Albania or Bust

It was another hot and sunny day on the sea.  Despite leaving Bar, Montenegro with some decent winds, we seemed to struggle finding a sweet spot with the sails.  We started with the mainsail and gennaker up but the wind was somewhat shifty so our progress was rather slow (not what you want when there are 57 miles ahead of you).  We sailed along for about an hour before the winds started to get really gusty.  We were rounding the point where Montenegro and Albania converge, and the wind really took off.  We quickly dropped the gennaker (this sail is only used in light winds), reefed the main (lessened the sail area) and put out our genoa.  It wasn’t too far past the point that we soon discovered that we may have responded a little too quickly.  Just like that, the wind died down to nothing.  Since the sails were up anyway, we opted to motorsail our way down the coast of Albania.  After 8 1/2 hours, we arrived in the port of Durres, Albania.  This is a major shipping port in Albania, so navigating our way through the giant cargo ships and ferries was quite interesting (kind of like a game of real life Frogger).  At one point, we had to hover outside the breakwater while a huge cargo ship lumbered it’s way through the channel entrance.  Talk about feeling like a tiny fish in a huge pond!

We got ourselves tied up to the wall beside a very large, working tug boat.  He was at least twice as long as us and 3-4 times taller.  It definitely made for some interesting nights (he seemed to always have the night shift).  When he fired up his engines, our entire boat reverberated.  The force from his water intake exhaust was about mid-ship on our boat and sent us dancing about on our lines.  Then came his exit….his lights were so bright it made it like daylight on our boat, and as he pulled away from the wall,  we pitched around in 3 foot swells bouncing back from the wall.  The other fun part of our odd new home was the ridiculous angle our gangway was at in order to get onto the wall (the wall sat way above us).  If I thought the last marina in Montenegro was bad…..this took the cake.  We were surrounded by tug boats, tankers, and working cargo ships.  Behind us were walls of stacked containers just waiting to be loaded on boats.  Huge cranes were all around us and semi-trucks zoomed around from place to place.  What had we gotten ourselves into???

Our neighbor across the way was a huge ferry…this commercial port was a first for us.
A big tugboat for a neighbor. Whenever he started his motors our boat shook. Check out the angle on our passerelle!
Believe me the angle on this is a lot worse than it looks….see picture above.
Shade courtesy of huge cranes
It was entertaining watching the shipping come and go
We had a few yacht neighbors during our stay, but only a handful.

We spent our first two nights on the boat exploring the local sights.  The town outside of the port was very nice with lots of activity going on all over the waterfront.  We even encountered a fire dancing show which we stopped to watch for a bit.  Within the town, we saw the remains of an ancient Roman amphitheater and other evidence of past Roman occupation. 

Ruins of the ancient roman Ampitheatre
Strolling the Durres beachfront near the harbor.
Statues from a bygone era
Our first traditional Albanian dinner. $20 for drinks and multiple courses…
Out and about Durres
Former Venetian castle turned into a cafe

We had met a number of new friends on our way to Albania that had told us that the Albanian Alps were a must see.  After spending two days safely tied up, we felt comfortable leaving the boat behind for a couple of days.  We rented a car and made the 5 hour drive into the mountains.  The drive was quite beautiful, and the roads weren’t too terribly bad.  Of course, we did get to points where the road was a very narrow, two lanes with sheer drop offs….my favorite kind of drives 😬 Our biggest obstacles were small herds of cows and goats that occasionally blocked the roadway.  The mountains rose up into jagged peaks cut by deep valley gorges, and the road followed a crystal, clear, rapidly flowing river.  True to our nature (that seems to be our mantra), we had nothing booked ahead of time.  As we drew near the town of Valbone, Dan scrambled to find us a place to stay.  This area is very popular with hikers and backpackers, so there were an abundance of rooms for rent.  Unfortunately, I am not a fan of sharing sleeping quarters or a bathroom with strangers (I know….call me a princess).  Luckily we found a quaint little room overlooking the rushing river.  

Road trip! Deep into the Albanian interior
Rush hour traffic….
View from the inn we chanced on
Sunset from the Inn.
Gotta love the view!

The next day, we headed up to the end of the gorge where we would begin our hike.  We started out following a wide and rocky riverbed to the base of the mountain.  Since it’s been awhile since we’ve been hiking, we opted to do a hike to a waterfall rather than the amazing 6 hour hike (one way) that everyone recommended.  As it is, our hike turned out to be over 6 miles.  The views were awesome, but we were definitely hurting by the time we got back to the car.  That night we explored the riverbank opposite of our room.  There were a few ruins and a small gravesite.  The whole area was very green and peaceful.  That night, I started feeling a bit sick.  Uh oh.

The Albanian alps of Valbona National Park
Backpackers hired horses to carry their bags across the pass
Gorgeous Valbona

The next day, it was time to make our way back to the boat.  As much as we enjoy our inland explorations, we always find ourselves missing our boat.  We decided to take a different route home which would involve taking the car onto a ferry for a 3 hour ride down the fjords.  Although it was very hot and crowded, the views were spectacular.  Once on the other side, we still had a 2 hour drive ahead of us.  That turned out to be an adventure in and of itself.  You basically climb out of the valley on nothing more than a one lane road (but two way traffic) that is sometimes paved and sometimes not.  The paved parts are full of deep potholes, so it is very slow going.  Oh, and throw in some non-stop, hairpin turns and plunging drops to the river below.  Needless to say, we made it back in one piece!  Unfortunately, whatever was ailing me was really beginning to escalate.  I began processing what could be the culprit and soon came to a horrible realization….I have 2 cardinal rules when traveling in foreign countries (and especially countries that are not yet fully developed):  Never drink the tap water (bottled water only) and never eat raw fruits/vegetables that don’t have some sort of rind that you can remove.  Somehow, I managed to break both :(. My only excuse is that I got complacent.  I have been in Europe for 5 months now, and everywhere we have gone has provided bottled water.  Here, we were served up pitchers of fresh, mountain tap water.  What could be wrong with that, right?  Hmmm, remember those free roaming cows and goats I mentioned?  Oh yeah, I made a big mistake.  The next 24 hours were spent curled up in a fetal position in pain and unable to keep anything down.  For the next few days, I pretty much avoided food.  Great way to drop some pounds but not fun!  Being sick on a boat, far from home, really sucks.  You may be asking yourself, how did Dan avoid getting sick?  Dan is like a camel….he consumes very small quantities of water.  After the lengthy hike in the heat, I downed very large quantities of water over the next few hours.  Perhaps beer would’ve been a better choice 🤣

This ferry looked a little sketchy
We were the first ones on. Anxious I guess…
The views were amazing
Koman lake views

Our next stop was an anchorage outside the town of Vlore.  This was a 55 mile sail south.  Once again, we had no wind and had to motor.  As I sat watch, I suggested to Dan that he throw a line out and do some trolling.  He thought we might be going to fast to have any luck.  I told him that we weren’t doing anything else, so what could it hurt.  About 20 minutes later, we had a 16 pound bluefin tuna on the line.  It was a beautiful fish!  Dan had the fun time of killing and filleting it on the deck as we continued our journey (I couldn’t watch).  In the end, our back deck looked like a brutal murder had taken place on board.  Neither of us knew a fish could have so much blood!  We had a couple of fresh tuna meals and then vacuum sealed and froze the rest of the fish.  We spent two nights in the bay just basically killing time.  Our goal was to stage ourselves in such a way as to arrive in Greece on September 1st.  On the 31st, we made our last big push of the season….another 50+ miles….to Sarande.  We had heard a lot of good things about the sights here, but after a long day and a late arrival, we weren’t feeling much like exploring.  When we radioed our arrival, we were told to come stern to on the ferry dock.  The dock was lined with ferries coming in and out and we would be required to med moor (drop our anchor and back down to the wall where our stern lines would then be tied to the quay).  Neither of us liked this idea.  We have only med moored one other time this season, and it wasn’t pretty.  We had no desire to try it again amongst a bunch of large ferries.  So, we headed over to the nearby anchorage and dropped the hook.  When the extremely loud music started booming from the many clubs on shore (all blasting different music), we decided that one night here was all we wanted.  The giant, party gullet that cruised by 5 feet from our boat (with their music blasting) pretty much sealed the deal.  Tomorrow, we head for Greece!

My first real fish! A bluefin tuna….
Could not resist some fresh sashimi
Tuna steaks ready for searing

In the end, we did not experience as much of Albania as we would’ve liked…..but we also found ourselves ready to be done with the transit south.  It was time to get settled into Greece for our final 6 weeks of the cruising season.  Before long, it will be time to head home.  We are definitely ready to go home, but I also know that we will be longing to return to Zoe within a few weeks.

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Don Morrison
Don Morrison
8 months ago

Robyn I so enjoy your journal and pictures of the beautiful scenery. I have to admit woo hear you complain (mildly of course) about the angle of the gang plank (think cardio), big ship, tugs, loud music, et al I so want to just mention lesson plans, IEPs and AYP but I don’t want to spoil your last six weeks of sailing. Enjoy your adventures!