George Kastriati Skanderberg is somewhat of a national hero in Albania, his person floats somewhere between true life hero and mythical tales that tell of his fearlessness and reputation as a fierce warrior and leader. It’s impossible to travel in Albania and not hear him mentioned or notice his legacy, there are Kastriati petrol stations everywhere, Albanians are fiercely proud of this man who lived in the 15th century and is considered to have almost single handedly held off the surge forwards of the Ottoman Empire into his territory for 25 years. And so, because of this man, our destination today was Fushe Kruje. A small town at sea level that is about 15km away from and 500m below Kruje Castle, home and stronghold of the man himself!
When we woke up at our idyllic-except-for-the-rubbish-everywhere beach location, we were immediately struck with a problem, with the sea in front of us and a road behind us, there was nowhere to answer a call of nature. Bearing this in mind, we packed up at a fair lick and got ourselves ready to go. After negotiating the sandy and difficult road from the beach, we got ourselves on the main road and headed south. It turned out to be ridiculously busy, the Mother Theresa Highway. If Skanderberg is the National Hero, he needs to watch his back, Mother Teresa has an airport, a highway and countless other monuments named in honour of her brilliance. Anyways, I digress….. Mother Teresa obviously hasn’t used any of her saintly powers to convince the locals on this road to drive in the manner of people in the possession of all their faculties and so, after a few short kilometres of honking buses and swerving cars, we examined our map and decided to take some smaller roads.
For the first few kms, the road was full of potholes and we got bumped around a fair amount. Just as I began to think I was ready to have a sense of humour failure, we saw shiny new macadam stretched out in front of us like a cyclists dream. Our speed picked up and we soon found ourselves at a huge market sprawled around a crossorads. After contemplating buying a pig to transform my bike into a pig sleigh and deciding against it for several reasons (they’re slow and they poo a lot) we carried on until we hit the worst road I have ever cycled on, full of mud and with craters several feet deep. We trundled through at a snail’s pace getting steadily covered in muck churned up by a huge amount of passing HGVs. By the time we reached Fushe Kruje, we were dirty, tired and ready to take a break. After filling up on burek, we continued a couple of miles out the ridiculously busy highway to North Star Point, a posh (by Albanian standards) hotel with a campsite at the back and, sweet holy mother of god, a swimming pool glimmering tempingly in the afternoon sun. Needless to say, we quickly put up our tent, moved it after realising we had pitched up right beside the hotels smelly bin and with that task out of the way, we jumped into our swimming gear and flung ourselves into the pool.
Our evening was relaxing and we cooked up some delicious cheesey pasta with bolognese sauce. On buying the frozen mince at the supermarket, we had considered how wise it might be taking into account the regular powercuts here. Maybe if we had, the following days events might not have unfolded as they did. But as they say, hind sight is 20-20 vision. Our night’s sleep was somewhat hindered by the broadcast strength stadium lights shining directly on our tent, but we woke up on Tuesday feeling spritely and looking forward to cycling up to Skanderbergs castle for a nose around. Without our bags, the 500m climb was enjoyable and the views were good. Even with a few stops for some cold drinks and photos of bunkers we took less than an hour to reach Kruje. After a stroll around Skanderbergs impressive home, we found out that the museum itself was closed, I suppose it’s a good way to save money, but it was a pity not to get to see it. We chatted to a street vendor who managed to confuse my pronunciation ‘Ireland’ for ‘Iran’! After clearing up the confusion, we thanked him for his bargain offer of a book in Persian and headed off. And so we whizzed down the road and picked up a few bits for a late lunch.
No sooner had we eaten than Sam began to feel unwell and turned as white as a ghost. I wasn’t feeling too well, but put it down to sympathy pains and decided to head to the shop to get us some dry biscuits and water in case things really kicked off. And kick off they most certainly did. Sam was already alternating between lying in the tent like a broken man and running to the bathroom to speak to God on the big white telephone by the time I returned from my errands. I soon joined in the fun. Our evening and night consisted of us mustering the strength to go and have another vomit and lying like to broken souls in our tent, unable to comfort each other. Running to the bathroom was an ordeal in itself as we found ourselves half stumbling, half running the 200m as far as the toilet, by families and couples trying to enjoying a leisurely meal around the pool. Add to that the agony of deciding whether to leave the zips open on our little tent to let some air in, or close them to keep the savage mosquitoes out but also impede a quick exit in the event of an emergency vomit and we had found ourselves in a right old mess. That’s all the detail you really need to know, it wasn’t nice and we were both sick as a small hospital. We played the ‘is it wind or am I going to shit myself’ game all night and well into the next day.
Today, we lay by the pool in the shade in an effort to keep cool away from the sweltering midday sun. No longer getting sick but unable to eat and lethargic. We took a decision that if we were to get better, we needed a roof over our heads. Being ill in a tent in sweltering heat is a pretty horrible position to find yourself in and so we booked a room in Durres and began mentally preparing ourselves for a 40km cycle that we will brave tomorrow. We’ve even managed a bit of food this evening. Hopefully it’ll stay down and we can begin recovering in a little bit of comfort…..