Albania is incredible. I’ve now been here one full month and have met the friendliest people ever in my life and am in 60 degree weather in February & March.
I rode the bus to Sarandë, where everyone told me it’s a tourist town and not to bother going there because everything is closed for the winter. They were pretty much right. The walk along the beach was full of shops closed for winter and I spent one COLD night as the only guest in a hostel with no heat. But the next day I hiked up to see the castle and some monastery ruins. While I was eating my lunch on the hill a flock of goats joined me and I took some portraits of them, myself and the scenery.
Then the second day two guys joined me in the hostel, one from Berlin, who chose to spend his 10 day vacation hitch hiking in Albania, the other from Leon-a cycle tourist who left France by bicycle in September and has been biking around Europe ever since. So if you travel albania in the winter you meet the hard core travelers! The three of us had fun drinking wine and drawing on the walls of the hostel.
On the third day the hostel owner let me borrow his bike to go check out Butrint, an ancient city in ruins. It was about 9 miles to get there and a damn gorgeous ride. You can walk around the city and see the theatre, some alters, a courtyard, the castle, etc. I spent all afternoon there checking everything out and enjoying having a whole city to myself for the day.
I spent the next two days in Gjirokaster, an even smaller town where people looked at me like an alien had just landed. Several people told me I was crazy to be traveling alone this time of year, but they were still really friendly and I had multiple people shout hello and welcome as I walked down the street. I was invited in for coffee by a restaurant owner and an old man (who made me pay because he picked a touristy spot that was too expensive😂). I wandered up into the village to try to do some hiking but was stopped by a man who wanted to say hello and ask where I was from. When I said America he chuckled to himself and invited me in for coffee. We continued walking up the hill to his house where his wife, daughter in law and granddaughter were. They gave me royal treatment, bringing me coffee and cookies on a silver platter. We used google translate and hand motions to communicate. The man kept chuckling to himself that a traveler from America had come to visit. He even yelled out the window to let his neighbor know, and she stepped outside to see me and say hello. It was a lovely experience.
I stayed in a guest house with a family and they also treated me like royalty, feeding me delicious homemade bread and food, coffee and beer and laughing at me when I offered to help with the dishes. I had a gorgeous view right from my window since the town is up on a hill.
The next two weeks I was camping at Gjipe beach, volunteering at a camp site in exchange for food and accommodation. I had met a girl in Sarandë who said she was going so I thought I’d tag along. It turned out to be 6 people who live on the campsite as permanent volunteers, so it’s basically a commune. We had a daily routine of random jobs like digging up tree stumps and clearing trails. We all took turns cooking vegetarian meals and then had free time to hike or swim (although the water is so cold that only me and one guy would go swimming). At night we sat by the fire and listened to music until people went to bed.
Some of the volunteers seemed like they just lived there for a free place to smoke pot and didn’t do their share of the work which was frustrating but then there were some CHARACTERS. Especially a guy named Simon who had endless energy and was always the last to bed and first to wake up. He always surprises everyone with his knowledge of anything outdoors (agriculture, fishing, shepherding, and self sufficiency) and is only 22 years old. He brought me along with him on a fishing trip where we paddled on a kayak for one hour to another village and ended up doing work for the fishermen cutting wood and then being fed an incredible meal cooked by the grandma.
The girl I followed to the camp and I became good friends so we left the camp site yesterday and are now doing some traveling together in these upcoming days. This is my first travel companion in 5 months so I think it will be fun!