When the fantasy ends, reality is all around
Rumbling down the road, the Hajji crew crossed another border. 3 months and running now, 3 people remained, and only 3 countries left until a fork in the road, as the trinity runs amok in religion so it did in the last of our Hajji days. Calm had overwhelmed us at this point, with all experiences being met with a slow-turn of the head and a tranquil stare. Everything was at peace. As Mason Jennings says, "Freedom is the ability to feel love for everyone". Welcome to Montenegro.
Another Lonely Planet - Western Balkans shot, this exact shot is listed in their highlights. Lauren got it again!
My last leg of the trip was definitely one of my favorite portions. The rugged natural beauty of Montenegro and Albania were unparalleled. Immediately upon our arrival, we drove around the Bay of Kotor, a massive fjord-esque (geographically speaking its actually a flooded canyon, gableiiiyme!) and festered down in the little town of Kotor. Rain poured? I recall. The next morning me and Cousy went to get beer and relieve ourselves. We luckily stumbled upon a little cafe manned by a supermodel and superman, Milos. He fed us, let us drink beer at his restaurant, and made us laugh for the next 3 days. What else did Kotor hold? A magnificent hike to the top of a fortress ruins, a breathtaking drive to the top of the mountain, many a beer and some televised tennis matches. One night a stray dog took a liking to me and Cous and Rain and followed us around all night while we fed it hot-dogs and tried to pry fish hooks out of its bleeding ears. Happy times indeed. Look at the pictures!
Gang at the top of fortress overlooking the Bay of Kotor
Me and Daniel Norfolk once began a religion of drinking on "slats" behind the liquor store in Calgary. Whenever slats are found this tradition continues. Here, me and Cous revel in Norfolk-induced nostalgia
Kotor Bay from high above
His name is Cous
And her name is Rain
We camped at the top and listened to Harry Potter audiobooks at the top of this peak, sauciering barns and watching the set of sun
The sunset was a babe, so we watched
Then we bbq'd these little rascals in the dark at the top of the mountains
Cous and Rain getting silly on Hajji's roof on the waydown (photojournalism as seen by Bob)
We spent a nice jaunt in Kotor (3 nights) but with precious days left, and Albania foaming on our lips we had to depart. Another city, another group of people we traded love with, another goodbye. We cruised south down the coast and stopped in Sveti Stefen, a resort town full of luxery hotels which was curiously closed for a whole year! We looked on from afar, swam in the dark, and listened to the rain patter on Hajji's broad shoulders
Sveti Stefen by Night
Sveti Stefen by Day
With the coastal mountains and fjords of Montenegro in our rear-views, we continued to Albania. We'd heard a lot about this country, a lot of people saying "DON'T GO!". As usual, we ignored them. It proved to be amazing, feeling more like India than anywhere else we had been. Rugged roads, peasants and farmers strolling about, gypsies causing trouble, all the stuff we'd come to love. The farther away you get from the comforts of the West, the more comfortable we found ourselves. We arrived in Shkodra and tried to find our bearings. Under a downpour, I found a tourism shop and shuffled in. We need information, about ferries to Italy, about what there was to do in the city, about where to go in Albania, about where to fix our broken back window (see the post below!), and we found it all in the friendly hands of a man named Sam. A curious and extremely excitable creature, Sam became our host for most of the next three days we spent here. He hooked us up with a glass-man to fix our window (who had beautiful eyes, a common theme amongst many mechanics and glass-makers we have met......many have eyes of angels), found us the best places to eat dinner, took us on a historic tour of the castle with his EXTREMELY knowledgeable father (who also wanted to help us at every turn), got us ferry tickets to Italy, and even took us out on a RAW Kareoke tear! Hooray for welcoming spirits!
Sam, our wonderful host and guide to Albania
After Shkodra we headed north and took a ferry through a highly-recommended lake pass, which wandered through massive mountain peaks and was quite delightful. The ferry was full of a whole whack of ex-pats who lived in Albania and were taking their kids to some retreat in the mountains. They loved our youthful spirits and gathered around us to give us advice and hear our tale. One little angel we met had even been born in Guelph, Ontario to her parents who were Norwegian and Albania, small world. After the ferry ride, one of the coolest drives the Hajji had ever done began. We wove through the mountains we had just passed under for hours at dizzying heights. Pictures arn't uploaded yet, but you will see them one day! And they are amazing! You have to see them! Then I went to bed, and Cousy drove for a bit, and when we awoke we were in the town of Puke. Baaaaaarf! Nobody did, but we had done that enough elsewhere.
Ren and Boo at the gates of Puke
We sat for coffee and brekky (they had great rice-sausage breakfasts here) and were writing some postcards, when an obtrusive man came over and demanded that I stop writing with my left-hand. Devil-spawn I supposed, I indulged while he watched, and switched back to my God-given talent when his back was turned. Here we are obeying
Writing with your left-hand is evil
The end was nigh. Neiiigh. We busted our little Hajji down the roads of Albania towards Durres, our last stop in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. After this it was all Western Europe (and a taste of Africa to come), and we had really reached a turning point. A mentionable highlight for Albania (as well as many other Eastern European countries), is the assortment of hitch hikers you get. With cars being expensive, many people just hitch hike between villages, hopping on boards for just a few kilometers or minutes. Each little town presents an assortment of interesting characters you could pick up. And we did as much as possible! Check out this GEM
This man might have been a diety of some sort, his hands were massive, his smile and sense of humor tremendous, I am certain he could perform miracles
We arrived in Durres for our last few hours. Pizza, ice cream, postcards, a massive stock up of beer and we found our way to the port. The largest and longest ferry ride of the Hajji Journey, Durres to Bari across the Mediterranean Sea. What to do all night? After Rain tuckered off me and Cous played a long game of war and talked about where we had been and where we had to go. A good chat indeed. At some point things turned cloudy and we lost our composure. Rain woke up and we were shouting. Then we went to bed. Someone might have celebrated a little town we were in just a few days before.....
Celebrating the majestic village of Puke
Surrounded by proper families and citizens
We arrived in Bari, Italy, me and Cous still drunk from the ferry ride, and my last day was spent sleeping in the back of the Hajji as Lauren driving a full-day to get us to Pescara. To say Lauren's driving skills improved over my stay in the Hajji is an understatement, she went from not knowing anything about standard driving to being a pro. Incredible. One last night in the Hajji was spent outside the airport in Pescara, bbqing some skewers again. Then I awoke, I went to the airport, and rescinded into the realm of normality.
Sitting here weeks later, full of my mothers food and preparing to sleep in my queen-size bed, these memories seem increasingly distant and ever-more important. The 3-months I spent with Marcus and Ren, and all the others in the Hajji, were some of the best of my life, sentiments echo'd time and time again by many members of this journey. The quest, which was put together by Me, Marcus and Ren, over about a years time, was truly a success. A portion of my life that I will forever look back upon with a twang of sadness and a rush of joy. Immeasurable happiness fills my body right now, thinking about this trip.
Hajji, my dear, I miss you so, and pray I will lay my eyes upon your kind curves once more in my life. Marcus and Ren, continue giving the gift of laughter to everyone you meet, we all await you're return.
Ben a.k.a. Bob a.k.a Boo
Bye Bye Hajji People