chance of trying this. The other entrance opens on the other side of the peninsula, and there is a rather bumpy road leading to it. I had a tip to get in, but unfortunately the little gap I was expecting was filled with concrete. Apparently, there were too many urbex videos on the tour of the base. The entrance from the water here is blocked by two huge steel gates, so you can't even take a boat from here. Anyway, the view was still worth it. I swam a lot in the bay, I needed some muscle relaxation. I set up camp on the beach, decided the next day not to climb mountains at least for a while, and to continue the journey by sea to the Gjipe gorge.
The next day, crystal-clear weather and a pleasant tailwind, barely rough seas. Everything came together for a leisurely sea adventure, and I went for it at dawn. There was something terrifying about paddling in a packed soapbox in this big blue water, but I really enjoyed it. They also used binoculars from one of the coast guard ships, they didn't necessarily understand what this structure was. The wind started to get stronger, but it was blowing from the right direction, the boat swayed pleasantly on the waves, and I soon reached the landing. The camping on the beach has already become lively, jeeps, six-wheeled veteran military vehicles on the beach, mainly Czech off-road tourists. You can't get down here with anything else, and even with them it's not easy.
I enjoyed the beer and regular coffee at the party bar before I started packing. The road leading up is quite difficult to walk, but I even crossed it with a cut-off, which in turn led through a garbage dump and a stray dog from Falkány. Fortunately, I'm not afraid of dogs, and they know that somehow. The rest of the road is a country road and has a brutal section, from sea level up to a thousand. Here I ran into a French family, parents, two children, grandparents. They were on a tour of southern Europe, a fantastic adventure and performance. And it only required three tandems.
Via Orikum and Vlore, the direction is Balsh. I've been there before, this road takes me through oil fields. Everywhere there are lakes of tar and singing oil wells, pakura and the smell of sand. There was a place to bivouac, even if it wasn't the most pleasant. The next day it's really Berat, whose old town is worth a wander, the tangle of snow-white houses built into the hillside on both banks of the river is very special. We arranged a meeting with the others here, at a prominent small private accommodation, near Berat. The hospitality of the Alexanders was amazing. We found a lot of common topics, so we ended up talking late into the night.
I visited Albania for the second time, and I was also enchanted by the kindness and directness of the people. During the time between the two trips, it cannot be denied that the service sector based on tourism has developed a lot. Of course, this also leads to an increase in prices. Long stretches of beach are built with luxury apartments and hotels. It is also encoded in this that this region is also losing its untouchedness and charm. It is still worth going now, you can find untouched natural beauty, simple and cheap food, and it is likely that it will be like this for quite some time in the mountainous areas. I'm sorry that there was no time for Northern Albania again, another reason to return.