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Ω2

Albania, Gjirokastёr

   Here is the first report of “mad about Africa”, written in Gjirokastёr, Albania! On Thursday, July 18th, 2013, we set off from Thessaloniki, Greece, accompanied by the wishes of many relatives and friends, who gathered at the White Tower to bid farewell to us. Together with Christina, we headed to Kozani through the small, beautiful road that meanders by the bank of Aliakmonas River.

   The previous night I hadn’t slept at all, because of the tense and the numerous last minute preparations I had to make, double checking everything. On the way to Veria, it was the first time I ever caught myself closing my eyes while riding! This was very risky, so we pulled over at a quite little park to take a nap for an hour. We, then, headed on, in order to camp by the banks of the serene Lake Polyfytos, where we had camped before.

Sinicё, a forgotten village on the mountains of Albania, which looks very similar to the villages of Epirus on the other side of the border.

   The next day I said goodbye to Christina, as she was leaving for Kefalonia, while I was heading to the Balkans. Next time I will see her it will be in Italy, where she will go by boat, and we will meet up to travel to Africa together. After having made a pleasant detour, to say goodbye to some good friends in Kozani, I headed on to Gramos by the beautiful road that goes through the villages of Tsotili and Eptahori. In fact, my friend Sakis from Kozani suggested that I should take the route through Avgerinos village, which was longer but very beautiful and lush.

   I arrived at the Rainbow Gathering, which was being held in the area of Gramos, near the Arenes Lake. I have explored Mount Gramos in the past and it’s one of my favourites! Especially the region around the lake reminds me of some pictures with fairytale landscapes my grandmother used to hang on her walls.

   It’s not easy to describe the Rainbow Gatherings, as for each one they have a different meaning. The story goes back in 1972, in the U.S.A.. Youngsters, elders and families with children from all over the world camp in remote places for a month, in order to be in touch with mother nature and live in harmony with her for a while. Most of them have an interesting personality and are deeply spiritual people. Others live by Indian traditions almost forgotten, while many are followers of Hinduism.

Happily, we found a hose with water to wash our motorcycles, as there was mud up to the seat!

   At the Rainbow Gatherings, all motor vehicles and electric devices are forbidden. The air is filled with enchanting music by exotic musical instruments such as the sitar, the santur and the jaw harp, a small, simple instrument which produces a very psychedelic sound. One of the activities that took place at the gathering was jaw harp courses, which I joined myself! So, during my next presentations I will be playing some tunes 😉

   Furthermore, I was helping in the kitchen or wherever it was necessary, as everything is being run by the volunteer effort of everybody. Every day we had interesting conversations around the campfire. Five days in such an environment was exactly what I needed to relax from the overwhelming pressure I have been under all those months I was preparing this trip. Unfortunately, the pressure was so intense that, as a result, I even had health problems. I hope that now, that I’ve started my journey, all my health problems will be eliminated…

Those were some of the obstacles we had to ride over with our motorcycles…

We made it, running over the fallen tree trunk, one at a time.

   At Gramos I met my friend, John Dalmaras, who came on a Honda AX-1, to travel with me in Albania. After a beautiful ride through the mountains of the region, we reached, through a dirt road, the border of Kristalopigi. Now that I have a good GPS device (thanks to Motoraid!), I’m thrilled! Travelling through dirt roads is now a piece of cake, from a navigating point of view. There is a magical option on the GPS, which enables me to draw my itinerary using only dirt roads. Consequently, in the last few days, we have ridden very few kilometres on tarmac!

   When we crossed the Albanian border, we headed to the mountains and with great pleasure (more for me and less for John!) we had an epic dirt ride from Kapshticё to Mollaj and from Qafzez to Kёlcyrё. Especially the second part was quite demanding. It was a particularly rough terrain, very rocky and quite muddy in places, with deep ruts, landslides blocking the road in some points and fallen tree trunks. There was even a point where we had to run over one of these fallen tree trunks. Everybody told us that the road is blocked. Later, they assured us that we were the first ones to pass through this year! In the last two days we only rode 290 km, from which the 180 km were off-road riding. We passed through gorgeous mountains, serene ponds and remote, picturesque villages.

John had a terrifying fall, ending up to the ridge of a cliff! We had to pull the motorcycle up, or else it would fall into the abyss…

   The Albanian people we came across were very friendly. They were all very welcoming and helpful in everything we needed. What stroke me the most was their discretion. If they happened to pass by our campsite, they waved at us but they never approached, in order not to disturb us. That seems very odd to me, compared to the constant curiosity of the locals in Asia, even though it didn’t bother me at all.

That’s the beauty we enjoyed in the mountains of Albania! Combined with the most intriguing off-road riding, what else could I ask for? This small pond is situated above the village of Frashёr.


 

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