3. Second chance
A middle finger from a 12-year old boy, being scammed at the first gas station, angry (or so they appeared to be) drivers on the road and a desolated, dirty beach. Our first impression of Albania was – to say at least- not too positive. To be honest, we did not read much upfront about Albania, the only thing we knew is that is had to be one of the best countries in Europe for off-roading. But with this entrance, we even considered driving to Greece in one straight line.
In Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro we loved driving in the mountains. So after the not too friendly meet up with the Albanian coast we drive eastwards, straight into the mountains. We find a small campsite near Krujë. The man overlooking the camp reminds us to Esteban Viejo in Kill Bill II; an old man, wearing a suite, reading a book in his garden, enjoying his cigarette.
“Hey, is this a 75 or 78 series?” we hear a little later. Krujë’s Don Corleone appears; it’s the entrepreneur of Kruje town we understand later. He wants to know what type of Landcruiser we have. It turns out that – next to being the owner of the camping, a brand new hip restaurant and more- he organizes 4×4 tours in Albania. We sit down, he draws some routes on a map and bam, there is our offroad tour through Albania North to South for the next days.
Don Corleone invites us at his newly build restaurant and house- it feels like stepping into an Albanian fairy tale. Mountain- and beach views, land full of olive trees and a garden full of fruit & vegetables. His mother (a most charmingly beautiful 90- year old) insists on giving a bag full of their garden treasures, we have a drink and then it’s time to start our trip.
After a few kilometers we already get super excited. The road changes from asphalt to bumpy, potholes and stones and the views are stunning. The mountains are overwhelming; we feel super tiny in between all these giants. We realize what a gift it is that we can drive through this landscape with our Troopy.
The total route takes us around 4 days. We sleep at lovely small campsites – thanks to Park4night and iOverlander– have drinks with the owners (we get introduced with the much better alternative to cheers: “Gezuar”, which means happy to be together), eat and fall asleep very easily. On the road we see tiny villages where we are thrown back in time. When it get’s dark we see a few men walking home from a drink – one old man seems to have had too many glasses and is carried home by his donkey- who needs Uber anyway.
We sometimes get lost but always get help from the friendly people in the villages. They don’t speak English but with hands & feet (slapping your right arm means turn right) we understand each other. For them, the roads are easy. Where we – mainly driving in high or low 4 gear – work hard while off-roading, we sometimes encounter old Mercedes or old vans with 9 people; though proceeding slowly, they’re not impressed by these routes.
Albania has stolen our heart. The people, the landscape, the food. After our first not too positive encounter with this country it was definitely worth giving it a second chance. We feel grateful that we were able to visit, drive, meet people and to be honest, it felt a little sad driving through the boarder. But hey, we’re not complaining; let’s explore our 10th country; Greece!
Ps: if you’re interested, we recorded a part our our off-road path via WikiLocs, search for the account of Max Pijnappel. However, the real interesting parts are not on WikiLocs as a courtesy for our friend who introduced us to these tracks; if you want contact info for a tour please send us a message)