The day after the big mountain walk in Kukes, Albania, I wake up feeling great. Even the legs are okay, but I do some stretching to soften them up a bit. Today I am going to hitchhike to Kosovo. I feel a bit sad about leaving this wonderful town of Kukes and the amazing people of Albania, but at the same time I am slowly getting tired of being on the road and I am thinking that nothing on this trip can top the experience of yesterday and the atmosphere of this town.
So I start to move again, I just have to pack the rest of my stuff that I was to tired to pack yesterday. First of is breakfast. Breaking my “rule” of not visiting the same place twice I go to the same hotel restaurant as two days ago when I can not find anything else on the way where there are people sitting. My idea of pancake breakfast is quickly changed when I see a word that I do not understand in the menu. I ask the waiter what it is and he points to his head saying “inside the head”. After some talk it seems this wonderful breakfast item is cow brain, a must try! I also order a coffee and a fresh orange juice, which when it arrives to the table has transformed to a canned peach juice. The cow brain comes as a soup and the brain part of it has different colors and textures suggesting it is all parts of the brain. Anyway, the dish is surprisingly tasteful, a bit like snails, probably because of a pre-eminent taste of garlic.
After the breakfast I continue to walk out of the city while trying to find a shop that sells sun protection, as I am still a bit red since yesterdays walk. This task is not as easy as I thought, finding only sun protection strength 2 or 60 if anything at all. I double check the direction by asking a person I pass on the street, just not to walk unnecessary long this day, but the answer is not conclusive and the guy even changes his mind after a short discussion. Before starting to walk out in the middle of nowhere I make a last try at a pharmacy I see not far away, the last shop in Kukes before nature and the road takes over.
Inside the pharmacy is a lady which seems incredibly happy to see me, making some positive sound as I walk in through the door. She starts asking a lot about my life and tells me about her life as well, happy to practice her English. In the middle of the discussion I get to the point where I can ask for sun protection which she actually has and gives to me for free, even though I say I want to pay for it. I talk to her for about half an hour, both because I want to be nice and let her practice her language skills, but also because it is interesting. Several more clients come and she serves them before coming back to our discussion. Finally a new client comes in and she asks him in Albanian if he can drive me to Kosovo after hearing that he is going that way. He looks very skeptical and she explains that maybe he do not trust me because of my looks, and that he do not know me. She continues to press the man and he finally gives in, but not before checking with me that I do not have any gun in my backpack before entering the car, probably partly joking and partly serious. The pharmacy girl makes a last try to give me some chewing gum and headache pills for free, but I decline with a smile.
Inside the car, which is a luxurious BMW, we are 3 people plus me. The languages are mixed but I at least hear German between two of the men. Later I understand that they are from Kosovo families, born in Germany but later having moved to Kosovo and finally Albania because of better business there. I talk as much as possible with them, also to make them more relaxed and confident with me in the car, through the youngest guy who translates to the rest. We end up having a really nice conversation and they drive me through the border and on to Therandë (Suva Reka) in Kosovo where they meet up with a business contact and drive on in another direction.
I take a walk in Therandë and just when I sit down in a cafe to drink something I realize I do not have any local currency, so I walk around trying to find an open WIFI to figure out what the currency is worth before taking out money at an ATM machine. After a rather long walk I manage to get online and see that the currency is Euro, which I actually have some but still take out extra to manage until tomorrow. I then sit down in the first best restaurant that looks nice and orders a local dish which I have no idea what it is, even after the waiter tries to explain it to me. Next to my table sits a man which I see noticed me, but that’s nothing unusual in these kind of towns with few tourists. After finishing his meal he joins my table and asks where I am from. When he hears my answer he shines up with a big smile, starting to talk in my mother tongue to me. His family is actually from Kosovo but he is born in my country and is more patriotic about it then any other person I have met in my life. We have a nice talk and after a while I ask him to leave as I have to do some short work and research online on my laptop. He completely understands, having earlier said very politely that if I want him to go I can just tell him, but not leaving before insisting to pay my bill. He is still excited about our meeting when he leaves and the other people in the restaurant are looking at me, probably wondering what just happened. After he leaves I order a coffee to finish of the lunch, and when 20 minutes later I am about to leave and want to pay my coffee the waiter tells me that the coffee is on him. What a day, maybe it’s the positive energy from yesterdays mountain walk that still rubs off me.
I start to walk out of the city, having changed my mind about staying in this town as it is still early and I feel like moving on, even though I am a bit tired. Before leaving the town I walk into the man again, now with his son, and he tells enthusiastically the son that this is the person he was talking about. The son looks a bit embarrassed about his fathers behavior, or maybe he is just shy. I continue to walk, now with new energy, until I am outside the town and on a big road leading east. Again no shadow, but already after 1-2 minutes of trying to hitchhike a man picks me up. He lives in Switzerland but is now back for a 2 week vacation with his family. We talk politics for the whole ride, which I think lasts for one hour but the conversation is so interesting that I totally loose track of time.
When entering the city of Ferizaj he drives me around to find a cheap motel for me, even walking out of the car to ask people the price so that I don’t get a tourist price. He is shocked when he see that the prices here are higher than in Switzerland, and finally I ask him to drop me off because I don’t want to bother him anymore and I have the whole day of walking around the city anyway. After a short search I take a pause in a nice restaurant “No Stress” and then decides, once again, to move on to the next city.
While once again walking out of the city I find some really cheap hotels but I still decide to go further. My next ride is again a luxurious car, this time by a local business man that after a while stops in an outdoor restaurant along the way to buy me a coffee and have a talk. He tells me that he has two businesses, one is import and the other is personal development. The second one is the one he wants to talk to me about, and very quickly I realize that he is trying [softly] to sell a pyramid scheme to me. I write down the information and we continue the drive. After a while I realize that he is going the whole way to Macedonia, but because I want to spend a night in Kosovo I ask him to drop me off before on the road.
It is now starting to get dark and I am not even in a town. There are more people here but they are either waiting for a bus or for friends to pick them up. After what feels like a long time I finally get a ride. This guy is going to the Macedonian border to get or drop off some documents, like a courier. I ask him to drop me of in Kacanik where I plan to find a hotel. But there are no hotel according to all the people I ask, including the taxi drivers, so I have no choice but to go to the road again. The option is to hitchhike back some kilometers to a motel in the middle of nowhere, or to hitchhike to Macedonia. I choose Macedonia, now longing for being back in Bulgaria. Again I stand around for what feels like forever, with the darkness getting nearer and the people looking at me like they have never seen a hitchhiker before, or maybe even a stranger.
When finally the second BMW for the day stops with two mysterious guys inside I feel relieved, but a bit tense. The conversation is not going well, with the driver only speaking Albanian and German. After a while they stop and walk out of the car, talking outside. I decide to go out to stretch my legs, but the car is locked. Finally the drivers friend takes off and the driver opens the door for me, saying something like “lets go” and pointing to the bush. I do not understand what he means, he walks and takes a leak and then we are on the way again. Now the conversation is a bit lighter, but still we have big difficulties to understand each other. When we finally hit the Kosovo/Macedonian border and are first in line the guy can not find the right paper for his Switzerland plated car (he lives there). His plan for the day was to go to north Macedonia to get something from a friend and then directly drive back to Kosovo again, a long drive but perfect for me coming near the Bulgarian border. Now it seems he has to turn back early instead without entering Macedonia.
A young guy that talks to him about the problem offers me a ride instead and I walk with him to his car, where his friend and his father awaits – looking skeptical at me. Anyway we drive through the border and into Skopje where they let me off somewhere in the center, asking if this is fine for me and me saying yes because I have no idea where I am anyway. I stand looking at the enormous buildings for a while, being used to small towns for the last days, and then starts walking around for about 15 minutes before I decide to go on to Kumanovo instead, one step closer to the Bulgarian border.
I start hitchhiking on the highway near to where I was dropped off just minutes earlier, accompanied by a taxi man and a cheer-leading group of girls maximum 15 years old. A car stops even though he is going the other direction, but I think he will maybe turn around so I go to talk to him. It turn out the guy in the car wants to buy sex from me, ok so this is maybe not the best place and time to hitch hike I realize. I say no and go back to my spot, but after 10-15 minutes the guy once again comes back, now on my side of the road, and tries to convince me.
About one hour later I am ready to give up because of the dark but with no idea where to go, when a German couple stops and picks me up. They are going to a small village near where I am going, to visit their family. Dropping me off outside the city I have to walk into the center. During the walk I take out some local currency and buy street pizza with mayonnaise, Bulgarian style. The pizza guy tells me he also just came back from Germany visiting his girlfriend. He also tells me where I can find some hotels but before I take off some of his friends walks by and he tells them to show me instead. We walk for a long time, not as close as the pizza guy told me the hotels were, and when we finally arrive they realize that the hotel is now gone and replaced by a restaurant. I say no problem and want to take of, but they have an internal argument in Macedonian for some 20 minutes discussing what they should do with me. Finally I tell them I will go back to the street to hitchhike and takes of, but instead goes to a guy 20 meters away to ask him for directions to a hotel. He tells me one nearby and even though it is not on the address he tells me I find it thanks to some other helpful people. After a quick bargain I get a room for 10 Euro, even with a TV showing a Bulgarian music channel. Before falling asleep I write a long blog entry in my mobile about this day, which mysteriously disappears.
Tip: When going to Kosovo ask to NOT get a stamp in the passport, because a Kosovo stamp could make it difficult for you to enter Serbia.