🇦🇱
Chapter 3: The Riders of the Zodiac.

""
Early in the morning, I jumped out of bed and the first thing I did was to check the weather outside, warily expecting bad weather, but everything seemed to have calmed down compared to last night, when the Illyrian gods were fighting amongst themselves with wind, thunder and lightning! This was the time to enter Albania and see what that country, pretty much forgotten by travel guides, had (or didn't have) to offer. We crossed another border and said goodbye to our dear Montenegro and hello to our as-yet-unknown Albania. The morning route was actually quiet, the road alternating between modest roads, where only a car and a half can fit in the lane - when two cars on the converged on the same spot, one had to wait for the other to pass - and then secondary roads, with stripes painted on the ground, but still tiny and narrow. Many lonely and modest houses were also dotted along the way, old cars, people driving by in their wagons, stray dogs all around in the streets... It sort of reminded of a certacountry where I was born, somehow.

""
We followed along the road until we crossed the Buna Bridge and officially arrived in Shkodër, a city with a beautiful name, repeat after me "Shkodër (issxiróder)", and things seemed to be looking up: signposted streets, commercial establishments, it felt just like being back in Brazil! From the bridge, we could see a small castle, Rozafa Castle, all the way up at the top of the mountain, those were Venetian ruins in Albania. We turned left, past the foot of the mountain, and on towards the region where the snotty German had pointed a hostel out to us on the map. And we were officially in the Albanian chaos! And how were we to find that damn hostel? Bruno noticed a graffiti on the wall of a building, something about a "Hostel" and an arrow that pointed to the left, we crossed ourselves and started to pray - in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti (†) - and followed the arrow.

""
Summary of that day at the pedal: From mud to chaos, from chaos to mud. In a collective hysteria on the road, pedaling alongside cars, trucks, donkeys, alien spaceships... And eating dust like a camel in the Sahara, this is how we spent our day pedaling on Albanian roads. And yet we achieved the feat of cycling 97 kms to Tirana, in a relaxed way - with a lot of satire and irony - Bruno and I kept rowing our boat towards the unexpected.

""
And hours after cycling a few more kilometers, we stopped for lunch, and if there is one thing about Albania we'll always remember, it's how cheap food was there. We spotted a big brand new gas station and a restaurant next door, just like the ones you see in Brazil, in fact, there were a lot of them wherever we went in Albania, which helped us a lot. We stopped at this roadside restaurant, I went inside to check it, and it seemed nice and clean, we locked our bikes outside and headed in. They didn't speak a word of English, but the chef spoke Italian and came out to welcome us, so I had to employ my great (cough) Italian with him, it worked and everyone was happy. He thought Bruno was dutch and I was norwegian, dope... Anyhoo, we stuffed out mouths, we ate like savage pigs! With a beer to wash it all down and coffee after our lunch, and listen to this, we only paid 8 euros each, 999 Lek Lek! Of course, after all that eating, going back to cycling would be quite a sleep-inducing challenge, but a few kilometers - of dust in the face - afterwards, we were already on track and pedaling towards Tirana again. But the worst part of it all was just getting starting, good golly!

""
Our plan for Albania was to enter via the nor- thwest, follow the most central part of the country and leave through thesoutheast towards southwest Macedonia, thus circling the Albanian coast, and making camp where we were going through seemed totally out of the question, both for the places we cycled past and for the price of things, so cheap that it paid more to get a hostel than to set up camp. And so it was in Tirana, we had already researched a hostel before cycling out in the morning, and as soon as we entered the city, we headed towards it, it was at just such times that the GPS on my bicycle handlebars saved us, because all we had to do was follow the directions and pray they were right. The problem was just finding those strange addresses on it, sometimes I had to use common sense and read the map "mentally" and follow my gut instinct. And despite the fact that the hostel was located in a rather strange place - chaotic and dirty -, the environment inside was quite nice and tidy, a good find. I took a shower, settled down in the room, and we went down to the lounge, they even had their own craft beer there, a very good one. Two glasses of beer later, it was time for the customary afternoon stroll through the center of town.

""
And suddenly, a few blocks later, Tirana proved to be quite a different city, somewhat confusing, I'll admit, and as a Brazilian I'm not one to talk about that. In a city with chaotic, narrow, dirty and potholed streets, out of nowhere appeared wide avenues, beautiful estates, prominent - and very well lit - mosques, and even traffic lights, and everyone respected them! What happened? Did I enter another dimension, did I go through a portal? Jokes aside, the city surprised us with every step we took, we walked along super peacefully at night, some charming places, lined with trees, full of stores, imported cars, all of that was evidence of the restructuring and modernization that the country was going through, even if the signs of past crises and inequality were still strongly visible. I don't know if that was good or bad, but I do hope to one day be able to see a rejuvenated and modern Albania, and that all the suffering and destruction that I saw while cycling through the country are no more than a distant memory. The only problem is that we didn't care in taking photos of everything we see, so, for you, to get to know there, you must GO THERE! Enjoy.

""
Another day in Albanian soil... A great breakfast that was included in the price of the hostel and let's go hit the road, speaking of hitting - literally -, hit my face on the asphalt was pretty easy on that road. We followed my GPS until we left the chaos of the city behind and entered the chaos of the rest of the country. We cycled along the road parallel to the main road towards Elbasan. We proceeded by parallel roads as far as we could, then they merged into the main one and we had to make our way between cars, trucks, donkeys, ETs, ghouls, goblins... you know, all kind of living creatures that habits Albania.

""
We kept going until we reached a stretch - another one - that was being restructured, widened and repaved. A region called Mushqeta, just before the boundary between Tirana and Elbasan. I noticed that there were some policemen around, I lowered my head and pretended I didn't even see them, we kept pedaling, we passed the police and they didn't say anything and so we went on, suddenly we realized that we were approaching a big tunnel and the sign said "Tunnel 3kms". Shit! Only a few meters ahead, another policeman, on the other side of the track, was already shouting and waving at us to show that bicycles weren't allowed there and that we would have to go back and go "over", across the mountains... Yeah, we tried.

""
But what seemed challenging, and actually was, showed us another side of Albania that we almost missed, the natural beauty of the country. And to this day I thank that policeman for being there and for not allowing us to take the easy way. We turned back a little and then turned left to start the climb, and what a climb! We started out at 400 meters and went up to 1000 meters in altitude, with a temperature that varied from 14 degrees to 19 degrees, all of this in two hours of this stretch cycled. There were so many steep climbs that we stopped at one of them to make coffee and get some rest. 

""
At the top of the mountain, the road stretched out flat and from there we saw a wild, beautiful and mountainous Albania! Another face of that country, far from that dusty chaos left by humans, close to nature and the peace that it afforded us. It was almost two hours of silence during the trip, a few modest houses along the way, and old men and women herding their sheep and smiling as we passed by, a man even showed us a water spout he had near his house just in case we needed some.

""
Then it was time to go down all the way back to where we had started our climb, and what a descent it was! There were eleven minutes of super steep and curved descent "crooks"! I almost ran over a flock of sheep that were crossing the road when I came down! Béééh...

""
According to the Stoics, nothing happens without reason, there is a prin- ciple behind everything. And that policeman forbidding us to go forward through the tunnel was the principle and the reason why we had to go up and cross those mountains and therefore have - by far - my best experience in Albania. Sure enough!

""
And I kept thinking about it while heading uphill, the road wound up the mountain and seemed endless, I looked back and I could see the whole path we took, with a cloud of smoke and dust in the air. And as I followed the road, turn after turn, trucks would drive up side by side and just barely miss me, the road had no shoulder, so all I could do was keep pedaling up and praying. Fourteen hundred meters in elevation later, from all the way up there, I took one last look back, sighed, stretched my aching body and said goodbye to Albania. So long my dear, may we never meet again.

""
Macedonia, here we go!

Colin Farrell Alexander GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Quer saber como é pedalar e se aventurar pela Europa? Saiba todos os detalhes da aventura com o livro "Pelos Cantos da Europa", já a venda nas principais livrarias e plataformas digitais!

Para mais detalhes clicar nos links abaixo.