Albanian Delight

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Well I hardly know what to say. In thinking about this trip I had expected Albania to be an area full of the unexpected and home to some very good riding, but after day one in this country I realize I had badly underestimated it as a motorcycling destination.

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Today our travels took from the ferry port at Igoumenitsa through Sarande and along the coast up to Vlore, where we headed inland and changed plans and took a wild ride off-road to Berat, City of a Thousand Windows. We were a dusty, dry and shattered crew when we finally arrived. Everything about the day was exceptional.

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From the ferry terminal to the Aalbanian border the route sometimes ran along the coast and sometimes twisted inland, where sheep and goats ruled the roads. The Ionian Sea invited a visit, but preferably not from the seat of the bike on a tight corner. Albanian customs was smooth, pleasant and very quick – I admit none of that was expected. Roberto needed to buy insurance but Andrew and I had coverage for Albania on our green card insurance. Albania has some interest legacies thanks to Envar Hoxha, the communist dictator who led Alabania into a very isolated position in the world. It was only in the early 1990s that he vote returned to Albania. One of Hoxha’s legacies is the presence of many thousands of bunkers he built in his paranoia of invasion. I spotted my first bunker barely a kilometre past the border…

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In Sarande we loaded up the communal bank with Lek, the Albania currency, and from there headed up the glorious coastline. The road hugged the beaches and cliffs at times, and then soared for the summits through a very dramatic bit of switch backed road leading up to park at the summit of the pass. Immediately we left the sun and heat to start secs ding into the forested part of the park. The road deteriorated too, so we doing tight 180 degree turns on frost heaves and badly cracked pavement. Interesting riding.

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Vlore is a large city on the coat and the end of famous motorbike run up the coast we had just completed. Roberto had spotted a road leading over a pass to join a beautiful inland road, and we followed that up and up through dry mountains that were dotted with oil rigs. There was no road surface to speak of with small fragments of asphalt floating like islands in a sea of sand, crushed rock and potholes waiting to destroy the front end of a motorcycle. Yet this was a labelled road… While leaving town we were introduced to another peculiarity of this part of the world – missing manhole covers. Yes, 20 foot deep holes unmarked in the middle of the road just waiting to swallow an unsuspecting motorcycle and rider whole. This and the menagerie of animals on the road was our introduction to Albanian driving. (The drivers have interesting habits, too….).

There is not enough time (or electric charge in the various devices) to do justice to this day so it will warrant a second post. I am writing from Berat now. Today we do a primarily road tour towards Lake Ohrid on the Albanian Macedonian border. But there will be more dirt up high too…

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