Balkans cycling trip, Day 22
27 July 2017: Greshicë – Kotë
We enjoy the rain and Turkish coffee in a small village and later cause the death of an innocent animal because we want fresh chicken. After crossing the Vjosa River we struggle hard to cross the hills on terrible roads before Peshkepi only to find an equally bad road to Kotë. We have our first real crisis and I almost end up in the canyon of another river.
Distance: 50 km
Total distance: 1268 km
We couldn’t say goodbye to our friendly hosts in the morning but at least I left a post on his FB page. (The evening before we quickly friended each other). We waved to his friends, already sitting outside one of the closed restaurants, and continued our journey to the south.
Dirt roads again
The plan was to turn left and take the SH100, marked with yellow on the man. This seemed to be a guarantee of a decent paved road. Then the asphalt gave way to gravel in a bend and we realised there had been a landslide recently. We struggled to reach the end of the temporary section only to see that the SH100 was just a dirt road as far as the eye could see…
This meant a detour of a couple of kilometres via Damës, from where we could take the brand new SH4 for a while. We expected another semi-abandoned village so it was surprising to see how crowded Damës was. There were people and cars and all the bars were full. It was the day of the fair and sellers were offering all sorts of goods from second-hand clothes and tools to vegetables. We bought some peaches and then targetted one of the bars to have a morning coffee. The waiter apologoised and pointed at the lights: there was no electricity. Five minutes later he served coffee to another table. It turned out that they could prepare Turkish coffee on a gas cooker but he thought the foreign tourists wouldn’t like that.
While we were sipping our coffee and I was slowly feeding my phone with the solar charger, it suddenly got dark and started to rain. What a pleasant change after more than a week of hot weather! It was still raining when we got back on our bikes and started to speed downhill on the new highway.
Fresh chicken or the death of a bird
We didn’t need to pedal at all for the next ten kilometres and my two team members were quite sorry to leave the perfect asphalt for the narrow gravel road towards Pocem. It is actually just a group of houses near a mineral water bottling plant by the Vjosë river but it seemed to be a popular spot as both restaurants were still open! A family was having lunch in one of them and we also sat down to order something. We knew the next town was nearly 20 km away, which can mean hours on a dirt road.
We ordered chicken (I know the word in Albanian) with some salad and French fries. Minutes later a man appeared from the bushes with a chicken in his hands and took it to the house. When we heard the gurgling sounds, we knew we’d get a whole chicken and it would be very fresh…
The women in the kitchen worked real fast and in 20 minutes the poor chicken was on our table. We finished everything equally fast and paid the exorbitant bill (it must have been one of their favourite pets). Lucky for the pigs that I didn’t know the Albanian word for them! Then we continued our fight with the strip of stones and gravel they call a road here.
Soon we crossed the Vjosë and we had to stop on the bridge. We watched the sheep and the local kids jumping into the water of fantastic bluish-green colour. Then we followed the course of the river for a while before we started the long uphill stretch that took us through the hills towards Peshkëpi.
2 kilometres that felt like 20
These 2 kilometres took nearly an hour in the burning sun. I switched bikes with Aron because his chain jumps in high gear. So now he took all the big bags and I pushed the bicycle most of the way. I was still the fastest and I stopped to wait for them when a shepherd waved to me. He seemed very excited and started to run towards me. I don’t know if I have ever met a man more dirty and stinking than him. He talked to me in a language I didn’t understand (I’m not even sure it was Albanian) but I quickly understood he wanted money. Now this time the change was in Anita’s pocket so I had to wait. And I had to stop the man from hugging me in every two minutes…
We finally reached the top and started to ride downhill. A little later the car that passed us before was standing by the road and a young foreign couple was trying to change its wheel. An Albanian man was helping them but their spare tyre was also flat and they didn’t have a pump. We lent them ours, amused that we helped out a motorist. Unfortunately, the spare tyre of the rented car also had a hole on it but the Austrian couple didn’t think much. They got back in the car and jolted along the bad road to the next village.
We said goodbye and Anita jokingly said we may meet again when we have a puncture and then they’ll help us out. Well, half an hour later I was changing the inner tube on my bike…
Then the tarmac gradually returned. First it was just the gravel road witha thin layer of asphalt on top, which is not much better. But then there was a proper paved road to Vllahipë. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw an old Hungarian petrol pump at the tiny gas station of the village!
Nothing interesting happened until we reached Peshkëpi, which came as a dissapointment. What we expected was a city with supermarkets and a string of bars and we found a town of two streets with two pubs and a tiny foodstore in a garage. We had our usual drinks (coffee for Anita, Ivi for Aron and a small beer for me). Then we washed off some of the dust from our legs and arms in the bathroom and set off again.
In Peshkëpi, we finally had to decide how we wanted to reach the southern beaches. Shall we take the new coastal road or the unknown inland road to our destination, Qeparo? Five years earlier we had chosen the former and we still remembered how hard it was. We had to conquer the 1027 m high Llogara Pass starting from sea level so we now opted for the latter.
The road was supposed to be good at least as far as Kotë. From there we had to follow a minor road towards Kallarat and Kuç. Back home I checked the photos available on the net. I saw that there was a paved road in Kuç, which is only about 15 km from the coast, so we were optimisitic.
Sheep and dogs
Then, just as we left Peshkëpi, the tarmac disappeared like it did so many times on this trip. We saw an endless dusty gravel road ahead of us. The old road was too narrow and this was the temporary solution before the new one was ready.
We still didn’t want the coastal road with the pass so we continued. Perhaps the construction didn’t affect the other road from Kotë. We reached this small town around 7 pm and headed to a central bar. After another drink we filled our bottles with water, while sheep and goats crossed the little square and a man parked his donkey outside a shop. We followed him to buy some chocolate got back on the bicycles,
By that time it was getting really late but I wanted to see the road to Kuç. We reached the fork-off only to see that the old asphalt road continued to the left and we had to continue on the same gravel surface…
We were all exhausted and we had the first row as Anita got off her bike and said she wouldn’t go a metre more. But it was just not possible to camp there so I carried with Aron on to find a suitable place and then sent him back for his mother. We put up the tent in complete darkness near the road. Then we had a “shower” (each of us had one bottle of water to use) and cooked our dinner. We went to sleep hoping the road was not that bad all the way to Qeparo.