Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How Did They Get Here?

Literally the first thing I saw in Albania was a bolt of lightning framed by ominously dark clouds amid a torrential downpour. Not the most promising start to a country. The south of Albania is home to the country's biggest tourist attraction: the ruins of Butrint. Probably 95% of the visitors to the country come here, not so much because the ruins are terribly spectacular (though they're not without their charm) but because they are less than an hour away by boat from the holiday island of Corfu. And so busloads of sunburnt Brits and Germans trample through on organised day-trips making inane comments as they pass. Once they are gone though it is possible to enjoy the place once more. The ruins are on a small peninsula in the middle of a brackish lagoon, joined to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. This means that everything is slightly swampy and partly underwater, giving the place a sort of lost-in-the-jungle atmosphere, especially with the throngs of sunning terrapins that slip into the water as you approach.

The southern port of Saranda, the entry point for the cruises from Corfu is certainly a strange place. There is a mad pace of development and there are many hotels strung out along the waterfront and more are being built, and yet I saw only one other tourist in town. Obviously they are waiting for next week's rush. Another paradox is that, despite being the second-poorest country in Europe (after Moldova) at least half the cars, and this is no exaggeration, are Mercs. Just like gold teeth and oversized shoes in Azerbaijan, Mercs are the must-have status symbol here in Albania. OK, so they're not brand new and are generally older, castaway European models, but they still point to something not quite legit going on below the surface, especially when most of the drivers seem to be young, thuggish looking men. Maybe it's better not to ask where the money comes from though (at least not the guys actually driving the cars).

1 comment:

Inihtar said...

I'm sure the decision to not question the guys driving the Mercs is a wise idea!!

So I'm just curious. . . how long is this traveling thing going to last? Do you ever get tired of it and wish to be back home and in your own bed?