I traveled to Albania to attend my friend Arta’s yoga retreat. The retreat took place in Berat but there is no airport there so I flew into the Tirana airport the night before and intended to take a bus to Berat from there. Upon arrival I learned that:
A) there is no tourist information desk at the Tirana airport,
B) no buses run in the evening between these two cities,
C) my American SIM card is useless when needed most.
So there I found myself, alone and without any cell connection, in a completely empty bus station; in the dark; on the outskirts of town; next to piles of rubble and groups of taxi drivers (all men) surrounding me. Not my best travel moment. I chose to stand under a lamp post remembering that I once read/heard that light limits rates of criminal activity. When a public bus finally passed by, I chased it down. Once onboard, I asked the driver for help finding the center but he was an older man who didn’t speak English. The ticket assistant (a young guy who spoke English) was called over to help. He asked me where I was staying. I told him I hadn’t booked anything and he got on his cell phone calling hostels for me. They dropped me off in a busy area and directed me to walk down the street.. to the left.. then to the right.. left… right…
…anyways, I went walking in the general direction which had been indicated but when I arrived at the proposed hostel found that they didn’t have a bed available for me. Using the wifi, I found another nearby option but by this hour (maybe 10:30 pm) it was dark and I was getting a little nervous each time a dog barked or a car’s headlights came down the street towards me. After wandering for another 30 minutes/getting lost trying to find this second place I returned to the first hostel and was relieved when they agreed to let me sleep in the staff room for a few hours until 5:30am when I’d be off to the bus station for the first ride to Berat in the morning.
The bus to Berat was pretty straightforward and from the station a bus took me to the center. I walked up a large hill and entered a new reality which was Hotel Castle Park. Straight to the showers I went to wash away that marathon of traveling then began one week of yoga retreat.
Arta and Barbara created an experience for us which was authentic and memorable. We had two yoga classes each day (morning and afternoon-evening) in an outdoor setting. There was a fantastic restaurant on site where we ate delicious local cuisine and a hiking trip midweek. The setting, the practice and the community were all exceptional.
Berat is nestled against the hillsides, built up along either side of a milky green river valley.
We drove around two hours up a rocky road to get to the trailhead of Mali Tomorr. Getting the 4×4 stuck in the rocks en route was a highlight (all passengers jumped out and a nearby Shepard came to help)! We ascended through damp forests, rocky faces and ferns until a breathtaking view of the mountain was revealed. We encountered sheep wearing bells and some runaway mules.
“Albania is sadness. Albania is happiness. But most of all, Albania is realness”
Arta’s words (above) touch the soul. They speak the truth. Albania is a beautiful place. A place that has experienced a brutal history yet persists. A place of healing, in healing. The Albanian people are inspiring in their warmth and resilience. Things are real, they are raw. I had moments of fear traveling through this country. The lack of infrastructure in rural areas meant reliance on strangers was often a necessity.
This trip brought me feelings of vulnerability much like those I had on my first international expedition to Colombia. I rediscovered the thrill and the learning in a true adventure. It was life-changing.
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