The guys at the campsite advise us to go early to the boat dock at the damn, because the ferry sometimes leaves early. So we set off in good time and climb the dirt track up to a tunnel that pops us out at the dockside. It’s already busy with cars and people – locals and tourists. There are lots of small boats, presumably for the locals who live along the way, and a bigger one that goes all the way to the next damn. A man guides me inside to buy the tickets – 15 euros each. How much??? I thought it was 5 euros each. No, 10 each and 5 for the bikes. I go and consult Gayle but we are kind of trapped – we would have a long journey on a mountainous road to get to the other end. We pay the exorbitant price and get on board the boat with mostly tourists. There is one local woman with her child. Just before we depart a larger boat appears in the distance. It docks and unloads. This is the ferry. We have been conned onto a private boat for tourists. Suckers. It’s written on our foreheads. The guys at the campsite are obviously in on the scam. It only works if we don’t know there are two boats leaving at around the same time. There’s an Israeli couple who also camped last night in the same place. Freddy says he feels like Woody Allen at the beginning of Stardust Memories, looking ruefully across at the people now boarding the ferry. Ah well, live and learn. The Albanians can be as disingenuous with tourists as anyone else.
The boat trip is lovely – even if the fare sticks in my craw. The reservoir is narrow, and the mountainsides rise vertiginously, covered in thick growth. Sometimes we seem to be heading for a huge wall of rock before turning at the last moment, twisting through the dramatic landscape. Now and again a farmhouse is spotted, improbably positioned on the steep hillsides. We chat a lot with Freddy and his wife Tammy. At the far end we have a shortish ride to Bajram Curry, where we are staying with Warm Showers hosts, Jenny and Ian.
They’re volunteering with the Peace Corps, Jenny working in health promotion and Ian teaching English at the high school. They’re an adventurous young couple who have been cycling in South America and have only just begun their two-year stint here. Already they have an insight on the way things work or don’t work in Albania. The town is small and scruffy, with blocks of flats of various building quality. Their flat is on the top floor of a block with no glazing in the windows on each landing. The apartment is fine though – fully furnished with the last occupants’ family photos on the wall. It might be the landlord, who lives next door, and has just moved family out for the duration. We spend a couple of evenings with them and try and plot our summer journey.
We have been struggling with the high temperatures and can’t bear the idea of doing what some cyclists do – setting off at 5am each day to arrive at their destination before midday. Waking at 6am is the best we can do. Perhaps we could volunteer for the month of August in Greece and stay in one place, off the bikes? We make enquiries via the HelpX website and then set off for Valbona, a village in the mountains above Bajram Curry. We leave some excess baggage with Ian and Jenny and set off. But why have we got excess baggage? you may ask. And I confess that I know not why.