Out of all the countries we have rented cars in, Albania has been the most full on. In terms of the car – well that was all fine. The car was great; brand new and nice and clean. Not like some other cars we have rented in the past – like the on in Tonga that we had to start by opening the hood and pressing two wires together – no, what was full on about Albania was the actual driving.
It’s every man for himself
Now in most places people will stay between the painted lines on the street, abstain from driving down the wrong side of the road, and obey the vast majority of traffic lights and signs. Not so in Albania. It was every man for themselves. Lanes meant nothing. Road rules meant nothing. Patience meant nothing.
Now this is mostly true only for the capitol of Tirana, but Albania had the most aggressive drivers I have ever seen. Basically the only road rule is this: if there is space enough for your car, go for it. At one point, in heavy traffic on Christmas Day, the car in front of us edged up about half a car length. As we were about to put the car into gear to move up as well, a white car suddenly darted in from the right. There wasn’t enough room for him, so he sat there with half his car in the space in front of us, and the other half in the other lane.
We were stunned. I mean, if he had signaled and needed to merge, more than likely we would have let in – cause we are nice like that. But he just up and came out of nowhere. As soon as we recovered from that shock, a blue car suddenly darted in from our left. Now the two cars were nose to nose, battling it over a half car space in front of us.
The other cars behind them were not content to experience any delays, so on this three lane street, 5 lanes formed. I had to roll down the window and bring in my side mirror so that we wouldn’t scratch the car next to us.
When the light turned green the two cars in front of us battled it out, to our shock and horror, as a cacophony of horns blared behind of us and a city bus decided it would wait for no one and barged it’s way through, almost hitting our car.
I was certainly glad to be at least in the protection of the metal box of a car and not in the open air like the many motorcycle riders we saw. If you are going to ride a bike in Albania I would recommend at minimum a good helmet – like the Aria open face helmets.
I think the whole “every man for himself” attitude can be summed up nicely by this example: we were driving down a highway that had a divider in the middle. One side of the highway was in pretty good condition, the other not so much. So instead of dodging potholes and taxi driver decided to just put on his hazards and drive down the WRONG side of the road…. of a highway.
Which brings me to my next point…
Road conditions can get pretty gnarly
I’m so happy to use gnarly in a title, and it really is the best way to describe the roads. One moment you are on beautiful tarmac, the next you are about to get bogged down in giant potholes filled with quicksand (or mud). At some points the road just…disappears. A meter from the side has just fallen off the cliff side causing you to swerve into oncoming traffic. Or sometimes the road just actually does disappear. Like that time our map directed us to a bridge and when we arrived there, there was only a river. Fun times.
Beware of slow moving vehicles… and Turkeys
One of the fun thing about driving in Albania is getting to share the road with all sorts of other vehicles. Like tractors, and motorized wheelbarrow like things, and donkeys. My favourite were the donkeys. No matter where you went you would see at least one elderly man riding along on his donkey.
But the most interesting thing to share the road with had to be the turkey herders. Yes it’s a thing. Everywhere we went there would be a little old lady, or a kid, standing by the side of the highway with a flock of Turkeys. If you need to buy a turkey in Albania all you need to do is go for a drive – and you won’t need to drive far.
But what makes it a hazard is that people would just randomly stop on the highway (many without functioning break lights) to inquire over the price of some specific delicious looking Turkey. Believe me, if there was something random in the distance slowing down traffic on the highway, it is sure to be Turkey related.
But all this is what made driving in Albania awesome.
Stressful yes, but also awesome. Awesome because now we have so many funny stories and memories that we can share with friends, family, and of course readers of this blog. It’s awesome because there are very few places in the world we can have an experience like this one. And awesome because – we drove in Albania…. and survived.
(We also managed to not damage the rental car. BONUS!)