Son of Albania, Father of Satan
Lukashenko has been divided! But like an earthworm, even when you cut Lukashenko in half, Lukashenko continues to live. In fact, Lukashenko may even grow to be STRONGER, because Lukashenko is now armed with MORE MEGAPIXELS (more on that in a few entries).
Having bid farewell to Steve on his bus to Athens and olive oil lube butt rape, I prepared for the second part of Adventure Albania: going someplace else.
Albania is a special place, with special people. So special, in fact, that it has no bus stations. I think there are train stations but I don't know if the trains are running, so that's a moot point. That's not to say there aren't buses in Albania. There are shitloads of buses, vans, and dudes with cars willing to take you wherever. The problem is, you have to know where to go to find said transportation.
I decided that I should see the Albanian coast, so the plan was to spend a night in Vlora, a resort city on the coast of Albania where the Adriatic and Ionian seas meet. And all I had to do was get there. That was the hard part.
After accosting several travel agents (think people who sell plane tickets), I learned the location of the Vlora buses, and proceeded there. Upon arriving at the place (a fucking INTERSECTION--no signs, no schedules, just some illegally parked vans and buses), a bunch of dudes surrounded me and started shouting things. I held onto my kidneys, and started babbling in English. One dude spoke English--basically everyone was shouting their destinations at me trying to get me on a bus. I say, "Vlora," they all start babbling. Some other dude who spoke English grabbed me and said, "I'm going to Vlora." So I followed him, and he flagged down a van. And poof, we were off to Vlora.
Dude was a nice guy, he had been working in England for a few years and was back in Albania to buy a house or something. This happens a lot--Albanians working abroad for a few years, then coming back, starting businesses, building houses, and living like fucking kings. Anyway, the daytime transit provided me with ample opportunity to photograph the Albanian "countryside". And photograph I did. GO LUKASHENKO GO:
Isn't it BEE-YOU-TEE-FUL?!?
It's pretty fucked up going through the countryside of Albania. All the buildings fall into three categories: totally fucked up, brand new, or partially constructed but not finished. Money is pouring like fuck into this country and it shows. New buildings are popping up like AIDS cases in Africa. One minute you're driving on a dirt road, the next minute you're on a 4 lane highway. Then 5 minutes later, you're driving on a road that is under construction, and probably will be for the next 5 years. Then you're on a road that hasn't been resurfaced in 40 years. And there's a dude with no arms and legs in the middle of it, sitting there and dancing as the cars speed by him, missing him by inches. God, I wish I got a picture of that. You'll have to settle for this:
Let's get a better look at that mountain. It's the second tallest in Albania:
Then there's shit like this. I was hoping a train would speed through, but no such luck.
The roads in Albania fucking suck. As Nelly says, "ride wit me", and experience the 8.8 Richter Scale reading that is the Albanian roadways.
Enver Hoxha (say HOE-juh - "xh" is a "J" sound, and "q" is a "ch", but that's irrelevant). Anyhow, Mr. Hoxha, dictator supremo, built something like 700,000 of these fuckers:
Cute little concrete bunkers, to protect Albania from invasion. Hoxha was, simply put, out of his fucking mind. And totally paranoid. To protect Albania from hostile entities, he had a plan. Hundreds of thousands of concrete bunkers all over the countryside - problem was, all the bunkers were pointed towards the cities, and not outwards. And these fuckers were built well--they can survive a direct tank bombardment. Too bad everyone in Albania was starving in the streets. Oops!
Seriously, Hoxha was terrible. Easily the worst of the communist dictators. Albania had relations with no foreign countries for a good 40 years. That meant no trade, no travel, no nothing. People were not allowed to own cars, and you had to get permits to travel WITHIN ALBANIA. Add that to the standard Stalin style stuff (persecution, murder, etc.), and you get one fucked up place. It's quite funny, but quite sad, that so much time and money was wasted on building little concrete huts while Albania, which was probably a shithole to begin with, became even more of a shithole. The Albanians might make more money than the Moldovans, but the country is certainly in worse shape, and probably will be for quite awhile. They still have rolling blackouts, after all. Even if everyone drives a Mercedes.
On a side note, the Albanian Mafia is notorious within Europe. Drugs, prostitution, human trafficking, organ theft--they do it all, with style. A theory someone shared with me is the reason the Albanian Mafia is so powerful is that they were so large and well organized in Albania before the end of communism. If you wanted to travel within Albania, you went to the Mafia. Fuck, if you wanted drinking water in some areas you had to go through the Mafia. So they were very big, and very adept. The government did not like them, and was constantly fucking with them. But the government fell, and the Mafia is still around. And now they're number one in Europe. Go ALBANIA!
Isn't it cute?
The bunkers are no longer used, obviously. Hell, I don't think they were ever used. Anyway, they have no purpose now, but they are also essentially indestructible. Meter-thick reinforced concrete isn't exactly easily disposable, so they are still EVERYWHERE. Go back and look closely at some of the scenery pictures earlier in this entry. You'll see some bunkers if you look closely.
Some of them, of course, are falling apart.
KILROY WAS HERE. GET IT?!?!? YUK YUK!
I really like this one. It looks like someone had fashioned a gate onto this bunker before it collapsed:
The strangest thing about the bunkers to me is every time I saw one, I kept picturing one of the enemies from Mega Man 3. Paint the bunker pink and white, put an evil face on it, and have it shoot Mega Man seeking missiles out of it's head. Also some springs on the bottom. And MAGNET MAN!
After that drive, Vlora was somewhat of a let down. There wasn't much to see, and I couldn't find ANYONE who spoke English, except this 12 year old kid. Albania only started teaching English in schools a few years ago, so there aren't a ton of English speakers. And I had to shell out way too much dough for a hotel. But Vlora is pretty.
I hope they clean up the beaches before the tourist season starts:
This is the Vlora Bus Station. I shit you not. Those buildings behind the buses are restaurants, NOT A BUS STATION.
I'm not finished yet. My next destination after Albania was Macedonia. I was told that I had to go back to Tirana to get to Macedonia, but some helpful dudes at the Bus Station (who didn't speak English), explained to me how to get there. Basically, I was going to be riding in A LOT of different vans.
Leg one of the trip was Vlora to Lushnja, a small city where two highways meet. I rode this leg on a bus, it took 2 hours and went about 30 kilometers. Then I got out at Lushnja, and the bus driver helped me find a minibus to my next destination: Elbasan. I boarded the minibus (van), figuring that we would head off to Elbasan, but the minibus kept driving in circles for about 45 minutes. I guess minibuses don't like to leave until they are full, and this fucker got full. There were two people riding in the trunk of the van, and probably 18 in the Van itself. 45 minutes and 20 kilometers later, we arrived in Elbasan. My next destination required me to walk across Elbasan to the other bus station (NOT ACTUALLY A BUS STATION, JUST AN INTERSECTION), but on the way I met some Albanian dude who was driving towards the Macedonian border. I rode with him and his fiancee for 45 minutes (30 kilometers about), and they let me off near the border. Then I had to hail a taxi for the next 15 kilometers (5 Euros). He drove me up the mountain to the boarder, and let me off. Then I crossed the border on foot, had the required conversation with the border guard about how hot the girls in his country are, and got a taxi on the Macedonian side. 15 Euros and 20 kilometers later, I had made it to my destination. But that's the next entry. It had taken me 7 hours to travel a little over 100 kilometers, or about 60 miles. This is what a transitional economy looks like.
Anyway, during the first leg of the journey, I snapped my last picture of the Albanian countryside (the rest of the day I was too fucking scared to take out the camera). Just as I was starting to get homesick: