Albanian Mountain Landscape

 

When my husband Billy and I ended our visit to Albania last spring, we had a somewhat unpleasant experience while driving the road that leads from Saranda to the Greek border town Kakavia.  As a way of preventing crimes such as drug trafficking and vehicle theft, police often will park on the side of the road, then wave down each car that comes by.  Sort of like a mini-roadblock except that if you really wanted to just keep driving past, it wouldn’t be that hard (which consequently is exactly what cousin Yonie did one time while we were in the car, to our complete delight).  So anyway, there we were driving along the sleepy country road around dusk, when a policeman wearing a yellow vest started waving at us with his little red stop sign to pull over.  Although we had all the necessary documents including an affadavit from Billy’s mother giving us permission to drive her little black Opel Astra, the policeman stated the document needed to be translated into Albanian (it was obtained from the Greek police station where she lives, and thus was written in Greek).  Argument ensued, and only when the second police officer discovers that he knows our relatives who live in Saranda, do they give us a break and let us go.

Coastal Albania road signFast-forward to this past December during our last visit.  We decided to make our drive to Albania a night one, which might not have been the best idea but there we were.  Big surprise when we see the guy dressed in police-navy and the construction-vest yellow step out into the road, waving us down with the little mini stop sign.  This time though, we had a plan.  Billy greeted the officer with a “hello”, and acted as though he only knew a little Albanian, while I leaned over and eagerly offered “Passports?” with a helpful look on my face and showing both of our American passports.  The policeman took a quick look at us, and without another word, waved us on through.  What a refreshing alternative to all the other times we have had to deal with Albanian cops.  This exact scenario happened 3 more times during our drive that night.  Every time, the officers (who I suppose were reluctant to break out their rusty English language skills) asked zero questions and just motioned for us to pass by.

Albanian Mercedes

Albania has more Mercedes Benz per capita than Germany

It’s not that Albanian Police aren’t justified in pulling people over.  Most likely their efforts are an attempt to limit vehicle theft (or rather, the transport of stolen vehicles into Albania) and also drug trafficking.  Albania is a European Union “potential candidate country”, and made it’s official EU application in 2009, but before they can enter they need to make serious improvements on corruption and organized crime.  It’s thought that many of the Mercedes Benz cars on the road (you can’t throw a stone without hitting one) were stolen from places like Germany and Italy, then brought into Albania with help from bribes to customs officials.  Many Albanians themselves though are weary of the cops being corrupt, and attest that they only pull people over in order to extract a bribe in exchange for being let go hassle-free.  Honestly I myself am skeptical since the cop in my first story was threatening to take us and our car to the station, a little overly-dramatic if you ask me.

Sheep crossing in Albanian coastal village

Police will slow you down as much as a sheep crossing in Albania

With that being said, if you ever decide to drive while visiting Albania, don’t be alarmed if you are pulled over for no apparent reason.  And even if you’re an ex-pat like my husband who knows a fair amount of Albanian, just feign ignorance and offer your foreign passport to make your identity clear.

 

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