Rural idyll and smell of oil

July 30, 2017 0 By Viktor

Balkans cycling trip, Days 19-20

24-25 July 2017: Golem – Ura Vajgurore
More visits to repair shops, donkeys, lovely lakes and delicious cakes. A long and tiring but also relaxing journey from the bustling tourist resorts and industrial cities to Central Albania’s farming country with a drop of oil.
Distance: 102 + 10 km
Total distance: 1148 km

To our surprise, there was thick fog in the morning by the sea and it also meant that it was a little less hot. I had to start the day with some maintenance: I noticed a big cut on my saddle so I tried to sew it.

We had a substantial breakfast in one of the central eateries and started our long way towards Berat. The first town we crossed was Kavajë, where I had to find a repair shop once again. It was like a nightmare you can’t get rid of: the middle axis of my bike was getting loose again and I knew I couldn’t attempt the mountains after Berat like that. 

The pretty main square of Kavajë

I asked a man in a cafe and he just pointed at the street behind us, where we found the humble workshop. The mechanic quickly understood the problem and took off one of the pedals to fasten the bolt. OK, he didn’t have the right tool so he hammered the pedal a bit but at least I could continue without the nerve-wrecking sounds. When I asked him about the price, he said it was just a faleminderit (thank you).

Road problems

We could have taken the SH4 but we still preferred the low traffic over speed and comfort so we got to the next town, Rrogozhinë, through some small villages and we could enjoy the excitement of Albanian gravel roads, too.

We almost hauled the bikes up and down dozens of steps on the overpass when we noticed there was a handy rainwater canal under the road…

Not much traffic on the roads

After a coffee in the town centre we wanted to keep to the rural roads but the impossibly bad surface and the hills forced us to turn back this time. It was a good decision because the road we followed from Rrogozhinë (the SH7) was much less busy. 

In Peqin, we took a longer break to hide from the sun. First we had icecream for 30 lek (0.20 euros) each and then suflaqe in a small restaurant near the park. The owner was so happy to have guests (no one else entered the place while we were there) that in the end he offered us free icecream and lots of cold water to carry with us.

A remote petrol station

We left the SH7 after Pajovë to continue along the course of the Shkumbini river. The landscape and the villages changed: this is agricultural country with orchards, vineyards and lots of tractors on the roads.

There were plenty of hills to climb and we were all getting a bit tired. I wasn’t even sure we could reach our destination, a campsite not far from Berat, before sunset. Then, to make things worse, I had a puncture but at least it was a “slow” one so it was enough to pump it up a bit every 15 kilometres.

One of the appealing villages near Belsh

As we carried on, the landscape changed again and now we were riding among forest-clad hills towards the provincial town of Belsh, prettily situated around a small lake. We had delicious Albanian cakes by the lake, then we were “attacked” by the local kids, who happily posed for a photo. 

The cakes…

…and the kids

Doubtful suggestions

Exhaustion set in as the sun was about to set but everybody preferred the idea of an official campsite so we speeded up a bit with all our strength. The villages before Kuçovë smelt strange. At first we suspected it was the tractors but then we noticed that there were oil wells in almost every garden.

The source of the foul smell. It was shocking to see that in some places oil was released into brooks or a lake.

Though many have been removed, you can still see bunkers in impossible places throughout Albania

We just whizzed through Kuçovë and it was already dark when we arrived in Ura Vajgurore, where the map marked two campsites, one in the centre and another one 2 km to the west. Of course, the first campsite didn’t exist, there was a police station in its place. Anita was getting really nervous because by that time it was totally dark so we asked a family. The daughter spoke some English and the father, a local policeman, suggested we should camp in the nearby hills. He said it was a bit dangerous area but if we took care it would be OK. We decided to check the other campsite instead and in 10 minutes we found it. Berat Caravan Camping is perfectly equipped, the bathrooms are spotless and the owner family does everything to keep the guests happy. We quickly decided to spend another day there and relax a bit.