This week’s guest post comes from Catherine Broughton, who has written an interesting and incredibly entertaining account of her experience road tripping through Albania.
We entered Albania via Podgorico in Montenegro. I don’t know, there is something about the name “Montenegro” that made me think it would be stunningly beautiful – and the coastal area was, but then so are most coastal areas. The rest was not. Beautiful, that is.
We stayed the night in the one and only half-way decent hotel in Podgorico and in the morning wandered, caravan on tow, round various streets, none of which had any signs but all of which we were told led to the border in to Albania. It took some minutes to locate what was apparently a border. They didn’t want to see our passports and didn’t notice the massive dog (George) in the back.
We travelled down, passing through extremely poor areas, as far as Durres where we stopped for lunch. George was desperate to get out of the car and in no time we were surrounded by a crowd of boys, all open-mouthed in astonishment at our huge dog. One or two could speak a little English.
“What is?” asked one.
“A Great Dane,” I replied.
“Big dog,” he said.
“Yes,” I agreed.
I made us sardine sandwiches in the caravan and found a lorry driver who could speak some German. I asked him if the road through the mountains in to Greece was passable in view of the size of our rig.
“Ya, ya,” he said carefully, brow creased, “ya, mit achtung.”
“Yes, it’ll be OK,” I reported back to Bruce, “mit achtung”.
“Jolly good,” he said.
As much as the north and centre of Albania was ugly and poor – and even slightly frightening with menacing-looking groups of men at every street corner – so the south of Albania was beautiful. I can honestly say it was one of the most lovely areas I have ever been to. Stunning mountains and breath-taking sea views, mile upon mile of velvet hills, superb forests, azure sky … we were mesmerized.
“We need to stop at the next village and buy food for George,” I said.
The road wound on, in parts very rough and in parts quite good. Chicken wire was rigged up to mark precipices and to stop – one assumes – us going over the edge. Yes, excellent. More incongrously we saw a pedestrian crossing road sign – there were not even any other vehicles, let alone pedestrians, for miles and miles. But I suppose they had to put it somewhere, and chose a very lovely mountain pass. Eventually we came to tiny shanty-village boasting a large modern shop with SUPERMARKET written on the front. We could see through the windows that all the shelves were bare and the place was thick with dust. Oh dear, poor George. We stopped anyway and let him out. He was the human equivalent of 100 years old then and he couldn’t wait for either food nor water – nor his doggie-doings either. And believe me, if a Great Dane has an accident it is a very big accident!
A group of women suddenly appeared out of the little shanty-town village. Dressed in extremely shabby varieties of Muslim garb, with rubber flip-flop shoes, they surrounded us. They seemed to be trying to ask us something. They were not begging, and they were not selling anything. I, in turn, tried to ask them if there was any food to be bought and eventually, by rubbing my tummy and making eating motions, they understood. Yes, yes, follow us they said, and I disappeared with them down a narrow alley with makeshift dwellings on either side. It was clean in that there was no litter, nor unsavoury smells, but rags covered the windows and Poverty was written on every inch.
Eventually, after winding our way through several little passage-ways, me in my Jaeger slacks and top, and some seven or eight of them in all their dark draperies, we ducked under a low door and I found myself in what was apparently a shop. It took a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, and I saw several shelves on which were arranged an assortment of tins with no labels. Flies buzzed round and round. There was barely enough room in the shop for us all, and all the women started to babble at me and pointed to the shelves.
Stupidly I had left my sketch pad in the car. My sketch pad goes everywhere with me and I have been able to explain what I need in many countries thanks to it. I wanted meat for my dog. I picked up a tin.
“Baaa- baaaa?” I asked.
Oooh, no no, it’s not baaaa-baaa. They understood immediately.
I imitated picking something from a tree.
Yes, yes, they all agreed, it had come off a tree. They were thrilled. George wouldn’t want it, but I put it to one side to purchase, because they clearly wanted me to buy it.
“Baaaa-baaaa?” I asked, gesturing to the shelves.
They all looked crestfallen.
“Oink-oink?” I then asked, realizing as I said it this is a Muslim country. So I changed it quickly to “moo-mooooo?”
Ah yes! They were delighted. One of them reached up and grabbed a tin of moo-moo. They were even more delighted when I said I wanted four tins of moo-moo. I paid them, keep the change I said, and how do I find my way back to the car ?
In a flurry of long grubby robes, they led me through all the little alleys back to the car. One of them stood still while I did a sketch – she wouldn’t smile. Somebody afterwards told me that some Muslim cultures don’t approve of human representations. We drove away and they all waved. I often wonder what they’d have thought had they known that their tins of moo-moo were for the dog.