The truth is that the idea of a cycling holiday in Albania partly came out of necessity. It was 2012 and we were starting to really feel the effects of the economic crisis so we were thinking of a low budget destination not too far from home. But we also wanted something special. The memories of our first visit to the country three years before were still vivid and the country met all our expectations so it had to be Albania.
I prepared an ambitious plan to visit the mountains in the north, beaches in the south and some historical cities in the middle. We drove down to the Montenegrin capital, Podgorica, and left the car with a nice Hungarian guy who worked there in a bank. I actually found him on Couchsurfing as I was looking for long-term accommodation for our car.
The first day was fairly easy with few hills. We got as far as Koplik, where we found a no-nonsense but cheap hotel. The plan for the second day was to ride the 60 km to Theth, a village with traditional houses in the Albanian Alps. The first shadow of doubt came in when I asked a man for directions. He took a long look at our bikes and said it was impossible. We thought he meant the difficulty of climbing across the high mountain pass so we pressed on. It was the end of June and it got really hot during the day. We bought two bottles of frozen water in a kiosk and struggled up to the village of Bogë, where we had lunch in a laid-back café. Then we got back on our bikes and saw that the sealed road ended there.
What we had ahead of us was 30 km on a very bad quality road with fist-sized stones. It was indeed impossible. Anita suggested we should try to hitchhike. I wasn’t too hopeful but the second car stopped and the young guy agreed to take us to Theth for 20 euros. We loaded the three bikes on the pickup and off we went. He drove like a madman on the terrible road – obviously, it was a rented car and he didn’t care about it, even less about our bicycles, which were jumping up and down in the back. As soon as we reached the top, I told him to stop to avoid more damage. He told us the price in lek – 28 thousand, he said. I paid and he left. I took some photos of the fantastic view and then we started descending. It took about 5 minutes for me to realise that there was something wrong about the money. It turned out that he quoted the price in old lek, which means I should only have paid him 2,800. The difference was 6 days’ budget for us so I was determined to somehow get it back.
It took more than an hour to reach the village on the bad road. We found a room in a lovely house owned by a local family and then I continued my way to the centre of Theth. Using my basic Albanian, I asked the people about the red pickup and in about an hour I found myself in a huge and very rich house where an important party was going on. In a few minutes I was greeted by an important-looking man, the head of the local clan as it later turned out. He listened to my story in English. He thought for a while and then said it was a shame for him that the young man behaved like that and promised he would make him pay back the money the next morning. We agreed to meet in a bar at 10 and I went back to the hotel in pitch dark.
Next day at 10 I was pleasantly surprised to see the old man and the lad sitting at a table in the bar. The young one apologised and gave back almost the whole amount – he said he’d already bought some petrol for a few euros.
Then we spent two relaxed days in Theth. The food we got from the family was all homemade, organic stuff: honey, goat cheese, jam, butter and lots of vegetables. The main attraction was the environment but the village itself had sights to offer. For example a tower-like building, the kulla, where people fearing the vendetta could hide for years or even decades.
We left by minibus. It was cheaper and less stressful.