The cigarette glows- a deep reddish glow, the stars are bright and hanging really low in the night sky. The village sleeps early- and now it is late nearly 12am. The dogs are fast asleep. The lake is shimmering in the moonlight and stretches ahead of me. And in the horizon I can see the dark silhouette of the mountains while along the opposite shore, glimmering lights – yet another country Macedonia. I am at a little village on the shores of Skadar lake in Albania. I am in a village where house numbers are yet to exist- where addresses are provided with references like Mr XYZ living right next to the school. And in this village, Anu and me are the first browns to set foot. We were gaped at in an admiring sort of way as we entered the only street asking about our host. He is old man Shabani, and his wife Laila- they own the neighbourhood grocery.
A curious bunch of people from mixed ages escorted us till Shabani’s house. They were amazing people- though I could not get a word of what they were saying… and perhaps for good reason. They greeted us elatedly, muttered strange gibberish and waved us forward. Two kids became my instant apprentice helping me unhook the bungee cords and my complex luggage arrangement. Shabani’s mother who is most certainly octogenarian (if not more) also rushed in to welcome us- all the village I guess was elated at our entry… all except the dog who was getting into a frenzy howling his head at us. Then there was Aida- the link of communication between the “Albanian only” Shabani’s family, the “Albanian only” rest of village and us both who are “English Only”. Aida was earlier the English teacher in the village school: hence her fluency of language made her the default translator for the entire complex discussions happening across different members. After a while she too gave up and fell silent… “Albanian is not easy” she said with a helpless shrug. Meanwhile non verbal exchanges had taken mainstage. Handshakes, smiles, thumbs up and… finally… beer sealed the goodwill.
How did we reach here? After a long hard day of riding. The hardest for sure though not the longest day of riding in these nearly 2 months on the road. Hard because We were biking at near 50 degrees centigrade for over nine hours today. The temperature in the shade was 45 degrees. The road in Albania was bad- the worst I have encountered across all the countries we have by now travelled. It was undulating, broken and dangerous at numerous points especially in Albanian territory. Most roads are unmarked and hence motorbikes often get elbowed out by larger vehicles. Most motorways we travelled through were dual carriageways with thick traffic slowing down the already low limit of 80 kmph. Police were conspicuous by their presence- from right outside the border till spots remote into the countryside. We saw several cows meandering about in the roads, a few dead animals along the highway and several mangled vehicles. The Albenians are really aggressive drivers and we were told that police are volatile. So we were on the defensive driving status.
It was evening and as we passed yet another small town, we heard, for the first time on this nearly 2 months of this trip in Europe, the Aazaan- the muslim call for prayer. There were other firsts too- first of nearly reaching the exhaustion limit riding for so long in such heat. It was among my top challenging rides- but it also offered amazingly exhilarating moments. While brushing the sweat drops on my eyelid I hear myself mumble “What a bloody neat ride”. Because despite all, I was happy, my heart was light and my mind was tranquil.
How we came to be here is when I convinced Anu to take the chance of surrounding ourselves with the most authentic Algerian village ever- where no one has seen brown people and no one (barring the English teacher) speaks English. With some uncertainty however, Anu gave in to my suggestion and we closed the booking for Algeria. This morning we rode out from Rijeca Crnova, Montenegro and early in the morning, the temperature gauge showed 35 degrees. “Today is going to be a long haul” I thought about the heat. It did become a long haul: we were battling temperatures of 40 – nearly 50 degrees throughout the nine hour ride. At the end of it, we are here in the village Udenisht- nested along the shores of the gigiantic Lake Ohrid in Albania. The cold waters of the lake Ohrid beckoned us: we washed off our dust from the long road and our fatigue with a swim.
Now we are fed, rejuvenated and as Shabani and his village sleeps sound, I am out under the starlight- a cigarette in hand, listening to the night and thinking to myself “It’s been a long haul… but it has been a bloody good ride: I can do it all over again”. The beautiful lake Ohrid glimmers in the moonlight and the crickets continue their hymn into the night.