To Rent-A-Car or Not-To-Rent-A-Car?

Renting a car in Albania seemed like a great idea: the rates are very low and countries such as Montenegro or Kosovo, otherwise difficult to get to, are only a few hours away. It seemed like a great idea until I actually got behind the wheel and my Albanian car rental nightmare began. Seriously, mind my words! If you are not Albanian or have not participated in at least 5 desert rallies before, DO NOT DRIVE IN ALBANIA!

Obviously, nobody warned me before so I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into…

Meet the rental car

It was 4 PM on a cold October day, and it was starting to get dark. That’s when I realized that there are no street lights in Albania. And by no street lights I mean no lights at all. Not on the highway, not on the main roads, not even in the cities. It is pitch-black. That’s when I realized that I could only manage to see something if I kept my headlights on full the entire time. That’s when I realized that everybody else was doing the same. That’s when I realized that a) the dim out function of my rear view mirror didn’t work, b) my windshield was so dirty that it reflected the headlights of the cars that came towards me, and c) the windshield wipers were so rotten that when I tried to use them to clean my windshield it only made matters worse. That’s when it started to rain. Not a slight drizzle but a heavy, torrential rain came pouring down. That’s when I realized that I basically couldn’t see anything any more and had to drive about 20 miles per hour. That’s when I got pulled over by the police (in Albania there are police check-points pretty much every 500 yards). I am pretty sure the officer didn’t feel like dealing with the bureaucratic monster of filing a police report for a foreigner, so he just let me go … well … creep on. That’s when we ran out of gas and realized that at Albanian gas stations you can only pay with cash. That’s when we started praying that our 5 dollars of gas in the tank would last us until getting back to Tirana. That’s when the highway ended and the moon crater of Albanian roads began, and no, I am NOT exaggerating!

Albanian road crater

That’s also when the Albanian drivers started swerving around these holes at about 90 miles per minute, honking and swearing each time they passed us and our snail-mobile, splashing puddles of water on my windshield while whizzing ahead, only to hit the breaks two seconds later because they had seen a police check point. That’s when I thought it couldn’t get any worse and that we would never reach Tirana. And that’s when it got worse. While trying to deal with some blinding headlights and a mad Albanian driver behind me, I missed a hole.

*shake* *jolt* *crash* *car dead*

Luckily, that’s when our rental car decided to take one for the team, and I managed to restart the engine. Happily, I drove on until I realized that this time the Albanian drivers had a good reason for slaloming around me, swearing and honking. I was driving in the wrong direction on a one way street. And that is when, 100 miles and 4 hours later, we arrived in Tirana.

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