Durres to Kavaje to Pequin to Elbasan to Qafe Thanes (3km from Macedonia)
The four Aphorisms of Peqin!
Lesson 1. It is often wrong to refuse help earnestly offered. After turning off the new four lane highway which carried on down the Mediterranean coast, there is a hard slog towards Pequin on the hard shoulder of a smaller road. It is very very hot and we are getting pretty tired by Pequin – but a service station chap tells us there is no accommodation in Pequin and we have to go 2km past to Costas, Kosters or similar. 4km later there is nothing in sight, and we are concerned. While the concern is in evidence, a small uniformed Albanian appears on a small scooter and tells us that Kostas Hotel is 2km further on – but not to worry! He will take us one by one with the packs! Our refusals are themselves refused, and a terrified Regula is sent packing on the back of the very smallest scooter up the busy road, amid the artics. and fast moving Mercs. on their way to Greece. I start hammering along the hard shoulder on foot to reduce the gap, and after 800m, there appears the scooter and prison guard, who collects me and deposits me without a word within reach of the only accommodation in the area (and waiting Regula) – to disappear equally quickly to fulfil his family duties! That is genuine help offered with no thought of reward. He just wanted to help.
Lesson 2. Good hearts can be found in unpromising places. Well then there is Roland. Roland stopped to pick us up when we were walking the kilometer to Pequin from Costa Hotel on the Via Egnatia. He looked unpromising – as did the collapsing Opel Corsa. The door didn’t close properly and the front passenger seat was broken to the extent that it couldn’t be sat in upright or reclining. Roland is a big man. His face is that of a welter weight boxer with a flattened nose above an unshaved jaw. He did not look like a Animal Welfare Inspector. We rather reluctantly accepted the lift and Roland lurched off. It emerged that Roland spoke some English and he announced that he would take us to a local Bar and he immediately took a sharp right onto a dusty track – hmmm. The track terminated, as he pointed out at the barbed boundary of one of Albania’s biggest prisons – full of mafia he told us. The bar was basic lime green painted concrete box, with a couple of tables. The coffee machine was deceased and it was therefore Turkish.
But Roland, speaks basic English – he has lived rough and illegal in the UK, Hackney and Kilburn squats to save money to buy a house for his family. But, he also speaks Greek, Rumanian, Italian and a tiny bit of French. He has a brother, well 3 brothers and 5 sisters. His elder brother has a drugs problem, and he has returned from abroad to look after him. He tells us the story with a tear. Roland is not a hard-hearted character.
Lesson 3. Not all rip-offs are that serious. Koster, is Costa Hotel. Good and cheap – if not quite cheap enough. We know the going rate, and have been warned that they overcharge foreigners. Indeed they do. After a brief haggle translated through a waiter, we have settled the level of rip-off! Half way between full foreigner rip-off and local rates. We get the best accommodation they have.
Lesson 4. Sometimes you just don’t go backwards. Having been picked up just before the centre of Elbasan by a lovely Albanian family who live in the UK, the great patriarch took us to accommodation he knew – but taking me away from an ancient bridge and Fort which I wanted to see. We planned to backtrack a little – but come the next morning, Regula and I separately had come to the conclusion that going forward was the right thing. I give up my fort and bridge! 38 km to Qafe Thanes instead! Sometimes another day means you look forward to what you can do with that day and not back at what was missed the day before?
We are now 3km from the Macedonian border, high over Lake Ohrid!