Corfu – Sidiri -Corfu 100Km
I am laying on the ferry to Albania drinking a coffee frappe and I just peeled my socks off my mud splattered, very bruised, hairy scary legs. This morning was a race for time for Marie and I- we had to ride 35 …ks from Sidiri and get to the ferry port back at Corfu by 9am. What we didn’t know was that in the middle of that ride was a seven kilometre hardcore uphill endurance marathon of a mountain. Marie is definitely getting punished on her second day on the bike with the mountainous terrain on gorgeous Corfu. She arrived two days ago and we walked the narrow lanes of Corfu town that have a hint of Italy, with bright clothes strung on lines between buildings, the paint flaking off windows that flap in the breeze and romantic music drifting into every alleyway. It’s tourist central, but not many of them have English as a first language. We drank a pint of beer and I tried the famous Greek speciality moussaka- layered mince eggplant and beschemal sauce- then wondered ancient ruins and forts for the afternoon. Our rooftop view over the city from our hotel was staggering, and Marie swears the tingles she got were from amazement not jetlag. In the morning we were about to set off and explore the northern part of Corfu island, and a Swedish couple started asking us about the trip. Marie, aka James Bond, started speaking fluent Swedish and then went on to interview these people about their most peaceful moments for our peace project. The man grew up in Ethiopia and fought in the war, so he had many interesting things to say (apparently). I stood there setting up my bike, jaw kind of fixed to the floor while my cycling partner comfortably chattered away in what sounded like jibbersih to me. I feel assured that I am with a pretty incredible person from here on out. We rode along the coast, swallowing the beautiful views like sustenance for the body. I don’t think I would be able to ride 3500km if it were through the desert, but the views here take the mind of your thighs and keep you working just to see what lays around the next bend. We lounged for hours on this tucked away beach called Agni, flipping off the jetty, floating on our backs and doing yoga in the sun while our hands and feet dug into the wet sand. Blissful. The afternoon was a string of wonderful vegetated paths, narrow and slow roads and a thrilling thunderstorm. Big drops splashed all over us, making the day even more eventful and exciting than before. The mysterious mountains of Albania looked within a hands reach over the ocean from Corfu, with rain spirals and flowing patches of light pouring over the land like magic. Yachts were having a blast sailing in the strong wind, half turned on their sides and zooming along. Some of the boats here are mansions, with two masts the size of the pillars in the pantheon and deck space to fit an entire city. Dad would be salivating at the sight of them. I stopped at a specialised bike shop and got Pos’s chain tightened because it keeps slipping. I guess after 600kms she needs some tweaking. The men also put all sorts of oil and creams on her like a facial for my precious Pos. My thighs got covered in a fine mist of grease in the afternoon, but but the time I got to sidiri I couldn’t care less how I looked walking down the Main Street in swimmers sucking on rockmelon and on a beeline towards the beach. We soaked ourselves cool while the sun set over the rolling mountains, laughing about the wonders of life.
We have just arrived in Albania!
Avisto- Vore 93km We left the tiny town of Avisto after making great friends with the family who owns it. The eldest son has a degree in architecture but he can’t find a job because of the situation of the country. So he works full time at the hotel. The middle boy is studying medicine in Italian in the capital, Tirana. He speaks five languages at 19 years old and is unbelievably passionate about cars. Just like the rest of the Albanian population. A poor country with rich cars, I would say about a third of the cars that pass us on the roads are Mercedes. We took some pictures and ate some of the Albanian speciality, fetta stuffed pastry, and then then rode off, smashing out almost 70ks before lunch. The roads were hot, dry and narrow but still very busy with pedestrians and horses and carts piled high with hay. We peace sign everyone we look at and give them a big, toothy, sweaty smile. Every one of them responds with some kind of positive recognition and fills our legs with vibrant energy for the love of life. We were off the coast for about 90km, and when we came into the coastal party town of durres, we had no idea what we were in for. After surviving the busiest roundabout I have ever seen in my life, we picked up some supermarket picnic supplies and pictured ourselves on some secluded patch of beach within the next few minutes. The helpful guys at the supermarket told us the best part of the beach was up at the tropical resort, so we trudged up there and weren’t allowed to take our bikes down to the beach so chained them up and watched car after car roll into the pay parking. We carried our panniers down while looking at the signs to the ‘disco’ and the beach pointing to the same place. A huge pool with earth moving house music booming from speakers in every direction sat next to the beach, with countless bars and restaurants to choose from. On the beach itself, my idea of a little patch of serenity was obliterated. Umbrella beyond sticky beach chair beyond white hairy belly beyond frilly bikini bottoms slammed us in the face, stretching as far as we could see along this city of skyscrapers and Albanian movie stars which were quickly learning more about. Luckily we found a man under his own umbrella and asked if we could use the other chair. People pay $8 a day here for an umbrella so he scrutinised us with a cock of the head and one eye open then nodded and went back to his slick, sweat drenched sun praising. I went swimming next to, not even kidding, a huge fence dividing this resort and the next one. A plastic bag caught around my leg in the water and I watched jet skis hoon around further out. Looking back at the beach, I couldn’t see where the centre of the action was because the entire say 15 km long beach was this constant picture of people movement and noise. I fell asleep on the beach and got burnt, then we met a famous Albanian rock start called noisy. He had really big lips and a big chain to go with them. Back on the inland road to vore, we prayed for our safety and stood our ground because of the completely absent white line which normally gives a cyclist a safe haven. When we saw a 6km shortcut, I couldn’t decide if the torturous potholes or getting nipped by a 120km vehicle was the better option. We took the bum shattering one. Getting into vore felt like a feat and a half, and we lunged into the beers and pool at ‘hotel class’ like we had just cycled 100km on Albanian highways!
Vore- shkodra; 70ks riding, 30ks hitching with a priest. We woke up to phone calls from the top channel news network reporter Aurora. A few days ago I mentioned that I flagged down a Top Channel car and we met the head of logistics and security, heges. He liked our peace ride idea and told us they would be in contact to interview us for a story. So here we were in vora, only 15km from the Top Channel headquarters in the capital of Albania, Tirana, and they asked us to come in for an interview. We crammed our bikes into a taxi and got a lift to the centre of the capital to the news headquarters. The security guard at the entrance knew our names already, and Marie and I looked at each other and laughed. We waited for aurora and the camera man in a fancy cafe across the road, and I poked at a gelatinous hot chocolate while planning how to deal with the days ride along a highway nicknamed the ‘death road’. We made a sign saying Shkodra, just in case a hitch would be necessary, and stuffed it on the back of the bike. This gorgeous woman turned up with the camera man and we sat in the corner of the cafe while he filmed us and she asked questions about our journey. It was all pretty comfortable but also surreal. Then heges, the man who made it all happen for us, turned up to shout us a coffee. He is an incredible guy; an ex army officer and just very in tune with the world. It wasn’t until lunchtime that we even thought about setting off, and of course Pos decided to have problems about 2ks through the city. We poured some chain oil in the steering rod and I wheeled her around the busy park with a quizzical look on my face, poking spokes and twisting the frame around. I could sense a man watching me, and finally he couldn’t help himself but come and assist. He was sitting there with two women and three very young children, so Marie sat on the ground playing and talking while I tried to be of assistance, handing my spanner and multi tool to this homeless man in the capital of Albania while he fine tuned my breaks and bike. They clearly didn’t want money, so we left with big smiles following us out of view and set off for shkodra on the death road. It really wasn’t as bad as we had been warned, and that’s probably one of the biggest things I have taken from this trip so far. Don’t listen to people! Just joking, but take what people say with a big fat grain of salt. Especially when it limits your plans, because people, a lot is possible! I was told I couldn’t cycle Albania and now I am sitting in a cafe in the middle of Montenegro after one of the most incredible and successful weeks of my life in supposedly hostile Albania where all I found was heart warming hospitality. We really got in the groove cycling in the afternoon, eyes fixated on the bare rock faces to our left and fields of corn decorated with brightly painted cottages. We change it up with a different leader every ten kilometres, which makes us sound hilariously professional like the Tour de France hardcore kids but it’s like a placebo that you’re really in the slipstream. We stopped for sustenance late in the afternoon and got to meet another amazing Albanian family. I made besties with the teenage girls who just want to finish school and travel the world. We sat eating their mums delicious roasted eggplant, capsicum and zucchini with fat chunks of fetta and homemade blood red chilli sauce while discussing life here in Albania. The German in laws were also over, so Marie got into a great discussion with them. Before we knew it, it was 630 and we had 35 ks to go to our destination shkodra, a kind of tourist must see for Albania. We hugged goodbyes and zoomed 5ks down the road before my earphones somehow got caught in the chain and pulled it off. Pretty classic. We took the opportunity to pull out the pre-made shkodra cardboard sign and bravely wave it in the air, blocking all thoughts of the movie Taken from our minds. Even though we were being open, we decided trucks were a big no-no. And we were planning on trusting our instincts for the person we found. But we didn’t need to worry a bit- a big four wheel drive with four people pulled over after a few minutes and helped us get the bikes in the back. Marie sat on my lap and we chatted the 30kms to shkodra with a priest driving, a New Yorker in the front and his wife and grandmother in the back with us. I am aware how much we stink now. I have been on the road for two weeks, washing my clothes each night with soap but not really getting them completely dry. I kept the windows wide open and looked out at the stark mountains with the soft fringe of farmland before us. We were well away from the Albanian highways now, and I felt my muscles unclench with that knowledge. The priest dropped us at a hotel in the middle of town and the bar tender/receptionist was so drop dead gorgeous I didn’t care about the price. I let him carry my bike down the stairs just so I could see his muscles bulge, and then bought a drink from him and chatted way too excitedly. Upstairs, we were doing the routine find places for the clothes to dry, and Marie put her hand up to check if the hot water tank metal cords were hot. The electric shock grabbed on and wouldn’t let her go inside this drenched bathroom, and I watched in horror as she fell to the ground screaming. Just to add a bit more excitement to the day! All in all our final day in Albania has surpassed all expectations. I am writing to you from my blow up surf mat bed on the deck of a hostel in Montenegro. The mozzies have been kind but the rain and the supposedly ex French foreign legion hostel owner haven’t been!