Tirana Albania to Shkoder 94km
To Canj Montenegro 61km
My "sometime cycle tourist" friend, an Irish Maths teacher, in the hostel tells me "on a wet day like this, I would put my bike on a bus. You're a bit crazy aren't you?" My other new friend, a young Indian statistician, working for Rolls Royce in Norway, is excited that I am heading out into the storm. I'm really comfortable about my decision to get back on the road. It's not cold, only wet. I've had a day "hanging", looking for "sights", reading, resting, and now I'm restless. "There's stuff to see..... Gotta go see it...."
And it's wet. Very wet. But I've got far fewer layers on, and I'm comfortable. The road is mainly flat, and not too busy, although there are places where it is underwater. I've probably not seen as much water since the drowned rice paddy fields of SE Asia. At times, I'm forced to ride through puddles, up to Fiona's hubs. The kms zip by. Unlike the mountains when I first entered Albania, these flat lands feel very European. At least 50% of the cars are Mercedes, the rest are BMWs or VWs. They are all reasonably new. The people seem pretty well off, but I'm still dodging dodgy Mushukas.
A car stops in front of me. It's Alma. She owns a Hostel in Shkoder, and invites me to come and stay. She is accompanied by a young German cycle tourist who is spending January at her hostel, waiting for his cycling buddy. Sounds like a deal to me. She's even got a clothes drier.....which I'm going to need. Initially I'm the only "guest", and after I'm dry, am invited into Alma's flat for bread and tea. Very hospitable. Later, two Finnish girls arrive. They are "Interpreters", being able to speak twelve different languages each. To me, with my scant knowledge of only one language, English, this is amazing. And, they make a living from these amazing skills.
The next morning, for the most, the rain has gone. I follow the main road towards the border. But it is such a small, quiet road, I'm not convinced I'm going the right way. Then around a corner, the border post. But this one is slightly different. There are three cars in front of me. A border official comes out and collects all of our passports. He tells me to cycle up a ramp. I watch as he scans my passport, then tosses it through a window into another room. He waves me forward. Another guy is scanning my passport. Why? He stamps it, opens his window..."Welcome to Montenegro." Wow. That is efficient. I'm in country number twenty-seven.
And the changes are yet again apparent. The road is smoother. The houses look more wealthy. The first three people I see speak really good English, and all welcome me to Montenegro. I climb up a slight hill for a few kms, on a narrow "country road" between olive trees and stone walls. It's almost single lane and the traffic, the very occasional Mercedes, is travelling very sedately. This is great. And at the top...... a beautiful panorama of a typical Adriatic city, sitting on the beautiful Adriatic coastline. Stunning. I've heard about it. I've seen photos. And here it is, below me. Damn. I wish Ju was here to share it with me. She was going to join me for this section of my adventure.......
Heading downhill, and two cyclists on mtbs are racing up the hill. They stop, and we chat. They are Russians, living in the local city for two months, "training". "For what?" Olga is the Russian Mtb Orienteering Champion, training for the World Champs in Portugal. Pavel is the Russian Downhill Mtb Champion, and a top Enduro rider. They are staying at his parents Montenegro villa, where his parents are helping, by looking after their three month old daughter, while they train. Pavel has to continue training, while I'm invited to accompany Olga back to the villa for a cup of tea. We race downhill. It's fun, and Olga is surprised I'm keeping up, but it is downhill, and Fiona has a bit of weight on her......
At the villa, really a three bedroom flat above a beautiful Adriatic bay, I meet the family. Dad, Alexander, has a brother who is a Russian Ambassador, living in Sydney. Wow. I'm in impressive company..... but they make me feel as if I'm the hero. Hmmmm? We chat. Look at each others photos. Exchange contact details. Drink tea..... a very yummy local herbal brew. Eventually, I drag myself away, but I don't go far. I'm entrapped by the amazing scenery. I find a disused quarry, with a view across a bay, and pitch my tent. Am I really here? I almost have to pinch myself to ensure its real.