Archive for the ‘Albania’ Category

Albanians are crazy fun

Saturday, October 13th, 2007
Albanians are crazy   Albanians are fun
Before the fall of Communism in the 90s, there were less than 2000 cars in the country. The only people allowed to drive them were government officials. Car ownership required a permit from the government, which in 45 years only 2 were issued to nonparty members. The result is that almost everyone in the country has been driving for less than 10 years.   Now that everyone is behind the wheel (of a Mercedes none the less) the entire country is like a hopped up teenager who just got their license. Combine that with the fact that because there were so few cars around before, there was never a need to invest in roads, and you are left with a fast and furious joy ride that leaves even those with the strongest of stomaches ready to lose their lunch.
Many Albanians follow something called “The Kanun”, one part of which is a code of honor which states that if a member of the family is murdered, it is the duty of the male members to avenge his death, resulting in an endless cycle of killing.   The other part of the Kanun is the code of hospitality in which the guest takes on a godlike status. There are 38 articles giving instructions on how to treat a guest. An abundance of food drink and comfort…and even better… the duty of the host to avenge the murder of his guest should it happen during their visit.
95% of the country is of Albanian decent. One of the most homogeneous countries in the world.   This makes people extremely curious about foreignors. If they speak English they will be very inquisitive. If they don’t they will stare at you like you just stepped off of a spaceship.
Indestructible bunkers in case of war. built between 1950-1984.Having blown off Russia, Yugoslavia and China, Albania had no allies, so it hunkered down and prepared for the worst. They built 700,000 of these little bomb shelters. The country is littered with them. To test them out, the chief engineer was made to stand inside of one while it was bombarded with tank artillery fire.   It makes for a fun way to pass the time driving trying to spot the bunkers. Apparently the Albanians have found more interesting ways to use these structures over the years, as many people have stories of losing their virginity in one.
In the late 90s almost the entire country lost their life savings in a government sponsored pyramid scheme. 70% of the population lost an estimated 1 billion dollars.   Pyramid scheme. Are you serious??? Someone should warn these guys about Nigerian political exiles sending spam emails.
Albanians use a currency called Leks. There are old Leks and new Leks. If something costs 1000 Leks, for some reason people will say 10,000 Leks, meaning 10,000 old Leks even though the old Lek was abolished decades ago. People think in old Leks even though you use new Leks.   Luckily people are very honest, so when you give someone 10x the price, they laugh and magically erase a zero from the bill. It’s like getting a 90% discount on everything you buy.
Albanians are extremely hospitable to foreigners. They will ask you to coffee and more than likely this will mean more than coffee. It is highly offensive to reject this offer and even more offensive to to pay for the drinks. Albanians will go to great lengths to prevent you from paying.   What could be more fun than this?

travel tales…

Thursday, October 11th, 2007
Furgens or minibus depart when the vehicle is fullWe spent the last week traveling by bus, furgen(VW mini bus with no set schedule), taxi, train and by foot.  We’ve walked across the border in two countries, rode overnight in smoke filled buses, broke down in a bus.  We’ve both experienced motion sickness from driving up and down the mountainous terrain.  In Albania, we were pushed from one means of transport to another without fully understanding what was happening and some how got to where we wanted to go.  We’ve spent more than 45 hours in travel time this last week, which doesn’t include waiting in bus terminals or for our next transfer.  We’ve seen quite a bit of the Balkan peninsula, and the people we have encountered have all been genuinely friendly, going so far as, providing snacks on our journeys.  In Albania, a stranger eating in the same cafe as us drove us back to our hotel free of charge because it was raining and there were no taxis. 
Mike with our Albanian immigration officerProbably the most memorable encounter was with an Albanian immigration officer.   We walked across the Albanian border and after our passports were stamped in, one of the border guards asked if we would like to join him for coffee.  In the cafe he ordered coffee and a shot of reki for each of us.  Reki, typically made from grapes or mulberrys, is a clear liquor similar to vodka.  It was 10am and we were already drinking shots.  Rinaldo was very friendly and genuinely curious about life outside Albania.  He studied in Turkey, speaks 4 languages, and has applied to continue his studies in the US.  
An hour and four shots later, we were on our way, and Rinaldo was back to work controlling the border.  Turns out only 100 people enter/exit per day from Sveti-Naum, Macedonia thru Tushimisht, which is where we entered Albania.  Although highly unusal, it was a nice welcome into Albania.