“In One Hour, There Will Be Huge Explosion”

Albania is a country we knew very little about before our visit (though I guess that’s true for most of these countries). In the east, by FYROM, it is pretty mountainous, and we had trouble charting a clear path to take. We came up with a route and set off after our lovely camp stay on the south side of Lake Ohrid, though.

 

Just walking a cow on the shores of Lake Ohrid. Yes, Ma, it’s on a leash. People are very attentive to their livestock here, and most people with a cow only have one.

 
 

See the lake on the eastern boarder a little more than halfway down? That’s Ohrid. We went from the southern end of the lake across to the coast (on a road not shown) and then up to Montenegro.

 
After biking a good chunk of the morning, we came upon a sign saying that the road was closed about 40km ahead. Uh-oh. It was really our only viable route toward the Adriatic without major detours. Mike pointed out that even roads closed to cars are often passable by bicycles, though 40km (or 80 round trip) is a serious gamble. Just then, a gentleman on a bicycle (not a touring bike) came from the direction we wanted to go. He said the road was good for a while, but then there was some serious damage from avalanches. Nonetheless, he told us he thought we’d be able to get through. We gambled.

Although it was downhill, the road almost immediately turned to shit. It was potholed and bumpy and sometimes paved but often not. What should have taken us an hour took several due to the poor condition of the road. 

  
After a while, people started giving us conflicting reports about the road ahead. Passable. Not passable. Open. Closed. We crossed our fingers and kept going. Hours in, a car we had seen pass us earlier was heading back towards us. They told us they had been turned around by someone ahead who told them they couldn’t get through. After another short debate, we kept going. Mike promised we wouldn’t have to bike back up the horrible road — if anything we’d hitchhike our way back.

Another hour along, we came to an area where there was a lot of construction. The workers let us pass, so we took that as a good sign. We got to one spot with a 12% grade on gravel (ouch!) and started heading up. At a bend in the road we stopped to refuel with PB&J before continuing. It was there we were accosted by a man in a truck heading down:

“Hello. Where are you from?”

“The United States.”

“Ah. In one hour there will be huge explosion. I make explosion.”

Umm, what?!? It took us a few minutes to understand that the construction crew would be detonating some explosives shortly, “in one hour, or maybe less.” He told us we’d better get moving.

With a significant 12% climb still ahead of us, we did get moving, but slowly. From then on, every person we passed told us we’d better hurry since they’d be blowing shit up soon. One guy stopped us and told us about the explosion, and then he said we wouldn’t be able to get through up ahead because the road was closed later on anyway. His friend disagreed, and we kept going. 
The construction workers repeatedly stopped us to complete tasks and then told us we’d better hurry. We were safely past by the time the explosion and giant puff of smoke signaled the event, thankfully. It was rather anticlimactic. 

 

Can I please get through so I don’t get blown up?

 
A while later we got to the place where the road was affected by avalanches. A sign told us it was closed daily from 08:30-12:30 and 13:30-17:30. We arrived at 18:00, so we continued on, though a man told us the road was “saucy, saucy” (sp?). Based on miming and the evidence we encountered shortly, we decided “saucy” must mean “rocky.”

 

Road not closed! Victory!

 
It was a beautiful narrow canyon with high walls, so despite the shitty road, constant rockfall danger, and construction equipment strewn everywhere, the ride was okay. There was very little traffic.
 

The rockfall danger was real. Note the cracked helmet encased in concrete. 😦

 
We came out the other end to find beautifully smooth pavement. As it was nearing nightfall, we looked for a place to stay right away. Since there were no obvious choices, we stopped at a bar to ask if there were any hotels or places to pitch a tent. Nope.

The bartender invited us to stay with his family for the night, though. He didn’t speak any English, but his friend at the bar spoke some, so we chatted a while before heading back to the house. 

Back at the house we met the bartender’s wife and adult daughter and cousin (maybe?) and mother. It was difficult to communicate, but we discovered that the daughter spoke some Spanish, so that became our unlikely tongue for communicating that evening.

Despite the fact that we had already eaten dinner, the family insisted on feeding us. At first it was just juice and cherries, but then we noticed full-scale meal preparation activities. We said we’d already eaten, but we were told they’d just make a little something. I think it was their regular mealtime.

An hour or so later, we sat down to an odd assortment of foods. First, four slices of white bread. I don’t know what the deal is, but this is hugely popular in Albania (and there only, as far as I can tell. Sliced white bread is served with every meal). On our plates, we had 1 large slab of hard, salty cheese; French fries; a ball of light pink meat, similar to spam but softer; some raw onion rings; large tomato wedges; a pile of olives; a hard-boiled egg; and a roasted pepper. Since we weren’t very hungry, it was a lot of food, but we ate most of it.

After dinner, they showed us our room. It appeared to be a living room with a large sectional couch, but they had made up a mattress on the floor for our bed. It was quite comfortable. We crashed.

The next morning we said our goodbyes and headed further into Albania, land of sliced white bread.

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