A blurry thumbs up from the gleeful groom!It’s our first of many Albanian weddings, on what just so happens to be our fourth wedding anniversary. The mayhem is overwhelming and so we begin the 24-kilometer climb out of town and into Albania’s Accursed Mountains. Rain falls and we pass wild pigs... wild blackberries... and wild…people. Really. Deep into the mountains (a.k.a. in the middle of nowhere), we come across elderly men in suits and ties the same color as their natural surroundings sitting on the side of the road. We feast on locally-made food, swim in the indoor pool and even hike to a cave with one of the employees at Natyral Razma Resort. We are booked for two nights, but Justin gets sick and can’t leave the bed on the day we’re set to leave, so we stay an extra night. With Justin still feeling slightly ill, we leave Razma and pedal 30 or so kilometers to a hotel in Shkodër, where a wedding reception is in full swing. Traditional music thumps on the first floor and the smell of pig, which is being roasted in the back alley, wafts through our open window. Justin’s health improves as mine starts to deteriorate and I’m sick the whole night and into the following day. We must be drinking contaminated tap water, we conclude, and switch to bottled. From Shkodër, we pedal pass horse-drawn carts, donkeys hauling heavy loads, women harvesting mountain tea, and numerous free-roaming animals until we reach a ferry that will take us to Fierza.
The boat ride is equal parts terrifying and amazing—many, many, people are crammed in with touring motos and our touring bicycles. Crepes and drinks are passed around, which is unexpected and welcome. Mountains tower above us on all sides as we make our way across Lake Koman. Halfway through, we make a pit stop to drop off a local at one of the few tiny houses dotting the landscape. After making landfall, we ride to Barjam Curri, and then on towards Valbona, a beautifully unspoiled area in the heart of Albania’s Accursed Mountains. It's not in the plans, but after bumping into two bike tourers who tell us how welcoming Kosovo is to tourists, especially Americans, we put it on the map and pedal to the border for a day trip.