Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Driving at a snail’s pace from Tepelene to Vlora, Albania (9 Oct 2012)

We left Gjirokaster in the morning and took SH4 north to Tepelene. By this time we realized that our GPS only showed a few main highways in Albania, other roads in towns and cities are not available. The GPS now useless, we paid more attention on the signboards to lead us out. Luckily they were good enough to get us out of Gjirokaster town and onto the road heading to Tepelene. Along the way there was enough signboards to show us where to go.

After going through a police road block, we arrived at Tepelene at 10.30am, parked Our Sorento and walked the main street. We met a grocer who spoke English and chatted for almost half an hour. He told us a little history of Albania, about how its border with Greece used to be further away before Greece diplomatically took back and made the land theirs after the days of Ali Pasha. We bought some green peppers, potatoes and bananas before bidding him and his parents farewell.


WALKING AROUND TEPELENE
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Main street in Tepelene


  
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Ali Pasha monument. Ali Pasha was an Ottoman Albanian ruler born just outside of Tepelene.

 
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Lord Byron monument – In the 19th Century, Lord Byron of Great Britain visited Albania and was so taken in that he wrote a poem on the natural beauty of Albania and its warriors titled “Mother Albania”. Also, read his Letters on Albania.

   
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Our next destination is Vlora. During our chat, the grocer had advised us to back track south to Sarande and then make our way North to Vlora using the coastal route. We did not want to make such a long detour back south, so we headed northwest to take the road through the mountains to Vlora. The grocer told us that the condition of this road was not great, but as we had a 4x4 we did not think it would be that bad.

 
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Scenery of the valley below from SH76, taken 15km outside of Tepelene town.

 
After about 10km away from Tepelene, the paved road gave way to gravel road. We thought it would only be for a short distance but it went on. It was worse in certain stretches that was covered with rocks, narrow or uneven. Dad drove at very low speed, at times 10km/hr as the road was too bumpy and we had to maneuver carefully on rocky and narrow stretches. The distance from Tepelene to Vlora on SH6 is about 78km. We left Tepelene just before noon, let’s see how long it will take us to reach Vlora.


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Gravel road taking us on a slow climb up into the mountain


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Which way to go? At junctions or road forks, there were no road signs! Sometimes both lanes are well driven that we just had to pick one and pray that we took the right fork. Twice we had to back track after taking the wrong turn.


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Long stretch of unpaved road through the mountains


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A short stop to take in the view


3.07pm – we have now driven 20km and there are no road signs at all. We only came across one car every other hour. Occasionally, we would see shepherds and small villages. We seized the opportunity to ask them if we were still on track towards Vlora.


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With no road signs, the snaking River Vjose was our guide. We had the atlas and as long as we kept driving on the correct side of the river, we hoped we will eventually get to Vlora before night fall!


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3.14pm and still more gravel road to go. 15 minutes later, a wrong turn took us into a small village. We made a U-turn and were back on track.


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4.03pm – bridge crossing and more gravel road


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A small village in the mountains


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4.45pm – By now Our Sorento has been driving uphill for quite a while. We stopped to give her a brief rest and took some more pics.


At 6.20pm we came across a shepherd who told us that we are 35km away from Vlora. Gosh, still a long way to go! We are losing day light fast and was hoping that the gravel road will end soon so we could reach Vlora before dark.


Lucky for us, 4km later we are back on paved road. Picking up speed, we drove on passed some small villages, crossed another river and finally at 8pm we reached Vlora. 


Despite the slow and bumpy drive, we enjoyed the journey with its nice view of the mountains and valley and the occasional small old villages. We were lucky not to encounter any problems with Our Sorento (touch wood) and the new spring and absorber made the bumpy ride a little bit more comfortable for us.






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