Thursday, September 30, 2010

From Croatia to Greece.. do you know what's in between there?!_

Well, neither did I.. but apparently you have to get through three other countries before you can get there overland!! Not to mention the gorgeous, but incredibly slow coast road from Split to Dubrovnik and beyond...

The first country was Bosnia and Herzegovina which was no big deal. In fact, I didn't even take off my helmet when they checked my passport both on the way in and the way out!! It was just a quick pass through the country that took maybe an hour or less...

The second, Montenegro, was slightly more stressful when they asked for all my papers - which I have of course, but wasn't expecting the question, so didn't have them readily available. In fact, annoyingly, they were tucked away safely right in the bottom of my bag!! Three quarters of a frustrating hour later, and I was through.

It's funny you know, border control stations, no matter between which countries, seem to be such hostile and stressful places. None of the guards ever have smiles except when they're holding your passport, talking in another language to their colleagues, and laughing (what on earth could be so funny? Just give me my damn passport and let me in!) and you always feel guilty until proven otherwise... not a nice feeling. Plus, for me, the ride into any new country is always filled with anxious tension as I learn the quirks of the new roads and how not to die on them, the new signs, the new people, the worry of if I remembered the right currency or not (or even if I remember what currency the country use!!). Thankfully the Euro makes it pretty easy, and experience has shown in a lot of cases, Euro will be accepted even in countries where they've not yet converted..

After a long ride, I spent a pretty relaxed night camping in Petrovac, with my new little friend Jenny... I seem to have a newfound power of picking up since my travels began... she was so cute too, and stayed the night with me. Here's a picture of her:



I wish I had planned to stay in Montenegro for longer, it seems like a cool place, and really pretty too, but alas, I had places to go, people to meet...



For the third leg, the anxiety was somewhat enhanced as the ride took me into Albania... the land of toothless carjackers, gypsies, and in some cases - no return. Or so the interwebulatormachine tells me.

After the night in Montenegro where I'd met some other bikers who'd just come up through Albania and warned me of the gypsies literally trying to grab things off your bike, and dodgy roads, I rode quickly but tentatively toward the Albanian border, with plans to just put my head down and get through the country in one day, thereby avoiding what would be certain death if I was to stay the night. Just a few kilometres shy of the border, I was pleased to meet Andy and Ian, a couple of bikers who were on a similar trip across the border - so we joined forces for the crossing, and as it turns out, got through without a hitch, albeit a slow crossing with many others heading into Albania (each on a suicide mission no doubt).

So step one passed without problem - obviously they just make it easy for you to get in, to lull you into a false sense of security..

The next challenge was making it through the border town where, by all reports, we would have gypsies hanging off us, trying to steal our gold tooth fillings (if not our actual teeth) as we rode deeper into their country's clutches. But alas no, in fact, not a single gypsy in sight. So Andy, Ian and I pushed on through and commenced our battle with the Albanian roads...

But again, battle it was not. The roads were actually quite good to start with. So I left Andy and Ian as I pulled over to fill with fuel. Waving goodbye to whom I was sure would be the last English speakers I would ever have contact with - as I would no doubt have my worldly belongings stolen, my bike picked to pieces and sold in exchange for weaponry,  and be locked away in a basement to starve to an inglorious death.

Believe it or not, no, none of this happened. In fact, whilst the fuel station attendant did indeed have no teeth, spoke no english at all (I do love playing charades to explain I need to wee, I'm getting quite good at it), and also kept my 5 Euro in exchange for only 4.50 Euro worth of fuel - I felt entirely safe, and comfortable in the modern, well equipped fuel station.

The journey from here continued in much the same fashion, though the roads did get a little dodgier... a three lane road, with no markings, shared by all road users travelling any direction they wish, was a little testing.. especially when the asphalt part suddenly drops 20cm and is replaced with horrid gravel tracks, but this I got used to and pushed through til about 2pm when it got far too hot to keep going for the moment, and decided to stop at Durres, a beach town in the north of Albania, for some lunch, relaxing, and hiding from the heat til it cooled a little later in the day and I could keep going. I wanted to push through as quickly as I could, but in the heat - where I was feeling a little light headed already - it would have been dangerous to keep going.

I, of course, got impatient though, and still wanting to make it through to Greece that day, I got back on the bike an hour or so later and started again...

Pleasingly, I came across what appeared to be genuine motorway. Signposted, lane marked, good quality motorway. I was feeling very confident of making it through the Greek border, and even getting some of the way into Greece. Indeed the road was fantastic, for the whole 3 kilometres or so it lasted. From here, it sadly went downhill, not literally unfortunately. The quality of the roads returned to narrow, mountain hugging, curved, avenues of death... but were still covered mostly in asphalt, and I could still keep a reasonable pace, albeit it at the risk of my own life - I figured the risk was worth it if it meant making it through to Greece before nightfall.

After a few more hours of this, painstakingly slow going, I stopped for some fuel -which was where my trip could well have ended...

I made it through the fuel stop though, and continued on up and along the increasingly curvy, mountain roads - sometimes having to dodge landslides that had evidently occurred within the days prior and hadn't yet been cleared from the road. At about 6pm, I could see the light starting to fade and be hidden by the mountains in some places, which made me even more eager to get a move on.

Albania had other ideas. It was at this point the roads.. well.. disappeared. Instead, only dusty, dirty, gravel tracks were left. Now I had accepted the fact that I would be sleeping in Albania for the night. I would have turned around believing that I was obviously on the wrong path if it weren't for the steady flow of other traffic travelling with me. This was obviously the right way - the only way - through to the next big town (Girokaster) where I had decided would be a good place to aim for, and look for somewhere to stay. The light was fading too quickly though, scarily in fact, as the "road" I was now on was literally covered with brick sized pieces of fallen rock taking my average speed down to about 20kph. Aside from the other traffic, and a shepherd with his flock of sheep, the place was deserted - not the place to seek somewhere to pull over for the night. So push on through I did, too far into the dark to be safe, and finally made it out the other side - in the rain no less - where the roads had improved and I happened across the small town of Telepane with a service station, a hotel, a beer, and the best bed and nights sleep I have had on my trip so far!! All for 20 Euros, including an espresso to see me off in the morning!

It was probably the scariest and most stressful riding of my trip so far... so bad in fact, that I didn't even stop for a photo of the horrendous roads...

The morning however, after the greatest night's sleep ever, was absolutely beautiful. And with the assurance of the hotel staff that the roads from here to the border were much better than what I had just experienced, I set out shortly before 8am for the best morning of riding I've had so far. In this weather:





I breezed to the border in less than an hour, and was in Greece by 9, where I enjoyed some great riding roads, and gorgeous weather for my welcome... a nice way to end an otherwise hectic trip! I'd do it all again in a heartbeat!


Clark said...

I like the photos. We wanted to make it down to Montenegro too, but we didn't make it. Hope the roads in Greece are giving you a smoother ride.

Carlz said...

I'm glad I read this again at home - I read the RSS feeds when they come in at work, but as Flickr is blocked I was interested to see Jenny!
I'm sure you can appreciate the story reads quite differently without photos!