|Being escorted through Southeastern Albania|
Albania may be a small country, roughly the size of Maryland, but due to its varied geography and abysmal road conditions we spent a large portion of the weekend in our cars. I don't know how many of you have tried to drive for 400 plus miles as part of a large caravan but visually it is akin to herding cats- mostly by pure miracle we all managed to get from one location to another without getting lost. Strategically planned coffee stops helped us regroup and power on to our onward destinations. (When I complained about the stops to Glenn he reminded me that this was a cultural trip and drinking coffee is very much a part of the Albanian experience).
|Old Yugoslavian cars|
Our brief trip to Macedonia got even better when we left Ohrid on the second day. Traveling along narrow but meticulously maintained roads (we definitely weren't in Albania any more) we drove high above the eastern shore of Lake Ohrid and into Galicica National Park. Through a collaboration with the German government, a series of linked hiking trails has been established throughout the park. Roadside pull offs at trail heads made for easy access for those who are brave enough to hike the sheer cliffs. The cloudy weather obstructed some of our views but that sheer raw beauty of the area was still apparent. The feeling of driving above the clouds and looking down onto the villages and lake below was amazing. We felt as though we were a world away from civilization, and in many respects we were.
We visited two other Macedonian sites that day, the Bay of Bones Museum, a prehistoric development along the shores of Lake Ohrid and the 16th Century Sveti Naum monastery. Despite the intermittent rain, both of these sites were teeming with other visitors. While I found both museums interesting, what struck me the most was how well developed and maintained they were. From the neatly labeled signage- in both Macedonian and English- to the clean restrooms and restaurants, the area is obviously catering to tourists. The Macedonian government has clearly figured out how to market its assets- both natural and manmade- and they are reaping in the financial benefits.
The Albanian government talks about wanting to attract foreign tourists, but Macedonia has figured out how to make this vision a reality. Separated but a few miles and two large lakes, the two countries and their approach to tourism could not be more different. This realization makes me both sad and hopeful at the same time. I'm hopeful because Albania does have a natural beauty, friendly people, and historic sites that people would travel miles to see. Under the right circumstances tourists could infuse desperately needed money into the local economy. Simultaneously, I am saddened by the current reality that the country is so mired in corruption that it can't fully take advantage of the opportunities that exist.
I don't know what the solution is; if it was easy it would have already been done. What I do know is that the stark contrast between the two countries is nakedly apparent. It would become even more apparent as we continued our trip back across the border into Albania.
|High above Lake Ohrid in Galicica National Park|