High wind and crossroads

July 19, 2017 0 By Viktor

Balkans Cycling Trip, Day 12

As the new day starts the weather changes for the better. It’s still cold and windy but at least it doesn’t rain. We cross borders again and decide to leave the difficult mountain part for tomorrow. Instead, we take a detour to see Vermosh, the destination of intrepid hikers (and cyclists).

17 July 2017: Plav – Vermosh (Albania)
Distance: 35 km
Total distance: 693 km

A backyard in Vermosh, Albania

Feels like Asia

After the cold, rainy day we spent in Plav (it even rained for some hours during the night) we woke up to a chilly morning. We had a quick breakfast and put on all our warm clothes (we didn’t bring much) before we set off.

 

The road still followed the Lim valley and we soon arrived in Gusinje. The highway actually avoids the town centre but we missed the unsigned turn-off so we ended up in this frontier town that could be in any high mountain area, like Northern India, for example (except for the minaret).

The main street in Gusinje

The main street in Gusinje

We felt a bit sorry we didn’t choose this place for our day of rest as there is a campsite nearby. There were bearded men drinking in the roadside bars as we turned back to continue our way towards Albania.

Still in Montenegro

Still in Montenegro

We got a bit lost because of the lack of road signs but it was  only a few kilometres to the border. The Montenegrin officer looked at the three passports and asked for the documents of the vehicle… his colleague had to point at our helmets and bikes.

Proud at the border of Montenegro and Albania

Surprises

Then we stopped at the Albanian booth and we were back in Albania after three years! We felt very proud of ourselves and full of optimism about the day. And then we took a sharp bend to see that the asphalt gave way to gravel… 

We were wondering how long this horrible section could be as we balanced our bicycles very carefully to avoid the large rocks and deep potholes. I had chosen this route because I saw photos from 2015 showing road construction and people in Montenegro also confirmed that there was a new road to Albania. Then there was another bend and the sealed road continued.

There were two rickety wooden bridges to cross – they apparently stayed when the road was upgraded. One of them was so full of holes that we preferred to walk across it. 

A rickety bridge on the Albanian side

It looks much better in the photo…

Another village to explore: Vermosh

In the meantime the sky cleared up a bit and we could admire the beauty of the mountains and the river. Then we arrived at a crossroads: the main road led to Shkoder and you could turn right to reach the village of Vermosh.

I knew there were campsites in Vermosh so I suggested we call it a day and stay there as it was quite late to attempt the two passes and the remaining 80 km. We agreed after some discussion and headed towards this remote community, which is not all that hidden after all as it has been a popular stop on the route of hikers and mountain cyclists for years. It is a dead-end for bikes and cars though you can continue on foot: we met hikers who planned to walk across the border to Montenegro. Via Dinarica, the long distance hiking route of nearly 2000 km, which was established a few years ago and connects the countries of the Western Balkans, crosses the village.

The church in Vermosh

As we cycled along the long main street, we saw at least four campsite signs. These are actually farms where you can pitch your tent and they offer you basic services. We wanted to see the centre first and check if there was a shop to buy food so we didn’t stop at any of them. 

Ready for a brighter future

The centre of Vermosh consists of the church (now under renovation), two bars, two basic food stores, a brand new playground and a small park with a memorial of the martyrs of Communism. 

One of the bars

We entered the bar that was open and ordered coffee and cola. The owner was very quiet but friendly. I tried to use the few Albanian words I still remembered and he used the Serbian he knew. It turned out that one of the stores was his so he opened it for us and we  bought a few things for dinner. Then he directed us to one of the campsites, 500 metres further along the main road.

The site  was not better or worse than the ones we saw before but at least it was more central. The price was also acceptable at 12 euros for the night so we stayed. The owner’s daughter spoke good English so we had no communication problems although they weren’t too interested in us so we just limited our discussion to the essentials. I forgot to mention that it became terribly windy after midday so we had to use all our pegs and strings to fix the tent.

Then we took a walk in the village. We were trying to find a bakery (we didn’t) and we saw some photogenic ruins of old houses along the way. We could enter the church, too, despite the restoration works. It has a very curious layout as it is V-shaped with the altar in the centre and the benches organised in the two wings.

When we could no longer bear the wind we returned to our tent and prepared our dinner (inside the tent). And once again we hoped the wind would stop by the next day.