Day 38 (12 August): Gjirokastër – Permët
Distance: 65 km
Total distance: 1754 km
It wasn’t easy to leave the comfort of the hotel room and we had to do it early. According to the weather forecast, this would be the last day of a heat wave. The overwhelmingly kind lady wanted to help us carry the bikes out to the street and then she oiled her hands trying to help me to put back the chain on Aron’s bicycle. Then we waved goodbye with black fingers and looked for a place to have breakfast. At the end of 18 Shtatori Street there is a fine confectionary, where we bought some cakes and ate them with a coffee in the bar next door.
The road after Gjirokaster isn’t too interesting but at least it is generally flat and wide enough. We progressed fast upstream in the valley of the Drino and the landscape got more and more beautiful with cultivated land by the river and majestic mountains in the background.
About 10 km after Gjirokaster, there are some springs by the road, where locals are selling honey and olive oil. We stopped to fill our bottles and take some photos when a young man came over to us. He explained he loved the idea of long-distance cycling and wanted to know everything about our trip. He works for a company selling coffee so at last we could praise Albanian espresso to a professional.
Not long after the springs the road forked right to Përmet. We crossed an old steel bridge and continued on the much narrower road. At this point, the Drino flows into the Vjosë (Vjosa), which we followed for the next 50 or 60 km until Çarshovë.
Another picturesque bridge took us to the right bank of the river and then the road rollercoastered, offering great views of the valley.
The quality of the asphalt is changeable so we had to be careful with the potholes but there was very little traffic so it was really enjoyable. We had our lunch in a park in Këlcyrë, a small town with a busy centre. As many other towns in the region, it receives a facelift as its high street and main square receive new tiling and furniture so it looked a bit chaotic when we were there.
We carried on but it was getting really hot so we were looking where we could get closer to the inviting blue of the river. Just before the village of Piskovë, there was a short steep dirt road. We pushed down the bicycles, put on our swimming gear and we were in the water in a minute. Then I saw two boys coming down the same road, followed by a small truck with half a dozen other youngsters from the village.
They told us there was a whirlpool under the rapids where we were coolling our bodies but there was a nice swimming area a hundred meters downstream. We let the current take us there and joined them for half an hour. The river was a bit deeper there and these boys bravely dived into the water head first. They encouraged us to do the same but Aron and I only jumped in foot first (I hit mine in the rocks so there were no further attempts).
It was refreshing and amusing to be there by the river with the village kids but I must say that the river was far from being clean. We realised that the amazing blue hue was partly due to the soap or detergent in the water…
We arrived in Përmet within another hour. We bought some fruits in the only shop that was open on Sunday afternoon and looked for a quiet shaded spot in the park. We were just about to leave after our siesta when Aron saw he had a flat tyre… another half an hour in the park.
But at least we didn’t need to go far because we found a campsite called “Eco Camp” by its owners. They are a middle-aged couple – the husband is a mountaineer, who organises treks and rafting for tourists. We were happy we could stop for the day but the truth is that the place was very very basic. It’s a pity because this part of Albania is still little visited, while it is extremely rich in natural (and also cultural) treasures. I would love to return to explore the surrounding mountains in less hot weather, for example.
We almost remained hungry this evening. It turned out that I bought the wrong type of gas cannister back on Corfu so we had to make a fire. Aron was happy, of course, and he could try bottle-feeding a baby sheep called Marika.