I stayed in Albania much longer than I expected. After two weeks volunteering at the campsite Amber and I left to make our way back up the coast to Tirana.
We started in Vlorë because it was a somewhat big city on the map and we both wanted a hot shower, a real bed and to eat some meat after our vegetarian camping😊
When we arrived in the city it was actually pretty bleak and ugly. The town is getting ready for tourist season so there’s construction going on everywhere and even the beach is wrecked with trash and not cared for at all. But we were still able to get some good meals and buy some things we needed, and we shared a room on Airbnb for a good price and a nice view of the ocean.
Here we discovered our mutual love of poetry and spent an afternoon on the balcony sharing a bottle of cheap beer and a bag of olives we picked up at a corner store, reading poems to each other we’ve written from different stages of our lives and learning little pieces of one another’s past.
We had so many recommendations for Berat, we figured we’d both regret it if we didn’t get a chance to see the old city for ourselves. We only spent two days there but it was so eventful and full of odd experiences. Amber travels by hitch hiking; she does it for the chance to meet interesting people and see the good in people who will stop to give a ride. I had never really tried it before because in the US it’s generally considered unsafe, but everyone says that in Albania and Eastern Europe in general hitch hiking is super common and normal. I gave it a try and it proved to be a long day of walking in the sun with our heavy backpacks to find a good spot to stick our thumbs out, but we got rides pretty quickly and ended up in Berat by the afternoon. We went for a hike right away so we could get to the top in time for sunset.
As soon as Amber sat down on a log we realized it was covered in pitch and that led to an evening spent looking for acetone to clean up her clothes which it had somehow spread all over. After, we thought we’d share a pizza and somehow we miscommunicated with the staff at the restaurant and they brought us each our own pizza. After we laughed about it we figured, what the hell? And we got some wine and beer and stuffed ourselves like kings.
I saw this man working all alone in the mountain late in the afternoon and it got me thinking about the expression a lot of Albanians (in the small towns) get when they hear I’m from America. It’s a look of excitement and maybe some longing as well. Albania is going through a tough time right now with political unrest and there’s frustration in a lot of people my age who find it difficult and even impossible to get the job they want and create the life they want. I try to explain that I’m grateful for the privileges I get as a US citizen but that it’s not all smiles and roses in America either. A lot of people are working hard and barely getting by, and we’re having some serious political problems as well. I think everyone dreams of a better, faraway place and the reality is every place has its ups and downs, it’s just easier for those who are passing through or peeking in from the outside to wish for what others have. The important thing is to try to find beauty and happiness wherever you find yourself.
I have a dramatic story about a dead cat from my visit to the castle of Berat but I think I’ll save that for another post. Or not share at all. I haven’t decided yet.
Amber did some research about the national parks in Albania and found there was a flamingo island just north of us so of course we had to go check it out. We brought her camping gear and my sleeping bag and when we arrived at the visitor center we met Gjiergi, this quirky guy who works with tourists at the park.
He took a liking to us and introduced us to Pico the Pelican, the stork, the new puppy litter on the property and showed us all his favorite hideouts at the park. He set us up for camping and the next morning showed up like Mary Poppins, pulling all kinds of presents for us out of his pockets throughout the morning- oranges, chocolates and even boiled eggs.
We got to see the flamingos and walk around in the wetlands which was so exciting and delightful and then Giergi accompanied us all the way way back to the bus stop (he enlisted his bus driver friend to come pick us up in his yellow school bus to take us back to the nearest town). He was a sweet, generous man and the three of us formed a lovely friendship that I don’t think any of us will forget.
When we made it back to Tirana we spent one night in a hostel and then parted ways.
I had a whirlwind of a weekend where I was invited spur-of-the-moment to Hawaii for a gig and immediately bought a ticket. I met up with my friend Alex and he and his friends gave me a great sendoff for my last day in Europe, biking around the lake and singing Moldy Peaches songs together in a coffee shop.
Then I had a huge disaster at the airport where there was a problem with my passport and, long story short, I was not able to board the plane and was not refunded my money. Side note: DO NOT BOOK FLIGHTS THROUGH KIWI, THEY ARE HORRIBLE TO THEIR CUSTOMERS. So that was a devastating end to a great couple of weeks and it turns out I’ll be staying in Europe for awhile and hopefully will begin putting to use my teaching certificate.