After two days of touring the castle and museums in Berat I head off for a hike and a local cultural experience in the nearby mountains. Berat is not so touristy that it’s lost its authenticity but still, there are a few other tourists wandering about and I want to go someplace where there are no other tourists.
I walk to the bus station and catch a bus to Bogove, where there are reported to be some beautiful waterfalls and a swimming hole that the locals enjoy. The bus is a big one, an old touring bus too worn out for tourists but upscale for a local bus. By the time we reach the edge of Berat it’s full. We ride for an hour through a landscape similar to western Colorado. There’s a lot of that here.
This road resembles the road between Crawford and Gunnison: steep drop-offs to our right, heavily forested, high snow-capped peaks in the distance. The main difference here is that I’m riding in a large bus and about every 300 yards we pass a bouquet of flowers marking the place where someone – or a busload of someones – flew off the edge into Never-Never Land. They say that auto accidents are the leading cause of death in Albania. I saw a couple on my way from Macedonia and I believe what they say.
There aren’t enough passengers continuing on from Skrappar to Bogove so I must wait for the next furgon – a mini-bus – to load up. This is a nice little town. A wide promenade leads from a large square where the buses and taxis congregate so I decide to stroll along and do a little people-watching while waiting. It’s mid-morning coffee time; people of all ages are strolling the promenade and men fill the cafes drinking coffee. Women don’t sit and drink coffee in Albania. It’s acceptable for foreign women to do so because, well, they’re strange, but a local woman would never do that. After the stroll I return to the square to sit in the sun and keep my eye on the mini-bus. I have no idea what time it will leave, what time I must be back from Bogove to catch the return bus to Berat, nor for that matter do I have any idea what time it is in the moment! I’m soon joined by Buca Rosa – her name means Beautiful Rose in English.
Now . . . there are 3 kinds of Albanians when it comes to communicating with foreigners. There are those who speak English and enjoy talking with you in English. There are those who don’t speak English, never utter a word but who are very adept at communicating with hand signals, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Then there are those who speak only Albanian and know you don’t speak or understand Albanian but that doesn’t phase them. They chatter away. Buca Rosa is one of the last. I think perhaps she is a little simple-minded, but she is very sweet nonetheless. In the end she asks me if I will take her photo and she poses with a broken and crumpled unlit cigarette and a rose, then hands me the two roses she has picked from the park’s garden. The furgon begins filling and I go to catch it. Good-bye, beautiful Rose. I shall not pass this way again.
The following day I leave Berat for Tirana. I don’t quite know where I am when the furgon drops me off in Tirana. The guide book had said I would be dropped off near the train station. I look around, but there is none. I try to get oriented, but before I can I’m surrounded by helpful Albanians. I must tell you, the Albanian willingness to help is wonderful. But it can be a little difficult to manage when it’s six taxi drivers who don’t speak English and want to get you loaded into the next available taxi. It becomes a bit like playing the game Charades. I say a word and one of the taxi drivers thinks he understands and begins animatedly telling the others what I want and waving for me to get into the taxi.
“No, no, no!” I protest, and sit down on the curb with my guide book to gather my thoughts. Soon a random passerby is pulled into the discussion. He seems to understand most of my needs but he can’t understand something as complex as –
“Are there good places to stay in Shkodra? I don’t yet know if I want to stay here in Tirana or go on to Shkodra.” or, “I have all these leke I need to exchange before I leave the country. Is there a bank nearby?”
So I hunker down with my book again and try to ignore the fray above me. But my book is still no help. There are no hotels or hostels listed for Shkodra and I have no idea how many leke I’ll need to get there. I finally decide to let them hustle me into a taxi and get on with my life, trusting in Fate once again. I tell the tax driver to take me to the bus station but no sooner is the door of the taxi closed then I decide I should just stay in Tirana.
I know of a good hostel here and I can get myself settled and oriented in peace and quiet. I also know the hostel owners will speak English and be able to guide me where I want to go. I don’t particularly want to stay in Tirana but neither do I want to stay in Shkodra so I may as well stay in Tirana where the landscape is somewhat known. At least I have a map and a guide to the city and at least I know there’s someplace I can get the information I need. So I direct the driver to the Tirana Backpacker Hostel.
“What?” He looks at me like I’m insane, shrugs his shoulders and says something to his friends and we head to the hostel.
This was the right decision. It’s a very nice hostel. The owner and staff do indeed speak good English, there’s a kitchen available for my use and a grocery store just down the street. I know exactly how many leke I’ll need to get out of Dodge tomorrow and I can settle in for the afternoon and write. As I settle into my room the clouds open up and pour. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain. I don’t care.