The BBA V2 almost disappears in the fog as it heads south to Sarande,Albania

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May 23rd 2013
Published: May 27th 2013
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Gelato off the menu today,too much else to think about,but did have an ice cream similar to a Trumpet but half the price!

Gretchen thought she had dreamed last night that she was back living in Wellington, such was the strength of the gale force wind in the night.And I slept through it all!At one stage she thought the sign on the roof of the hotel was going to crash down.She reckoned too that the building creaked in the tempestuous wind and wondered what might happen if the building fell apart!It must have been bad.And to add to it all the power went out as well.!

It was still fairly breezy when we both awoke at dawn and the there were showers coming across the city below us.Not a great day,if it stays like this for driving.However, its time to move on and its further south to close to the Greek border.

No electricity definitely meant no hot water and so it was a quick splash to just keep us ahead on the hygiene stakes.If there has been one failing of this hotel it has been the lack of hot water,except for our shower after the day in Tirana which had been really important as we were both hot and sweaty after a day in the heat.

As we headed down for breakfast the power came back on but we still walked down the three flights of steps as neither of was prepared to ride the lift with the power supply the way it was.

Aidi wasn't around in the breakfast room but 'Dolores'was there with that ever present smile and delivered juice,milk and 4 pieces of toast each along with our boiled egg to us.I had decided to change from cappuccino to Americano but getting the message across to her proved a challenge.In the end Gretchen came to my rescue and with hand's going in all directions with sign language we think she got the request for a change.Then the power went off again!So all that was for nothing as the power stayed off for the time it took to get through breakfast. So no coffee for anyone.

During the night a couple of chairs and an umbrella from around the pool had ended up in the water and we had some entertainment while we ate breakfast watching a couple of guys who have been around the hotel while we have been there(we don't know what their jobs were)battling the wind to put the rest of the poolside furniture under cover as the wind strengthened again.

Aidi wasn't there as we checked out but he must have left 'Dolores' enough information on how much we had to pay as she smiled(as she always does)when I handed over the €66 for the 3 nights and we headed out into the fresh breeze to decide which way to get to the main road south from the hillside.

Going up the hill would have meant booting Cindy to get momentum on a greasy track made slippery by the rain after first negotiating the quagmire that had formed by the carpark entrance.Downhill and we had to hope there would be no cars parked on the right hand side of the track which was the best line to take and avoid the deep ruts on the left made even more difficult to negotiate after the rain.

Gretchen chose the downhill course and it actually turned out to be a breeze as there were no cars in our path and after not getting up to more than 10kph we made it safely to the bottom with just the bridge with no rails to cross.Lining the left hand wheel up with the board laid length ways over the planks(there was no board on the right any longer although it appear there had been a board at some time in the past)we made it across that too and we were onto tar seal!

One thing this country is not short of car wash businesses, although with the state of the dirt roads in amongst the residential houses it is no wonder that they are everywhere.

We have mentioned before the large number of petrol stations. Not only are they numerous in number but there are many different brands as well including one colourfully named ‘Elvis’

We did only see the one petrol station with this famous name on it so perhaps the branding is more about what an owner wants to call their business rather than the brand of petrol.

Traffic was again fairly light and the road conditions were good and we made steady progress only having to avoid pot holes every now and then. We have quickly discovered that watching the locals ahead of us gives us enough warning when they move sideways or slow down appreciably to warn us of the impending rough piece of road.

After leaving the extensive Gulf of Durres the road headed inland although still holding a southerly direction.

As we neared Fier we drove onto what was a new piece of roadway as Vicky had us driving over the open fields. She then tried to direct us further inland continuing south on the SH4 when we really wanted to take the scenic coastal route even though we also knew we had a 1029 metres asl pass to cross to get to the coast.

With the weather now fine and sunny overhead we turned around before we left Fier and took the road south towards Vlore and eventually the coastal road.

For the last 15km before the city of Vlore we again had the luxury of motoring on a brand new highway which came to an abrupt end on the city limits where the road standard dropped away just like that!

Vlore was a busy place and as it was lunch time we decided to try and find the restaurant we had seen a sign for as the motorway ended on entry to the city. The sign had what for all intents and purposes looked like the ‘Golden Arches’ of McDonalds. We found the newly opened restaurant on the edge of the city as we were about to leave and with parking available we pulled in to have lunch.

The menu was a mix of all the popular brands, Subway, McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut. Just how they can get away with having signage that looked so close to McDonalds is interesting. Perhaps they are saved for now as McDonalds itself does not have any outlets in Albania as yet. So it was more fries and burgers although not as tasty as McD’s.

Like Durres, Vlore sits at the top of a large gulf and it took us 20 or so minutes to travel around the shores before the road headed inland again, this time towards the mountain pass we had to drive over to reach the Ionian Sea coast.

The mountains rose sharply from a wide valley and the sky above the mountains was dark and ominous looking with cloud swirling around what we thought might have been the peaks. Had we known what was ahead we might have taken the inland route back at Fier.

Looking ahead up the mountain as far as the line of where the cloud came down to you could just make out the zig zag pattern of the roadway as it climbed the side of the mountain.

A small 20 seater bus was ahead of us making good progress that we didn’t feel the need to try and find a straight length of road long enough before another hairpin turn and climb, in which to pass it. One handy feature of the GPS in the Citroen is that it has an altimeter which can at least tell you if you are near the top of a pass. It was to prove invaluable shortly as the fog descended on the road and enveloped the car, taking away the scenery completely.

When you are driving in these types of conditions it is useful to know whether you have made the summit of the road when you cannot see anything in front of you but the car bonnet! It also gives you hope that when you see the recording of the height of the road you are on reducing you know that before long you will emerge from the fog making driving less stressful especially when you cannot see if there is a guard rail to prevent you from driving off the road! Such were the conditions we now found surrounding us.

The fog would have had to have been the worst we had ever driven in, basically a white out. It is easy to understand how airline pilots become disorientated in white cloud and fly into mountainsides.

The GPS was making where we were on the road and the blue line ahead was showing where the road twisted and turned and then went into another hairpin and as co-pilot it was my task to call out to Gretchen, who was driving, how far it was to the next shift in direction while also keeping an eye on the right hand side of the car as we slowly drove. Attempting a speed of anything more than 15 to 20kph would have been suicidal and so our progress was slow.

We agreed with each other that on a clear day the scenery was probably beautiful and spectacular but we wouldn’t be coming back just to take it in, as we were keen to put the pass behind us and reach the coast.

The altimeter clicked over 1030 meters and although we couldn’t see a damn thing we at least had the satisfaction that we should soon be starting on the downhill hairpins and that at about 500 metres the fog should have lifted, if the uphill section was anything to go by.

The bus that had been ahead of us on the way up the mountainside proved to be a good ally on the way down as we could also gauge where the road was going by the outline of the rear of the bus we could just make out at times in the dense white fog.

At one stage when the bus got further ahead of us so that we could not see the back of it I did suggest to Gretchen that I get out and walk in front of the car until we reached a spot where the fog cleared sufficiently to see where we were going.

It seemed like an age that we were in that dense fog and although the road was not quite as scary as ‘The World’s Deadliest Road’ back in Kotor we were much relieved to finally notice that we could see the right hand edge of the road and make out if there was in fact a guard rail or not!

As we emerged from the fog the coastline came into view and although there was still cloud over the sea further off the coast, there was a ray of sunshine covering the beach line making the colour of the sea a lovely turquoise blue.

There were still another couple of hairpins to negotiate before we reached a point where the road ran along the mountainside following the coastline and we passed through small villages strung out along the road.

There didn’t appear to be many options for getting down to the beach itself and in any case the scenery was probably as good as we would get from where the road ran anyway. With the cloudy sky overhead we would have to say we were a little disappointed with the views which we had expected to be more dramatic if the guidebooks were to be believed.

Just after the small town of Himare we crossed the 40th Parellel which we had already done twice before on this adventure,firstly half way down between Naples and the souther tip of Italy and then again on our return up the east coast of Italy.

Aside from the houses in the villages we passed through there wasn’t much in the way of habitation on the mainly rocky mountainside to our left except for a small gypsy camp we passed where the people looked as though they had set up a recycling system with piles of plastic in bales. What they were going to do with the large number of bales or who would pick it up from them in this rather remote location on the Albanian coast was a mystery to us.

The road side, at various intervals, had a number of memorials to accident victims. Some of the memorials were to single accidents and had stone or slate headstones with pictures of the deceased person.

However one memorial on a gentle curve in the road was much more impressive and had the names of 10 people killed in May 2012 when a bus carrying university students went over the edge of the road.

At Lukove the road left the coast and for the last 10 or so kilometres ran through farmland to turn back again to the coast and emerge at Sarande which like Vlore and Durres earlier, sits on a bay, although not as expansive as the former cities. In the distance the large Greek island of Corfu took up the view.

Our apartment was in a block of 8 and was set back from the road and up a set of 4 flights of concrete steps amid a ‘canyon ‘of completed but unoccupied purposely built tourist apartment blocks and an equal number of partially uncompleted blocks. There is clearly a huge investment in tourism going on in this part of Albania.

Our hosts helped us in with our luggage after giving us instructions on how to find the ‘track ‘which counted as a road up from the main road and ran along between the ‘canyon ‘of apartments. We were unpacking as one of them arrived with coffee and biscuits, a nice gesture to make us welcome.

It had been another interesting day of driving which turned into a challenge in the fog on the mountain pass but we had almost driven the length of the Albanian coast over the past few days and we and the car are still intact!

We almost ended the day as we had started it, without electricity as the power went out as we were in the flow of a Skype call with Chris and Marilyn in Alexandra.However, our faith in the Albanian power system was restored after a few minutes when the power came back on. We still gave the dynamo powered Kathmandu torch a recharge and kept it beside the bed for the night.


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