February 25 – Vlore to Saranda part 2

I hoped that my legs were still working as I woke up, and to my surprise they were in reasonable shape. I had a really good omelet for breakfast (no charge) and set off. Immediately the gradients were too severe to cycle, so I was pushing again, and this went on for a few kilometres until finally I reached the top. Over the next few minutes I descended down the side of the mountain with snow-capped peaks one way and the sea view the other. It was by far the most extreme decent I’ve ever done and rivalled anything I know about in the Alps. You can pick out the zigzags in the distance on one of the photographs below. One problem for me was that being on the brakes all the time was quite painful. Of course, I was assuming that the brakes would keep functioning; its quite amazing that they can cope in the circumstances. It was exhilarating and scary in equal measure. At the bottom, I called into a cafe that was shut, but they offered me soup. It was horrible. See the picture. It was a sea of olive oil and I couldn’t see beneath it. I fished around and found beans in some tasteless liquid. Bland beans in olive oil.

Then it was back to the old routine of pushing up steep, seemingly endless hills, then diving down to a small village and then repeat, stopping off now and then for a coffee or a can of Coke. I passed through Dhermi, where I had originally planned to stay overnight and continued on to Himare, right down by the sea. I decided to find a place to stay there and, after eating some rather delicious meatballs, I started wandering around. The seafront was deserted. I could have found a regular half-star hotel, but for some reason I noticed a couple of women having a chat and asked them. One of them said that the other (not a word of English) had a room. She asked how much I would pay, and I gave the going rate (generous as I’d find out…). They walked me down to a ramshackle building, up some crumbling stairs and there was the room. It looked OK. They tested the toilet, which you had to flush by pulling a string in the cistern. I’ll tell you what happened when I woke up in part three.