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Meet Rezarta Bare, the tourism advisor cycling through adventures [Jun 2024]

From Lockdown to Great Outdoors and 2 wheeled experiences

Ohrid, North Macedonia ©Rezarta Bare
Ohrid, North Macedonia ©Rezarta Bare

The first time I met her was during the summer of 2020, just after the tiring lockdown. She invited me for a bike ride along with a group of other girls and I immediately got intrigued. She didn’t just seem friendly, but had this “solar personality” (resonating well with her first name) that could only make you wonder the source of its energy.

She is restless. She’ll be road tripping, taking the next international flight, visiting another Albanian Village, summering in a Greek island, camping in a far away cape, climbing the next mountain, organising another petition, rescuing another plant… but she will always turn to her first travelling love: cycling. There are not many girls in Albania practising cycling and I think she is just the best example and motivation for any other to try exploring remote destinations on two wheels.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Meet Rezarta Bare!

Kuç, Vlore ©Rezarta Bar
Kuç, Vlore ©Rezarta Bar

1. You have previously worked as a tour guide, how did you like it and why did you stop doing it?

(Smiles) Yes, I had the privilege of assisting limited groups of tourists on leisurely walks and excursions during my position at an Albanian tour operator. However, I must clarify that I do not consider myself a professional tour guide. True tour guiding entails a profound responsibility as one becomes a cultural ambassador for their country, overseeing the quality of their guests’ experiences. It is an opportunity for personal growth, fostering connections with incredible individuals who bring with them a wealth of life stories and experiences. Some of these encounters even blossom into lasting friendships, extending beyond their time in our country.
I made the difficult decision to step away from this role in 2020 due to the unprecedented challenges posed by the pandemic. Our office shuttered, and our tours were regrettably canceled. Subsequently, I transitioned to a new role, still within the tourism sector, but now focusing on development projects rather than the private sector. As a result, my days took a different direction, and I no longer guide professionally. Nevertheless, I still enjoy sharing my knowledge and love for my country with friends, often invoking the adage, “Once a guide, always a guide.”

2. Someone told me that during lockdown, when we were all “hiding” in our apartments, you used to go cycling in the countryside. Is it true?

Guilty as charged, though I must clarify that this wasn’t the case during the initial three months of the lockdown. In fact, I was among those who strictly adhered to staying indoors, spending my days on the balcony and occasionally watching over my neighbors. I’ll admit I played the role of an overzealous neighbor, which I’m not particularly proud of. At times, I even found myself in social disputes with individuals who were venturing outdoors and not adhering to the curfew—my apologies to those involved.

However, once the restrictions were lifted, friends and I started going outdoors. We went on hiking, cycling, and camping adventures in the mountains and remote regions of Albania, where it was just us and the bears. I can mention some locations, both near Tirana, such as the Bize – Martanesh mountain area, Cermenika Park, the Bay of Lalzi, and Baldushk, and further afield to destinations like Shebenik Park, the Albanian Alps, the South Coast, and Malesia e Madhe.

Çermenike, 2020 ©Rezarta Bare
Çermenike, 2020 ©Rezarta Bare
3. I guess you’re the best person to tell us where to go for a quick adventure if another pandemic strikes again in Albania?
I certainly hope we never have to deal with the challenges of another pandemic. However, if the need arises for a secluded adventure in Albania, here are some recommendations:
  • Always go for the rural areas, those family run guest houses, the family cantinas, where the grandmothers have prepared traditional recipes and, in the morning, will come with warm Donough “petulla” with honey and homemade jam.
  • Try the off bitten track, those small villages with a lot of history, experience local life.
  • Explore Vjosa, and it’s villages Petran, Novoseje, Peshtan, Leuse, further down to Labova e Kryqit and Libohova
  • Explore Malesia e Madhe, Selce, Tamare, Vermosh, Lepushe
  • It’s always time for the Albanian Alps, Kukaj, Nderlyse, Curraj i Eperm
  • Experience the south coastal region, but not the most known villages, go for smaller places like Vuno, Old Qeparo, Borsh, Lukove, Piqeras, Pilur and many more

4. Do you remember the first day ever you rode a bike?

Absolutely, I was 23 years old, and it had always been a dream of mine. I persuaded a colleague at the time to help me learn. We headed to the lake park, where we rented a small bike, and I was determined to master it. I spent hours practicing, and I can still recall the exhilaration of that very first moment when I successfully pedaled on my own. Of course, there was also a memorable fall, but it marked the beginning of my cycling journey. Just three days later, I purchased my first bike, a big fat yellow one, I used to call “Johny Bravo”, for only 7000 ALL and since than never stopped riding, unless it’s pouring rain.

 

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5. I know that you put names to your bikes. How many bikes have you had so far and what where their names? 

( Chuckles) Indeed, I have a love for naming my bikes. Over the years, I’ve had several, each with its unique name and story. Here’s a brief rundown:
Johny Bravo: My first love, named after the popular cartoon character. Unfortunately, it was stolen on a rainy day outside my apartment.
Red: Aptly named for its obvious color. This bike, too, was stolen, and it happened on my birthday.
Bardha (White): Continuing the trend, this bike earned its name due to its pristine white color. Tragically, it met the same fate as its predecessors and was stolen outside my gym. Despite my efforts, the police couldn’t recover it.
Zoi: A birthday gift from my friends, this bike brought a fresh start to my cycling adventures.
Trek – Zoi: During the pandemic, I exchanged the original Zoi for a Trek bike, specifically designed for long-distance tours.
Olive: The latest addition to my collection, I decided to go with the most straightforward name—Olive, named after its unmistakable olive green color.

All of them have not only been a means of transportation but also companions on my life. Each has a unique story, and they all contributed to my love for cycling.

Golem, Durres ©Rezarta Bare
Golem, Durres ©Rezarta Bare

 

6. If you travel by bike, what’s your favorite route to take in Albania?

Here we go again when I mention it again: – UNESCO Cycling Tour of Albania, a biking itinerary covering the Southeast territory of Albania.
This route is an absolute gem, covering the Southeastern region of Albania. It’s a circular journey with a total length of 1080 km, divvied up into 15 segments, making it perfect for a slow country exploration. You’ll wind through mountains and along the blue coast of the Ionian Sea. Along the way, you’ll have the opportunity to cycle alongside the majestic Vjosa River, visit the UNESCO heritage sites of Gjirokastër and Berat, and explore the ancient ruins of Butrint. It’s a journey that’s bound to leave you with unforgettable memories of Albania’s beauty and heritage.

7. Have you ever participated in races or competitions as a cyclist? If yes, how did you experience it?

Not yet, but I’m eagerly looking forward to the day when I do! And when that time comes, you can bet I’ll be sharing every thrilling detail of the experience.

 

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8. Have you ever been injured during cycling? How have you managed and recovered from injuries, and what advice would you give to aspiring cyclists in injury prevention?

Well, let me tell you, I’ve had my fair share of tumbles while cycling, but luckily, they’ve mostly resulted in just a few scratches and some purple skin. Thankfully, nothing too serious, and I hope it stays that way! If I were to share some advice with fellow cyclists to avoid these little misadventures, it would be simple: take it easy, be cautious, avoid going too fast, and whenever you can, stick to those convenient bike lanes. Safety first, my friends!

9. As a traveler and advocate for rural tourism, could you share a project or initiative you’re particularly proud of? How did it impact the local community?

In my role as a tourism advisor for GIZ Albania, I’ve had the honor of contributing to various development projects in the country’s rural areas. Notable among them are the High Scardus Trail, Trans Dinarica, and the UNESCO cycling route. These initiatives have made a significant impact on local communities by not only promoting sustainable tourism but also creating job opportunities and preserving the natural beauty of these regions.

 

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10. Tell us about the most interesting local food you’ve tried on your travels. Did it surprise you with its taste or preparation method?

I believe we agree on one fact: when one visits Albania, they absolutely must try “byrek” in all its mouthwatering variations, from “Byrek with cheese, spinach, meat” to “Lakror” in the south and “Fli” in the north.  And of course, this scrumptious pastry is best enjoyed with a side of Raki, our cherished traditional spirit. I will not forget to mention the local jams and the unforgettable “tavë” being with jogurt – a lamb and yogurt casserole or “dheu” – a boiling dish in your table, never mind, all delicious.

11. We see your love for adventure and nature, but what’s your favorite way to unwind and relax after an exhilarating day of outdoor activities?

After an exhilarating day spent exploring the captivating outdoors, my perfect way to unwind and rejuvenate involves three simple elements: a hearty meal, a soothing hot shower, and a cozy night’s sleep. And let’s not forget a touch of magnesium for those hardworking muscles. Sometimes, I’m fortunate enough to sit around a crackling fire, sipping on a glass of wine or Raki, and sharing stories with my host. These moments, particularly in the northern regions, are truly priceless.

 

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12. With all your experiences, have you come across any unique traditions or customs in the places you’ve visited that you find fascinating or heartwarming?

Oh, without a doubt! Albania, to me is a tapestry of enchanting traditions, customs, and captivating stories. It’s an incredible journey to share this vibrant cultural mosaic, filled with warmth, history, resilience, and the magic of legends. In this petite yet astonishingly diverse land, every corner has its own story to tell. I hold a special fondness for our timeless saying, “buke, kripe e zemer” (bread, salt, and heart). It’s a sentiment that reflects our core values, embodying our hospitality and our bond with one another. Especially, our highland tradition of hospitality – “Mikpritja e Malesorit,” is a treasured gem. The way it welcomes visitors with open arms and hearts is a testament to our enduring spirit.
The melodious folkloric songs and dances that serenade the land, so distinct from north to south, are like echoes of our shared history and diversity.
Our traditional costumes, meticulously handcrafted with gold and a mix of colors, are a vivid expression of our heritage and pride.
The ability of our people to adapt and pivot swiftly in the face of change never ceases to amaze me. It’s an inherent trait that is as old as our history.
And then, we have as a testament to the beauty of our Balkan culture the “Avash – avash” – slowly – slowly, there’s time for everything and then mostly we are in a chaotic state of mind. I love it all, with an equal measure of affection and exasperation—a complex and beautiful dance that is uniquely Albanian.

13. Traveling frequently, both within Albania and abroad, must be an exciting yet demanding lifestyle. What drives your wanderlust, and how do you manage the challenges that come with being on the road so often?

It’s true, there’s a delightful dilemma when you’re fortunate enough to be paid for what you love. At times, it becomes a delightful puzzle to distinguish where the lines between work and leisure blur. The truth is, I find myself frequently on the move for business, and then, like a true adventurer, I seize any chance to explore for pure enjoyment. Italy, in all its pasta, pizza, and heartwarming love, often beckons, and it’s my personal quest to unravel the secrets of their culinary magic. It’s the balance between work and play that keeps my heart forever longing for the next adventure.
14. Your love for plants and your habit of rescuing them is unique and heartwarming. What motivates you to save these plants you sometimes find? Is there a particular story that stands out in your mind?

Ah, my love for plants, it’s a piece of my soul. It’s a love affair born from my roots as a village girl, raised by a mother who cherished plants and trees. We had this unique philosophy at home – never discard, always repair and rescue. It’s the same principle that applied to socks (with andra – little paces of textlie placed on the holes of the current sock), clothes, crafts, and yes, even trees. It’s a lesson in frugality that’s deep-seated in my family, something I wouldn’t trade for the world. So, when I come across dead and neglected plants, I can’t help but nurture them back to life, just like I was toughed as a child.

15. Exploring Llogara, what’s the best way for you: Hiking, cycling, driving?

When it comes to exploring Llogara, why limit myself to just one way? Hiking, cycling, driving or even flying, each offer a unique perspective on this stunning location. Why choose when I can savor all and relish the diverse experiences they provide? After all, there’s no shortage of beauty in Albania to discover, and I intend to embrace it all!

Also for you: Meet Lena Nikolaj, the adventurous photographer discovering Albania

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