We sat in the back of the soccer-mum mini van, anxiously looking out the windows and on google maps. Just the driver and two other travellers accompanied us, all of whom could not speak a single word of English. Flying through the winding roads of the Albanian coast line, all I could think about were those famous words of parents across the globe, ‘Don’t get into a strangers car’. A brief and ridiculous thought crossed my mind, making me feel uneasy. Perhaps today, only two months into our trip, we would become entangled in a real-life version of one of the shittest movies of all time, ‘Taken’. Except, without the heroic father to save the day, but rather my bogan dad sitting at home in Australia, completely clueless with a stubbie in his hand. Ultimately, I pondered ‘how the fuck did we got ourselves into this situation?’ And like a not so sane person, mentally envisioning possible escape plans…
Earlier that day…..
It all started when we arrived back into Athens. We had found a website online that basically said the only way to get a bus to Albania from Greece was to go to a random street in Athens and try to find a bus that will agree to take you. Not suspicious at all…
This being the most promising option though, with all other reviews saying things like ‘Transport in Albania is shit, don’t bother going there’, we optimistically took the advice of the first guy and ventured to this random street and found a few companies. Weighing up the prices we chose a place and bought a ticket to Saranda in the south of Albania.
Looking back on all my travels, I would have to say that this particular international bus ride was the single most, crazy, interesting, and slightly scary one I have ever endured. As we were already forewarned, Albania wasn’t going to be a walk in the park transportation wise, which was instantly noticeable the moment we were over the boarder. But it is supposed to be beautiful, cheap and somewhere we definitely wanted to check out.
Let me just say, the bus ride itself to the boarder was a piece of cake, around 8 hours. We were even given a chocolate croissant and water when we hoped on. Winning! It was only when we came up to the boarder crossing that things started getting slightly shady and super fucking odd.
We all had to get off the bus and walk through with cars etc. to have our passports checked and stamped. That bits not too strange, but then we had to get back onto the bus to drive forward another 100 metres and stop again.
This time for a police officer to climb on board.
He asked us all for our passports again. Collecting them ALL up, he then got off the bus! That’s right, he left us all, completely unidentifiable, on the bus waiting in the sweltering heat, no clue what was happening. Normal minded people would just stay calm at this point, but I am not normal minded. My mind was running through all the possible horrific things that could go wrong, and whispering to Dave my not so sane thoughts. All the while a lovely Albanian man climbed on board to offer items for purchase such as water and bundles of grass (we later found out was tea). Following behind him was another man begging for change.
Almost 20 minutes later!
The same man begging for change before (who was obviously in fact an employee), climbed back on the bus and started handing out our passports one by one, ‘thank god’ we thought! So that’s it right, we stupidly believed we were through and on to great new things in Albania. Not quite! Little did we know the strangest part was still to come!
Yes, you read that right, this shit gets stranger! Hold on to your socks kids!
At the beginning of our journey a 20-something year old man sat on the chairs opposite Dave and myself. Spending a decent amount of time on the bus with him, we noticed he had become absent throughout the whole process of the boarder check. Thinking back, he was definitely on the bus when we pulled up to the boarder but once he got off he never got back on. This all dawned on me as the bus pulled up once again on the other side of the border about 200 metres away and he was nowhere to be seen. Suddenly appearing from the bushes, covered in scratches and cuts, and panting heavily from obviously just sprinting through nearby bushes, we were quite confident that we had just been unknowingly involved in an illegal Mexican-esk boarder crossing. Jumping back on, he exchanged some heated words in Albanian with the driver before returning to his seat, a sweating mess. Great, the journey stressful enough already, but now we were officially accomplices in illegal immigration.
So how much crazier could this trip possible get right?
Never and I mean never, ask yourself this question while in Albania, unless you are prepared for an uncomfortable truth. This my friends, is the part where we had to leave the comfortable surroundings we had become accustom too on the bus for the mini-van mentioned at the beginning of this story.
A mere 2km over the boarder, the bus driver pulled up beside the van and the bush bashing ‘illegal immigrant’ (probably can’t actually call him that because we don’t know for sure, but it was suspicious AF!) jumped off to greet the driver. Thankful, we though we were in the clear and no longer involved with this guy. That’s when the bus driver stood up and yelled out what sounded like ‘Saranda’.
We sat looking at each other for a brief moment not sure what to do. Before long we noticed everybody on the entire bus staring at us! The driver yelling again, “SARANDE” and looking sternly in our direction. So we quickly packed up our things and scurried off the bus and into the mini-van.
Leading us full circle to the beginning of this story! Little did we know at the time, the mini-van was in fact an Albanian Taxi (or ‘furgon’ as they call them) and was all inclusive in our one-way ticket to Saranda. Putting complete trust in the situation we were in, our only real option at the time. We did eventually reach our destination safe and sound, although completely fucked and buggered from the trip!
But, I must say, this was definitely one of the most memorable travel experiences I have ever encountered and I am confident we will be sharing this tale for years and years to come!
A relieved traveller!