For breakfast we had a coffee in the bar of a guy who had worked in Germany for 6 years and spoke German quite well. Amongst other things he told us that living costs had increased a lot in Albania over the last years. The average monthly income is approx. 200 Euro. Fuel, for example, costs about 1,50 Euro per litre – almost as much as in Germany. He also told us that there was no boat or ferry service on the Liqeni i Fierzë anymore – maybe 10 years ago there was one.
We left Kukës quite late, almost at noon. Not far from the city we had a short break at the road side. A guy stopped to ask if we needed any help. Turned out he was German and worked for a German NGO called Nehemia in Krumë, a town some 25km down the road. We looked for the office there but it was closed for the day already.
Our planned destination for tomorrow was Bajram Curri, approx. 100km from Kukës. Tonight we wanted to camp somewhere in between. The other option we had discussed was to go to Kosovo. To make a long story short, at the respective junction we flipped a coin. I kind of didn’t like the result (heads – ‘go to Bajram Curri’) and András was ok with overriding it, so we’re now in the city of Gjakovë in Kosovo.
We both opted in to have Kosovar entry stamps put in our passports. This might pose a problem later when we (try to) enter Serbia. As you may or may not know, Serbia considers Kosovo part of its territory, whereas Kosovo has declared indepenence in 2008 and is de facto self-governed, excluding some provinces in the north of Kosovo which are administered by Serbia. Now, Serbia might or might not accept passports with Kosovar stamps. The situation is somewhat unclear to us and the Kosovar border guards could only tell us that for them, Albanians and Kosovars alike, entering Serbia is at least problematic.
Kosovo seems as friendly as Albania. Personally and totally subjectively, I like it a tad better so far.
Yesterday the head of the family asked at what time we wanted to leave today. I had no clue what was appropriate and just guesstimated 9am.
This morning the family started to move with first light – around 5am. We got up at 7, had a coffee and milk directly from the cow, and were on the road by 7:40am.
We kept cycling along the Black Drim’s valley. More or less. Twice we had to climb out to circumnavigate a narrow gorge. That was a couple hundred meters in elevation both times, and quite exhausting.
We’re in the town of Kukës now. The original Kukës was submerged in the 1970s when the Liqeni i Fierzë reservoir lake was created. It’s not pretty and there is lots of construction work going on. People are nice, though.
We were totally exhausted after arrival and downed 3 liters of some dangerously coloured fizzy drinks pretty much immediately. Average speed and temperatures were mostly identical to yesterday’s – around 10km/h and 42°C (in the sun), respectively.
I bought an emergency replacement for Frankenwheel – some cheap Chinese rubber tyre that won’t last long but would hopefully bring me to the nearest city if need be.
It is now 10pm and still 26°C.
We finally left Peshkopi at around 11am, after some shopping for food.
Communication is getting more and more difficult. My bits of Russian are useless, and so are Hungarian, French and German. Some people, like last night’s receptionist, speak English to some degree, but mostly it doesn’t go any further than ‘How are you?’ and ‘Where are you from?’.
We left the main road that connects Peshkopi with Kukës and cycled down into the Black Drim valley. The pavement soon ended and the road became a rough gravel track. Our total average speed didn’t exceed 10km/h.
Many houses of the few settlements along this road were abandoned and crumbling. We didn’t see a single shop of any kind.
On the last descent my rear tyre almost exploded. It had worn out near the rim, probably due to one too many stones rubbing along.
Of course I didn’t have any spares… András to the rescue. He’d brought a spare inner tube that we put into the wheel. We also swapped front and rear tyres and taped the problematic spot. Frankenwheel was born.
We then crossed the Black Drin, or Drini i zi, as it is called in Albanian. There is barely any flat land in the valley, so we started inquiring at the scattered houses about the possibility to pitch our tents in their – hopefully flatish – gardens. Quite a difficult endeavour, as it was impossible to find a common language. Fortunately, some gestures are universal, or at least widely understood.
We are staying in a 3-generation household of 8 people. We received a fine dinner and are sleeping in their lounge.
Temperatures peaked at 42°C (in the sun).
Today’s ride along the shore of Lake Ohrid and then the Black Drim, Lake Ohrid’s only outflow, was easy. We covered the 70km to Debar in a bit more than 3 hours.
The Black Drim’s valley is beautiful – if you don’t look at the details. It is full with plastic bottles, plastic bags, and other rubbish. The lack of sense for every-day, visible pollution is a serious problem in all of Macedonia. But the real problem is that we (‘The West’) just export our oh-so-civilized progressive achievements without teaching about the consequences. People here are just not aware that plastic doesn’t decompose within any reasonable amount of time.
A pleasing attempt has been made in the Galičica National Park, where notice boards inform about decomposition times of various packaging materials. Interestingly only in Macedonian language, whereas all other signs are bilingual (English/Macedonian).
After Debar we said Good Bye to Macedonia, the land of the open Wifis, and crossed the border to Albania.
The road became much hillier and far worse in quality almost instantly. The people seemed even more friendly than in Macedonia – almost everyone greeted.
So, the last 20km to Peshkopi were far more exhausting than the 70 before.
Arriving in Peshkopi we were quite the attraction with our bikes. Though not only in a positive way. The streets were filled with mostly male youths and youngsters, some of which cracked jokes about us in a loud and obvious way. It wasn’t the most cordial welcome… However, as soon as you speak to someone directly people are friendly and helpful.