ALBANIA: DISGUSTING & BEAUTIFUL, at the same time

I’ve been to Albania 4 times. I’ve biked it, rented a car and via public transportation. I followed an environmental group on Facebook who are from Shkoder. They clean up areas of garbage, that is found everywhere. They posted photos showcasing the amazing natural areas: waterfalls, trails, mountains and rivers. I tagged the areas they visited. I made an attempt to visit when I had the car. The gravel road was so unbearable, I turned around. They finally finished a paved road all the way to Theth in the past year. Time for a bike tour.

I’m taking my folding e-bike on the bus from Ljubljana to Bar Montenegro. Got a super guest house, The Lalic Guesthouse. A fully equipped apartment for only 25 euro. I put the bike together and rode to Shkoder, Albania the next day. I forgot that Montenegro has the same garbage problem as Albania and basically most of the Balkans. It’s been 10 years since I’ve ridden this road, I forgot how beautiful and low traffic it is. Climbing out of Bar, the houses were amazing with amazing views of Bar. Springs that were running water, seemed to always have someone filling their water containers.

My plan was to only go to Theth. Do some hiking, waterfalls & swimming. The first day in Shkoder was nice, but then the torrential rains started. I only had a 1 night reservation with Ronato of Old Town Guesthouse. I scrambled to find a place for a few days. I (stupidly) left my bike out in the rain. The next day I was ridding to the Mesi Stonebridge, 5km out the bike died. The rain shorted out the control panel. Then I thought, no electric bike? pedaling? that’s a no! As I was walking around, I saw a guy with a couple electric scooters in front. Like magic, he got the bike working again.
My little town/city Shkoder has really come alive. You could have thought you were in a beach party town anywhere. 9 years ago the street where I hired an artist, also had a few women selling vegetables. Now, they close the street at night, tables/chairs & music all up and down the street. What happened to my little Shkoder? (progress?) I waited to get the badly needed haircut til I got to Shkoder, 5euro (Ljubljana? 20euro). The dog situation is getting to be a little much. I witnessed several times dogs barking at people. Then again, they never beg & spent most days sleeping around town.

OWNER RONATO AND GUESTS
RAIN STORM AND MORE

Got the bike set, route mapped ( only 1 right turn), off to Theth. Planning to stop at a restaurant on the way & charge the battery, while eating. I’m camping at Boga Alpine Resort – Camping. It’s a super place, great restaurant, 5 euro camping & 19 euro mini-cabins. The Albanian owner, worked in the UK restaurant business for 10 years. I’m planning to stop on the way home again, just to have dinner again.

RODE UP THIS VALLEY THE FIRST DAY

Now for the dirty parts of Albania and yes, in the National Park too. The garbage problem is just HUGE here. They’ve put some dumpsters along the road, still the roads are covered, mostly with plastic bottles, energy drink cans & potato chip bags. I only picked up garbage you can see from the road. When I looked over the edge? The disgusting part of Albania. When I told someone here in Slovenia. They said when Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia, it was the same thing here too. So habits and solutions can be instituted, people can change when given the opportunity. I carry a garbage bag with me and I used it, filled & emptied it several times. After finally reaching the top, I looked down into Theth & thought “I’m in trouble.” It’s straight down, into a narrow valley and it’s straight back up in a few days.

I got a super nice campground site with a big picnic table and benches. First day I hitchhiked to Nderlysaj, a waterfall. At first I couldn’t get a ride. I removed my shirt to expose my Albanian Flag t-shirt, got a ride from the first car!
As I approached the waterfall, there was a small, clean plastic water bottle along the trail. If it’s there when I leave, I’ll pick it up. The photos I saw of this place had everyone swimming. I always swim in lakes, rivers and waterfalls. The water was so cold, this was the first time I didn’t swim. Leaving, 50 tourist had already walked right past that bottle and couldn’t pick it up? It’s not that difficult to give something back to the places you visit. I picked up garbage on the trail as I headed back, again, just what I can see. Looking over the edge?, garbage everywhere.

Next day, I hike to another waterfall. I invited an Italian acquaintance to join me. I ended up picking up more garbage all around the waterfall. I’m retired, “What are you doing now? Picking up garbage”, living the dream. We stopped for a beer, I was emptying my garbage bag. A local Albanian bought me a beer as a thank you.

This is the wettest part of Albania and it’s going to rain. I accomplished my goals for this area, time to head back UP the road. Picked up garbage as I climbed the hill too. Now I’m back at Boga Alpine Resort. It’s harvest time and they’re making Raki, a super strong alcohol. Quick shower, charge the battery, bowl of soup and off to Shkoder.

Back in Shkoder, I rent an AIRBNB apartment for 3 nights, (60euro). There’s some super restaurants in Shkoder: Fisi & Arti Zanave (a women shelter run restaurant), both shouldn’t be missed. Tradita has a super buffet breakfast. I ride to Mesi Stonebridge and to visit my favorite place, Bar Restorant Zalli I Kirit. I come here every time I’m in Shkoder, they remember me too (go figure). The best Greek Salad EVER! There are 50 football (soccer) kids celebrating the season. I thanked the coach for giving back to the community. I stop at the Mesi bridge for a photo, it’s raining heavy. There’s this questionable black stuff floating in the river? Back in Shkoder I had to take a photo of this tiled sidewalk. I walked over it several times and was cautious every time. It looks wavy, but no, it’s flat. I watched several different artist work on a Mesi bridge painting.

I like to tell both sides of the story. I did a presentation about a trip to Kosovo. I showed both sides, same, beautiful & disgusting. A women from Kosovo grieved me about showing both sides. When people visit, I show them what to expect, no surprises. Don’t like it? Clean up the garbage, Just saying.

I’ve lived car-free for nearly 10 year. This summer alone, I’ve visited & explored 7 countries. The bus, train, bike combination can take you wherever your heart desires.

Thanks for reading,

JEFF

NEXT? OCTOBERFEST MUNICH, NO BIKE!

3 thoughts on “ALBANIA: DISGUSTING & BEAUTIFUL, at the same time

  1. Rachel B

    Great post. Thanks for keeping these coming. I always enjoy seeing your updates. I see roadside litter all over the world. Your mom isn’t gonna come clean up after you, people.

    Reply
    1. jeffsbiketour Post author

      Thanks for the positive comment. I’m glad you still follow my travel tales. I’ve been to 7 different countries this summer, some twice. I never thought my retirement would be this fun. I meet people my age (66) & I feel lucky every day. Good luck to you and and yours
      Jeff

      Reply

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