Sunday, 13 January 2013

Day 263 – A light bulb and a lot of snow. (Border crossing Albania to Kosovo)

We really didn’t want to leave our Tiranian hosts, but Christmas was fast approaching and we still had a fair bit of distance to cover (Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina and Serbia) before reaching our destination of Budapest eleven days later.

The road from Tirana to the Kosovan border was horrendously snowy, completely uncleared in places, and barely cleared in others. It was a very beautiful, but excruciatingly slow and tiring drive, and as it got dark we hoped that the border would be open past 5pm. We couldn’t believe it when a policeman waved us down at the bottom of a very narrow and steep stretch of road, frustrated beyond belief that police all over the world have the outrageous audacity to play their power games under such conditions. He began with the usual “documenti,” to which we handed over a passport or a driver’s licence or whichever document took our fancy (as they never seem to know what they’re actually asking for, it never matters what we give them as long as it’s something). He had a quick skim and started pointing at the front of the car. Ben and Denner got out to have a look and realised we’d actually been pulled over because one of our headlights was kaput. This seemed like a fair enough reason actually, considering Albania has adopted the 24 hour compulsory headlights rule, and it was dark by now anyway.

This policeman must have thought he’d struck jackpot – not only had he pulled the only Western tourists on this road, but they actually were breaking the law. Ben expertly fended off the proposals of paying him a “small fee” to make the “big fine” go away, by using the “thankyou so much for letting us know, you’re a good man, we’ll get it fixed right away, thankyou so much” method and off we went.

We actually did need to get it fixed straight away though as it would surely cause us more problems with every policeman we encountered, not to mention the fact that we were about to cross a border, and of course the whole issue of safety and what not. There was one more town before the border, but the roads were so difficult to manoeuvre on and it was approaching 7pm by now, so we tried the service stations on the main road first, but to no avail.

The funny thing about roads being chronically covered in snow and ice is that road rules seem to go out the window, and everyone’s priorities shift from driving in a straight line on the correct side of the road, stopping at lights, indicating for turns etc (although these rules are questionable in places anyway), and it just becomes a matter of staying on the road and not crashing into each other. It’s the same general effect as the hugely pot-holed, un-made roads of South East Asia and Central Asia. So we adapted to snow rules; avoided a car driving the wrong way up the off-ramp, skidded around a car parked in the middle of the single track road and bumped across piles of blackened snow to an auto shop where we spent the last of our Leke on a replacement light bulb.

Fortunately our auto shop attendant was very helpful and we were relieved when he informed us that the border is open 24/7. The border itself was refreshingly straight forward, taking a total of only 15 minutes. Albania didn’t even stop us, so Kosovo took care of the entire process. We were required to buy insurance which of course we were far from happy about. We tried showing them our own insurance documents, but unless it’s the European issued green card it’s not counted and we must purchase their own policy. It’s incredibly frustrating because we know that if anything were to happen that this insurance wouldn’t assist us in the slightest, but it’s their way of taking a sort of road tax/processing fee from us. We’ve come to have a sense of which battles are worth fighting though, and this wasn’t one of them, so we paid 30 for 15 days and off we went to Kosovo.

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