Ride diary: BJ McIntosh… crashing in Albania
We pick up the tales of our intrepid traveller, BJ McIntosh, as he makes his way through Albania as part of his month-long cycling adventure.
To find out how he got here, see the early entries of his ongoing travelogue (links below).
Days 11 & 12. Albania
I’m writing to you tonight from Shkodër, Albania, 16km from the border of Montenegro and I’ve combined a couple of days as, about 60km into yesterday’s ride, I crashed. Nothing too serious, just a bit of skin off and a sore wrist.
The time that I usually spend resting and writing my blog, I spent searching for a pharmacy to buy some disinfectant for my leg so I don’t have to spend three months in quarantine on my arrival back into Australia.
The crash was my fault; I had a truck coming up behind me and gave the obligatory friendly one toot of the horn to let me know he was behind me and I started to move as far right as I could to give him room to pass. There was loose sand on the road and my front wheel just washed out and before I knew it I was on the ground…
I picked myself up and did a quick body check, everything seemed all good – but because the roads were so dirty when I fell the dirt covered up the skin that I had taken off.
Anyway I pushed on and found the next petrol station and pulled in.
There was a lovely little old lady working there that spoke only Albanian (I’ll get back to that topic in a moment). I showed her my leg and asked if she had anywhere that I could wash my leg with some soap… she didn’t understand. Luckily there were a group of guys out the front having a few beers who spoke Italian.
I explained what I was trying to say and they translated it into Albanian for the lady.
She took me around the back to where there was a bathroom and I cleaned myself up, only to discover that I’d actually taken a fair bit of bark off my right leg.
When I returned she asked to look at my wound (in Albanian), I had no idea what she said but I knew what she was asking so I showed her my leg and, like a caring mother, she was concerned.
I came out the front and finished the drinks that I had bought and was getting on my bike to head off when one of the men said to me, “Dove vai?” “where are you going?”
He said you can’t leave! The lady had actually closed and locked up the shop and went home to get her medical kit and was coming back to patch me up. So I sat there and waited for her as now I felt guilty to leave.
The man said, “It’s okay. She used to be a vet!”
Even if she was an Albanian Surgeon I’d still be worried, but I was about to be patched up by an Albanian vet. Okay. Why not?
She came back with the whole kit and started cleaning my leg up with baby wipes which I thought was nice, and that would be it.
Then she got out the disinfectant.
Now I don’t know if she’d mixed it with rocket fuel or not but when she squirted this stuff on me I nearly kicked the table across the room! It stung like nothing I have ever experienced before! And when I say stung, I would rather have passed out!
Anyway that would have killed anything that could have gotten it infected.
I hadn’t even noticed but I had a small stone lodged in the palm of my hand from when I had hit the deck. She went and got a safety pin and soaked that in the rocket fuel that she had and started digging away in the palm of my hand (just as you could imagine a true Albanian vet doing).
She finally got it and flicked the stone out, then before I could say anything was squirting this rocket fuel into the hole she had just created in my hand… I honestly just wanted to pass out!
There’s not stopping now… another roadside attraction in Albania.
Now let me take you back to the start.
It was like the moment I left Vlorë there was a line and as soon as I crossed it the roads were horrendous!
The spectacular coastline had disappeared and was a distant memory, I was in full mafia territory!
What was the most beautiful roads that I was confident descending a mountain in the dark turned into potholes as deep as basketballs.
From the south of Vlorë to the north could not be any more opposite. What the last two days lacked in climbing was replaced with dirt and gravel roads which took a lot of negotiating at low speed.
Nearing Durres I got the impression that this was serious business and not a place to muck around.
Let’s just say, there were a lot of black Mercedes Benz that you could not see through the windows of.
Leaving Vlorë it turned proper third world. Real fast!
Once arriving in Durres, I encountered a lot of homeless people, gypsies holding their babies begging for money at every intersection.
I had the sensation I just wanted to find my hotel and check in.
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There were some pretty sights but also quite derelict roads…
Now, touching on the guys speaking Italian at the gas station, I was talking to a local last night and she said that so many countries had invaded Albania and, at some stage, ruled some of it or all of it – that a lot of the older generations speak Italian or German fluently as they ruled Albania from the war in 1930.
The younger generations all speak English, Italian and their native tongue Albanian.
It has made it so easy to communicate as the first question I ask when I am somewhere is: do you want to communicate in English or Italiano?
The younger generations say “either” and anyone above 40 usually says Italiano.
Moving forward to day 12 of my trip…
Today was not as rough as yesterday but it was as dry, dusty and hot!
I arrived in Shkoder looking like I’d just walked out of a coal mine.
On the entry to Shkoder it was similar to Durres with the poverty and quite a sad place to pass through, however once I found the city centre and my hotel it was like a little piece of paradise in the middle of the desert.
Now I’m close to Montenegro and looking to make it to Budva, Montenegro by tomorrow night. After speaking to the locals it sounds like there are some monster climbs between here and there. I guess I’ll find out…
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And just lastly I would like to thank all of the messages of support, all of the interest that has been shown in my own little adventure.
From RIDE Media posting my blogs to Tenison College tracking my progress and doing a project on all of the places that I have visited and learning about them along my way.
What just started out as a little post to let family and a few mates know where I was and that I was safe, has become something I never could imagine possible.
Yesterday I actually got sent some progress photos from the children in Ms Boksem’s class at Tenison College on how their project was coming along. I’m so humbled by this and not really sure what to say..
But what it does mean is I can’t back out now, I have to make it to the finish as to not let them down!
Thank you everyone