Monday, October 26, 2009


The bus ride from Tirane to Sarande, Albania was really unpleasant. It was decent enough at first, but then the AC started blowing stale, room-temperature air and the bus suddenly got really stuffy. I was also on the side of the bus that got full sunlight, heating me up even more. We had 8 hours of this and by the time we got to Sarande I had been feeling a bit nauseous for a while. I think we all had. I was so relieved to get off that bus. Most of the bus ride scenery was similar to what we had already seen. I'm not sure I mentioned before the amount of trash that is littered around the country. It just seems that people throw piles of it out their car windows or something. There were frequent heaps of garbage sitting along the roadside along the whole trip. Most of the countryside of Albania wasn't very pretty either - brown and monotonous. Even the mountains don't really help to beautify the place. There was one section we drove through that struck as being quite pretty though. It was right through the very twisty mountain roads outside of Sarande. The landscape became more green and three-dimensional. There were scars of red-clay colored rock that looked almost like they had been scraped out of the earth. That part of Albania is pretty. Back to our bus trip though - once it was over it was an easy walk to the hostel. As we came up on the last street we had to go down a man in a red and white striped shirt and a bald head called out to us: "Do you need any help? Where are you going?" We were inclined to ignore him and keep going, but after another shouted "Where are you looking for?" Robyn told him we were going to a hostel. He got up and told us he had a hostel and he'll show us, etc. Chuck was extremely hesitant and was only convinced by the fact that I saw a sign for our hostel plastered on the wall of the building he was going in. The guy, seeing our hesitation said "Trust me. It's ok, man. Anything you need, you let me know." We followed him into an apartment building that looked as though it was still under construction but had fallen into disrepair. There was another sign on the door he led us to saying that it was our hostel, so we went in. As it turned out, it was our hostel and the guy was just really nice and helpful. The hostel was really more like a two-bedroom apartment, each bedroom having two bunk beds in them. He got us settled in with lots of "It's alright, man"s, gave us each a piece of spicy spearmint gum, and went back to his seat on the corner. We headed out for food and saw him there in his red and white shirt. We asked where some good, cheap Albanian food was. He led us to a restaurant across the street. We sat right on the edge of the beach as he ordered dinner for us. At first I was a little annoyed, but then I realized it was pretty cool to have an Albanian guy ordering you food he deems Albanian, so I went with it. We ended up getting a killer Greek salad and some delicious stuffed peppers. I love Albanian food. After dinner we headed over to the ferry terminal he had pointed out to try and get tickets for the next morning. As we climbed up the steps from the beach to the main street we hear someone shouting. We look up and see him there in his red and white striped shirt, standing on the second floor balcony of the building in front of us. He motions to the left and tells us the terminal is right down the road. We're looking at each other and laughing at the situation as we pass by. He seems to show up everywhere we go... He didn't seem threatening or stalker-ish. He just seemed really helpful and like he wanted to make sure we found everything we needed just fine. We decided to call him Mr. Paperclip because he reminded us of the little annoying paperclip that pops up in Microsoft Office to ask if you need help every 10 seconds. The ferry terminal was already closed and as we turned around to head back to the hostel, there was Mr. Paperclip heading our way. He walked back to his corner with us, commiserating on the closed ferry terminal and reassuring us that we could get tickets in the morning. We left him at the corner at his favorite sitting spot. We grabbed our computers and went to internet for a while at a local internet cafe. I showered before bed which was interesting. I tell you, showers just get better and better as the trip moves forward... The shower was a small, dirty bathtub with no shower curtain or anything. The shower nozzle was one of hand-held kinds with no place to secure it onto the wall. I couldn't figure out how one was supposed to shower so I just made it up as I went along. I waited for a while for the water to get hot, but the best I could get was warm water. I knelt in the bath on my knees and washed myself that way. I tried my best to point the shower head towards the wall so that I didn't get water all over the floor, but I didn't do a very good job. Oh well. I miss steaming hot showers with sliding glass shower doors and 15 square feet of standing room. I'm literally lucky if I get 6 square feet. After shower I crawled into bed, did some reading and we were all off to sleep.

Our host had breakfast ready for us in the morning. Plain, untoasted bread with yogurt-butter (yogurt mixed with butter if you didn't guess), locally collected honey, a runny cherry "jam," orange juice (juices in Europe are not nearly as sweet as in America), and a traditional Albanian tea. I saw the tea boiling away on the stove before I knew what it was and thought it looked fun. He had plopped a bouquet of dried herbs into a pot of water, the ends of the plants sticking out over the edge as it boiled away. The tea was very good too. It was nice to have some tea again. We thanked him and gave him a tip for all his help along with our payment for the rooms and headed off to the ferry terminal. It was open this time, but we were still unable to buy tickets just yet. We did, however, get the time that the ferry was leaving. We tried to go to the internet cafe again and when that was closed we ended up sitting under a big pine tree near the beach. The tree was constantly dropping little pill-shaped bean-looking things. They made a fairly steady pitter-patter as they fell around us. One even popped me on the head! After a time we noticed that people who were walking by would stop and pick up a few of these things before moving on. Being the curious and bored people we are we picked one up and cracked it open (it took a few tries - they're tough little suckers). Inside was what looked like a pine nut. We were under a pine tree... These things looked like pine nuts. I can only assume that is exactly what they were. An older man with an empty chip bag came by and started collecting them so we decided to help. Whenever we put a handful in his baggie he put his hand to his heart and sort of nodded his head at us. When we grew bored of that, and hungry again we looked for a place to eat. As we passes by the first one on our right a young man asked us if we wanted some coffee and food. It was a strange request because he seemed to be just a customer, sitting with his friends enjoying late-morning drinks. I wasn't sure if he meant for us to join his specifically, although that would have been hard because he was at a 4-person table with 4 people already seated. Robyn shrugged and said "Sure," so we grabbed a table on the patio. He came over to talk to us after a few minutes. He introduced himself as Al and asked where we were from. "America" we told him. "Wisconsin??" he asked with an enthusiastic smile. Wisconsin?? Where did he get Wisconsin from? Do they have a lot of Wisconsin-ers passing through Albania? We corrected him and told him we were from Florida. We had a nice but short conversation with him and he went back to his table. I noticed that his English was very good and I regretted not asking him where and how he learned it. Oh well. Our meal was nice and cheap again. We love the inexpensive Albanian food! We left, saying goodbye to our new friend "Al" and spent some time at the now-open internet shop. Then we were off to the ferry and on our way to Greece!

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