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Tuesday, 16 September 2008

DIA 317-319 - Albania: Riders in the Storm

Struga - Elbasan - Rinos - Koplit Dt = 12235 Km

We are sitting in a tiny roadside restaurant in Albania while the rain pours down outside. The restaurant is cozy, but my legs in soaking wet bike pants are freezing. Thunder growls. We have just finished eating a huge plate of lamb cooked on a covered spit outside, a generous salad, chips and plenty of freshly baked bread. Amazing how much you can eat when you are cold!

The two people working here look like brother and sister. They are the best-looking Albanians we have seen all day - we rode over the FYROM-Albanian border this morning. They smile constantly. At the moment they are outside with a fresh goat, but it gets hung from a tree, waiting to be prepared for the spit. The old man at the next table is ploughing his way through the head of the last spitted goat. He has eaten the eyes first.

The restaurant is a small outfit with only four tables and a red lino floor. The side facing the street is encased in glass. The kitchen is tiny. I followed the sister in earlier to point at what we wanted to eat. The brother is cutting the innards out of the goat hanging from the tree. It is still raining heavily.

It is Sunday today and we notice that everyone is wearing their Sunday best. Strange in a predominantly Moslem country. During the long Ottoman occupation many Albanians converted to Islam, and many of those who preferred to stay Christian Orthodox went to Italy. Albanians were then generally treated well by the Turks, and often helped the Turks in quelling Orthodox uprisings in the region.

We stay in the restaurant for two hours waiting for the heavy rain to abate. It doesn't, so we finally head off downstream. The three days we spend in Albania are stormy. Albania will be forever etched in my memory as the land of the long black cloud...

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