Albania gets called “the last secret of Europe”; let me unveil the curtain a little bit and share my stories from the time I spent hitchhiking across this beautiful, albeit cold (in October!) country.
Missed the first part? Click here: Hitchhiking Albania: Adventures From the Road Less Travelled
Read the first part already? Let´s dive right in, then:
Elbasan to Lin
The Albanian mountains will take your breath away in a second; if the sight of them doesn´t, walking with 10kg on your back certainly will. We walk for one or two hours, eat fruit and finally stop in front of a locked restaurant. Looking at the map, F. chooses the village Lin as a place in the middle, not too close and not too far, where it should be possible to hitchhike today.
We wave our thumbs enthusiastically but nobody stops for us. At least half of the cars are Mercedes and there are many BMWs as well – it seems only rich people have a car here and as you probably know, they aren´t really the most friendly lot to a budget traveler with high hitchhiking hopes. We don´t feel too sad though, waiting, but only until one of the drivers shows us his middle finger.
After that, only a bus stops for us which we politely refuse. Un nuk kam leke, we say and the driver shakes his head and speeds away.
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I don´t think anybody´s going to stop for us here, I say, half pissed of, half sad.
Let´s just walk and see.
And so we walk; we follow the river and the view is stunning, although the water is low. A stray dog is chilling on an island of pebbles in the middle. Half of the road cracked down and fell into the river and the cars slow down, sharing the lane peacefully.
The peaks shine in the bright light of an October afternoon.
Someone honks at us, others wave their hands in a friendly manner. We walk on.
Near a gas station, a guy stops and call at us. That´s the ride we´ve been waiting for!
Suddenly, everything is cheerful.
The guy speaks perfect English and we try to entertain him with our shabby travel stories. He is going for a trip to Thessaloniki, together with his brother and his wife who ride along in their dark blue Cooper Mini. We stop to drink from a mountain spring – everyone in that village is just splashing water around, watering the plants or washing down the dust from the road, it seems. Soon enough, we get the first glimpse of the Ohrid lake, our goal for that day.
We want to cross to Macedonia, we tell our new friend, and hitchhike across there to Bulgaria and down to Turkey. (If we only knew better, we would have taken the chance and gotten all the way to Thessaloniki with this guy. But we don´t know yet that we are not going to be admitted to Macedonia and so we get off and walk down to the beautiful, ancient village of Lin.)
The houses are made of stone and even though the sun is still up, it is cold.
We cannot sleep outside in this weather, I remark plaintively. We pass a hotel and continue along the street as the locals watch us. Some lady with a toddler in her arms convinces us to take a look at her bed&breakfast. When she lowers the price a bit, we agree to stay there and jump right to the boat that comes free with the room. We paddle unevenly across the lake, admiring the nature, the transparent water, the setting sun, the mountains.
Let´s spend the remaining leke, we decide and eat a greasy fish soup at the restaurant.
The night is cold even inside and in the morning, we have a breakfast in the kitchen, watching an elderly villager drink some transparent alcohol of unknown origin and quality. The glass is the size of three Slovak shots and the owner fills it to the top. The TV shouts out some eerie series commercial and the man drinks without a bat of an eyelash.
We finish, pay and walk towards the Macedonian border. The cars are scarce, mostly trucks, but the view is stunning. A lady in a black scarf and a wide skirt sits on the grass and watches the cows graze. Maybe two or three kilometers later, an old man, equally dressed in black and laying in the grass next to some goats, whistles a song; the melody carries clearly in the fresh air.
We leave Albania and I am already looking forward to practicing my Cyrillic skills. The officer at the border is of a different opinion though and mercilessly turns us back. After some arguing at the Albanian border, we manage to get back and congratulate ourselves for not having spent all of the money.
However, now we really can´t afford to even pay for a bus ticket to the next village. As we walk, a van stops next to us.
Un nuk kam para, we say, but the wrinkled driver just laughs at our poor Albanian and waves us inside of the van.
He takes us, exhilarated of such an easy ride, all the way to Pogradec where we walk a bit more before hailing down two villagers who clearly don´t really understand the purpose of our thumbs up but still take us to Korce near the Greek border. They take us to the most fancy hotel in the town (not believing we don´t plan to stay in a hotel, let alone such an elegant one) where they proudly turn us into the hands of a confused receptionist.
We part cheerfully and we walk in the downtown which must be extremely pleasant in the summertime. Shaking because of the cold of a late afternoon, we look for WiFi and rent the cheapest room we can find online. We jump with joy when we see that there are two electric heaters in the cold room.
Korce to Greece
The morning in Korce is cold and uninviting and we end up staying inside until lunchtime when the guy named Kosta comes to pick up the keys. Apparently, he has written us a message, but since the internet connection got lost (probably because of the neighbors cutting the wrong cable while trying to share the connection without paying) we haven´t seen it. After five minutes, we agree to just lock the gate and throw the keys in across the fence because Kosta has to run for his dentist appointment and we are unbearably slow. We pack and we toss the keys in, hoping that the suspiciously looking guy who is leaning against the wall nearby won´t jump in right after we disappear around the corner. But then again, we will never know.
We collect some cardboard and leave the town; it seems to be perfect for bike riding, with a nice new lane leading along a big park.
We try to hitch a ride; a car with three people stops and they ask us where did we come from. Familiar smell of a burning plant rises from the open window but they are not going to Greece and so we keep walking.
After a while though, they come back for us. We ride, laughing and telling our story, then stop for water and a special cigarette.
They check you really thoroughly at the border, the younger one says, even your crotch and everything.
Unsure, I think that perhaps our EU passport and residence card can save us that trouble.
They drop us maybe twenty km later where we quickly and unexpectedly get a ride and two apples from a kind truck driver. Then a drunk man approaches us (Oh my, I think, nobody is going to stop for us now!) But he stops a car with two confused gentlemen who drive us all the way to the border, calling their friend in order to translate for us. The kindness of random people is the best part of hitchhiking; you get accidentally mixed up with whoever is around and when you really need it, the gods of the road never leave you stranded.
Soon my thumb is in the air again and we ride with two teachers, watching the glorious mountains flow by, accompanied by the sunset in slow motion.
Have you hitchhiked in the Balkan countries? What was it like for you? Share with me in the comments section!