Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Pilgrimage from Dobra Voda to Muriljani 04/11/07

Sleeping in a farmer’s field it is always best to get up early. And there’s nothing like a few gunshots to help you along ;)

Getting away by 6:45, it was a pleasant walk towards the border. That’s right…Montenegro is almost finished with! It is a shame, five days has definitely not been enough. I will have to come back…

Fifteen kilometers from the border we could feel the change in the people already. It started with spotting Soviet missile sites on the hills…these embarrassingly enough turned out to be mosques :) It might just be the country air, but people are starting to open up. The people farther north had an edge to them that seems to have disappeared.

Stopping for lunch we met another fellow pilgrim. Mun Sung Do greeted us with a big smile and the steady stare of a traveler going through life with an open heart. His one year journey will take him around the world on his bike. Good luck mate. Have a ball!!!

Around 3pm we finally made the border. The Montenegrin side would have to be the most entertaining border post I have ever had to cross. It started with one of the guards asking me to film inside the office. Much to his amusement, it stressed out the guy working inside enough that for a second I thought my tape was going to be confiscated! Luckily I didn’t get anybody's face so they let it pass. But then I realized my still camera had gone missing! We still had our passports in hand so I asked if they wanted them…

“oh yeah, passports…”
He takes our passports, hands them to the guy in the office, who without even looking at them hands them straight back!
“there we go…”
“and my camera…?”
Everyone looks a bit confused. I realize that the chance of getting my camera back is pretty slim :(

But then as we were about to go my camera magically reappears in the hands of one of the guards. After taking a couple of pictures he returned it safely :)

And now we were in Albania!!! Out of all the countries I am heading through this would have to be the one I know the least about…

And holy shit!!! What a difference. If I had just hopped off an airplane I would not have thought I was in Europe. I didn’t even know there are still places in Europe you could turn up as a white westerner carrying a backpack and be treated as a novelty!

The kids would run up to us yelling “hello, hello”, and every 500m someone would stop to offer us a lift (mostly on horse and cart!). And what really topped off the image of Albania were the old soviet bunkers dotted along the side of the road in every second house's front yard!

It was way more than I had expected, but I had a slight warning in the form of an email that I received a couple of days ago by a woman who lives here…

“It looks like you'll be crossing the border soon from Montenegro into Albania? Near Shkodra? I went to Shkodra last weekend. It's apparently supposed to be a dangerous city, and I know it was only recently taken off the American embassy's list of "don't go" places, although that list is incredibly inflated. Be careful in the north, though. I've already had a gun pointed at me in Albania (though the kids who held us up were amateurs, and it wasn't really that scary). The road between Shkodra and Tirana is really flat and straight, and probably the safest way to come. However, you would miss out on an adventure if you didn't go into the mountains. Albanian hospitality in the northern highlands is unmatched--Albania is famous for it. According to the _Kanun_, the ancient northern Albanian "bible" of customs and ethics, a guest in your home takes on the form of God. In fact, traditionally an Albanian who broke the customs of hospitality would be killed. People up there, especially the older people, will treat you like royalty.”

On receiving this mail I wasn’t sure whether to pass it on to Steph or not, but since I had no idea what to expect I figured I better. The courage Steph has been showing has been phenomenal. It is one thing to walk/camp around the planet as a young white male but I imagine it is something else as a female. And I was impressed that her courage continued.

As it was starting to get dark we were keeping our eyes out for the welcoming “sobe” sign that has indicated a bed to sleep in for the last 600kms. But alas, there was nothing to be found...I don’t think they get too many tourists stopping around here. The nearest major town was Shkodra, about 14kms away, and as mentioned above it was probably not the place we wanted to be walking into in the dark.

Stopping at a bar to think about our options over a bottle of wine, we figure that we probably wouldn’t make it another 14kms anyway, so rather than staggering around looking for a campsite we would squat in a construction site we spotted about 100m before the bar. Not the best option for a first night in a strange country that still has Soviet bunkers littering the countryside, but it would have to do :)

Then, just to add to the third world feeling we were experiencing, there was a complete blackout which left us all in the dark for 15 minutes as they started the generator. It is obviously a common occurrence.

And then a miracle occurred…the bar shut at 8pm while we were still sitting there, and the owner, knowing that we were thinking about doing the walk to Shkodra, offered for us to sleep on the floor of the bar. What a champion!

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