18 September 2011

This had been a dilemma for me even when planning the trip. I was still undecided on my arrival in Skopje.

There were two basic choices: via Albania or Kosovo.

I’d been recommended a route through Kosovo prior to leaving London. My insurance didn’t cover me there though. I was apprehensive about Albania with thoughts of bad roads and bad drivers.

After heading to Ohrid on Saturday morning I was basically committed to the Albanian route. At least I had a green card for Albania. Ivan from Villa Forum confirmed I had made the right choice, but there still remain deeply held feelings in this part of the world so I wasn’t convinced.

It was a short ride from Ohrid to the Albanian border. I’d been a bit slack being Sunday and all – this is usually my day off the Family Truckster but not today. I hit the road around 10am.

Little did I know then it would be my longest day in the saddle.

The first border crossing went well.

No problems getting into Albania and it was all main highways west to Elbasan and then north west via Tirana and Shkodra.

The GPS even had the roads I was going on. Until I got to the two major cities and then it was hopeless. So were the road signs in Elbasan and Tirana but I did get to see some on the less touristy parts of town.

But on the way there was some simply spectacular mountain roads to traverse – no complaints from me about the road surface or drivers, and the accompanying scenery was equally impressive. If only the air quality was better.

Pollution is a big problem in Albania, especially in Tirana. There is litter just everywhere. Some of the city streets and rivers stink. There was no blue sky. Sure it may have been a bad day or perhaps it is is due to geographical challenges hindering air quality, but this was like China (interestingly once a big influence on Albania). I passed a massive steel mill and saw an example of communist industrialisation at its worst.

But the things I’d feared most were simply not an issue. Roads were fine unless I ventured off the highway (only when lost) and fellow motorists were relatively well behaved. I actually enjoyed riding on the wonderful, twisty mountain roads through central Albania. Interestingly, I passed more touring/adventure motorcyclists in eastern Albania within an hour than I had seen in the whole of Turkey over 4 weeks.

Perhaps I’d already been conditioned by Turkey.

Rodger, the true blue country Aussie I’d met in Eceabat, had warned me to steer clear of Albania. On some points he was absolutely correct. Road signs showing directions to the next town are all but non-existent, making navigation challenging.

But, at the risk of insulting my new Turkish friends, the roads surfaces and drivers were better than my experiences in Turkey. There even seemed to be some regard for the centre line, but indicator use was minimal.

Soon I was crossing the border into Montenegro and headed for the Bay of Kotor.

Little did I know this afternoon would be one of the most drama filled of this Turkey motorcycle tour.

To be continued …