The One Thing I Don’t Want to See at the Beach, I Saw In Pogradec, Albania

Pogradec, Albania
Pogradec, Albania
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ou would think after all this time travelling, I would have a few more negative things to say about the world. Sure, I once wrote about Paris being London’s best tourist attraction, but since then it’s all been rather sparkly here on Yomadic. Even within the brutal communist-era concrete neighbourhoods of Belgrade and Zagreb, I found nostalgic wonderment. Macedonia, where I’m temporarily based, can’t put a foot wrong. Stunning scenery, welcoming people, impossibly cheap beer. But this week I crossed the border into the little explored country of Albania. In some ways, it felt like I had entered hell.

Lake Ohrid, my millions-of-years-old-impossible-to-leave temporary home, is shared between the nations of Macedonia and Albania. From the UNESCO listed city of Ohrid in Macedonia, an hours drive will get you to the closest Albanian city – Pogradec. The Macedonian locals offered up encouragement when I suggested I would rent a car, circumnavigate Lake Ohrid, and take a day trip into Albania.

Pogradec, Albania. What's behind the rug?
Pogradec, Albania. What’s behind the carpet?
Pogradec waterfront - Lake Ohrid, Albania
Friendly Albanian women, chilling on the Pogradec waterfront – Lake Ohrid, Albania.
Floating bar, Pogradec, Albania.
Floating bar, Pogradec, Albania.

Flag_of_Albania.svg (2)

At the border, the sight of the Albanian flag made me smile. A blood red background holds a pitch black silhouette of a two-headed eagle, all in the shape of a shield. Equally suited to a medieval coat of arms, or as insignia for post-apocalyptic Hollywood b-grade bad guys. The ninth official Albanian flag within the last century, it looks  staunch and evil, and that’s a great thing.

Macedonian/Albanian border formalities were simple. Within a few minutes I was welcomed to Albania by the efficient and smartly dressed border guards.  Thirty seconds of Albanian potholes later, the car, smooth to this point, had developed a significant vibration and wheel alignment issue within another minute or so. I pulled over to see if I still had four wheels, then continued on to the center of Pogradec.

concrete bunkers Albania
One of seven hundred thousand concrete bunkers in Albania. Lake Ohrid in the balcground.

Other cars creep along, and oncoming traffic weaves from one side of the road to the other, avoiding potholes. Alongside  the road are countless concrete bunkers. Albania went on a mad “bunkerisation” building program, and ended up with 700,000 public bunkers – one for every four inhabitants.  Vision was limited at this point, due to the huge number of roadside fires that were burning. People were staring. I had no map, no GPS, I didn’t know where I was going, and I started to feel a little bit like an intruder.

It didn’t take long to find the center of Pogradec city – it’s at the end of a dirt track. I parked the car, and Phillipa and I went for a stroll along the Pogradec waterfront. Unlike the more glitzy side of Lake Ohrid, Pogradec remains a town at the beginning of a revival. There’s a huge amount of construction in progress, with plenty of lakefront hotels and apartment buildings in progress. Pogradec is right on the lake, and the snow capped mountains make for an amazing natural backdrop.

But, I didn’t see any other tourists.

Locals were friendly. There’s a bit of  “hey look, a tourist”-  something I have experienced in places like Iran and remote parts of China, but never in Europe. It’s not a problem – trust me, I don’t mind being the center of attention occasionally. But beyond this, Albanian people of Pogradec were genuinely, and outwardly, friendly. Two young men introduced themselves, and outstretched their hands for a handshake. A group of older men playing dominoes on the lake front laughed and insisted that I take photos of them. A pretty lady walking her baby waved and said hello from quite some distance away. Smiles all round, all day.

Out on the jetty, one of the locals posed a question.

“And, do you think it is beautiful here, in Pogradec?”

“Do… I… think it’s beautiful…umm, here?”

“Yes, do you think so?”

“Umm…beautiful?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer.

I was stalling for time.

Maybe I could avert my gaze away from the Pogradec shore.

Looking up, the towering mountains really are beautiful. Looking out over the lake, the unique light is absolutely mesmerising. Geographically, Pogradec occupies a pretty special part in the world.

But, it’s not such a simple question to answer.

 

 

men playing dominoes in Albania
Albanian men playing dominoes on the Pogradec watefront. Nice guys of Albania.
sinking restaurant, Pogradec Albania
This bar/restaurant is sinking. Pogradec, Albania.
Sinking caravan park Pogradec, Albania.
Sinking caravan park. Near Pogradec, Albania.
OK. I think these rugs were being cleaned. The stream of water flowing below appeared to be an open sewer. Pogradec, Albania.
OK. I think these rugs were being cleaned. The stream of water flowing below appeared to be an open sewer. Pogradec, Albania.
It really is a simply stunning part of the world. Lake Ohrid, from Pogradec, Albania.
It really is a simply stunning part of the world. Lake Ohrid, from Pogradec, Albania.
litter in Pogradec Albania
But, if I just point my camera downwards, the sad reality starts to appear. Pogradec, Albania.

Along the lake there’s bars, cafes, a little theme park, water-slides, boats, and everything you would expect in a small Albanian city that during the communist-era, was renowned for tourism.

I enjoyed a great coffee, and some amazing Walnut biscuit.

“Beautiful…ummm…. well…..”

In the lead-up to the question, I had just walked along  the beach.

Phillipa walked about 50 metres away from me.

I think I heard her dry retch.

I definitely heard a lot of “oh my god”, “why doesn’t someone do something!”

Possibly a “won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children!?!?”

She wouldn’t come any closer.  We eventually met up at the start of the jetty with the water-slide on it, hopped over the rubbish, and walked to the end. This provided some well needed relief from the shore.

Perhaps it was the wind direction.

The two friendly guys chatted to us. They wanted to know, what we thought of Pogradec. The problem, and what made it hard to answer the question – honestly – was the smell of a dead dog, heavy in the air.

Sitting at the bar, I could smell it. The guys playing dominoes, they must have smelled it. The young men asking me the question, surely they could smell it. And the pretty lady walking her baby, well, she was only metres away from it. Along with the many people walking along the waterfront, she could see it.

But nobody seemed to mind, that a bloated, fur-less, dead dog was sprawled out among the rubbish, right in the center of  Pogradec, Albania, Europe.

It wasn’t a small dog either. Even the birds wouldn’t touch it. It looked like a Chinese roast pig. Nearby to the dog, was a concerning amount of old condoms, used plastic bottles, and a whole bunch of unidentifiable debris.

So I took a photo.

dead dog albania
Dead dog, Pogradec waterfront, Albania.

One thing popped into my mind.

Even just a single dead dog mixed in with rubbish on a European riviera, is probably one dead dog mixed in with rubbish too many.

That can’t be good for tourism.

I told the guys that yes, I thought it was beautiful here in Pogradec, Albania.

Nate

 

PS, I am now more than ever intrigued to explore Albania. If you would like to see where I head next, pop your email address to get the next post delivered by email, straight to your inbox.

 

PPS, if you’re on Facebook, do me a small favour, and “like” Yomadic?

 

 

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55 thoughts on “The One Thing I Don’t Want to See at the Beach, I Saw In Pogradec, Albania

  1. I was just in Bulgaria on the weekend, my first time to the Balkans.
    The only way i have been able to describe it was that it is like a European Thailand.
    While the saying says “the grass is always greener” its a shame the locals in places like this dont appreciate how green it is on their side and stop wasting their potential.
    Thanks again for sharing Nate, always enjoy your posts.

    1. Hey Ash, yes, the word is “potential”. Funny you should mention Thailand, I was thinking of neighbouring Cambodia – another place that has a problem with litter. What confuses me most is not the amount of litter – more that nobody seems to give a shit about it. Bit of a shame really!

      1. Hi Nate, speaking again of Thailand, hubby and I are in Ao Nang near Krabi and have been for about 5 weeks now. We hadn’t visited for about 4 years. The beach is now awful at low tide (high tide hides a multitude of sins). Nopparahat Tara is worse. Piles of rubbish everywhere beside the creek, and litter scattered all over the beach. And parents were letting their kids play amongst it all whilst happily snapping away their holiday memories on their camera. It was so disappointing. The neighbouring islands weren’t much better. Will people stop coming here if it gets worse? Who knows. I won’t be back in a huge hurry.

  2. Actually that specific bunker from the photo is in Macedonia :) (it should be something like 5-10 km from the border) and it dates from WW2.

    Sinking caravan park is camp Ljubanista and it has really nice beaches. Also in Macedonia :) (although to be honest it is near Podgradec :) )

    I’ve been in Ohrid and around it countless times, but never on Albanian side. Thank you for the great text and excellent photos as usual

    1. Kristijan, you are of course – absolutely right! It was the best photo I had of a bunker (certainly the most scenic), and I thought – I’ll just use this photo, and hopefully somebody will point out that it’s actually on the Macedonian side of the border. You know your bunkers! And just to make it easy, that photo of camp Ljubanista is taken from the Bunker. By the way, thanks for providing me with the name of that camp, I forgot to write it down and couldn’t remember it.

      And I think next time you’re in Ohrid should check out Albania.

      (also, thanks for the compliments, kind words indeed)

      1. yeah, if there was news report, I would be tagged as Macedonian Bunker Expert :)

        Although the Macedonian writings on it helped a bit and I recognized the hill in the back. Thank you for the info, I though that the pictures (of the bunker and the camp) are taken somewhere near, but not on the same place. Which is understandable, since from the bunker you can see and cover most of the valley and the lake bellow /bunker expert mode off :)

  3. Hahaha OMG this made me laugh! At first i thought it was going to be working girls… but Lord jesus a dead dog! YIKES! I dont know whats worse, the sight or the smell of it. As someone who owns two dogs, that would make me want to vomit right then and there. Bless your heart for your ‘honesty’.

    1. haha.. glad you got a laugh out of it, I certainly did. Working girls have already been covered on this blog, it was time for something different! And, if there is one thing you can count on here it’s honesty, so I”m glad you appreciate it Antoinette.

  4. … a dead dog ? … really? … in all that amazing landscape you spent a shot on a dead dog? …

  5. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this all over the world… rubbish spoiling what could be a wonderful tourist destination. A dead dog is pretty next level though! You’re not the first one to tell me that it’s particularly bad in Albania. Amanda from A Dangerous Business said that the beach at Durres was absolutely filthy. It’s such a shame because, on the surface, it looks like such a beautiful country.

    1. Hi Bethaney – I was wondering about Durres, so that answers my question. Of course I totally agree with you, it’s an amazing location, and a shame it isn’t better taken care of. It’s really not that hard.

      And that dog was totally next level.

  6. I will see your dead dog on the beach and raise you one floating in the water while snorkeling in the Philippines. I was just minding my business, chasing after all the colorful fish, and then saw this big puffy thing bobbing a couple meters away from me that all the fish were swarming to… I swam over and saw it was a tiny, golden puppy that was extremely dead. If that doesn’t ruin paradise for ya, I don’t know what does.

    (And yes, I immediately started bawling and my husband thought I was drowning/dying…)

  7. Love your trip reports as they are always so unique. Many Albanians immigrated to Greece in the last two decades. With the greek economy in a major mess, some started returning to Albania. I wonder if you continue spending time there what the locals think of Greece and are they seeing any coming back?

    The pic of the dead dog will stay with us for a while, thanks:-)

  8. The image if that dead dog will stay with me also, and, you’re welcome.

    To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a thanks with a smiley face, but I’ll take it!

  9. It says something about me that I was actually expecting something worse… sadly I saw too many dead dogs recently during our time in Morocco and while this in itself wasn’t shocking, it was more the way the locals stood, sat and went about their business so close to the corpses as if (and because) it was completely normal to them to have a stiff dead animal under your feet. It got to the point where I wondered if I was being too precious…

    Your photos are brilliant. The one of the women sitting on a wall tells many stories, I could look at it for a very long time. Please keep them coming!

  10. Holy cow…didn’t see that one coming. Riveting write-up!!

    The closest dog-related story I can recall was one from when I was in Cappadocia in Turkey. There was a stray dog on the sidewalk in a pretty bad state. It’s main defining characteristic? A massive pair of over inflated balls.

    To top it off it was sitting in front of a kebab shop which had a sign stating “Testy Kebabs”. Yum!

  11. I really enjoyed these images and your writing here. Such a shame that a blue water lake with snow-capped mountains all around would look so hideous up close, but it’s these quirks that make for great travel photography and stories. I hope to get to that part of the world some time over the next couple of years while the shadows of the Cold War era remain so prominent.

  12. Aw…. This is so sad. I wonder if it would be offensive to the residents if a tourist did some cleanup? (maybe not the dog, leave that for the pros, but other trash?). My kids and I have a thing for cleaning up litter at campgrounds we visit and this just makes me want to get out there and clean it up. Is that rude? Or could it inspire something? It is amazing what can be started from something small. My daughter’s old school (city public school) had a horribly littered yard. One day, one mother brought garbage bags and started picking up trash during dismissal time. She didn’t have to ask anyone else. It took only about 5min before it was a mass effort by a ton of other school families. Completely impromptu. All it took was one person… Sort of a “Tipping Point”. In fact, I think one of the scenarios described by Gladwell in his book is the NYC clean up starting with just cleaning up garbage and graffiti. If things look better, people take more pride in it and keep it looking good. It just needs that initial push… I hope this doesn’t sound like something from a soapbox. I just wonder what other travelers think about this? Would it be completely presumptuous and rude? Or helpful?

    1. It won’t be impolite, but it will inspire people. Why they are not doing it by themself??!!!!..because our political system it’s a rubbish, instead of spending hte money to improve our infrastructure, cleaning small tows that could be an attractive touristic place they spend the money for their trips, for their holidays or election campaigns which covers millions of euro. An people…I think they are tired of doing the government’s job..till’ they forget of doing theirs…I am sorry about your experience Mr Nate Robert, but I would suggets you to visit other places of Albania pointing out the probles and also advantages that we have, Please, visit Butrint, Albanian Riviera, Thethi, The Lake of Koman…My country Albania is a wonderful country..but I understand that WE, the young generation have a lot to do in order to make Albania a better palce to live.
      Thank you for your country, and even though it’s not good to read it..Unfortunately sometimes the truth hearts, but we have to accept it.

      Once again thank you

      1. Hi Elona – I agree.

        And, I did return to Albania (see the next post), and saw a very beautiful, very touching side of the country. I really enjoyed all the time I spent in Albania, and hope to come back again to explore further.

        Take care,
        Nate

        1. Tahnk you. I alreayd read it.
          PS: In the previous post..I wanted to say: Thank you for your article related with my country :)

  13. Albania does have a big problem with littering. Unfortunately, when visiting Albania people first encounter the piles of garbage and then the beautiful landscapes. However, Albania is totally worth exploring! There are so many spectacular places to discover. It is very unique in its nature and culture. Please do not be discouraged by the littering problem.

  14. Hilarious account, love it! I once visited a rural area of Poland where I’m sure many of the people had never seen anyone from Asia, I had kids following me around doing Bruce Lee moves the whole time.

  15. Maybe the dog choked to death on a condom. My only travel story involving a dog is Vietnam where I saw one being slaughtered for human consumption, I’m pretty sure I saw it later on in the local market nicely roasted. Soemwhat like the dog in your picture. Keep the posts coming.

  16. Good, thought I was going to have to be the one to call out your bunker – I have almost exactly the same shot (great minds take awesome photos)! Just gross, that’s all I really have to say about this. And that I am not surprised. Stick to Macedonia, I still wanna come visit!

  17. Albania has been neglected for years, and what I read it was even neglected when the Eastern Europe was still a bulwark for communism. I guess that explains the local people’s curiosity, and the neglected riviera. Nevertheless, from your photos the view of the snow-capped mountains looks like something not to be missed.

  18. I had so many facial expressions reading this post, but most of all the dead dog makes me sad. Really looking forward to your Albania posts. I think I may have mentioned before but I volunteered with the Red Cross when Kosovo refugees came to Canada and I cannot believe I still haven’t been to that part of the world yet.

    1. Hey Ayngelina – make sure you check out my latest post, I think you’ll enjoy it (also on Albania). You have to get yourself to this part of the world, it really is like nothing else. And nice work, helping the refugees. I’M Thinking about visiting Kosovo in the next week or so…don’t tell the Serbian border guards…

  19. Love the post Nate! I lived for a year in Albania in 2001-02 working for an NGO in Elbasan, and visited Ohrid a couple of times. Once you understand the complexity of history, you’ll start to understand why some of the issues exist. For example, in 2001 the capital didn’t even have garbage pickup, but Albanians were exposed to all sorts of consumer goods that made garbage, but no place to put it. The logical answer? Burn it in the street. Often it’s a case of progress marching ahead, and society and infrastructure not keeping up. That said, Albania is one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been and one of the best years of my adult life.

    1. Thanks Tonya. Great background on Albania, I appreciate the history. It’s the little things like that, you don’t read about them and it helps me to understand the complexities that have lead to where Albania is today.

      I agree with you – it’s a fascinating place, and I hope to see a bit more in the future. Maybe you should return and see how it’s changed?

      1. Yes, I plan on it! We’ll be travelling through there once we start our RTW in October of this year. We’ll likely be there in about May or June of 2014. I can’t wait to see how it’s changed and see if I remember any of the language, as I was pretty functional! Seeing more of Montenegro is also on the list as my time was limited to a couple of long weekends.

        1. It’s a nice thought. Maybe he just walked up to the lake shore, looked out at the beautiful view, laid down, and quietly passed away.

          But, I still wish he was buried, cremated, or maybe sent out to burn on the lake Viking style. Poor little guy.

  20. I didn’t guess that one.

    Every once in a while we’d get dead dogs by the bayou in New Orleans – there was apparently a lazy gator who would drown them but not bother to eat them after. It certainly took all the beauty out of a nice morning row.

  21. My parents are actually from Pogradec. It’s shame that it’s in such rough shape. I want to inform you that the time you visited is a slow time for visitors. During the summers, the day is full tourists at the beach and the night is bright and lively. Sadly, however, is how the city still hasn’t bounced back from communism even after 20+ years.

    1. Hi Armend… the city was quite lively even at that time of year, but no doubt is MUCH busier during peak season (much like everywhere else in Albania!). It is a little sad, but I feel extremely connected to Albania, and will be back again and again. I’m already planning to revisit again in 2014 – including (hopefully) Pogradec. The whole country is struggling with bouncing back – not just from communism, but things that have happened even relatively recently. Let’s just be optimistic and hope for the best, as it genuinely is a magnificent country.

    1. Hey Antuan… no… I’ve been to the US several times, but never Detroit. It’s number one on my USA to-do list, I hope to get there later in 2014.

  22. When you do , your definition of hell will quickly change. Your piece on Pogradec is honest , but sounds like bashing a country that does not deserve to go through this. In your own words, the eagle on flag looks evil and staunch . The dead dog is not the culprit of your story , but rather it’s the people sitting around and doing s….t about it . They do not have the drive , after being hammered down for 50 years. But the eagle still wants to jump out and kick butt. To your credit, you do notice the lack of regard for children . When I was there , it was chilling to find that out . Hey Nate , it’s not a backwards country , it’s just taking longer to recover after a very painful past.

    1. Hey Antuan,

      You need to read the other pieces I have written on Albania. Since this article, I’ve returned to Albania twice more. Most recently, I stayed for a month and travelled all over. I also wrote an article about “the best of Europe”, and put Albania as the number ONE country people should visit in Europe. Considering I have visited most of Europe, that’s no mean feat. This article is not about “bashing” a country. It’s honest, it’s what I saw, it’s my experience.

      I never suggested that Albania is a backwards country, and yes, in subsequent articles I mentioned the terrible history Albania has over the last half century. I have spoken to many locals, and been told stories that I’m not comfortable in writing public. Terrible, terrible atrocities, that sadden and shock. I have an insight, directly from people who have lived those painful times. Albanians. Greek Albanians. Roma Albanians. I understand the problems Albania currently has with corruption, and why things like infrastructure and tourism have not developed. And, why the Albanian diaspora is so large and widespread. Many Albanians, have had enough.

      And, look, my reference to “the children” was a joke – not for a second do I believe Albanian’s have a lack of regard for their own children!

      I’ve visited a huge amount of the country now, and hopefully will be returning again mid-2014. Simply, I love Albania.

      As I hinted at in this article – which were my honest first impressions – despite what I saw, I was extremely curious to return, and to learn more about this fascinating country.

      And, I’m glad I did.

      Here’s an easy link to the five articles I have written specifically about Albania:
      http://www.yomadic.com/category/albania/

      And here’s the link to the article about “the best of Europe”:
      http://www.yomadic.com/best-europe-tourism-travel-2014/

      BTW, Detroit? Look, I haven’t been there, but I’ve seen ghetto’s that I’m 100% positive would make Detroit look like Disneyland. Places with no clean water. No electricity. Disease. Child mortality. Extreme poverty. Dirt. Rubbish. Corruption, starvation, and, well, you get the point. In any case, perhaps you took my writing too “literally” – I have a sometimes twisted sense of humour.

      Lastly, I am assuming you are Albanian? If so, I suggest you visit Albania again – it’s changing fast and you may be surprised at what you see.

  23. Hi Nate ,
    Let’s stay honest here: You do reveal the ugliness of the city first and without any justification , which makes it so naturally attributable to people living there and their fate. I read your other articles on Albania and thank you , they are more tasteful but still realistic. That’s why the one here looks like a rough draft . I do like your humor though. Car driving experience is a nice touch. Also , again I agree with you , the curiosity and attention of locals are amazing.
    You are very generous with the word “glitzy” . Ohrid and Struga ???? I have been lucky to be in some really glitzy places , but I am not sure that Macedonian side fits that description. I would double check their cheap beer again :).
    BTW, parts of Detroit are scary . I know because I drive by every day on the way to work. But I love Motown music and city’s history. What makes it different than ghettos you have seen , is that right after city’s borders live some of the wealthiest people around.

  24. I came to this website accidentally and was so intrigued by the title that i read it immediately.

    I think it’s great, as are all of your other articles on my country Albania.

    Please come again to Albania, we need more honest writers like you to show the world our amazing country.

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