The winters here are drastically different from what I am used to in North Dakota. I have been able to go for runs, picnics and drink coffees while sitting outside. Even so, I started having a small dose of cabin fever this past month. I was ready for summer, camping and bon fires! Whether I am ready for the lack of deodorant and never-ending smells is another story. Nevertheless, a fellow volunteer had started organizing a hike near my site and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I excitedly packed my bag to spend a few days exploring the mountains.
I have said it before and I am sure I will say it countless times again; this country is absolutely beautiful. We started our hike from a village located about an hour from Permet. Once there, we hiked across the mountains to eventually arrive closer to the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Our Albanian habits shown through, as we all had enough boiled eggs to last us through the next few days.
As we walked farther into the mountains we passed through various villages. The first of which, we stopped for a coffee break. There were some kids playing soccer in the old school yard. A few of us wandered down to meet them and throw a frisbee around. This attracted more and more children and eventually we were the minority strewn between excited children. Near the cafe, some Albanian men sat, drank their coffee and watched us play. We couldn’t have created more of a Peace Corps scenario if we tried.
After our coffee break (told you we were becoming more Albanian), we passed by a smaller river. One of the volunteers in my group, will literally jump into any body of water if you ask him to. It didn’t take long for us to convince two of the boys to jump in the river from the bridge. We all laughed at their stupidity as they shrieked when they hit the freezing water. But, true to style, five minutes later, I found myself doing the exact same thing. Nothing like a mini polar plunge to wake you up for the rest of the hike!
After breaking for lunch we continued on, edging closer and closer the mountains. Hidden among the various villages, was a huge monument. None of us knew what it was for or why it would have been built where almost no one would see it.
After reaching the point where we had to turn off the main road, there was a little more hesitation in our direction. Lucky for us, 3G saved the day and we were able to verify that we were heading in the right direction. In the midst of which, we got chased by a few crazy Albanians that wanted to charge us for the “information” they gave us. We quickly decided to camp as far away from them as possible. Which is how we found ourselves scaling, climbing and falling down the side of a mountain into a river bed. Some of us went ahead to try and scope out a trail while others worked together to help get each others bags down the hill.
All 14 of us made it and we set up camp for the night on some grassy land. After building a bon fire, eating and finally sitting down, you could hear a collective sigh of exhaustion from everyone. Every time I think I am in shape, I go hiking and it undeniably proves me wrong! Winding down in front of the bon fire and eventually climbing into my hammock was a perfect ending to the day. However, for future reference, March may be a little too early for sleeping while slung up between the trees. I was more than a little chilly in those late night hours!
Day Two was spent crawling through thorny bushes, following goat trails and crossing the river more times than most of us cared for.
We eventually arrived at our final destination, most of us unscathed and a few with minor scrapes and bruises.
As we sat there and ate lunch, I felt a sense of accomplishment wash over me. We had just completed two full days of hiking in the mountains of southern Albania. Most of which was done without any semblance of a trail. We had slept outside, carried all of our belongings with us and used the river as our guide. We were becoming more and more Albanian every day. As my feelings of pride continue welling up, a large group of goats began making their way towards us. There were two Albanian men with them, a donkey and their two dogs. They were heading into the direction from which we had come. The exact place that I had just praised myself for making it out of. We soon learned they were heading into the mountains so their herd could graze and they could make goat cheese. Only difference is they were staying more than a few nights. They were “camping” in the mountains until September. That was all it took to knock me back to reality. I still like to think that we went hiking Albanian style. But we inevitably did so with an American twist.