Contrast. One of many relations I found is that the poorer the country is, the more altruistic the inhabitants seem to be. This became especially apparent in Albania, a country I was specifically curious about because of its unique history among the Balkan countries.
With Marcus the mad scholarly Ozzie I hitchhiked to the charming town of Mostar, and after to Podgorica, Montenegro, where we met a couple of Swedes with whom we drove through the beautiful north of the country from which Montenegro derives its name. Glad I got to drive again, even though the mountain roads are treacherous and make for intense driving.
Hitching a ride towards Ulqin we were picked up by Virgjina Zadrima, who not only drove us to Ulqin but also showed us the best places and fixed us up with a nice apartment with a direct view on the main boulevard. A boulevard which is a phenomenon in and of itself: as I sat busking on a toppled pillar I noticed some exceptionally attractive women pass by for what seemed like the third of fourth time. Turns out that the youth dresses up as finely as possible, after which they do laps along the boulevard. Joining the peacock party, we saw some girls do as much as twelve laps before finally submitting to the tempting clubbing music bathing the beach area in a nocturnal cloak of really cheap balkan house music.
I also had a very interesting night playing at the opening night of club Las Palmas. I made the deal in advance, but was only asked to play once the huge sound system failed, which meant that me and my small shitty guitar were supposed to entertain a club full of stern looking locals. Not my greatest success.
Arriving in Tirana marked the end of travelling with Marcus and the beginning of a blurry haze of drinking and smoking with a great group of friends recommended to me by lovely Kejsa (who I met in Strasbourg), including a memorable weekend in backwater mountain town Peshkopi to celebrate Juxhin’s birthday. Kejsa and a couple of French girlfriends arrived in town yesterday, completing an epic group which will hit the beach life starting tomorrow!
A tiring week in Tirana, also because of the hospitality here, which is more overtly present than in any other country I have visited so far. Cigarettes belong to the group and not to the individual. You pay for others, because some other time they will pay for you when you might come up short. A group has a strict code of chivalry (although not always the case).
The mirror image of the altruistic, smiling Albanians is the deeply corrupt government and the lack of means for the population. One instance that is characteristic of the status quo in the country: the bus may drive only five to ten kilometers an hour around 5 pm. Why? The bus company takes all of the ticket money up to a certain quotum, so from this moment on the driver and the ticket inspector start making their salary. The slower they drive, the more people will be waiting at the next stop, hence increasing their earnings.
It is time to go now.