What’s the best way to use a long weekend as a volunteer? Right, to travel! However, those four days surpassed all of our expectations of sunny beaches and cheap meals. Keywords: Car accident and a shop owner who chased a bus for us.
Friday night. The bus station in Skopje.
I arrive ten minutes before the bus to Albania’s beach paradise Sarande is supposed to leave. I spy my three German friends Antonia, Nick, and Till, and they welcome me with the news: There is no bus to Sarande.
So within 5 minutes, we decide to travel to Tirana instead. After 8 hours of bus driving and no sleep, we arrive in Albania’s capital – without any hostel. We feel like Mary and Joseph when we knock on the door of a hostel at 4 am. We are lucky, and the Finnish woman from an international hostel welcomes us.
The next day, a 19-year-old Italian traveler is joining us when we discover Tirana. Albania’s half a million capital surprises us in many ways. On every corner, we see buildings related to Germany. “Deutsche Market”, “German Hospital” and “Wiener Wurst”. Also, the city is more clean and modern than expected. The cars are big and expensive, and the people are dressed fashionably. “We were expecting Albania to look poorer”, we all agree.
Also, there was seemingly no pandemic. I did not spark a single mask, not even in busses or shops. The clubs are full, and the streets are crowded.
Tirana’s 37° Celsius temperatures are difficult to handle. “We have to get to them as quick as possible”, Till says.
But as always, we didn’t book a bus for our next destination Serande. At Tirana’s main station, we get an unusual offer. “My bus will drive close to Serande. But I can call my cousin who will cover the rest of the way with his car.” So the bus stops in the middle of nowhere, and the Albanian cousin appears.
Our whole experience in Sarande is quite touristic. Thirty euros for a group breakfast. Crowded beaches. Friendly locals, but they are clearly not excited about foreigners.
We also randomly run into a German girl that we know from Skopje. She and her friend fell in love with Albania, and they prefer Sarande without all the tourism. “Outside of the tourism season, Sarande is quite different and calm”, they say. “Now it’s the hot season. People in tourism work all day long, sometimes only sleeping three hours.”
A car accident as a foreigner
“Albanian car drivers are crazy,” our Balkan friends told us before our trip. However, we decide to rent a car to reach more abandoned areas.
The first time Nick presses the brakes, the tiny Toyota gives us chills.
“I have bad feelings about this”, Antonia worries. “I feel like something bad will happen.”
Life lesson: Listen to your gut feeling!
After five minutes of driving, an Albanian guy crashes the forefront of our car. He is overtaking us in the middle of a curve and doesn’t leave space for evading. “Shit!” Nick jumps out of the car. The Albanian guy drives away, but we manage to take a picture of his number shield.
We desperately try calling the police, but they don’t pick up. People around us aren’t a big help as well. “We don’t want to be involved with the police”, they keep telling us.
Our big help is the German embassy in Serande. They manage to send four English-speaking policemen. After filling thousand of papers, we get the good news: It’s not our fault. The insurance of the Albanian guy will cover the costs.
Peaceful Albanian village
After this shock, we decide to leave civilization – no better way to do this than ending up in a sleepy Albanian village. It’s a Monday night, but half of the village is gathered in a coffee shop. One man approaches us to sit down with him. He has been in America, Asia, and Europe, but he always returns to his homely village. “I have been everywhere, but this is where my heart belongs. I grew up with all the people that are here in this coffee shop.”
Finally, at the paradise
The next morning we want to reach an abandoned beach the so we take the car over basically impassable paths.
Every few minutes, a herd of cows or sheep blocks our path. We are glad enough when we make it to the beach paradise.
Blue and clear water, few people, straw huts, and the fish we eat there is directly caught from the sea.
“How do we get back to Skopje?”
The way back home is an adventure in itself. We catch a minibus designed for ten people – for some reason, they let 15 people in. We are squeezed together, most people are standing for two hours, and the air conditioning is not working.
At the next bus station, we wait forever. “Is this even the right bus station?” We wonder. We are relieved when the right bus finally arrives – our only chance to get back home that day. BUT: he passes by. We scream and jump to make him stop, but the bus simply passes by.
“You know I was working in Germany.” – “That’s great, but please look at the street.”
At a gas station, we find the bus. We wish our unexpected savior a wonderful life and drive home. Finally, at 6 am, we arrive in Skopje and finish this unusual weekend. As we see the sunrise, one thought crosses my head: I am astonished how much bad luck we had – and how often everything turned out fine.
We found a hostel at 4 am, and we survived the car accident. The Albanian guy chased the bus so we would get home.
Final thoughts? Our time in Albania had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster.