Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Trans Euro Trail - Albania

Wednesday 12th July

We crossed the border into Albania early this morning at Konispol, it was a slightly odd place, with really bad signage, duty free on both the Greek and the Albanian side and of course the little bit of no man's land between the two.

The Greeks were perfunctory, looked in the van, looked at the papers and waved us on, the Albanians were OK until we got to the ‘insurance’ guy. Apparently UK standard van insurance isn’t OK, but bike ones are. So lighter of 49 euros for a slip of paper that apparently says we have 3rd party insurance for Albania for 14 days served up by a rude, grumpy man, really did not sit well with me, but knowing this is the way of things at these kinds of borders I had to let it go, even when I watched him open his wallet and pop the cash in! 

The TET turns off the tarmac road at Shkalle and heads along the coast to Sarande, (which is a large town perched across a couple of hills). We took the van on the tarmac roads, mainly to sort currency out, get fuel and get our bearings really. We chatted with a lovely guy in a cafe briefly and even when we were stopped by the police en route, they were polite and just waved us on once the knew we were English. I suspect this may happen to most tourists with vehicles as it does in other developing countries. 

With a bit of planning done, we headed to Tepelene on some good roads, looking at some stunning scenery, deep valleys, high mountains, big green rivers. At Tepelene, (a town with lots of beautiful buildings, statues and a nice market square), we found the end of the TET and planned to camp up, then return back along this section to Borsh on the SH8. 

What we found on the ground was a road having a tarmac surface laid, it had almost reached the village of Lekdush with a lot of machinery on the road as far as we could see, so we decided to head to Piskove where the next proper dirt section started. 

Again superb scenery en route, what a dramatic country. At Piskove, we took the van upto the village of Raban, at roughly 1000m altitude, this was a rough trail and after the village got worse so we decided to turn back to tarmac and get the bikes out. The temperatures were at over 30 degrees by midday, so Lucy was feeling it, the dog was wilting too, so we tried to find somewhere to park up with water, but all the rivers were completely dry except for the main road one, so a trip along there found us filling up with fuel, a quick swimming spot for the dog, some cold drinks for us and another replan for the day. 

This time, take the van to Gramsh at the far end of the ‘dirt’ section, then one of us ride there and back, the other do the next day solo on the next part of the route. This way, Lucy and Roxy can find shade/water as they need and we all get to ride as suits us. The road to Gramsh turned out to be similar to one of our Lakeland fell roads, but for about 100 miles! Plus the road surface was narrow, delapidated and very twisty as it passes over several cols en route to. We got to near Erseke by 8pm and decided to camp for the night. On the down side, this has been another long day of driving to get into a position to enjoy the riding, but on the upside, we’ve seen a lot of Albania we wouldn’t have seen if we’d have stayed just on the TET.

Lets see what tomorrow brings!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Trans Euro Trail - Traverse of Northern Greece.

We’ve just had two nights on a beach just past the town of Kavala at a place called Ocean View Beach. Swimming in the sea was fabulous, warm water, blue skies and some lovely food and wine to round it all off!

 We’d dropped out of Bulgaria at a border crossing near Zlatograd. It’s the crossing all the Bulgarians use to get to the beaches at Xanthi, (some 2 hours away). The valley we drove down was lovely, we’d had a gentle warning to take our time by the very friendly border police as our van was 3.5 tonne and the road was rated to 2 tonne. We did, especially as we saw how narrow it was and that it clung to the hillside in a pretty precarious way in some places!

Once down into mainland Greece, the roads were OK. There were a few potholes and washed out bits, but it didn’t feel too different to Bulgaria at first. Once we started to enter the villages lower down though, it became very Greek!

Eventually we traversed Xanthi on it’s motorway system, bypassing the town in search of quieter places. We happened upon the beach by accident but it fitted and there was space for the van so rest days here we come!

The downside turned out to be the fact that it was Saturday night, party night on the beach in Greece. So a sleepless night ensued and left us even more groggy, still a swim and a lazy day helped out with that.

The second night and Lucy was struggling with the heat, then she rounded it off by getting stung by a wasp, which has bad effects for her, so now a very swollen hand, both of us are now grumpy with no sleep as we had a night of mosquito's followed by screaming girls on the beach at sunrise, so time to leave we felt!

We did meet a couple of cool sets of folks though, a Swiss couple and their young son who are travelling in the Renault Saviem truck and a German guy with what may have been his nephew or grand son travelling in his overland truck, complete with 1983 DR600 Dakar bike. Nice!

We drove across northern Greece heading for Igoumenista, which is a coastal ferry town just below the Albanian border. Our plan, catch up on sleep, let Lucy’s hand settle down, normally something that takes a couple of days, service the bikes and then head off.

We broke the journey up by calling in the KTM shop at Thessaloniki, Six Days Service, this turned out to be run by a lovely fella who had also been the Greek national enduro champion 3 years on the trot and now was into adventure bikes. Lyndon Poskitt had used this place to service Basil bike on his trip. We tried to pick up tyres from here and some replacement head stock bolts for my bike. We sorted the bolts but ended up going to direct to the tyre shop called OK Wheel. They were great, not cheap but we bought a front rally tyre for Lucy to try out and a Dunlop for me. Price was 135 Euro for both tyres. Both of my tyres are almost shot and I may well change out the mousses too back to tubes and save the mousses for winter use back in the UK.

We've booked onto a campsite next to the beach, Camping Drepano, hoping it'll be more peaceful. We've also found it difficult to pick up drinking water and this is the first Wifi we've had for awhile now, so we'll be here a couple of days no doubt. We'll use this time to sort the border crossing point out for Albania, which should be at Sagiame/Konispol, we'll also upload the GPX files, maps etc, then get the bikes sorted, hopefully the mosquito's and other insects will be a little less persistent and Lucy can have some time to heal and we can both get some sleep!

Trans Euro Trail - Bulgaria - Dospat Area

Friday 07th July 2017
We parked up near a lake called Shiroka Poliana Dam late on Thursday night. The TET goes right along the southern side of this as it heads east towards the end of the Bulgarian part of the trail. Our plan was to retrace our steps back towards Yakoruda on Friday.

Friday dawned, another blue sky day, so we were up early and away having figured out a way to rejoin the trail by traversing the northern shore of this lake and heading upto Goyam Beglik Dam, which then had a large piste that would take us to the TET trail. The initial part of the trail was straight forward with simple piste and easy navigation, as we got nearer to the Goyam Dam, the trail deteriorated to single track, winding through the forest.

 We had a couple of moments of retracing our steps, I nearly got pulled off my bike by some barbed wire which had wrapped around my gear lever, Lucy saw it and shouted which saved an off! We eventually came out at the tarmac road, (37) which crossed to the next part of the piste. This proved to be really simple and things were going great guns until we hit the TET!

As we turned north west onto the TET to head towards the col at Polbit Komak, the trail was clearly an old and very damaged section of forest trail. Heavily washed out, trees down all over and very over grown. There were a few very steep ups, plenty of steep downs and all had more of a feel of an enduro day out than a normal TET day. I think an alternative route might need to be found for this section??

Once at the col, we had a coffee and a rest, we decided to turn around here and leave the section between the col and Yakorunda as it’s about 50 km and we had no idea what the other sections of the trail would be like getting back to the van.

After consulting the GPS map for a bit, we found a piste track that joined us back up near our start point on the TET earlier in the day, so we retraced our steps back using this. This might prove to be a good alternative for the original bit so I’ll pass it onto the Bulgaria Linesman when I find out who it is.

The TET heads down to Sarnitsa, which is a pretty big town on the the Dospat Dam lake. We got there at lunchtime so we stopped at a lovely little cafe for a drink and some food. The trail passes through the town, there are fuel stops here too, then heads around the southern side of the lake. At either end it’s tarmac but the bit in the middle is piste, long straight and fast!

Once at the end we rode through Dospat and then onto what turned out to be a fabulous part of the trail. We left the town road and headed up in to what looked like an overgrown mess, but there was a stony trail which meandered through lots of beautiful wild flowers and past some allotment type areas before returning into the forest. The forest trail was a windy and interesting challenge with lots of small easy rocky steps and some dried out boggy bits. We passed some busy forestry guys, who all waved and tooted their horns as we weaved around their work area, then came to another section that has changed massively. The trail doesn’t really exist, there seems to be a really steep footpath where the GPX line goes. It climbs very steeply over rock steps with some good drop off’s below and disapears into the undergrowth. We bailed on this bit as the day was getting on. The piste we were on wasn’t on our GPS map, but it’s direction sort of headed to back to the 37, so we followed this and eventually came out about 5km south of the van parking at the lake. Again a possible change needed to this bit and this may well be the alternative but it’ll be upto the locals to confirm that.

All in all, a really good and eventful day, lots of challenges, loads of variety in the terrain we’ve crossed and some really lovely people we’ve spoken to en route. Bulgaria is definately growing on us more and more as we traverse through this beautiful country.