Journal - Napló

Days 22-27. In the mountains (Albania 2.)

Posted on April 6, 2011 at 12:20 AM

Days 22-27.


Day 22.


   Only in the afternoon did we start walking out of the capitol, on the road leading to Elbasan. We were given a ride by the ’head’ of the Albanian motorway constructions. After 20 kilometres of winding mountain path, the town and a huge, in most parts forsaken factory and grounds in a valley appears suddenly as if from nowhere. In the country there are many factories, factory-systems like that which now are not, but used to be working, back in the communist era. As we were told, at grounds like that, you can rent rooms, halls at the price of 1 Euro/square metre, all around the country (controlled by a law). How fantastic colony of artists could be set up here, in these ’iron villas’!-said Kenneth.

   With the next ride we got to Berat. As we were in the town, the driver of the old Mercedes ordered his son to show us around. Apparently, he didn’t really feel like doing it, so we grabbed a quick bite and said goodbye to him.

  We were standing at a bigger junction, under a lamp when the fiftyish Barti stepped to us from the house in front. He was laughing that we were expecting a ride that late, and he invited us to his house where he lives with his wife and two little sons.

   Lacking any common language, we went back to the origins regarding communication – for nearly two hours we were crawing with pleasure, using onomatopoetic words and drawing around the small table which was made three-dimensional by coffee cups, juice boxes and candies.


Day 23.


   In the morning Barti showed us his little factory outside the town. He had worked in Greece for years, and as he came back, he built a house and started his business. He cast and painted washing dishes that could be built in kitchen furniture; he also packed and shipped them. His shop was based on recycling: he melted down old slides, damaged bumpers. We helped him for a while, then he took us back to town.

   We reached Corovod after a few short rides; from there we intended to cross the mountains and get to the next settlement on foot. As we were walking out of the town, kids and adolescents joined us on our way. We got to know one of them pretty well, and we spent the following days with him, under his guidance.


   Zim is a 17-year-old, thin guy. His father builds houses, his mother manages a coffee house in Corovod. As we left the town, only him and his friend, Mateo followed us along. They asked us if we wanted to swim in the river. The blazing sun, the heat made our answer clear. On a narrow path, here and there climbing on rocks, they led us down to a sandy-stony part at the bottom of the canyon. We decided to stay there for the night. Zim joined our little tent's company.

   We followed him to get fish trapped by stone piles, and, adding a couple of frogs found among the rocks to our supply, we made dinner. We were talking for hours around the fire.


   …He told us that he hasn’t seen his girlfriend for a year; though she was born in Albania, she now lives in Greece. He wanted to leave Albania which he finds to be ’dead’. So this year, in the company of a few friends he wants to escape through the green border to Greek lands. After the 6-day long mountain-trip, he’ll head for Italy or Norway...

   Most of the Albanians grow up watching Italian channels, so almost everyone speaks the ’language of the boot’. In southern areas many of them speak Greek, too. I don’t think we met any grown-up who hasn’t been abroad (in Italy, Germany, Greece, Spain, etc.).

   Around midnight, the bushes near our campfire livened up. Suspecting stray dog or snake, Zim –without any thinking- jumped into the darkness. We followed him in case of such actions all the time. After his first one, he came back carrying a turtle; after the second one, he returned laughing and told us that was just a tarantula. It was a pleasure (and also, very relieving) to watch his brave and homy moves in the dark.


Day 24.


   Hiding our backpacks in the bushes, under the guidance of Zim and his mates we started our journey up along the river in order to explore the canyon. We were marching in the 50-60-metre deep chasm, now narrowing, then widening up; in the shade of the trees and bushes miraculously clinging to the rockwalls above our head. After a few kilometres, we already had 3 kilogrammes of fish, thanks to the traps that usually get reset during the summer.

   In a kind of narrow pass, Zim suddenly pointed at the wall and with his friend began to run insanely. Taking a quick look at it I just caught sight of the flying little hawk. Scolding the ’fussiness’ of my sole accostumed to shoes, I tried to follow them in the stony riverbed. As if got stuck in the canyon, the bird flew this way and that, terrified. Making a low manoeuvre, the guys made it submerge in the river by splashing the water; and its fate was decided. Holding the bird in his hand, proudly and happily, Zim said he’d sell his prey or he might as well keep and tame it.

   He and Kenneth went to town to sell the fish. That night we celebrated with rakia (bought from that money), fish baked in salted flour and a huge campfire we put on a stony island. Little and big ones as well were smoking, drinking coffee and alcohol, and we were dancing until dawn, followed by echoes and vast shadows on the rockwalls.


Day 25.


   By the following morning the bird was dead. Drawing its feathers away, we found a severe wound on it. We spent the day in Corovod. Cows form part of the street picture just as much as cars do, and even in a little town like this, coffee houses touch one another. We visited Zim’s mother and we were sitting in the shade of the umbrella, for long. We got to know a couple of older gentlemen.

   All of them were wearing hats, in one hand playing with string of pearls, in the other holding a stick; they were sitting around a table where they invited us to join. Their ’leader’ was the 92-year-old veteran, former general, who was not only involved in the second world war but he also fought in the Yugoslavian battles. As a present, he gave us his pearl necklace, whereas we gave him our beer-glass from Montenegro.

   For the night we went back to the river where the local boys were jumping in the 2-metre-deep water from the height of 5-10 metres. Next day our first intention was to head west, towards the mountains but then Zim happily told us his girlfriend was in Permet, so he’d go there for a month; we decided to head south together, for the town of Permet.

   We were ’prepared’ to go to bed in the tent when our local friends we spent the day before with, showed up one after another. They said goodbye to us with fruit, tomatoes, home-made cheese.


Day 26.


   After a short ride the three of us were waiting for the next car near a military mountain base. On this stony-dirty-dusty road the quality of the traffic couldn’t even have been considered ’sparse’. We asked Zim to go ask the soldiers if we could visit them at their camp decorated with pigs and guns. He didn’t even get to the gate as he ran into 5 dogs wanting to defend the base at all costs.

   A mercilessly overwhelming sheep flock and their dog guards gave us the final push to leave the area. We were walking on the road when a truck came in front of us. Thanks to Zim’s intercession, the driver promised us they’d give us a ride on their way back. We were waiting in the shade when we heard a terrible crack. We started to rush towards the canyon and, looking down from the bridge, we noticed two people walking in the water. They were fishing with dynamites in the river making way for itself, a hundred metres beneath us.

   On the plateau of the truck, hanging on to the hot iron, with a smile on our face we were rattling along towards our destination. After a while there was no more asphalt but our chauffeur bravely kept on driving on the dry riverbed with big stones all around; sometimes struggling and getting the tonnes up on such steep mountain sides that even jeeps of the car magazines, tested on rough terrain, would have trouble with. The base was situated at a place exactly like that, where the truck was heading for wood. From that point we had to walk.

   Blazing sun, 6 liters of water. 4 hours later we were happily resting our eyes on a jeep that was heading for Permet from a little mountain village, with us on board. Though the walking was tiring and our water supplies didn’t last long, we saw beautiful sceneries. Having a look around from a mountain peak, we saw the endless empire of mountains where civilization was present only rarely, in the form of winding paths.

   We had to pay for the ride; the reason why we still made that decision was Zim really not advising night-travel because of the numerous stray dogs. Having seen him handle bravely the dangers of the wild, and the fact that even he wouldn’t set out on foot, made us take his advice.

   In the middle of the road, just as we were grasping for air at a shady place, Zim told us –as if it was quite evident- that he is not in love with his girlfriend, he’s just attracted to her body. Being in agony, I couldn’t do much else but laughed.

   Reaching Permet, Zim went to see his grandmother living there and we began to look for a place for our tent. This is how we met Edison who invited us to his parents’ apartment, for a ’music-exchange’ evening. We spent the night in an unfinished house’s top floor, not far from their place.


Day 27.


   From our place we had a view over the town. Over the roofs’ watertanks, the antenna dishes, the ferroconcrete structure of the other unfinished houses, the put up shutters, the clothes drying on the terraces. Over the houses, in every direction we could have a look at magnificent mountains.

   From the river-cleft, kids’ row was crawling up to the streets, making an impression of a sea-side little town.

   We were heading west, north-west along the river dividing Permet. We wanted to get to the town of Fier, as we were told there is a huge, rusting factory-complex there even bigger than that of Elbasan. We were hitch-hiking near our destination when a minivan with a Dutch number plate stopped in front of us. The two guys were on a European tour. Not much later, we drove to a smaller road so that we could spend the night on the top of the conrete structure of a soon-to-be block of flats and so that the following day we could look up the factory together.

   …One of them told us that, though it took him an entire year- he hitch-hiked all around Australia. Once, in the north-western part, he had a glass too many and he got bit by a snake on the road. He was so under the influence of the alcohol that he didn’t even realize what happened. A week later his body became covered with red spots. In the hospital, only at the doctor’s request was he able to recall the bite. He was really lucky.

   We were just entrenching ourselves in our sleeping bags when the neighbour started to head in our direction, with a gun on his shoulder. We explained him that we were tourists and we’d just like to sleep there, so everything was alright. He even offered us a bottle of fresh drinking water and sat down to us on the roof for a cigarette.

   At night we woke up to the light of flashlights and harsh noises. Two police officers were towering over us, holding pistols in their hands. The situation was tense for only a few moments until we told them we’re tourists and we’re there with the authorization of the owner. As they were inspecting our passports, the third partner rushed up on the stairs, yelling-stiffening as if his partners were in need of his help. We got away with that, too. Apologizing, they left and we ensconced ourselves in the sleeping bags again.


   We didn’t get to say goodbye to Zim. We were looking for him in vain: we couldn’t find him on our last day in Permet. We really took to this lean fellow, his insecure English, his stubborn, rebelling and honest nature. Though he was bossing his little brother, Aleksandro around, big time, he did that with much affection. The age-based hierarchy has great effect on the youngsters. On the morning of our canyon-trip, a couple of 6-8-year-old boys were curiously approaching our camp when our older friend, Sokol, growing to the size of a bear, chased them away by harsh words. Anywhere we were, the little ones were always edged out when an older mate wanted to sit down to us. They showed their disapproval but they always obeyed. They knew it’s only a matter of time and they as well would be the ones giving orders.

translated by Ágoston Galambos


Categories: English, Albania, by Peter

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