…getting on the local bus to Dhermi is easy. to my astonished eyes people are well behaved and they all put their luggage in the belly of the orange bus where it belongs. (apologies for sounding sarcastic, but the last time i took the bus in Albania, nobody parted with their junk as easily. ah civilization. )
we leave at 1:15. there are enough seats for for everyone, and the easy breeze coming through the windows makes it almost pleasant to be on the bus. we pass the Cold Water of Vlora and the scenery changes almost immediately, showing us the deep, clear and shiny waters of the Jonian sea and the its rough beaches. they have brought sand in most places, but the cliffs and rocks still domineer the view.
there are a lot of new hotels, one of them actually hovering over the sea, and sporting a tantalizing restaurant on its back. yep, next time i definitely must stop there. that will also mean that i’d have to drive in Albania, but i do not have a deathwish yet, so i shelf this fantasy.
there is dense foliage that does not allow views of the sea any longer. the road has begun its mad ascent to Llogara. the turns are very sharp and I am glad for the trees which cover the deep chasms below and do not let me see where I am going. here and there there are some burned stumps but not as many as i thought there would be. there is a fine mist, slowly becoming more prominent and encircling everything in its way. by the time we arrive in a little restaurant on top of Llogara, the mist has turned into fog, and there is no penetrating sun rays. the air is crisp and the pine trees stand tall.
we stop to eat. i am grateful because my stomach has been kicking me with all its might and asking for my feet if nothing else is available. mercifully, the waitress is quick, and my steaming tasqebab is in my belly almost before it is on my table. never liked this dish but hey, i love it now. occassional flies accompany my modest but hearty dish and then my wonderful expresso. if i had a smoke now, i’d be the happiest camper in the world. and i do not smoke.(for those rabid antismokers, when you fill up on the cleanest air in the world, a cigarette is the best way to put some balance to your lungs. all that pure air is sure to make them OD on the spot)
the bathroom is another matter. many people are happy to even have one and not go in the bushes, but i simply can not step over that soup of who knows what, thickly filling my way to the stall. even the stench is bearable, but the visuals eww. so i tell my bladder to wait an extra hour and back out. the waitress takes pity on me and takes me to the staff’s bathroom, a somewhat cleaner version of the previous, but without the accompanying soup. so i am finally at peace, and ready to face the trip.
while the bus is going down to Dhermi, i am reminded once agan why i hate rollercoasters. the road winds down impossibly and unfortunately, the fires have been ravage this side of the mountain so there is no foliage to impede my view. i am acutely aware of the fact that if the driver makes a mistake, there is nothing to stop our rolling straight into the blue sea a thousand meters below. i am very grateful that he knows the right amount of bear that has steadied his hand enough for the trip, but not beckoned him to experiment with speed. on the most vertical parts of the road, i find myself unconsciously edging towards the mountain side of the road, maybe thinking that this way my weight will help with the bus’ leverage. i am a panicking idiot of course.
the beauty of the place is breathtaking. open blue sky melts in slightly greener glittering sea that comes addrift a thin line of beach, turns into almost wild steppes and then starts its dizzying rise with the burnt side of the mountain, only to become sky again. the crawling road is the intruder. i alternate between taking pictures of stumps, sky, horizon and concentrating once more on The Devil and Miss Prym, in order not to shiver from fear. possibly it is not that scary, but i can’t take my eyes off the substantial number of tombstones and In Memoriam plaques appearing in every bend and turn. looks like the mountain really resents the people. its top looks ominous and mysterious enfolded in the permanent dense fog.
we arrive at the stop and i get off. an educated son of the village points me in the right direction, another winded road, thankfully paved and with olive trees on its sides for shade. the sight of the wonderful beach below gives me heart and i start the last part of my yourney. i have walked perhaps 1 minute, enjoying myself, when a white, beat-up van pulls up, and its driver invites me inside. well, why not? he looks a bit crazed but so does everybody obliged to work on a hot day, while the more fortunate lounge in the beach below. besides i only have a very vague idea of where i am going. my friend told me to come to Havana. the club not Cuba’s capital. furthermore, since i am sweaty, exhausted and dirty, i do not think i inspire any fantazies right now. i am as safe as i can possibly be.
i should have known i’d be sooo wrong. the driver starts the attack immediately, asking where i come from, where i am going, my family name, my civil status, my job, my shoe size, the length of my stay, what is happening in Tirana now, in between volunteering tidbits of information about his hardworking single self that is still waiting for the right person, even if his family and friends are all persecutting him and innundiating him with wife possibilities from all sides. used by now, i tell him that his love will sure come along, because look how happily engaged i am (what else can i do?). truth be told, the man is not that bad looking. after a thorough clean, shave and a trip to the dentist or two, he’d look sexier than Mathew McConaghey. more hair too.
we part ways, after his insistence to buy me “coffee” and my insistence to find my worriyng friends and ease their minds as to my delay. i enter a wonderful club with white cushions for seats, a huge bar and several fashionable looking young people lounging by and daydreaming with house music. i go straight to the bar.
“excuse me” i ask the bartender “is this Havana?”
his surprised look more than his nod give me an answer. i am sure he is still trying to guess what planet i come from since i have to ask such a stupid question. so i go down to the beach, where beautiful little hay shelters keep some sun away from the tanned and tattoed bodies either making out or deeply asleep on the lounge chairs. this can not be Albania. but it is, and my friend is also there, making out with her boyfriend, while her gorgeous sister is tanning nearby. this is truly the place of the beautiful people.
i have reached my destination.