Drug dealers, guardian angels and great distances (Gjipe Beach, Albania to Omis, Croatia)

We had a final swim to the turquoise reflective caves just south from the beach. At the entrance to these there is a flat section of the cliff where we climbed as high as possible then jumped off. The girls watching from below. It was sadly our third and last day at Gjipe. We had met a Swiss couple, Quentin and Margaret whilst camping on the beach and were offered, along with a German couple, a lift from the top car park to the highway. It still meant we had to gruellingly hike 2km up a terrible 4WD track in the almost thirty degree temperature however saved a further 3km. We weren’t complaining!

Five of us climbed the red rock and dirt road while Quentin was driving his van up. It almost seemed unmanageable however slowly he crept further and further away. We thankfully had our packs inside the van however even without them sweat poured down our faces. Once at the top we all squished inside, even hotter than walking and the van took off for another short distance. At a road junction in the south Albanian riviera, we hugged our newly met friends goodbye. The Swiss couple continued on south towards Greece while the Germans and us were hitching north.

We offered our friends to hitchhike first from the intersection where we were dropped. We figured Albania had been kind to us hitchhiking and it would continue to. Walking further along the road it was only a hundred meters and up a very steep incline that a sharp horse shoe bend with its inside being a gravel patch offered enough space to hitchhike.. we were in Albania, anywhere was going to work. As we stuck our thumbs out our German friends waved from inside a passing van and we were left feeling confident. We stood with no real plans except to head north and see where the road would take us. It felt exhilarating and we waited for a scarce car to drive by..

The second which did, 15 minutes later, did exactly this. Abruptly stopping with a screech of its tires sliding to a standstill, two men sat inside and wound the passenger window down. The driver was on his phone and as we asked if they speak english and with a reply of no, the driver said Vlore (a town 70km north) and motioned for our bags to go in the back. The passenger jumped out, opened the boot, and we jumped into the back of the large Toyota 4WD, beginning to speed down the road. He was easily our craziest driver for the trip, screeching his tires on almost every corner and blindly over taking every car. Clearly in a hurry. They reminded us of two men who had picked us up in Hungary, slicked back hair and aviators.. Perfectly fitting to the cliches. (read about our experience in Hungary HERE).

Our route took us up an insanely winding and steep mountain road and halfway we were pulled over, the car smoking from its bonnet. Our first brake down! We all jumped out and the driver opened the front and hurriedly undid the coolant valve. Fluid spat out aggressively and we all watched while it dwindled to a stop. Standing on the side of a mountain with several donkeys and two Albanian men who spoke no english with a broken down car left us feeling a bit daunted however the driver went to what looked like a abandoned building and coming back with a bucket of water, began filling the emptied tank back up. The passenger revved the car until it sounded like exploding and eventually satisfied, the driver motioned him to stop. We were told it was okay to get back in, the sickening speeding around corners began again but we figured at least we were getting to our no plans quickly!

As we tried to make conversation we gathered they were in fact travelling to Tirana, the Capital of Albania and 300km away. We strugglingly put across that we would like a lift if they did not mind and think they understood. Three very odd situations occurred along the way. First, the car was slammed to a brake, blocking the entire road and as a car past and stopped further down the road, reversed back up. The driver casually jumped out and talked for five minutes before continuing on driving. The second was just before the city of Vlore. We made out the Albanians were searching for a hotel and we began getting chills. We pulled up to a quiet large hotel complex and the passenger turned around and said only “coffee”. Following them we were taken by the passenger to a different table and watched while the driver sat down with two men in business suits. Again the situation seemed very cliche and we could only imagine what they were discussing. Half and hour later and a free coffee, everything payed by one of the “businessmen”, we again continued along the road.

The third occurrence was in the centre of Vlore at a busy roundabout. Our driver ignored all road laws and pushed into a roundabout, cutting off a selected car and forcing it onto the sidewalk. We pulled up beside the car and the driver and passenger jumped out. We sat inside and watched the men talk to the other driver while even a police car stopped and they clasped hands. It was a struggle to watch without looking so obvious so we patiently waited having no idea what was happening. They were soon back inside, showing us no attention and began driving again. This was all early in our trip and we looked at each other doubtful for what else was going to happen however two hours later, after being bought lunch from a bakery, we were dropped at a busy bus stop just on the outskirts of Tirana. THAT was an interesting hitchhike!

That night we ventured into the centre, found a hostel and played low. Tirana is an interesting, busy  capital, very different to the more rural parts of the country but as usual, we felt out of place in a city and did not do a lot of exploring. The next morning we headed towards a bus station! Our first legitimate bus trip and it felt very odd and like we were “cheating” but when a lady at the hostel told us it would cost 3€ to travel 150km and close to the Montenegro border, it seemed silly not to. Walking to the station we recognised a Turkish guy, Eren, who stayed in our room the night before and as we had similar routes, decided to try hitchhiking as three.

Our bus was travelling to Shkoder and we asked the driver to be dropped at a road intersection where the border sat 15kms away. It was 2pm and an extremely low amount of traffic drove by, helped less by the fact we were hitchhiking as a three. Eren had hitchhiked only once the day before and unknowingly whether it would help, waved a Turkish flag proudly. Eventually the perfect vehicle stopped, a pickup truck and we through our bags in the back as the local police sherif, speaking no english, indicated he would drop us 10km along. Kindly after several attempts of talking and Eren sharing his cigarets, the sherif happily dropped us at the border crossing where we walked through and met another Slovakian hitchhiking couple. This left us a tricky situation as they had right of way so we continued to walk and stood further down the road. Shortly after another hitchhiker appeared and stood hitchhiking with the other couple. The time on our phone indicated 4:30pm and we stood in a cue of hitchhikers with no plans of where to stay the night.. It was nothing new however and we believed it would be okay.photo-16-9-16-3-47-51-pm

Shortly after the new hitchhiker was picked up. One down. Again we began seeing luck as the Slovakian couple passed waving and we were the last remaining. The next hour past quickly as an Irish hitchhiker came out of no where walking from the opposite direction. He was heading into Albania and seemed completely unconcerned about the fading day light. He merely went on his way to cross the border and surely enough an Albanian security guard working in Montenegro picked us up and being dropped at the closest large town, Ulcinj, we went in search of wifi and a hostel. A Turkish man recognised #### Turkish flag and beginning to talk, gave us direction to a hostel very close by. Its name was Pirate Hostel and walking in we instantly felt good vibes. As we checked in asking for one night (8€), Daria the owner said they had a special of stay 2 nights get the third free and as we had little plans, decided to take a step back and do some planning for the coming days.

The next three days flew quickly! We explored the seaside town, met some awesome people, enjoyed the free beer the hostel provided every night (sick hostel!) and cooked wholesome vegetable meals. It was nice to find a little routine however the time came to hit the road and we had once again no idea what was in store. Literally we did little planning and as we walked to the highway in thirty degree heat it was another “see what happens day”.photo-18-9-16-1-42-05-pm

Two hours later after having to venture back to get forgotten shorts then waiting an hour for a lift, we were in a small hatchback with a local man who spoke no english. He dropped us at the beginning of the town Bar and as we walked the 4kms through it and bought some bureks from a bakery. We then tried to hitch at a petrol station and lucky to have it for cover, a heavy thunderstorm quickly rolled by. Attempting to thumb again we waited 45 minutes then decided to walk another kilometre to where more traffic entered from the town. It was a bad spot with only a mountable curb and we waited another hour until a young guy stopped all traffic and we through ourselves in. It was showing to be a slow day.

He only dropped us a further 10km to another small town and left in the very centre where he suggested was the best place to hitch, another heavy storm rolled across and we were trapped under the entrance to a supermarket for half an hour. Once it past we waited half an hour and a small red hire car stopped. We were greeted by the lovely couple Michael and Morgan who later became our greatest hitchhiking guardian angels! (but thats to come..) They were a French couple travelling for two weeks in Croatia and Montenegro and having just come back from a day trip, were on their way back to Budva and the direction we were hoping to head. We had rough plans to see a famous hotel and island named Sveti Stephan just before Budva however as we drove by another huge thunderstorm was brewing, making the ocean look horrible so we decided to drastically change our plans.photo-19-9-16-12-47-38-pm

Saying goodbye to the kind pair, we asked to be dropped at a roundabout 2km from Budva and where we could change directions to a mountain road heading inland. We figured we may as well head into the mountains hoping the storm would not follow. At this stage it was 4pm and as we began walking to hitchhike rain began to fall, retreating us to find shelter at a near by luxury resort. Holiday makers and staff stared distastefully as if we were vermin, but it was nothing knew to the life of hitchhiking. It was an entire hour of heavy rain until we left the resort and having been able to connect to their wifi, found a 6€ hostel as plan B. We walked the three kilometres to its location, stopping by a supermarket for 2minute noodles and vegetables for dinner, then were quickly retired from the huge slow day.

The next morning our days plans continued as previously. We walked back to the roundabout outside of Budva and through our thumbs out to head up the steep mountain pass. With a little more luck then the day before a familiar red car stopped and running to the window, was laughingly  greeted once again by Michael and Morgan! What were the chances! They were heading to a historic town only 20kms away and we had plans to visit an old village on a lake further inland so thanking them for the second time, we found ourselves at a petrol station on the same road. Five minutes thumbing caught us our second lift a further 20km and to the intersection where we needed to change onto a tiny one car village road. As we waited 20 minutes without a car passing we checked our phones and found another seemingly (according to a map) road which lead the the village a further 10km away. We stuck our thumbs back out and again were instantly picked up! Making up for the previous day!

The man driving was an Aussie! Having moved from Montenegro with his Australian wife to Sydney 12 years ago he was visiting family. He went well out of his way despite having a busy afternoon and turned town the road we needed to change at and to a section of the road which looked over a large canyon. We thanked the legend and as he drove off voiced to ourselves that this was easily the most deserted place we’ve yet to hitchhike to. We stood on a tiny mountainous road, a large river wrapping itself around a mountain in a horseshoe like manner. An abandoned hotel loomed over us while across the horizon stood the peaks of dozens of mountain tops. It was honestly breathtaking, the only problem, our camera could not capture the entire beauty and wrapping of the lake. As a result I climbed an almost vertical mountain side to where a small ledge offered a standing point to take the photo. On the way down leaning against a dead tree trunk it completely gave way, tearing from the ground and by just stopping myself from falling over the five meter edge, the camera flew from over my shoulder and landed with a crunch on the road below.img_4387-2

It still worked! However the lens had completed snapped off and as a result had a broken aperture making it take in too much light. We felt ruined, stuck in our most isolated place yet and without a working camera. Holding the two pieces together it still took somewhat okay photos so as we still had a small village to hitch towards we began walking the 8km towards it. Half an hour past before we noticed a car about to drive past and we quickly reacted to the situation, turning around and thumbing. They stopped, a group of three young guys and heading directly past the small village we wanted to see, dropped us at its 6 building main street. We had a brief look around, ate hard boiled eggs we had prepared from breakfast, photographed an old bridge with our dodgy camera then began walking out of the village again. It was 2pm and we had no idea if hitchhiking would be possible this far isolated.

Our assumption was proving correct as an hour past with only a handful of cars and non stopping. It was a beautiful day, the opposite of the previous and standing in the direct light sweating, we came to the only option of having to walk to the main road, 10km away.. It was a gruelling hike, almost entirely uphill however our hitchhiking guardian angels prevented us from making the entire walk. About half an hour in on the side of the mountain, once again a red car stopped beside us. We could not believe it! Having recommended to them the small town and canyon on our last lift together, they decided to check it out. They were heading back to Budva and it worked in perfectly with our plans; to camp as close as possible to one of the most famous resorts in Montenegro. A private island called Sveti Stephan.

We were dropped back at the familiar roundabout for the third time, thanking our hitchhiking guardian angels Michael and Morgan (for the third time), then walked until we found a small pull in spot just further south. Sveti was only 15km away and as it was 4:30 and we stood on the main coastal road, were not feeling desperate. An Albanian car began approaching and we both elated with anticipation and of course it pulled over. A friendly tour guide and all timer to picking up hitchhikers dropped us on the main road just above Sveti Stephan and we began walking down the steep roads to the bottom. In the process yet another thunderstorm came through, pummelling rain heavier than we had ever seen and luckily having a shop building to take refuge was able to wait it out dry.

The sun began setting and sitting on the beach eating our dinner, salami and pickled bread rolls, we felt even without having a place to sleep we were beyond happy. As the sun completely slipped beyond the horizon we figured it was actually time to find a place for our tent. Having been the Sveti Stephan two weeks earlier with our Austrian friends, I had scouted a good location. Only a hundred or so meters from the entrance to the island there was an usual park/walk way which lead into a large garden for a manor house. There nettled under a low palm and beyond some tree for cover, we set our tent up in the dark and snuck into its darkness. Nobody was ever going to find us here, and we fell asleep content with our day.. even if we smashed our camera!img_4501img_4508

The next morning was an early start, eager to have our tent packed up before any passers may notice its hidden spot. The area is one of the most renown in Montenegro and even being the offseason, tourists bustled around the famous island and its shops. We had a quick dip in the public side to its two beaches then were hurrying back up the deep road and standing with our thumbs out. We were attempting another day of “see how far we could get” and were quite happy to be beginning at 9am. A 30minutes wait brought us to our first lift, a young guy who car smelt of marijuana even before we opened the door. He spoke understandable english, even with a joint in hand and dropped us on the further side of Budva. A teenage boy stood in the best spot also hitchhiking so we walked further down and somehow, was picked up before him.

A delivery man took us for a short trip however importantly to an intersection where we could hitch in the direction of a large tunnel leading to the tourist city of Kotor. It was yet another quick and short lift with a local guy whom spoke no english. Signalling to be dropped close to its centre, we continued walking for 6km in our direction as continuously we found no hitchable place. Even attempting for half an hour at a dodgy shop front opening. Our next lift was an awesome old fisherman. He spoke almost no english however we understood he had just been approve a visa to holiday in Australia and was very excited. He gestured it was mind blowing, or perhaps fate, that he  had picked two Australians up.

The kind man stopped by a small seaside town named Petrovac as we had thought it a possibility to stay at however being only early afternoon, figured we may as well move forward so he allowed us to take a quick picture. Soon after he dropped us off in another small village and we stood there for an hour. Our second plan from Petrovac was to try reach Dubrovnik but it seemed almost too far. Thankfully a talkative physiotherapist lady coming back from work picked us up and she discussed how young people from Montenegro have no possibility to travel as we were. We almost changed her opinion when we told her it was possible to experience everything we had off 10€ a day however she was not convinced.photo-21-9-16-11-54-42-am

It was anther short lift, our fifth for the day, and the Croatian border was still 30km away. Another hour past and no luck of anyone being interested. We wrote a sign now saying Dubrovnik however very few Croatian or tourist cars drove by. As we were almost feeling hopeless and dreading a second random camping night, a car pulled in. The man spoke absolutely no english however having Croatian number plates and pointing to our sign Dubrovnik, we were not hesitant to jump it. The next three and a half hours, sitting in an uncomfortable silence, brought us our longest single lift and to the side of a freeway well and truely deep in the Croatian mountains. We had poorly, but some how, communicated across that we were trying to reach a town named Omis, 200km further north of Dubrovnik. It was our next days goal however since he was traveling to northern Croatia, we jumped at the possibility. We were stoked to have made it so far but now faced a big problem. It was 7:30pm and almost dark.
Having been dropped on the actual freeway, an area we were not allowed to be, miraculously a motorway patrol van approached and while most time we are not happy to see them, this time we were happily escorted away and to a road which lead down the mountains and to Omis. We stood in the fading day light under a street lamp on a deserted and incredibly windy small mountain road. Omis sat 20km away and we could not believe we were most likely going to have to camp so close.. A few cars flew by causing us to both jump excitedly. Then the next car, a couple, stopped and living in Omis, were happy to take us to a campground at the waters edge. We could not believe our luck and even though being dropped at an extremely overpriced campground (32€ a night) and having to walk a further 4km to a cheaper one, we had made it!


(125km walked, 602km hitchhiked)





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