I took the inland route to get from Tirana to Saranda, so, after hearing how amazing the coastal route was, I decided to check it out for my return journey. I wanted to compare this route with the inland one and, even though it meant getting the bus at 05,.30, I was keen to do it. I may have had an early start, but I was at the bus in plenty of time – early enough to grab a takeaway coffee before boarding.
When the bus set off, it went past the turn off for Lekursi Castle and looked as if it was taking the inland route. I wouldn’t have been so concerned if I hadn’t gotten up extra early to take the coastal route. When I eventually saw the sea, I let out an audible sigh of relief and relaxed.
About three-quarters of the way into the journey, the driver seemed to be struggling with the gears. He switched off the engine, got out, and opened the boot, which is where the engine is located. Oh dear, the bus had broken down. Now that’s the kind of bus trip I remember from my year travelling around the world. I wasn’t in a rush, so I wasn’t the slightest bit concerned. Well, there was nothing anyone could do.
We were iin a small village called Lukova and, as luck would have it, we broke down near a cafe. It couldn’t have been more convenient. One of the male passengers, dressed in a suit, who later introduced himself as Mikel, invited me to have a coffee with a group of people who turned out to be teachers on their way to work. I had a coffee and chatted with them. As it turned out, the Malaysian girls who told me to return via the coastal route had chatted with Mikel when they made the same journey a week before.
An hour later, another bus turned up. The baggage was transferred to the new bus and we continued on our journey, leaving our original bus in the capable hands of a mechanic. The day started out overcast, but brightened up during the journey to reveal a great, picturesque view of the sea, beaches, and rugged coastline, known as the Albanian Riviera.
We stopped at a village called Borsh to let passengers on and off the bus. This wasn’t a rest stop, but Mikel told me to get off and have a look at a bar and restaurant called Ujvara. I could see water gushing beside it, which intrigued me, so I got off. A policeman who was hitching a ride on the bus gestured for me to follow him as he walked around the left side of the hotel. I am so thankful to Mikel and the policeman because I saw a very unique sight – a beautiful waterfall cascading down the mountain by the hotel. They have certainly made use of the natural resources around them.
The conductor got a little shirty, understandably, because we were already very late. I hurried back onto the bus and we continued the journey.
Shortly after that, I said goodbye to Mikel who had arrived at his place of work. If you take this route during term time, you are likely to see Mikel on the bus. Please say ‘hi’ to him for me if you do happen to meet him. He likes chatting to travellers because it gives him a chance to practise his English.
We had a pitstop at Picona Hotel, Bar, and Restaurant. I wanted to have something to eat because the journey was going to take longer than normal due to the bus breaking down. The staff couldn’t speak English, but a fellow female passenger stepped in and asked me what I wanted. That was great because I wouldn’t have had anything to eat otherwise. Most people were eating rice with some sort of meat dish. I found out that this woman used to live and work in the US, which is why her English was so good. I filled my belly with food and chatted to Jenny, the woman who helped me out. We didn’t have too long to chat because we were soon rounded up and back on the bus. Even though she had just met me and we only had a brief conversation, she invited me to stay with her in Durres. It wasn’t an empty gesture, she really meant it, which really touched me.
Apart from picking up and dropping off passengers, the bus driver was also a delivery driver. He picked up packages and dropped them off on the way. For example, when we were close to Vlore, he beeped a special horn. A policeman came out to take a large envelope from the driver that a postman had given him in Saranda. I suppose it’s a quicker and more reliable way to send important documents.
The bus stopped in Tirana on a main road and not in a bus station (surprise, surprise). I wasn’t too worried because I had spent a few hours there a couple of days before. The thing is, for the life of me, I couldn’t find the road where the bus dropped me off when I first arrived in Tirana. It was pouring, so I headed for a cafe to use their free WiFi and have a coffee. Then, I had to brave the weather and walked round and round. Thankfully, the rain eased off, but when I couldn’t find the bus stop for Shkoder, I had no choice but ask a taxi driver. Obviously, he offered to take me, but I refused and walked until I eventually asked and was told I could get a bus from across the road. It wasn’t a public bus this time but a furgon.
I was really lucky because I took the last seat. It was the flashiest minibus I had ever seen because it played music videos the whole way back. It was a slightly quicker journey than the public bus and cost 100 lek more.
I was glad when we arrived in Shkoder. I’d been on the road for about 12 hours in total. My mammoth journey from Saranda to Shkoder had finally come to an end where it began a few days before. Even though it was raining, I put on my rain poncho and walked back to where I was staying.
What a journey! It certainly was eventful and one I am unlikely to forget in a hurry. The openness, friendliness, and helpfulness of the local people I encountered on my journey to and from Saranda was heartwarming. While I had a great time in Saranda, it was the journey there and back and the wonderful people I met along the way that I will remember more than anything. So, in this case, it was more about the journey from Saranda to Shkoder than the destination.
You can see the locations mentioned above pinpointed on the map.
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Can you recall a time when you had a journey that was more memorable than the destination?