Albanian Road Trip - To Montenegro

Earlier: Restaurants of Tirana

I'm in an eight passenger van riding from Tirana, Albania to Ulcinj, Montenegro. There are only six passengers because the friend I came to visit in Albania is in the hospital with a bursting cyst from a bladder infection, and I opted to leave her in Albania to accompany these strangers on a ten day Balkan hostel road trip.

Scott is driving and has been fearlessly navigating his way through thus lawless second world urban traffic, squeezing the Veto Mercedes bus van through narrow alleys and angry traffic jams. He has passed slow drivers using the other lane on the road, pulling back into the right lane inches before an oncoming car would have smashed into us at full speed. We play this game of chicken, on average, every two minutes.

I'd feel worse about the Malibu Rum Scott had immediately before we left, but he had it mixed with coffee (cutting his downer with an upper), and the disturbingly unsophisticated combination of flavors involved in that cocktail immediately indicated to me that his tolerance for alcohol is probably at the pro level.

I focus instead on trying to take it all in, the ubiquitous half-finished buildings (Albanians don't have to pay taxes on buildings if they leave, for instance the roof off), the occasional flock of adorable sheep, the horse-drawn carriages we pass in and near little towns, the sun's brilliance through pollution-grayed clouds, the children on the side of the road holding bunnies up by their necks attempting to entice hungry drivers, the man walking down the street holding a large stuffed bird, thinking, "You know you want this," at us.

Before coming to Albania yesterday, I picked up "po" ("yes"), "Jo" ("no"), and "ju lutem" ("please"). Since my arrival, I have picked up "faleminderit" ("thank you"), "s'kagje" ("you're welcome"), "dy" ("two"), and "expres" ("espresso").

The only word I have learned from two hours of driving along in the country here is "dalje" ("exit"). I might have learned more, but in Albania, Italian ("ristorante"), English ("restaurant"), misspelled English ("restarant"), misspelled Italian ("ristorant"), and what I believe are Italian-English hybrids ("restarante").

There is almost no branding here, so that places have names like "Donuts" or "Bar Cafe."  Very few of the cafes sell anything other than coffee and alcohol, most customers ordering a drink and smoking there for hours. 

I have never been a squatter. We stop for espressos and beers in Skoder. "Bar Cafe" only has a urinal, so Arie and I go next door to "Bar Kafe" where we are ecstatic to find they have a restroom. Arie comes out and lets me know there is no toilet paper. Adam asks the bartender for toilet paper and returns with a slightly damp hand towel I might want to use to dry my hands afterwards. I immediately know I'll it to wipe with and just hand it back without saying shit but, "thanks!"

When I get in the restroom I discover the restroom is just a hole to squat over. I pull down my pants and straddle the hole, but the mechanics of squatting in general and not getting urine on my pants in particular elude me, it having been a while since I last attempted that shit while at all sober. I know what I must do and get to it. 


I lay the hand towel across a strip of the disturbing wetness of the floor, take off my shoes, placing each foot on the towel in turn to keep them off the floor, then remove my pants and socks, laying them all on the towel. Bottomless, I straddle the hole and squat, confident in keeping urine off myself while peeing. 

I still have to push a lot, reddening my face with the blood of effort, trying not to push too hard in fear that I'll have to pee more often tonight if I do but also worrying that Adam and Arie must be wondering how I'm doing in there at this point.

Finally empty or empty enough, I stand up, wet my hand at the tap, rub a little water on my vagina, wash my hand, pick up my right sock and wipe myself once with it, then get dressed, pick up the towel, more soiled from the floor now than it would've been had I used it on my vagina, then walk out, toss it on a bar stool, and say, "Faleminderit!" as I walk back to Bar Cafe where my new friends are finishing their espressos.

When finally we got to Ulcinj, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant that advertised pizza. The menu on the wall outside listed pizzas on one side and some types of meat dishes we could only sort of translate on the other. It turned out they didn't have any pizza. We couldn't understand the words she was using to describe the food they had available at the time, so we told our waitress to just bring us two of everything. She was incredibly friendly and eventually asked to come with us on our trip, probably only half kidding.

Getting into my Balkan beer tour. Niksicko = C-
After a couple of these, I was delighted to find they had a nice restroom.
Getting into my shitty Balkan bread tour

Tasted just like breakfast sausages

Grilled chicken, word. The fries were actually better here than most places we'd go to, where they all had this strange ubiquitous shape and unnaturally yellow color.

A stroganoff type thing, like in a public school cafeteria

 The chef sent over free shots of raki for each of us, plus a free mineral water for the girl who was on some kind of something orthodox version of lent.

After dinner we walked about a third of a mile along the doughy sand to get up to the ocean, at one point crossing over a swamp on a log using a walking stick I found, throwing it back to each person to cross. Two of them skinny dipped in the Adriatic sea for three seconds so that they had done that.

My first hostel! What fun, silly blankets. When I first got into bed that night, I was confused and thought each blanket was a different awkward shape and tried to position them at different angles in order to get warm, cursing these crazy Balkanian people as I fell asleep. Two hours later I woke up and discovered that they all unfolded to become reasonable sized blankets, my racism unfounded.

The shower in this 4x4 restroom was just a mobile faucet, so that the entire restroom gets soaked when anyone uses it.

Now I understand why all the toilet paper holders in this country have these annoying little metal flaps in front of them.

We drank gin and waters or in one girl's case Seagrams Whiskey (she was so excited to have found Seagrams in Albania, repeatedly referring to it as "delicious") and smoked and patted ourselves on the back for our how awesomely adventurous we all are.

View from hostel

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