Monday, 19 August 2013

Turtles, tunnels and the last days.

It's been just over a week since I left Dubrovnik to make the last 300km of my journey to the most south easterly border of Croatia, then through Montenegro and then finally to Albania. 

For many cyclists 300km is a 2 day ride but of course nothing is quite that fast on a heavy layden tricycle in the 40 degrees heat of summer. And truth be told I had been getting even slower still over the last weeks. The first day I only made it 10km out of the city before deciding that the cliff I was cycling along was far to beautiful to carry on and I really should stop and watch the sunset... And then the stars... I ended up camping that night with my hammock tied between two rocks out on the side of the of the cliff gazing up at the night sky, the lights of Dubrovnik shining down below. 

The next morning I finally made some miles and headed my way Along the coast towards Montenegro. I had organised to stay with a guy called Marko who lives in the hills just before the border. It was a little way off route and a long way up, but after being in the city for a few days I was looking forward to escaping to the quiet of the hills. Macro had described his place as a little oasis which I liked the sound of. But after making my way up the long winding road I was a little surprised to find a couple of scruffy sheds covered in all kinds of random junk. A big sign said Marko's flee market. And a little old bicycle hung from a tree. I knew I was in the right place but as I waited for Marko to arrive I thought to myself where is this oasis he talked of? Marko didn't arrive back at the 'oasis' until the next morning. An older man in his 70s and as scruffy looking as his sheds, he wore nothing but a pair of brightly coloured shorts that looked like they had been made from a child's duvet set and his huge belly spilled over the top of them. He later told told me he was a nudist, so I was quite glad to have found him in his shorts "Are you coming to the beach today? Or do you want to fuck off?" He said in a gruff tone. I hesitated for a moment, but agreed to come. Once I got over His ruff appearance and baldy language I discovered a kind and generous man with some incredible stories, the day at the beach got extended into the night and followed with raki and fire shows and wasn't until the next morning that I made my way once again towards the boarder. The miles came quickly as a sped down tge other side of the hill I had laybord over a few days before. Soon I crossed the little border on the cliff road and passed my way into Montenegro. It was strange to find myself in another country after spending over a month in Croatia.  

"Montenegro is much like Croatia only the the mountains are bigger and the roads more windy." A guy I met had told me. He wasn't wrong. My road wound up, down and around every cove and ridgeway. Finally I left the coast and zigzagged my way over the last pass to take me into Albania. As I made my way over the hill and through the last small villages of Montenegro I could see before my eyes the world slowly changing from Christian to Islam. Monistaries faded out and were replaced by Mosques and grave stones were marked by the crescent moon instead of the cross. 

I camped that night on the top of the hill. In the company of three tortoises that happily wandered around beside me (I later realised these are quite common around this region and sadly saw more than one squashed on the road as cycled the next day) I Cooked my spaghetti on a little open fire and watched the stars in the clear night sky. Tomorrow I pass into Albania I thought to myself. After two months on the road and over 2000km, mountains, bears, seven countries, dozens of shows, and many friends and faces, my journey was finally coming to an end. I was looking forward to finally arriving but I was also sad to think it would soon be over.

I crossed the border the next day and it was like passing into another world. Until now most of the changes I have seen have been gradual. But here the changes were stark and drastic. As soon as I passed through the borders I was approached by Roma children with hands out stretched, women carrying babes in the midday heat asking after every passing car. To my right a group of Roma's sheltered from the sun under self made canopies. To my left two young boys were rummaging through the  rubbish. A man walked down the road leading his cow by a rope and chickens hung upside down from a boys hands flapping their wings as he tried to sell them. 

As strange as all this was to me. It seemed that for everyone else the mad Englishman on a tricycle was a much more unusual sight. Many People shouted after me, or pointed, or laughed, and If I had stopped for every person that waved me down to say hello I would probably still be there now. 

There were many other changes too. For one, cycling on the motorway is perfectly normal, and actually in many ways safer than cycling down the smaller roads where, if you weren't careful you might loose a wheel in a pot hole or get run off the road by a lorry and where almost every car honked its horn as it passed, sometimes right in your ear sending you swerving out the way in shock. 
As I cycled along the motorway I must have passed a dozen weddings by the time I reached Tirana (which traditionally last for three days here, and each day the bride wears a different dress. Needless to say there are a lot of wedding shops. And the dresses are quite something.) 

After a nights stop in Tirana I made the final part of my journey over (well actually through) the mountains to the small town of Elbassan which was my final destination. My friend Kerri had told me there was a tunnel right through the mountains but as I cycled up and around the winding roads, dripping with sweat in the midday sun I wondered if I had come the right way. But finally I saw the black hole of the enterance, I attached my lights and sped down hill through the dark and cool of the tunnel. I looked at my map. 5km to go! It felt so strange to say it out loud. 

I cycled into the town passed the old walled city and made my way to the kebab shop my friends had introduced us too last year. I have finally made it! Wow! Shit, this is crazy! 
I thought, or something like that (though it was probably more colourful.) Of course I ordered a beer. 

It is hard to put into words what it feels like to have finally arrived. This has been the most incredible journey of my life, without a doubt. And yet it feels like it isn't finished. (Although my legs are, at least for the moment) As I think back on all the adventures I have had over the last few months, the hard days, the wonderful days, the days when I wanted to give up, the days when I joked about going all the way to India. (Jokes over! Btw) it's hard to believe it all actually happened... But it did... I cycled from England to Albania. All 3500km of it...

Of course the journey isn't over though. And the reason for coming all this way has just begun. Today I moved into my new house for the next month, right in the heart of the Roma area where I will be making a series of circus and art projects with the kids here. As I rode through the streets many of the kids came out to greet us, some even remembered me from last year. It felt strange but good to be back, I was introduced to the guard dogs, bribed them with treats in the hope that they won't eat me (one is as soft as a pillow and more likely to lick you to death than anything else, the other, a big German Shepard needs more convincing)
Finally i emptied my bags and my precsious circus cargo from my tricycle and pushed it into the little shed and locked the door.

I won't be cycling for a little while...

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