Albanian buses are not for the faint hearted!
I stepped onto Albanian soil with heavy legs, dreaming of a shower. Shading my eyes from the sun I trudged towards passport control. After an unpleasant night in Corfu Airport and three hours of walking in the blistering sun I was glad to see the boat I'd arrived on disappear into the distance, a symbol the worst of my journey was over. I exited the Port and several men all with the same coffee coloured skin lurched forward yelling in Albanian, the only distinguishable word being 'taxi'. I said 'bus' to a sizeable man, he had sweat beading down his forehead and nodded eagerly, beckoning me to follow him. I thought “Great! helpful locals!” only to realise he was leading me toward a cab. Irritated at his attempted scheming I exclaimed “No. BUS!” My usually high tolerance was dangerously low. He frowned at me, eyes turning dark and waved a hand nonchalantly in the air as he marched away.
I wasn't sure if the hand indicated which way I should go but I followed it anyway. Five minutes later I spotted a bus stop, I tried and failed to make sense of the route but I could only assume I was in the right place. I stood waiting with about 15 others, all of them locals. I had no idea if I was waiting for the right bus but it was all I had. Two hours later there was no bus and the waiting crowd had tripled in size, there were at least 50 people now. I was exhausted and growing grumpier by the minute, it was uncomfortably hot and with no available shade I could feel my skin burning and sweat creeping from every crevice. The good news was I'd overheard someone say 'Ksamil' which was my destination, I took that as a sign I was in the right place. The bad news was I doubted we'd all fit on one bus. I envisioned missing it and panic gripped. The next bus might not be for another two hours, I had to be on it.
Just as I resigned to a cab, a battered white bus rambled down the road. The crowd tensed and the next thing I knew we were running. Like wildebeest we charged for the only bus to arrive in over two hours, shoulder barging with wide eyes everyone was terrified of being left behind. The only foreigner in a herd of Albanians I was panting, covered in sweat and had definately gained a few bruises, but I made it on. The bus began slowly moving, swaying and creaking under the immense weight. We went 500 metres up the road and a horrifying sight appeared, another bus stop with just as many people waiting. The driver stopped and opened the doors, I thought surely no one else can fit?!... I was wrong. When faces were pressed against glass, hair in mouths and heads nestled under armpits the driver seemed satisfied we'd reached capacity and started moving.
With my backside pressed against the stranger behind me, chest looming over a seated womans face and my small wheelie bag causing great discomfort as it cut into my shins I was left wondering how to pay. My question was answered when a small man came wriggling through the crowd, had he been on when we boarded? he seemed to take on a flat form as he wedged himself into the tiniest of spaces, like pasta being rolled through a machine he moved slowly foward. Hands thrusting coins at him from every angle.
We reached Ksamil an hour later, what was supposed to be a 20 minute journey had tripled due to congested traffic - it was hell. In fact if there does exist such a place I am sure that bus is the portal to get there. Getting down the aisle required wrestling skills I didn't know I had. I stepped off the bus, took a moment to inhale the B.O free air and walked straight into the first bar I saw, if I'd ever earned a drink it was that one. Next time I'll get a taxi.