Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The bus ride saga: Tirana, Albania – Thessaloniki, Greece

In some sagas you do not know where to begin. I would say this is one of those times. The simple fact that I am writing this saga proves that we are alive and well.
On the trip to Thessaloníki I had 12 hours to analyze our barefoot driver. He was a energetic man who did not like any vehicles in front of him. So, he would drive to their bumper, flash his light until they moved over and allowed him to pass. If there was a car in the on-coming lane, he would flash them too. This then created a center lane for the bus to drive – half in his lane and half in the on-coming traffic's lane. I guess it was effective!
It was a little odd for Bethany and I as we were the only women on the bus. There was around 30-35 Albania men, and Norm and Nathan. All the restrooms we stopped at were filthy Turkish toilets. I found this very discouraging on the return trip after my abdominal surgery!
At the boarder crossing into Greece there was a precious little 5 years old Albanian gypsy boy. He was standing at the door of our bus and one of the men told him to come up. He went down the aisle with his little hand out. All the men that could gave him money! He was so happy. We gave him some money too. He left the bus but did not think he properly thanked the generous men, so up he came again greeting every row with “Thank you” “ Have a safe trip” “Have a good time”...“ Bless you for filling my hands with money” over and over again.
The bus also made very unusual stops. I was confused when he asked a number of men to get off the bus and get their luggage. They all piled back on the bus bags in hand. Twenty minutes later while we were traveling on the highway I understood. He would pull over on the highway an let off a man here or 2 there. He would find a underpass that would lead them to their town and they would just walk all the way to their final destination.
The 12 hours also gave us ample time to decide if we really enjoyed loud Albania music. We all had ear plugs and head phones to try to create a buffer to the constant sound. We arrived in Thessaloníki around 8 PM and 2 Albania young men helped us catch the right buses and we arrived at our hotel 1 ½ hours later.

Thessaloníki, Greece – Tirana, Albania

Our return trip 8 days later was much different. To begin with we were surprised that it was a night bus. Then, we found out that our driver drives the 12 hours to Thessaloníki and then turns around immediately and returns to Tirana. He slept on the bus for around 4 hours while another calm driver took the wheel, then to our horror barefoot driver was back in the driver seat!

When we hit the mountains everyone started snapping seat belts to help keep us IN our seats! He was driving so fast on the mountain pass that the tires were squealing. At one switch-back he was driving too fast to make the turn. So he braked and screeched to a halt inches before hitting the communist era railing and going over the cliff! After coming to a grinding stop he paused a bit, then with a nervous laugh - backed the bus back on the road and continues our torture. This incident put a little fear in him and a lot of fear in us. His fear factor only lasted around 10 minutes, ours much longer! As I was praying, I was contemplating getting off the bus (3 AM) and calling Fredi Sufa to come and get us with his car! We found out later that that mountain pass is off limits for buses to travel. I understand why!

A few hours later we arrived in Tirana. When we got close to our house we asked to be dropped off early. Bethany was car sick since the mountains and feeling nasty anyway. It was so nice to be on foot! Home was never so welcome. Lela had cleaned the house and made us soup. We were home at last.