23 JUL


It was a very early start, 6:30am wake-up, 7am minges (breakfast). Christopher had organized a choice of 2 Mercedes Benz Taxis. One new(ish) model with a young hoon looking driver. We chose the older dude in his late 50’s named Isuf driving the older 80’s Merc. The hoon was pissed off and took off in huffing puffin accelerating hurry. Rohan and I looked at each other thinking – Isuf was a good choice!

Said our goodbyes to Romina (receptionist), Tony (waiter) and Christopher (owner) at Mano Hotel, then begun our 4hr journey north from Sarandë to Durrës to meet Bashkim and Spartak. 

Rohan and I were just getting along fine, amazingly actually, we are both very tolerant men. On route we talked much about making a travel doco in the near future, it could be a winner! We’d asked the driver to pullover somewhere safe to take some pics of the spectacular coastal mountain views. So the driver pulled up on a bend!

The weather was clear. We’d left a cyclone behind in Sarandë – no metaphors – there really was a cyclone just after we left.

Our first stop was Himarë beach for frappes (iced coffee) at Himarë café – the place was filled with all American paraphernalia. Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here‘ was playing on Radio.

Borsh was beautiful yet off the beaten track, we didn’t have the time to visit. 

Eventually we made it to Dhërmi, by far ‘the’ party place we had seen so far. People were preparing for a big party on the coming Sunday – we were several days early and unable to change our schedule.

We chilled on beach for a little over an hour. Smooth pebbles lined the beach. Crystal clear waters surrounded us. The most gorgeous pretentious metrosexual shi-shi peeps everywhere. I felt rather… unshaven. We ate lunch locally, nice, chicken, very crispy, very cheap.

The mountains to the east were momentous, herculean. I fantasized on the stories of Jason and the Argonauts. We crossed mountain winding roads with amazing views, pot holes, no railings with massive drops. Our driver Isuf was careful. As we reached the top, clouds filled the air, the temperature dropped dramatically. Windows were closed and heaters could well of been turned on. Isuf stopped at an old military post (a hotel now) to fill our bottles with pure mountain water.

We continued on down the other side of the mountain into the valley through Orikum heading north. Our driver was under strict instruction to stop wherever we wanted to, which is why we chose a taxi and not a bus. Yet Isuf seemed to want to get to Durrës in a hurry. He almost drove straight through Vlorë (Vlora). If we hadn’t noticed we had passed the city on the highway skirting the coastal city we would of not even noticed. We made him turn back so we could at least catch a drive by view. It was a magnificent (Italian inspired) city built in c1500’s. It is the home of National Monument of Independence (from Ottoman Empire) designed by Mumtaz Dhrami, erected c1912.

We had only 30 minute to peruse as our current schedule meant we would get into Durrës late. So we took as many photos as possible. Rohan took a pic of a group of elderly men playing (a domino like) game in the park, there was a very suspicious young guy staring at Rohan intently – he looked like he was scoping us out for the take.

By now we were definitely running out of time, so Isuf hightailed it toward Durrës. He took what he thought to be a short cut running parallel to the main highway, but we think he actually became lost but just didn’t want to admit it to us. Eventually we got back to civilization.

A quick 15min fuel, frappe and Zup at Lushnjë in an overly decorated super tacky purple servo café. Great dessert, bad coffee, a bitch of a waitress – don’t mess with her. Rohan tried his hardest to get just a simple café latte and got 3 different coffees before he resolved to fact he would have to enjoy his iced coffee.

Onward on the mission to Durrës we went. We were lost.. Again! Isuf asked many people for directions. Finally he took on a random hitchhiker, I repeat, a random hitchhiker, in Albania, who actually knew how to get to Spartak’s Grand Hotel, where we finally arrived and were warmly greeted by Bashkim, Migena and Spartak’s gracious wife Lilana. Spartak was still in Tirana and would join us the next morning. We tipped the Taxi drive and hitchhiker also.

We were immediately taken to the penthouse (not) suite on the top floor. It was past proper dinner time already, everyone was waiting for us patiently . So we quickly unpacked to shower and dress for dinner. Not before we caught the dying embers of the sun setting from the Grands roof top. From what we could see from up high, there was a whole strip of hotels directly on the beach, all (most) looking like they were built post Communism.

Spartak also owned the private villa next door, which was made entirely of wood – not common at all and certainly showed wealth considering most dwellings were made of concrete. The Albania President Edi Rama also had a villa several lots away.

We finally came down to dinner. A feast of seafood and meats were waiting for Rohan and I. The hotel was full of Pollacks, all dancing to a live band with traditional Albania singer. The singer kept turning to our table singing out loud ‘Australia’ – so we would get up and do vallja (dance) for a short while – Australia, represent, word.

You can quote me here, Pollack women seemed to be naturally drop dead gorgeous, as are most Eastern Block women. Everyone was dancing various regional traditional Albanian styles so amazingly in step with each other, second nature. I’ve never seen anything like it before. Trust me, Rohan and I had very sore necks.

I danced danced with Liliana, then Rohan grinded western style with her. You just had to be there, crack me up haha. We were waiting for Spartak to appear from behind a tree tapping his fingers fiendishly muhahaha. He is quite the character, we looked very much forward to his arrival the next morning.

Our night finally ended with much much warmth and joy and food and drink and sweat. Rohan and I took a short walk to wind down (and check out what clubs were pumpin nearby) before bed.