Today we are sat in the shade of a barn where our bags and camping gear are stored away from the furnace of the sun at a basic campsite ‘rocklandcamp’ in Demir Kapija, Macedonia. We are recovering from our first short illness (yesterday), brought on by bad water or food. Wild camping has its benefits but becoming ill without a toilet is not the best and all I can say thanks to B for covering up my tracks of illness.
We have spent 9 days traversing Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia. We both were unsure of what to expect as we had several warnings from others but to our surprise we have had a insightful journey. We exited Montenegro into Albania and instantly a new country and culture smacked us. There were more rudimentary vehicles, horses and carts, tractors and more rubbish littered everywhere. This was not a rich country and we both felt a slight edge. After several days travelling around the ‘edge’ was still there but the Albania people where warm, welcoming and genuine. Our route through Albania took us to Shkrodër, up to the dam/river port of Koman where we spent a strange night sleeping on the roof of the boat before the morning departure. The tension between 2 ferry operators was clear to hear and the restaurant/bars selection on who it served food to or not we believe was based on the boat you took. We didn’t eat that night! The ferry ride was stunning along the river and well worth the lack of sleep experienced. Our resting spot was then further up the road to Bajram Curri on the fringes of a National Park. With no campsites or wild camping spots on offer we found a new hotel that offered all the luxuries and great food.
The following day we began the ride to the Kosovo border, where we were informed not to go Serbia ( by the guards) and if we wanted a stamp as this may cause problems if entering Serbia! The few days in Kosovo where great the people again warm and hospitable and the abundance of industry, manufacturing, food and some dispensable income was more apparent than seen in Albania. Our first stop was in Gjakovë, a town that was badly damaged in the 1999 war. The only residue to be seen were the signs for the speed limit for tanks. It was clear to see much rebuilding had been undertaken but with little planning. The main highlight was the old bazaar, full of wooden buildings originally housing over 400 artisans from silversmiths, leather makers, tailors, carpenters, weavers, felt makers and bookbinders. We discovered that both Shkrodër and Gjokovë were part of the trade routes from Istanbul and bookbinding was an important method of record keeping. However, there did not seem to be any current practice of bookmaking or paper making. The journey took us up on another big climb to 1500 metres in the national park of Sharritt. A tough day as the heat drained the salty sweat from our body’s. The Kosovo warmth and hospitality came into its own as we asked in a local restaurant if there was anywhere we could camp and the guy said sure here in our garden, you can have the use of the toilet to. We joined the locals as they celebrated the end of Ramadan waiting for the sun to set before eating a great meal of river trout. In the morning the lady owner greeted us with smiles and requests for photographs. Thank you restaurant Gold, Mushnikovë. Recharged with the warmth of the hospitality, the morning after we climbed the National Park reaching the pass at 1500 meters. From there we had the best downhill day after which after some 80 km brought us over the border into Macedonia. Before a near miss on the road as a lorry containing cement or similar exploded its contents everywhere!
Macedonia has been an odd place and there has been a lack of connection with the people and it is hard to describe what we have seen but compared to all the other Balkan countries visited Macedonia has not been a highlight. The roads however have been generally quiet and you can avoid any major roads. We have spent several days touring after the eclectic city of Skopje of monuments, bridges and statues which reminded us of a theatre setting or façade cycling along the north -south R1102. Being a landlocked country it has been a furnace in late June and temperatures expected to reach 43°C this week. We are crossing the border into Greece tomorrow but planning to start by 6am and adapt a new 4.30am wake up and on bikes 6/6.30am and stop 12/1pm as temperatures are not conducive to exercise.
Cycled just over 3,000km / 11 countries crossed