The thrilling quest for the Albanian border

Hitchhiking through Europe has been great so far. We’ve had rides from so many people of many different nationalities. That’s why I love hitchhiking; the wide variety of people you meet. Each individual with their own unique personality, stories and destination. They’re all connected to our project; being part of our journey by driving us around the world.

 

Every single ride has been good and smooth. Not the crazy or extremely dangerous situations that make people scared and prevents them from hitchhiking. All except for one. One that kept us very alert and on the edge for seven long hours. One that when we eventually got out of the car, we took a deep breath of relieve. It were seven long hours from the border of Croatia to Albania!

 

It was four o’clock in the afternoon when we crossed the border from Croatia with Montenegro. The officer looked surprised when he saw us. “We don’t get many people walking over the border like you two” he said with a grin while checking our passports. “We normally hitchhike but we didn’t find a ride yet” Niko replied. The officer gave us a look and told us he would never pick us up. I replied with a smile “That’s too bad, you would definitely enjoy our company”. The officer laughed and returned our passports. “Welcome in Montenegro”.

 

We walked two hundred meters and started hitchhiking. Two minutes later a big Mercedes stopped
beside us. We couldn’t see the driver through the tinted windows. We looked at each other with a bit of a doubt. When the driver opened the door for us and we got in, we realized he didn’t speak a word of English. Luckily Niko could talk to him in Italian. The man seemed agitated and in a hurry. Although Niko’s Italian was pretty good, the man wasn’t very clear about where he was going or where he would take us. After twenty minutes we finally figured out he was driving to Albania and we decided to accompany him during the long drive.

 

Darkness started to fall. Niko and I noticed our driver looked confused and a bit angry. He told us he was already driving for more than 20 hours. The exhaustion started to show on his face. The further we drove, the more our driver seemed lost. He first had troubles finding the way to the ferry which would take us over the lake in Kotor (in Montenegro). After the crossing he seemed even more confused trying to find the road which would bring us to the border with Albania. Every five minutes he stopped the car, sometimes in the middle of a busy road, and frantically shouted ‘dogana dogana’ (which means border in Albanian) at the pedestrians. Although the hand signals of the pedestrians were all the same, straight ahead, our driver kept turning left and right. He clearly didn’t have a clue where to go or he simply didn’t trust the Montenegrins (yeah, that’s how they call the habitants of Montenegro…).

 
Our friend (by now we clearly knew he had good intentions, he even gave me chocolate) finally got his GPS out. The Italian voice kept telling him to turn right. He kept going straight ahead. For more than an hour we had to listen to the annoying voice giving directions that our driver didn’t seem to follow. At a certain moment we drove on a steep hill into the mountains. The car was going fast on an old dirt road and we were driving very (like very very) close to the edge of a cliff. We had no idea where we were. Even the GPS got lost and kept repeating ‘recalculo, recalculo’ (recalculating). All we knew was this was definitely not the way to Albania!

 

After hours of driving in complete darkness, in the wrong direction, while passing abandoned houses and weird back roads with plenty of road kill and balancing multiple times on the edge of cliffs, we finally arrived at the border. Our driver looked very relieved (and we were too!). We felt wrecked of clenching our fists and feeling scared of ending up at the bottom of a mountain.

 

The two-hour ride in Albania was a lot more relaxing (ignoring the loud dance music blazing out the stereo system) When we got out the car in Durres, Niko and I took a deep breath at the same time. It had been a long and intense ride. What a quest! Welcome to Albania!

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Writer, travel photographer, Panasonic Lumix Ambassador and co-founder of Journal of Nomads

I have Belgian roots but the world has been my home for the past 8 years. I'm an artist at heart and often get lost in my thoughts. I like to create some-thing out of no-thing and once I feel inspired, I'm unstoppable. I love telling stories and taking photos, showing the beauty and extraordinary of the world around me. Oh, and I love making the impossible elegantly probable. Once you realize that you're a creator and the world is your playfield, there's no limit to what can be done!

17 Responses

  1. Leticia
    | Reply

    You two are so brave! It would have been really scared if I had to cross a country with a crazy driver like that (although I must confess I’m one of those who ignore the GPS 😀 )

  2. Melody Pittman
    | Reply

    Goodness, after that ride from hell I certainly hope Albania delivered! I would have been scared to death, mostly from the reckless driving. So glad you made it out alive! ; )

  3. Ami
    | Reply

    OoF! That is quite an experience. And am sure will be one of your most unforgettable ones. This was quite a ride. Not sure if I want to hitch-hike after this.

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      So far it has been indeed one of the most memorable rides 🙂 More often than not we have great rides so we keep doing it. Just sometimes there is this odd one… 🙂

  4. mark wyld
    | Reply

    I have to say i would be scared shitless by this experience, but then again I would not have got in the car to start with. I must say you two have big B*lls for hitching across Europe

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      Hahaha! This has been the only odd one so far. Now we’re starting with a hitchhiking journey through Asia. This will become interesting 😉

  5. Jennifer
    | Reply

    I do not know if I could ever be that brave in a foreign country. You guys are truly an adventurous couple!! Loved reading about the journey and how worried you were. I would have been afraid the driver would fall asleep!

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      That was our only worry! But he kept drinking lots of red bull so with that amount of caffeine in his blood, I don’t think he could keep his eyes closed! And we definitely weren’t able to take a little nap ourselves during those 7 hours!

  6. Christina
    | Reply

    I kept waiting for the punchline…I guess he just didn’t like to follow directions? I have never hitchhiked but have heard many stories with good endings like this one 🙂

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      He was very stubborn, that was a fact 🙂 We kept wondering why he got that GPS out in the first place! Hitchhiking is a fun experience and sometimes it’s a source for some good stories 😉

  7. Taylor
    | Reply

    Haha wow, I think I would have asked to get out! I’ve never hitchhiked though so I’m not very brave.

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      We always follow our intuition when we hitch. Now the guy seemed a bit crazy in the beginning but turned out to be a good man. That’s why we decided to go along with him. Yes, it was a thrilling adventure and we felt a bit on edge but never completely unsafe. We’ve had worse experiences 😉

  8. nonsoloamore
    | Reply

    WOW. I think I would have asked the driver already 5 minutes later to let me out. I can’t believe that you where there for the whole time. Wow. I think I would have been to scared.

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      The driver was a good guy and that’s why we stayed. But yes, we were happy when the ride came to an end. And… we have a good story to tell now 🙂

  9. Corinne
    | Reply

    You two are braver than me, although I do think this is a hilarious story and well worth sharing. I kept thinking you would bale, but you stuck with it! Good on you!

    • Cynthia Bil
      | Reply

      Haha, there were moments where we had our doubts and wanted to get out. But the driver had good intentions and eventually it turned out well. We’re still having a good laughwhen we think of this story 🙂

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