Montenegro and Albania - Not all those who wander are lost.
Wandering that I was. I’d left Dubrovnik early in the morning and was now making my way towards Montenegro. Everything was perfect except for one thing, the weather. It was biblical, both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. It was beautiful because it was raining on the mountainside, but not over the sea and the sun shone white through the clouds, I felt like I was a Victorian painting of a storm. Why was it terrifying then?
I called the weather biblical. The reason for that is because if it had continued I’m pretty sure we’d have seen Noah on his ark pretty soon. The rain was torrential. In French we have a saying “Il pleut des seaux” or “it rains buckets”. These weren't buckets, they were barrels. Now for most people it more of an inconvenience because you can’t see very well, but there’s a few things different in my case.
1) I’m in a tall van on offroad tires on twisting roads, meaning that if you go to fast in a corner, there is a real risk of falling over.
2) I’m on mud tires, great for offroad and mud, awful for evacuating water from themselves. This meant that I was aquaplaning in some corners. It’s scary normally, even more so when the drop to your left is roughly 1000m into the sea.
3) The van weight close to 2 tons fully loaded, meaning that stopping fast and where you want is a miracle.
4) Most cars have all kinds of stability control, anti-lock brakes, traction control etc… I don’t. in this car; all those systems? They’re me, and I haven’t been driving for very long.
Eventually I passed the storm and entered Montenegro, it was a stunning as Croatia, but wetter and greener, in some places it did look like the hills were a rainforest. Nothing special happened, apart from taking a ferry which I hadn't done in ages.
I then wandered, too absorbed by the scenery to pay attention to the directions I had to follow. I think it’s the best thing I’ve done so far. At some point I realized I was going the wrong way and turned around and took a small country road to get back to where I was supposed to be. When I say “small country road” I mean “small country road” with space enough for one car and at one point a climb so steep I genuinely though I wasn’t going to make it, but I did. I kept going, crossing through rows of olive trees, small villages until around a corner, I spot a vw t3 van.
I slow down and notice that it’s equipped for a roadtrip, so I slow down some more.
This is where life gets all mysterious and amazing. When you ‘re far from home and in the middle of nowhere the last thing you expect is people like you, exactly like you.
They was an “F” on the license plate. They were French.
I didn’t think twice, I stopped. To be fair I think I surprised them a lot more than I had been when they a) saw another roadtrip van b) heard French from the man coming out of a vehicle registered in Poland.
We had a great time, we talked about our respective trips, about our vans and travelling. It was amazing. They had done eastern and western Europe and were on their way to Kazakhstan and the surrounding countries ( I can’t exactly remember :/ ). They were charming, and had done their van by themselves and it was amazing. I may have been better equipped (fridge, shower & gas cooker) but they had style, they were cool. You can’t buy that. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit envious. Did I mention it was a T3? The one I wanted to take initially but never found one?
They also have a blog, which I’ll now be following closely called garlikstan (google it, it’s the only one with that name, and they have insta too), it’s in French only but so well made ( I might steal a few ideas from you guys ;) ).
The highlight of this unexpected meeting? I now have a Polaroid picture of us three in front of our van placed on my rear view mirror. Oh and I gave them one of my stickers.
I followed them until a bit after the Montenegro/Albania border and then we parted ways.
Now this is the part of the day I wish never happened. Albania. I don’t think I’ve disliked a country so much. Not because the people are awful, they’re actually very kind and helpful ( more about this after), but because of the roads and the way they drive.
People in Croatia have only been allowed to drive since 1992 so it’s relatively new for them. This also means that it’s hell, there are only two rules: 1-red light means stop, 2-you do what you want. The speed limit is a vague indication, turn signals inexistent, overtaking happens from the left and the right. Simultaneously. Poland, I have complained about your drivers, never again. They drive like saints compared to this. Even Mad Max has better driving than here. Now that’s just for the country sides, the cities are even worse.
I needed to tank up and there was no way I was doing it on the country roads here, it was too dangerous for my life, so I decided to head for the closest city and fill up there. Mistake, big mistake. The cities are worse. The number of cars across a road isn’t determined by the lanes (2/3 usually) but by the number of vehicles that fit on it, usually that’s 4, buses and trucks included. The worst is that even when the road is empty, they will drive across the lines separating lanes, all the time. Pedestrians are equally dangerous, they do not respect nor are respected by the drivers and cross at anytime. The overtaking method is the same as the one to change lane here: force the person you’re overtaking/getting in front of to slow down by putting yourself across their trajectory. I can go on for hours so I’ll sum up the general image to this: imagine bees in their hive, that’s what it feels like.
Eventually I got to the gas station I was looking for and of course hadn’t found anywhere to exchange my money to the local currency, but the man at the pump (didn’t speak any English) was very helpful and in the end it got sorted. The problem was that now my phone had died. I use it as a gps, I load the path on wifi and then use mappy.me which somehow manages to use no or very little data and be a gps. Problem was, there was no wifi there, so the pump man called over one of his friends, who called another and eventually a man who spoke English took me to a local bar, he knew the owner and so I got access to wifi. They were very entertained at the idea of me driving to Vietnam and all were very supportive. Now the maps would only get me to Greece once I was out of the city, so the guy who spoke English proposed to guide me out of it. !5 mins later I was on the highway having dropped him off at a bus stop. Once again, thank you.
Inght driving proved to be better than day driving, maybe because there are less people, but the day had been exhausting so once again I stopped on my most common sleeping ground: a gas station. And here I am, catching up on all the writing I should have done long ago. I’d like to apologise for taking so long to publish stuff.
My next stop is going to be Olympia in Greece, followed by Athens.