Tag Archives: Albania

Our Transafrican Adventure in numbers: four nomads, one Land Rover …. aaaand …

37,521

kilometres alltogether

This might sound a lot ... Actually the distance northern Germany - Cape Town as the crow flies is way shorter than those 37.521 kilometres. But as we zig-zagged through the Balkans and Africa according to our daily feelings and never followed a fixed route, it was of course way longer.

A bridge in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

At Cape Agulhas in South Africa.

"There are no roads in Sudan", somebody said to us ... they were actually quite good in most places!

Above Fish River Canyon in Namibia.

34,600

kilometres in the Land Rover

And we still love driving in the Landy. From our point of view it was quite comfortable and we enjoyed driving quite a lot as we spent most of the time talking, singing, listening to audiobooks together and at the same time interesting people and landscapes passed by our windows. Sometimes the road traffic was challenging - before we started the trip we had imagined the road conditions being more challenging.

Driving a Land Rover is great fun!

And there's a lot to see next to the roads!

 
 

2,921

kilometres in rental cars

It was strange to drive a "small" rental car after having driven so many kilometres in the Land Rover. It felt like our bums were scratching on the tar actually! Still, if you ship home your Landy, you will definitely  either have to wait without a car or use a rental.

Is it a CAR?

Really!?

905

likes for our Facebook site during the trip

We have never been too much after "Likes" on Facebook but still they were a way people could tell us that they were interested in what we wrote and pictured. This made us happy, we have to admit!

384

days on the road

... and we could have gone on!

290

days spent in Africa

... were definitely NOT enough! Africa is absolutely gripping! It is like a virus you cannot be cured from!

160    

nights spent on campsites

Campsites in Africa vary a lot. You can get everything from being in the absolute wilderness (Okavango Delta) and having a private ablution block, barbeque et cetera in Namibia or South Africa. You will almost never have a German-style campsite (GOOD!). Sometimes we also camped next to restaurants, lodges, in the courtyard of hotels.

Our camp on a farm-campsite in Namibia ("Mesosaurus Camp"). A bit like in the wilderness.

But you do have campsites with your own "house" with all kinds of personal facilities ...

... like a kitchen ...

... and a veranda with a view.

 

Our camp in the Okavango Delta ... no fences and loads of animals. So, elephants, hippos, gazelle, lions and whatever else pass through the camp, mostly at night! Never go to the toilet at night! At least we didn't!

 

127

nights spent in private households (in 21 different households ranging from a 1500 year-old mountain-village-farmhouse in Ethiopia to a big house directly below Table Mountain in South Africa or a Beach House directly at the Indian Ocean)

This we had not imagined. Completely unknown people contacted us before and during the trip to invite us into their homes, just because they found our blog on the internet and somehow must have liked us or at least found us interesting enough to invite us. This actually shows the immense support, blogs and Facebook can provide for any traveller. We also feel that it was a good decision to blog in English, as that way we could reach more and international people. The friendliness and hospitality we were approached with was unimaginably touching. We wish that Europeans and Germans especially were as nice to strangers as Africans and people on the Balkans were to us.

In most cases we felt like being family members from abroad.

Especially with the van der Merwes in Namibia on their small farm "Eisgaubib".

In the Tigrinyan mountain village Zik'allay - Anouk's favorite place in Ethiopia.

In here - the kitchen - people from the same family have lived for the last 1500 years. For now, it is our bedroom.

106,36

Euros spent per day

This sounds a lot and probably it is. We had saved up for years for the trip and had 125€ per day. Still, we did not wild camp too often (as we could probably have done) ... and we have to admit that we did give us treats with good food and restaurants quite often. For sure, this sum could be way cheaper. Also, from what we have heard and read, East Africa is not the cheapest overland destination. So, also the area of the world you travel in definitely affects the daily budget a lot.

Yes, we do spend quite a lot money on good food. Here it is fresh Barracuda for Christmas in Kenya.

Lobster in Tanzania ... 8€ for 1,5 kilograms!

97,71

kilometres per day on average

Nearly one hundred kilometres per day might sound a lot on average, but it actually is not. This includes all the autobahn-kilometres and those on very good roads we easily put behind us in Europe and southern Africa ... It also includes the stretches, we just drove through non-stop (like from the Ethiopian-Kenyan border to Nairobi). We had many lazy days during our trip where we did not move a wheel at all!

94

days spent in Europe

Europe is wonderful and there is so much to discover. Period!

The old monks' rooms and monasteries in the cliffs at Meteora in Greece - an absolutely magical place!

Lake Koman ferry in Albania.

71

nights in hotels, B&Bs, hostels and holiday flats

As I said, this could easily be reduced. We just needed that every now and then to relax, recover and enjoy.

A family room at a lodge in Namibia.

And a hostel room (yes, this is no mistake ... this really is a room in a hostel) in Girokastër in Albania. The kids thought the house was haunted!

18

foreign countries visited

The original plan was to visit more countries on the way, but we did not want to "tick" countries but wanted to travel. This is where our route(s) took us.

16

nights spent wild camping

We love wild camping and we were surprised how easy and wonderful wild camping can be. Absolute highlights in this sense were Greece and Sudan. Still, there are countries, where camping in the wilderness for us was not an option, such as Ethiopia, where nearly every square meter is inhabited and we didn't like the feeling of being openly watched by tens of persons all the time.

A wildcamp in the Sahara desert in Sudan ... absolutely safe but (nice) people (and camels) will find you in the morning and try to trade with you.

Our wild camp at the (nudist) beach in Lefkhada in Greece. A wonderful place!

15,15

€ per night on average

Prices for accomodation vary considerably from country to country and region to region. The Balkans were cheap and good, whereas East Africa was quite expensive. Some campsites in southern Africa were completely for free for people driving a car licensed from overseas.

12,8

average fuel consumption in liters

Not much different compared to the consumtion we have recorded during other overland trips in Europe.

7

nights spent at family member's houses

... at the beginning and end of the trip.

6

things that broke (both water pumps, front prop shaft, central locking right rear passenger door, double shocker keep, Foxwing awning)

We had expected more things to break. And due to heat, dust and road conditions, we constantly expected more to happen. Maybe the small number of things that broke was due to using a relatively new, well maintenanced car and constant maintenance on the road (i.e. service every 5000 to 10000 km and directly before the trip). We think it is worth buying quality products intead of going for cheap options.

When the front propshaft started making funny noises, we used it for educational purposes immediately. We got it fixed within 48 hrs! In Africa!

On the way to Ol Doinyo Lengai in Kenya, the keep of the double shock absorbers broke. The village blacksmith easily fixed it at a very considerably price.

6

malaria tests

Malaria felt like a constant threat, especially thinking of the kids. We now think that we might have overrated Malaria, but are also 100% sure that being on the safe side healthwise never is a bad thing to do. Malaria tests and medication in Africa is relatively cheap (for us Europeans with hard currency at least) and doctors know more how to treat Malaria than our doctors sometimes as they are constantly exposed to the problem.

3

uncomfortable situations

Actually, two of these happened in northern Africa. Juliane had two situations where she felt uncomfortably approached by men, in Egypt and Sudan. But there is a big difference between cities like Cairo and Khartoum and small villages. We felt absolutely safe and extremely politely treated in the villages. Mischa would have had no problem of leaving Juliane and the two girls behind there for a while. The third incident was a misunderstanding with customs officials at a checkpoint in Ethiopia about 200km away from the Ethiopian-Kenyan border. We drove on without being allowed to (which we could not figure out because of unclear signs), people stopped us, came running at us in uniforms waving weapons and made us go back behind a piece of rope across the street . While reversing, Mischa bumped into a concrete pillar on the road and went mad.

 

This barber stole a kiss from Juliane while Mischa and the girls were in the same room. Juliane didn't want to tell Mischa right away as she feared he would go wild ...

 

3

times servicing the Land Rover

As we said before, service is the key to everything staying in good shape car-wise!

 

First service at "JBK" in Athens - the Greek Land Rover "horse whisperers".

 

2

speeding tickets

Mischa got his first two speeding tickets in Africa. His first two EVER! ... on two successive days. And he was speeding!

Quite beautiful actually! BUT I DON'T drive a LANDCRUISER!

1

car breakdown

Only one time our car broke down completely ... on a major crossroads in Arusha, Tanzania, when the president was visiting the city. ... 2 km away from a Land Rover garage ... It took 45 minutes from the time the Landy broke down to have the car towed to the garage. ... And the manager of the garage took us home with him for the night. The next day everything was fixed again.

1

visitor from Germany

Mischa's mother visited us in Ethiopia, which was absolutely great. It was a brave thing to do for a lady of 67 who had never been to Africa before!

Bajaj outing with Oma Babs.

And she brought Swiss cheese - a rare thing in southern Egypt, Sudan, Kenya and Ethiopia ... worth its weight in gold almost!

0

bribes

We never pay bribes as the next travellers have to pay even higher prices. Also, we never give "gifts" for services that are not special. Whenever people really do things for us, we pay a fair price, though! We don't want to support a "bribe and beg" mentality, but want to make people start their own initiatives to make a living and support their families. When people are ill and sick, we sometimes go and buy food for them or give some medication.

0

punctures

... good tyres pay off! BF Goodrich Mud Terrain KM2! Never change a winning team!

 
 

0

robberies

... even though people could have robbed us easily. Was it luck? We don't know! We nearly always felt safe!

0

abductions

... see above!

0

days in prison

... see above! Although we were absolutely happy to be out of Ethiopia, as the traffic there is an absolute mess (Mischa would love to drive again in Cairo and Khartoum, but NOT in Ethiopia) and pedestrians don't know how to cope with modern road traffic. There are hundreds of people on the road, cattle, sheep and goats everywhere ... at night, people even sleep on the road. If you injure or kill somebody in an accident, you have to expect being lynched by the mob or will be put into prison for seven years. Even the embassies advise people to leave the country immediately after a fatal accident with a local person.

...

countless

new friends, experiences, things we learned

That's why we love traveling so much! There is nothing more to say!

Our kids make friends easily everywhere. Here in Namibia with Max and Irmgard.

The Calders in South Africa.

At the friday prayer in Omdurman in Sudan.

In "Anouk's mountain village" Zik'allay in Ethiopia.

Games in Kenya ...

... and in Ethiopia.

Farm friends in Namibia.

... with their wonderful parents.

Juliane and Zeinab in Cairo.

With Sam Watson in Cairo.

With Mohammed ("Mo") of "Adam Home Overland Camp" in Aswan.

... more friends in Khartoum, Sudan.

With Tyseer on a boat trip in Khartoum.

And with Sheikh Mohammad Mubarak and Tyseer in Khartoum.

With Chief Mkwawa and his family in Iringa, Tanzania.

With Ian, the manager of the Land Rover garage in Arusha.

With our travel friends "Six en Piste" from France who are now travelling in South America.

Lars - a wonderful family father, friend and Land Rover mechanic with a most wonderful family - in Nairobi.

... and so many many more! We miss you guys! Dearly!

In search of Paradise Beach

 

Gjirocastër - we loved it, for the kids it was exhausting and haunted

 

As impressive as the Albanian city Gjirokastër was for us, the two girls become grumblier the longer we stay here. The streets are far too steep for them and every walk becomes a hard hike for them. Startled they hide behind our legs whenever a seemingly speeding car approaches pestering itself along the steep cobbled streets we are walking on. The exciting traits of former inhabitation witnessed by the buildings we see are far too abstract for them. Anouk and Sóley only see old, crumbling and therefore not really beautiful houses in them. The restaurant-food for them is reduced to pizza and French fries, which after some days is nothing they want to have again. Normally, we cook far more diverse. And in addition to that, there is the haunted hostel which frightenes them at night. Babameto house is so wonderfully ancient that you can glimpse through the creaky floor boards down on the people living one floor below us. Then, there is the wind constantly blowing through the windows and laut squealing doors ... and there are small doors everywhere with unused hide-holes and secret passageways. This is far too much for Anouk's vivid phantasy. Without us in the same room, she doesn't get a wink of sleep. This is quite exhausting after a while and so the kids rather want to go back to the beach as soon as possible. As much as I had been looking forward to Istanbul, this wonderful city now recedes into the far distance. And also, the question darises whether it is possible at all to travel to big cities with island-children like ours.

On Mischa's birthday we enrich the hostel-breakfast with the local speciality sheep-cheese burek. Mischa's birthday wish is to find "Paradise Beach", so we "set sails" to the Albanian coast.

 

Old Ottoman bridge.

 

On our way, we want to ask farmers to be allowed to camp on their property, but we only meet shepherds herding their flocks of sheep.

 

Before we set up camp, we help an Albanian couple to pull out their VW Golf out of the deep sand.

 

Thus, we reach a relatively undeveloped and un-parasoled beach without any beach bars on Mischa's great day. That this beach is supposed to be "Paradise Beach" we are not really convinced of, but at least this is a first step in the search for it. Probably, it's quite difficult to find such a beach especially for us, as we live on an island with kilometres of white, sandy beaches, which for most people would be more or less the prototype of the personal "Paradise Beach". But, alas, our family getaways to the beach home on the island of Spiekeroog can be counted on the fingers of one hand because our everyday work, respectively the his standards we set ourselves do not permit that too often.

Just having arrived at the beach, we spontaneously pull out the VW Golf of an Albanian couple out of the deep sand, take over their idyllic spot and even get chilled drinks in return - welcome to Paradise Beach! The first thing that our daughter Sóley builds at the beach is a mosque with a minaret; words and concepts she before visiting Gjirokastër she did not know anything about. She remarks yearningly that she so very much wants to see a mosque from the inside - something we would never have dared to do because of her stubborn moodiness when we were visiting the city, but it seems that more impressions rest on her than we had expected. While skyping, an enthusiastic Anouk tells her friend Lasse about the collection of canons she saw inside Gjirokastër castle even though she felt very uncomfortable in exactly this part of the castle due to the fact that she connects those gigantic weapons with death and destruction.

To mark the occasion, we pump up our sound system at the beach and sing and dance together with Xavier Rudd and the United Nations' new cd "Nanna". Anouk, who has overheard more and more Englisch-chunks, demands a simultaneous translation and so we philosophy about the turbulent history of human societies, the injustices of the world and about religion and spirituality.

Romantic camp

Enver Hoxha was a bunker-maniac - these things are everywhere in Albania!

 

Sóley falls asleep in Mischa's arms for the first time in her life - a wonderful moment. That's what family time is all about!

 

During the following few days at the beach, our kids relax and Sóley evel falls asleep in Mischa's lap for the first time in her life, which for him is a very special moment because she still has a fixation on me. I rediscover the sea for myself. Swimming and water gymnastics encourages the metabolism and awakens new vitality in this heat which can be lived out together with the kids in acrobatics at the beach and in the surf.

We want to save fuel, so we cook on the open fire using our Petromax Feuertopf (dutch oven) and the Petromax Feuerbox

Wonderful food - it smells as good as it looks!

Beach neighbours from Aurich in homely East Frisia got bogged down with their old VW LT and, naturally, we also pull them out of the sand. The evening before, we had helped them to cope with their stomach upset with Caj Mali, the magic tea from the Albanian mountains.

 

Pulling out another car - we should make a job out of this!

 

Somewhere in the mountain wilderness looking for a nice place to wild-camp ... do you see the weird puppets in the background?

... magic protection against the "evil eye" - if somebody does too many good things in life and others speak positively about that person, he is in danger to be affected by the "evil eye".

 

On our way through the mountains ... not knowing that we are going to end up at out last beach camp.

 

In between, we go on on our search for our personal "Paradise Beach" and wriggle ourselves through countles serpentines alongside the picturesque coast heading north again, which makes the Land Rover roll like a tall ship and also makes Anouk throw up like being seasick. No wonder, I think, as I met her father being seasick on board the tall ship "Thor Heyerdahl". Rough mountain tracks however are no problem for the girls. Now we need a quick look into the guidebook to find a campsite with a laundry machine. In the next bay there are some, but we rely on "Reise Know-How" which results in the fact that nearly exclusively German-speaking campers have set up their camps here (while the campsite "next doors" is frequented by a majority of French and Italians). Becaue our Land Rover is decorated with eye-catching stickers of this publishing company we are asked more than once about what connection there exists. "Are you in any way connected with this company? ... 'Cos we also use this guidebook!". It seems as if there are only few other guidebooks on Albania even though tourism seems to be booming here. We don't want to stay longer than needed for our laundry and WiFi service, because "Paradise Beach" means something else for us. From Vlorë we discover a remote mountain valley in search of a farm, guesthouse or hidden pub - in vain! At the end we end up at the same bay with our first "Paradise Beach"-attempt.

 

We are greeted by a wonderful sunset - it's actually quite good to be back here!

 
 

New friends!

 

But it could have been worse than ending up here for another night! Just shortly after we have arrived, an iconic Mercedes "Rundhauber"-LKW (an old Mercedes 911 truck) pushes itself along the road behind the beach and a multitude of sympathetic faces appear being the windows. They answer my waves and I invite them to set up their camp right next to us. They do so and out of the wonderfully neat and affectionately converted oldtimer-truck bearing the name "Rosie" climbs a wonderful and charming 6-headed family from Munich including their dog. Both parents are artisans from Schwabing and their four kids enjoying Waldorf education which has a long tradition in their family. They seem to be very relaxed, are extremely creative, courteous and cool "in spite of that". Our kids play with them as if they had known each other for years even though concerning their age they are years apart from each other, which actually convinces us the next morning to stay for another two nights enjoying this wonderful company. Us adults have tons to catch up on, too. We cook vegetarian, gluten-free and yummy food together and finish off the feast with baked chocolate bananas from the campfire (we use our last German chocolate for that).

Beach life: fresh food directly brought to us.

Beach camp ... it's good to have company ... only that their "car" looks like a castle!

 

Acrobatics teachers Stella and Lydia

 

Acrobatics teachers ... our girls are impressed!

Acrobatics: flying Sóley

Anouk

Our "rumble ballerina" Sóley

... or rather a troll?

Our travel guitar finally is called into action and wonderfully harmonises with the ukeleles from Munich. At the evening of the second day, another "Rundhauber" from Munich joins us, but when Rosie leaves us with her crew we get itchy feet as well.

 

Beach life - new friends!

 
 

The first hot shower in days - get that look in her face!

 

Croozing further down south, we find a nice beach right after the Albanian-Greek border where two beautifully converted Unimog fire-engines have already set up their camps. Again, we meet Bavarian families waiting for their ferry to Italy because their summer break soon will be over. At night, even more trucks join us and for us, it's getting a bit too crowded here for us to stay longer and so the next day, we leave after some nice breakfast-chats still in search of our own "Paradise Beach".

Our friends Konstantinos and Erato from Athens, Dutch friends and also Coen and Karin-Marijke from "Landcruising Adventure" had recommended a certain beach on the island of Lefkadha to us which will be where we head today. Actually, this was a wonderful tip which is pretty much what we had imagined when talking of "Paradise Beach".

 

The first beach which more or less is fitting our dream of "Paradise Beach" - Athani beach, Lefkadha.

Our camp in the setting sun. Again, this is a place we don't want to leave too soon!

 

We meander down to a large bay with a long sandy beach with turqoise waters. Right at the end of the sandy track we set up our camp and figure out that here nobody cares what you wear (if you want to wear anything at all!). Everything here seems to be wonderfully uncomplicated and roomy! We plan to stay here until our provisions run out. Because, again, we can help others stuck in the sand - this time it's an Austrian couple - we can stock up on fresh water in return which enables us to even have hot fresh water showers here. And thus, we stay here for four enchanting days, taking each day as it comes. Anouk complains that the days go by so very fast here even though we don't provide some kind of kids-programme here. But it is exactly this family time which all of us simply enjoy to the fullest.

 

Old beach bar used as a camp by some young surfers.

 
 

The three girls dreaming into the sunset.

 

This indeed is the return for skipping Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaidjan and Iran, countries I had been looking forward to visiting for a very long time. But it's OK, as this serves a more important purpose, "relaxed, harmonic, easy going and still intensive family-time". All of us sense our backlog demand and sponging up each other as if we were dried up. Even rationally viewed, it was a good decision even though all these countries are so very interesting, exciting and culturally impressive as there is still so much waiting for us on our route down through Africa. But we can only manage and enjoy this if we grow into a relaxed but gut well-practiced team.

During the last 8 weeks we have not managed to do a lot of things we had planned in advance, but - and this is far more important than anything else! - we have re-started to live and not just "behaving". The rest will come automatically!

text by Juliane

photo comments by Mischa

 

Paradise Beach ... Made in China???

 

Gjirokastër

 

The only remaining minaret of Gjirokastër (out of 14) which was not destroyed during the culture revolution.

 

Nobody else can describe this beautiful city with this special morbid charme better than the famous Albanian writer Ismail Kadare who was born here:

 

"... and for sure this was the only place in the world where somebody who slipped at the roadside ditch would not plunge into the ditch, but would maybe fall onto the roof of a tall house. The drunkards were the ones who knew that better than anybody else. It really was a queer and bizarre town. If someone wanted, it was possible to go along a street, stretch out the hand a bit, just to pull his cap over the tip of a minaret. Many things were ... like in a dream." (Ismail Kadare ... translated from "Chronik in Stein")

 
 

The "modern" part of the town - not really beautiful!

 
 

Our guide, a 17-year-old student ... with an impressive knowledge on the history of the town of his birth.

 
 

Mason at work.

 
 
 

Old relief on the wall of the only remaining (Orthodox) church.

 

... the round thing in the background is the top of a cistern.

 

The city of Gjirokastër looks back on a 2000 year old history from Greek to modern times. The name goes back to Greek Argyrokastro, "silver castle" and may be associated with the silvery stone tiles which are used here to cover the roofs.

The impressive castle looking down on Gjirokastër - detail.

Castle - still in ruins and not secure to walk on.

 

Tomb of a member of the Bektashi order (inside the castle).

 

Spy pilots of the cold war - old American plane within the castle walls.

For a long period, the city was an important Turkish administrative centre and still is one of the most important fortified cities on the Balkans.

At the end of the 19th century this city was taking the lead of the Albanian resistance movement.

 

Our little partisan in front of the memorial for the partisans from this quarter.

 
 

Memorial for the courageous teachers who - facing the death sentence if they were discovered - taught their students in Albanian before 1908.

 

Ironically, the city was preserved to a great deal because the dictator Enver Hoxha was born here and declared the town of his birth a museum city in 1961 (which still did not stop him destroying 13 of the remaining 14 mosques during the cultural revolution in 1967).

 

The remains of one of the old mosques - on the right you see the rest of the minaret.

 

One of the seven wells where people used to wash themselves before prayer.

Another well - only five of the seven remain.

 

The old Hamam - now a residential house.

 

Today, many of the old buildings, especially the "Kulla" buildings, fortified residential houses, are falling into ruins because either the many owners (due to division of the estates) cannot agree on a collective decision concerning the future of their houses or simply because there is no money to restore them according to the terms of the UNESCO, as the city is a World Heritage Site.

The hostel we stay in at the moment, the Babameto-House, home of the Babameto family, one of the influential families of Gjirokastër, is one of these houses, which was restored with the help of a foundation. Today, this beautiful and impressive house is used completely as a hostel and from our point of view it is one of the most beautiful and spacy hostels existing. Adults can stay here for the very reasonable price of 12€ for b&b and thereby help keeping this building in the shape it is in (please see our accomodation and camping page).

The Babameto Hostel from the outside.

What a room!

 

What a beautiful room! :-)

 
 
 
 
 

We would strongly recommend this city and accomodation to everybody visiting the South of Albania!

 

The beautiful mountains in the background - evening mood.

 

Just an ordinary day on the road

 
 

The previous night we had spent next to an ancient bridge ... only the next morning a passer-by informed us that this site is "famous" for dangerous falling rocks from the nearby cliff. Well, we survived!

 
 
 
 

We set off after a brief brekkie ... the tourist information in the next village is no real help for our "problems" ("Is there a campsite nearby?" - Sóley had thrown up and we need a laundry machine ... "Where is the bear rescue station Greek friends had told us about?"). On the contrary, it is rather difficult to find the tourist information at all as in the building bearing that sign we only find an office responsible for issuing dog tags - which takes a while for us to find out. Only after long asking around and finding our way through the authority djungle, we find somebody who is responsible for tourists - only that he doesn't know about that it seems, and also he cannot communicate with us in English or German (and we don't speak Greek, unfortunately!). ... Somehow, we are still able to find out that there is neither a campsite nor a bear rescue station anywhere nearby. The Greek government had apparently prohibited the establishment of any campsites due to the increasing number of bear attacks. Only a story? A fairytale?

However, we go on to find out where the roads will take us today!

On the way to the next city we find no signs for campsites and also in the city there only seems to be room for hotel-tourists. So, we cross the border to Albania knowing that there it is normal that any guesthouse, restaurant or hotel in the countryside provide free camping opportunities in their backyard or parking lot if you stay at their restaurant for dinner and breakfast (the food is about the same price of a Greek campsite).

At the border we immediately sense the difference between Greek and Albanian border police: while the Greek police are nearly Germanic-correct, polite but a bit reserved, we again experience their Albanian counterparts as being extremely relaxed and friendly if a bit cheeky. It's really nice to be back in this country!

 
 

The road to the mountain village our guidebook recommends is in unexpectedly good condition. I hear myself saying "These roads are even better than in Greece!" ... until, well, until it was bound to happen: in the middle of some nameless village on our way, asphalt turns into gravel. Still unsuspecting we continue on our way. We ask a farmer guiding his horse drawn carriage using hands, feet and our map for the way and figure out from his reactions that we still are on the right way and will have to turn right where the roads part (!). So, on we go! ... our travel speed has been reduced by the "road" to roundabout 15 km/h and the "road" - a yellow one in the map and no 4wd-only track - turns out to be the worst agricultural road we had experienced for the last few years. We find the fork in the path which doesn't reveal its identity by roadsigns and our Land Rover ploughs on in the truest sense of the word. ... About 70 minutes later - we are still on this piste turning from mud to gravel to stones to rocks and back to mud - we see the first few houses of the mountain village we are looking for in the distance about 3 km away from us. Frolickingly, we gasp with relief ... not knowing still that the ascend to the village is bettering everything we had before experienced. Apparently, we are on a bad hiking route now and nearly all propulsion is done in first gear with a lot of support from the handbrake. Due to that, we finally change gears to cross-country reduction and activate the diff lock (courageously, I had abstained from that before) ... More than once we nearly topple but still courageously plough on. Really strange is that both kids, who don't like asphalt serpentines and have to throw up every now and then, are rather swinging-cheery and bawl kindergarten songs! Offroad-travel-children! Finally, we are there - only to discover that from the other direction a proper road connects this village with civilization, because this village is supposed to be the most important winter sports village of Albania.

 

In the background you see the track - looks quite romantic from this perspective!

 
 

That's where we plan to camp ...

 
 

Partisan memorial

 

Exhausted and still a bit confused because of the shaky dirt track, we ask the first people we meet on the road where we could stay for the night and which restaurant is good ... We get no directions but Juliane is guided by the man and I follow through the slopy village, in turns I stick to walls (just in case I topple - so I still have at least something to hold on to) until we finally end up at a half level lilliput parking lot where we are supposed to park and setup camp. The pub is only 15 m away. There we get an immense dinner which we are not able to finish for only about 23 € (local sausage, a giant portion of snails which regarding taste are not being camouflaged with the help of sauce or cheese-gratination, fava beans, a mountain of french fries, the local Tzaziki, bread, a giant salad, two ice cream, two mulberry-Raki, one coffee, a tea, a beer, a red wine, four lemonades!). The locals slap us on our shoulders that we managed to come here using the bad road (nobody else takes any more ... "strong car!"). Later that evening, the children are sleeping in the car, we sit together with a professor for Albanian language, who is a local and has also taught in Germany. At the table next to us, a famous TV-host (of the Albanian version of X-Factor), the son of one of the most important recent Albanian writers, who is also here, plays the guitar for a large round of villagers who join in into his singing. Believe it or not, but this is just a normal day on the road in Albania ... it fades away with the chants from the pub which resound into the deep night (cold it was, too!). In the morning, we are allowed to use the showers and toilet of one of the holiday flats - for free because the guy that brought us here is a friend of the landlord.

Where are we?

Date:              22.08.2015

Location:        Gjirokastër, Albania

Further Information

Weather:       some clouds, light wind

Day:                44

 

This would have been the perfect wild camping spot ... but, alas, the thunderstorm chased us away!

 

From our new friends' beach house in Agkali (Greece) we went on back to Kalivia Varikou still being unsure on whereabout to head next. Turkey and especially Istanbul was one idea, but also we wanted have enough time to go back to Albania to later discover the Greek west coast and the Peleponnes penninsula. The "Turkey solution" would have meant an insight into another different culture and the "Albania/Greece solution" would allow us to travel slowly and delve deeper into the culture. It was a hard decision but as so many interesting countries, cities and cultures lie on our way down to Cape Town, we opted for the slow travel version. Turkey still is "on the list" and we will go there as soon as possible - then including Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaidjan, Iran and whatever country we also have time to visit!

From Varikou we headed for Meteora, which simply was impressive (see our post on Meteora), especially because we discovered it from its less touristy side walking through beautiful nature.

Old and new in Korcë, Albania.

Old fortress (?) on the way ...

After that we went further north and spent a night at the beautiful bridge of Konitsa, a World Heritage Site.

From there, we went on back to Albania to discover the beautiful village of Dardhë, continuing to Germenj. From there, we drove on to Gjirokastër. Both the vegetation/countryside and the road conditions on the way reminded me on Norway or Sweden about 35 years ago. One thing that annoyed us, though, was the fact that almost everybody seems to be throwing their waste into the nature wherever they want to. This is really sad, as especially the countryside and nature of this wonderful country is so very special and precious and will most certainly attract tourists from all over the world which would give this poor country a chance to make its way into a more prosperous future.

Restaurant, farm ... and we can camp here.

Butchering

In the communist times this was a holiday camp.

... that's what freshly cooked means!

 

Our camp

 
 

The girls simply love horseback riding!

 
 
 

Another bridge ... we planned to wild camp here, but it's a bit too touristy!

 

Spa for free ... it smells a bit sulphuric, though!

 

Anyway, we are in Gjirokastër now, and enjoying hostel (Babameto Hostel) and city life ... just as the Albanian president who is visiting this city just at this weekend.

 

Spotted on the way!

 

Our First “Blind Date”

 
 

Overlanding includes unfamiliar aspects any overland-traveler has to adapt to I suppose. One, and maybe the most important one indeed is "accepting somebody's help "! Due to whatever cause, we are used to help always having to be reciprocal ... And also, when people approach us with a help offer, we expect some negative intention to be behind that. When traveling but also even during the preparation phase one realizes that this can be totally different. In this context, the positive side of Facebook and blogging becomes clear as well: during the last months quite a few overlanders. Land Rover owners and others who were simply interested in us and our planned trip contacted us via the internet providing insider tipps for Transafrica or even invite us to their homes which would lie along the planned route. Several nice people did, for example, work from their homes in Cairo on finding out how we could ship our Land Rover to Africa or what other possibilities do exist reaching Africa overland at the moment. Now in Greece, while traveling, our first travel-"blind date" waited for us. Sometime at the end of June, Konstantinos (also a Land Rover owner planning a long overland trip with his family) had found our blog and - apart from giving interesting tips on where to go in Greece - without heasitation invited us to his home in Athens. After we had discovered strange sounds coming from the engine in Albania (sounding a bit like a tortured chicken) and neither other overlanders nor a proper Albanian bush mechanic could help us, we decided to accept Konstantinos' invitation earlier than we had actually planned and directly go to Athens from southern Albania to have the Land Rover checked at JBK Land Rover Specialists, THE Landrover-smithy in Greece (an absolute workshop recommendation, by the way, for any Land Rover Owner passing Athens ... they are "Land Rover Horsewhisperers"!). We reach Athens in the early afternoon only to realize that everything (and I really mean everything) had been organised in advance: we reach Konstantinos' house, who is just waiting for us to go to the workshop together while Juliane and his wife Errato are taking care of our four children.

JBK - The Greek Land Rover "Horsewhisperers"

Ready for Takeoff again!

In the workshop the "chicken"-problem (not electric, but mechanical by the way!) is quickly identified and solved, so that in the evening we can feast on Greek "Souflaki" getting to know each other while the Land Rover is relaxing outside the house in the shade. During the next few days we chill out together at the beach house of the family enjoying famous Greek hospitality. Apart from the common interest in overland travel, here the international comradeship of Land Rover owners is part of the story! Land Rover owners not only wave at, but also help each other! Do people actually consider this when choosing their overland-vehicle from a different car brand? The Land Rover team spirit is a door opener for other cultures and nearly some kind of "secret insurance"!

But also in other situations the weary traveler is helped fast and unselfish:

... the car mechanic in Albania senses our scouring eyes, approaches, asks ... just to leave his own work for a while to lead us to the bush mechanic recommended by our campsite owner (who actually is a competitor) riding along with us on our side stepps.

New Friends

... the camp site owners in Peshkopi know that our kids had thrown up on the way due to the road conditions and cook homemade pasta cooked in chicken stock for us ...

... the Greek permanent camper puts an ice-cold beer into the hand of the stressed father while he is setting up the camp ...

... water melons, figs, and other fruits who "by chance" drop out of the sky just to land on our camp table ...

... We could go on telling a bunch of other stories here even though we have only been traveling for four weeks now!

Of course, at home in Germany, there are also warm hearted and helpful people, but this intensive openness and warm-heartedness we experience here we are not accustomed to.

Where are we?

Date:              09.08.2015

Position:         N 38°51.58', E 023°26.29'

Location:        Agkali, Euboea, Greece

Further Information

Weather:       41,1°C (midday), some clouds, light wind

Day:                31

 

Our Camp at Valbone at Night

 

From beautiful, nearly enchanted Valbone in Albania, we go on our way down south planning to find a place to camp between Kukes and Peshkopi. A few kilometres before reaching Kukes both kids throw up just like searching fire and create a big mess on the rear bench seats so that we have to stop to clean up the car (on a hilltop while a thunderstorm is approaching) ... now, even more pressure is on us finding a good campsite. Unexpectedly, this task turns out to be quite a difficult one. Finally, while entering the city of Peshkopi, we discover a handmade sign reading "Camping", scouringly wind ourselves through the chaotic lanes of this rather oriental seeming city, repeatedly think that we have lost our way, but finally reach the small and simple but very neat campsite in the orchard of a detached house which is not in any guidebook, I suppose (for more see our Accommodation Page). As described, the landlady cooks for us and we enjoy the company of friendly and interested people. After the Muezzin calls the believers to prayer, this wonderful evening fades away with the nearly Arabic seeming sounds of a wedding in the near neighborhood. Shortly after having left central Europe, we feel like being inside "The Arabian Nights".

In spite of the great hospitality and of being the only guests on the campsite, we are on the road again the following day. The famous lake "Ohrid", one of the world's oldest lakes, tempts ... especially our beach-hungry kids. Unfortunately, this lake on the Albanian side turns out to be widely and chaotically built up and on the Macedonian side the few beaches are overcrowded with other tourists. What we don't know at that moment is - we are actually traveling without a guidebook here in Macedonia - that during this weekend it is the national holiday where everybody celebrates the "10-Day-Revolution". The result: we stand for one hour (!) in a traffic jam waiting to be able to enter the campsite and "enjoy" millions of drunken youths listening to loudest disco music who are celebrating their revolutionary fathers and mothers. The campsite is so very full that we have to set up our camp on the parking lot - and still pay 15 € for that ... Well, obviously, we don't want to stay here another day!

 

Lake Prespa is quiet and romantic in opposition to Lake Ohrid but due to overgrown shores, there is not really a possibility to go for a swim

 

Our family pow-wow which we summon decides that we are all ready for a proper beach and the children accept that this means driving for the complete day. This is also good, as we do really want to have the strange sounds coming from the engine checked so that no further damage is caused. From Macedonia, we drive to south-eastern Albania and then on to Greece. On our way, Albanian and Macedonian soldiers frantically wave at us from their Land Rovers ... "Landymania" seems to be including people who have to drive a Land Rover jobwise. I am sure other car manufacturers would give a lot for this identification with the brand and this loyalty.

We finally land at a very clean and relaxed campsite directly at the sea in Varikou south of Thessaloniki. This campsite is to a large extent populated by many permanent campers but they are extremely warm-hearted and our family soon is included into the community here by big Greek hearts. Even though the engine still sounds weird, we stay a bit longer. We do have time!

But sometime we do have to go on traveling because our Land Rover friend Konstantinos has arranged a date for us at Greece's best and most famous Land Rover workshop, JBK.

After the day at the workshop, we have to decide to either visit Athens and the Akropolis or spend some days at the beach house of the family. This is no easy decision, but actually, we are not really ready to share a big city with innumerable tourists in the summer heat and thus, we decide to go for the beach house. Athens, in addition to Dubrovnik, is put down on our imaginary list of cities we plan to visit on shorter "city trips" later on.

 
 

At the moment we are really enjoying the life between beach and beach house which is peppered by adventurous offroad trips into the mountain range right behind this village and culinary-trips to small beach-retaurants and local shops. Apart from that, we sit over out map of Greece and jot down all the customized tips we get from our hosts.

 

The further plan:

Tomorrow, we plan to be on the road again, heading for central Greece with the overall idea to go back to central South-Albania and Macedonia. After that we might go to the Albanian south coast and then down the west coast of Greece as far down as the Peloponnes. Slow Travel definitively is exactly what we need at the moment. Both us and the kids relax, the kids play more together and seem to be enjoying the time spent together as a family but also the encounters with other people. The kids seem to realise that this is not a holiday anymore where you have to take in attention from the parents like a sponge, but that we will enjoy many months of traveling together as a family. Anouk is improving her sign language skills to be able to communicate with other children without having a common language.

Again and again people as us why we don't ship the Land Rover to Egypt right now, but stay in "boring" Greece. Apart from the fact that Greece has many more sides which have not been destryoed by mass tourism, we also do not want to go to northern Africa right now because fellow travelers who are there right now inform us that the temperatures in Sudan are somewhere around 50°C ... in the shade ... without shade! Also, we plan to team up with a British family (who also have two young kids) here in Greece at the end of September to ship our cars to Egypt together. At the moment it seems that we will be shipping from Pireus to Alexandria, but this would mean that we would have to fly because we can't be passengers on the same ship the cars will be on. There might be another possibility shipping the vehicles from Salerno in Italy where we could go along with the cars as passengers enjoying a three-day cruise through the Mediterranean.

One question is troubling us a bit right now: shall we go to Turkey or do the current political circumstances and our desire to "slow travel" indicate that we have to put Turkey on the long list of countries to be visited at a later point in time.

Holidays are over!

 

Albania ... another country with a highscore on our list of the best travel destinations!

 

One knows exactly that it just happened, but you simply can't plan it beforehand: suddenly, the holidays are over and traveling begins.

Suddenly, we are the only vehicle with a foreign license plate. The road conditions don't resemble central European standards any more (but that's what makes driving interesting anyway) and the information the map provides is not matching the real situation ... a "yellow" road in the map turns out to be a nasty single-track gravel mountain track.

 

That was before the track turned out to be a really nasty one!

 
 
 

The countryside here simply is impressive! Anouk says that it's fairy-country and that we have to be careful not to disturb the faries when being walking in the woods! Mountains, deep gorges, alluvial land alternates with farm land belonging to small farm buildings glued to the cliffs.

 

Where can you see this still in western Europe?

 

Going out for dinner is so outrageously cheap that it simply doesn't make sense to cook in the camp. Again, the most impressive aspect that makes Montenegro and Albania different compared to more touristy travel destinations are the people we meet: in the middle of a roundabout, we ask an old man for the way to the supermarket. We get the requested information while behind us other cars are queueing up bot nobody tailgates us or blows their horns. Everything is unexcitedly non-German! Wonderful! Exiting the roundabout, we immediately are flagged down by the police we did not recognize before. Guessing the approaching evil we stop at the roadside ... only to be kindly but directly informed by the police officers that we "should do as we are told" next time and ask them for help and not other passers-by. We meet friendly and welcoming people everywhere we go, who try to make our stay as positive as possible showing that we are really welcome in their country. But the friendliness has a sad background, too: just a few days ago, a young Czech couple had been shot in the neighboring valley and the Albanians we meet are really angry with their government and legal system, because the assassin had been imprisoned before for stabbing a 13-year-oly boy to death because of the golden chain around his neck. After only five years in prison he was set free again, only to put his hands on the Czech couple. I am sure that our western media are currently "promoting" Albania as a dangerous country due to this incident, thereby troubling our friends and relatives at home. Life here as we experience it turns out to be completely different: very friendly, open and positive! Albania simply rocks and will take its place in our list of the most wonderful places we visited so far.

 

Where are we?

Date:              29.07.2015

Position:         N 42°45.452', E 019°88.275'

Location:        Valbonë, Tropojë Province, Albania

Further Information

Weather:       30,9°C (midday), cloudless sky, light wind

Day:                20

In Croatia, we could relax so very well, because life there was just like home, maybe apart from life taking place in the camp instead of a house and garden and apart from the heat. Only the firefighter planes and helicopters were things that troubled us.

Dubrovnik: we will come back some other time when there are less tourists!

Can't wait to discover this beautiful old town!

On our way to Albania, we don't take the coastal road as we had planned, but leave for the Montenegrinian mountains being annoyed by the multitude if tourists. We drive through wild romantic and remote mountain scenery slowly making our way up the mountains. Our travel "speed" is reduced to about 30 to 40 km/h which doesn't enable us to make it to our planned leg in northern Albania, so we simply set up our camp on a sports ground in the middle of a small village still exhales a morbid ex-socialist ex-Jugoslavian retro charme.

 

Our camp at the sports ground!

 

After an evening with an entertainment program of the village-youth playing soccer and after a very quiet night, we are on our way relatively early.

 

Typical road-crosser!

 

Crossing from Montenegro into Albania takes some time but everybody is correct and corteous still.

In Albania, we try our luck on a secluded mountain village (Vermosh), but due to a combination of really bad gravel track and a menacingly approaching bank of dark threatening clouds, we turn around and leave this beautiful place to be able to reach a campsite at the end of a catchment lake further down south. This campsite turns out to be a small guesthouse/restaurant situated directly under a concrete bridge, the bridge being the restaurant's roof. On its courtyard shadowed by olive trees and grape vines, a few travellers have set up their camps. We are informed that we don't have to drive back on the same road we came, but can take a ferry across the catchment lake Liqeni i Komanit, connecting Koman with Fierza. Our guidebook says that this very ferry connection had been terminated some years ago because a ferry sank in the rapids. Several passengers had drowned in this incident. Today, there are two privately owned ferries servicing this route regularly. Together with Gerd and Andrea, new travel-friends from Austria, we decide to take one of the two ferries the next morning which saves us a 160 km detour. Instead of taking roads, we are now sailed through a majestic mountain scenery which is hard to top.

Before that, we enjoy a nearly African seeming un-excited and friendly chaos at the jetty while the ferries and small passenger boats are loaded with countless cars, motorbikes, passengers and other freight.

 
 

Three hours later we reach the end of the lake ... only to discover that it was exactly our ferry that sank in 2011. In retrospect, we would have decided on taking the other ferry (which also looks way better!). At a small bar, we take a Turkish coffee (three for 1,80 €!) and then go on to Bajram Curry to store up on our provisions.

Rilindja ... a wonderful place that we don't want to leave too soon!

Yummy! Freshly cooked traditional Albanian food!

In the afternoon we find a wonderful guesthouse in the small village of Valbona (Rilindja) where we can camp.

Approaching our camp

Relaxing with new friends before setting up camp

Our camp at Rilindja

Laundry day

 

... a wild walk from the restaurant to our camp

 

Camping here costs 4€ and a dinner at the restaurant for 4 persons including drinks costs about 27 €. Our first evening here fades away under a wonderful starlit sky while the moonlight projects the silhouette of one gigantic cliff on the opposite one. We are camping in wonderfully wild nature which begins right behind our camp. The landlady, a lady from Brooklyn, married to an exiled-Albanian, still bears the the imprint of a recent encounter with a local brown bear in her face. The wild nature here is wonderfully combined with the convenience of a hot morning-shower and wolderfully fresh-cooked traditional Albanian dishes.

We don't want to leave!