Hi there! After presenting the usual documents (passports, car registration and car insurance green card) at the border checkpoint at Hani i Hotit entering Albania is not a problem and we easily roll into a new chapter of our journey. Still with dark clouds in the sky we drive alongside the eastern side of Lake Shkodra and find ourselves thinking how little we actually know about this country which is nothing more than a mixture of a tiny bit of history, prejudice and internet research: The country was practically isolated under communist rule until the end of 1990 and has just slowly began to reopen to foreigners after that. In german major cities – and probably elsewhere – Albanians are famous to cause trouble in a variety of ways and usually are not known to be the most friendliest fellows on the block. Which stands in sharp contrast how Albania is described within the overland scene: As an offroad dream destination with seemingly endless trails, stunning nature and a deeply rooted hospitality towards travellers. We are about to find out in the coming weeks and are crossing our fingers that the later will turn out true as we roll towards our first destination.
Lake Shkodra Resort - Meeting old friends and making new ones
On the first kilometres we pass a horse carriage, spot cows tied up in someones garden and get a slight impression about the 'better' albanian main roads. We quickly know that standards are on a different level over here, which is the first indicator that overland trails and remote campspots might not be that hard to find. The first thing we almost learn immediately is what car brand is on top of the Albanians shopping list: Mercedes-Benz! In the first 30 minutes of our drive we come across so many W201 190, W124 and W210 E-Classes, newer C-Classes and E-Classes and of course S- and G-Classes that we think we just got teleported into an open air Mercedes-Benz showroom/museum. Other premium brands – preferrably german or british – seem to enjoy a pretty good reputation as well.
To settle in and let the rain pass we check-in at the campsite Lake Shkodra Resort and are overwhelmed by this well-organised place. Naming it `resort` is definitely earned as it turns out to be the most „european“ campground in Albania. It reminds us of dutch campsites we have so often stayed at the northern sea coast in the Netherlands. What a first unexpected impression of this country we have just arrived in an hour earlier. Located directly at the Ohrid Lake just opposit of Montenegro it has a large open grass field, shady campspots, a restaurant, modern and spotless facilities, super helpful staff and offers several activities on or around the lake. You would expect that so much comfort would cost a fortune but you would be wrong. For about 45 € we stay three nights – an amount which would have lasted one night on a similiar sized and equipped campground in Croatia for example. For the time the campground is quite empty – it´s pre-season still and Corona is still affecting cross-border travel. Due to the rainy day we face we decide to build up our awning, get some washing done and have an office day. When ordering a cappuchino at the bar we experience hospitality for the frist time as we get an umbrella covered delivery straight to our car. In order to express our thanks we learn our first albanian word: Faleminderit!
As the campsite is so close to the Montenegrin border it is a well-known hub for people entering and leaving Albania and we quickly get into conversation when the rain stops for a walk around the campground. We spot a very nice white Mercedes-Benz G300 with a rooftoptent and other nice equipment and get to know Berit & Christoph - a couple from Mainz who will spent their holiday in Albania the upcoming weeks. While talking about the cars and travel plans time passes by and we have drinks & dinner together – it's a match! Furthermore we are expecting to meet our friends Rebecca & Marcel (Instagram: @rums_adventure) from back home the next day. Luckily the sun comes out and after a dip in the lake and a table tennis match they arrive in their modified Mitsubishi Pajero at Lake Shkodra. We met them in September 2020 during Rosies maiden voyage in the Alps, where we camped together at Col du Sommelier just above 3.000m. We kept in contact from this awesome experience onwards. The two were so kind to also bring a few pieces of equipment and parts all the way from Germany to Albania which we have not thought about before our departure.
Our kind of neighbors!
The trio pre-departure
Little modification & new equipment incoming!
In the weeks prior we ordered a few bits and pieces which Jonathans mum all wrapped together in a parcel and send it to Rebeccas & Marcels home in the Eifel for an Pajero express delivery to Albania. The delivery included a pair of quick fist mounts, which we install right away. For our retractable indoor table we carry a table leg which normally sits in the table mount at the side of the kitchen storage cupboards. This is a good solution when using it everytime you stop but we experienced it to be quite unhandy when living outside as you need to remove it from the cupboards to reach them. We just through it out of the car when we stop and put it back in when we drive on – which is a bit of a hassle everytime! With a pair of quick fist mounts we are able to neatly store it away on the side of the low storage cupboards and create space to reach everything without having to move anything! Another essential we just forgot to take with us from the start is a foldable firepit. Driving around Croatia and Montenegro we quickly noticed that a campfire without the security of a fire pit is sometimes nearly impossible. Of course some places offer fire pits but especially when camping wild and considering the dry season coming up it is a must-have. We decided to go for a Hexagon firepit, a Stand Up! Mount and a 4Fire grill and cannot wait to use this fine pieces of outdoor kitchen equipment from the german manufacturer Fennek for the first time! Another very small piece included in the package is a little water weigh which might help us leveling out the car so especially the bed is not tilted in any direction. It creates a lot of laughter among the group because most overlanders are well aware that it is nearly impossible to perfectly level out the car when camping in the wild. „This will make you crazy as you now exactly know that you´re not parked leveled.“ Might be true but we think it is worth to have on board anyway! :D
Early christmas, kind of.
With our new and old friends we enjoy a lovely dinner, sit around camp and are all curios about what Albania has in store for us the upcoming days. As it is also a good idea to drive the first trails in an unkown area in a group and not just by ourselves we suggest to head off all togehter the next day – which everyone agrees to! Happy to be reunited and excited about what our little overland trio will experience we soak in the two trackbooks Rebecca and Marcel have brought with them. Oh my days!
First meters of dirt in Albania coming up!