Today I went for a massive cycle today through the small Albanian villages nearby, my bosses Niko and Faye said it was fine for me to take a bike. Verdyanna (phonetic spelling) told me it would only take an hour for me to get there and back, it took nearly four. I was headed to an Ottoman bridge called 'Ura e Mesit' about 7km away, and took the long way back. The bridge is one of the major local tourist attractions, and I am led to believe it is at least 400 years old.
Here was my trusty steed! And the kind of dirt roads and sceneries I would frequent on this ride.
Every time I stopped to ask for directions, a crowd of people would appear and the lone English speaker would emerge as the rest stood around smiling. At first, a man in a purple shirt, who stood boldly amongst his friends spoke in broken English to me, in front of an old metal container that had an old woman's shop inside. I had asked if it was OK to take a photo of her shop, he insisted and she was happy to pose for me.
Then a little boy of no more than 8 spoke fluent English and told me the way, after I had got lost. His family owned a convenience store, and the restaurant that faced it. The restaurant seemed completely out of place with large glass windows covering the front, whilst the neighbours lived in shacks (by comparison). (photo)
Whilst lost on the way to Mes bridge, and in the middle of nowhere, an old man with no teeth appear in an old estate and picked my bike up and put it in his boot; he took me 100 yards back down the beaten old track to the nearest road. I had taken a wrong turning, and was quite aware that I had done so, after numerous 'puddles' haunted the treacherous road.
Upon reaching Mes bridge, I was delighted to see at least a dozen people jumping from rocks into the crystal blue water. I was hesitant to leave my bike and take photos, as a group of young teen males stared at me from the other side of the bridge, but I came to realise it was purely from curiosity. At any point I had taken out my camera, at least one person had looked at the device with a sense of unknowing.
As I took photos, an old man in horse and cart pulled up, demanding 'Photo! Photo!' (He could at least have smiled!)
The route back was not so difficult, I cut through more small back-roads to the main road that would eventually re-unite me with the campsite. Along this road I saw, for the first time, Albanian defence bunkers, a prominent feature that Albanian is known for from the time of Communist rule. I stopped for an ice tea and espresso along the way and was greeted with wonderful hospitality and friendliness.
Whomever I spoke to seemed to know a brother, a cousin or a friend who had been to England and worked, and all of them were so friendly; perhaps they had heard the English were a good bunch and wanted to return the favour!
This evening, whilst working my duties as 'The Gatekeeper', welcoming new guests and manning the camp shop, I was delighted to welcome three Irish guests. They invited me to drink with them this evening, which I gratefully did, and we exchanged stories. Jack, Dave and Bernie, I tip my hat to you, thanks for the beer!