ALBANIA: EUROPE BUT DIFFERENT
Albania is still a blank spot on the typical tourist map, and maybe that is for good reasons. We were welcomed with a friendly “This is Albania not England” when entering from Kosovo - just because I - confused by the signs - used the exit lane instead of the entry lane into Albania. No worries, who cares, the most time consuming part of entering Albania was (once again) showing Rouletout to curious border police and custom officials and not the paper work. But then the real Albania starts, a piece of good road followed by dirt roads that can become challenging even for Rouletout (yes, our motor bike decided to jump out of its rail at one point) followed by construction work for a new road that was abandoned years ago. The roads (if you want to call them that way) are definitely a must for every off-road enthusiast. Another intriguing fact in Albania is the number of unfinished and abandoned buildings and construction sites, probably fall-out from the collapse of the pyramid scheme (and the complete country) in 1997. So don’t be worried if you find a nice piece of road equipped with (non-functioning) street lights in the middle of nowhere running to a remote beach; it doesn't mean that there is a big hotel at the end. Probably this was the plan years ago but it is very likely that you still find a pristine beach. And pristine in Albania means that somewhere in the bushes you are likely to find one or more bunkers - leftovers from Enver Hoxha’s paranoid self-defence push. Sources say that he had close to 800’000 bunkers built to defend the country, many of them along the coast but you see them everywhere. What would he say to all the American flags on display across the country nowadays. Next to Kosovo, Albania is the only country where this struck me, the memory of the Kosovo war and the US role seems still to be vivid amongst Albanians. Yes, many things are different in Albania. So much for some of the peculiarities of the country but most astonishing are the beauty of the country and the friendliness of the people. Remote mountains with perfect, unexplored faces, hot-springs next to cold canyons, perfect beaches and beautiful lakes full of wild-life and rare fish. Don’t visit Albania for its cities (I exclude Lazarat, a village that produces 900 tons of cannabis per year right in the middle of Europe) or its cultural heritage there is not much left but if you like the countryside and nature it is a place to see.And if you end up at a remote beach one night, barbecuing fresh fish, drinking rakije with local Albanians and listen to their emotional music you know that you are in Albania and you will easily forget that this good cook and singer is a convicted drug dealer and human trafficker.