Trekking the Trans-Albanian Trail: Hospitality on Shaky Ground

Ashley & Quentin continue their trek and find refuge in a small town during a series of earthquakes.

Waiting out the storm. Photo by En Selle.

Çlirim and the Thunderstorms

Ten-days of trekking under our belts, ten-days of sunshine. It was too sweet to last, and as we rode into the town of Çlirim, a thunderstorm rolled in behind us. No sooner had we attached the horses under some leafy trees than the deluge began. Fat drops of rain thumped on the roof of the town’s café where we took refuge. The sky fell out, and for a half hour we all huddled under our respective shelters, watching the water rush past, creeping higher and threatening to invade the café.

Eventually the rain let up and the café owner’s wife appeared with a meal for us. Bread, goat cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh butter, all homemade or homegrown.

“There is no store or restaurant here anymore. This is for you.”

Thanking her and scarfing it down, we turned our attention to finding somewhere to set up the horses and make camp for the night. Outside the sky had cleared, with a dewy sunset over the reservoir and the pine forest that bordered town. The weather was fine for leaving the horses out to graze but the ground wasn’t great for making camp.

Twenty minutes later, with the horses cooled out and comfy in a grassy field, we scouted around for somewhere to camp within view of the horses. Naturally, we’d given the horses the best swath of land. Just next door stood the abandoned school, dry but in a deep state of disrepair. A villager saw us snooping around and excitedly pulled us to the police station. He unlocked the door and showed us where we could settle in for the night. This building was out of use as well, but in better shape than the school. He helped us move all our gear inside and bid us good night. Too tired to really appreciate the gesture, we crawled into our sleeping bags and slept.

A pause in the town’s cafe before the rain. Photo by En Selle.

Since the fall of communism, most of the youth has migrated to cities, leaving the villages abandoned. Photo by En Selle.

Shaky Ground

Not long after we were in bed, a truck rumbled past the building, its weight so heavy the building shook. This woke me up enough that I decided to check the horses once more.

Outside the door stood a crowd of twenty-five people, presumably the entire village. As I walked into the street, a woman rushed to me, grabbing me by the hand and in perfect French began to ask all kind of questions about our trip.

“What brought you to Albania? Do you like it? We are not rich people but we do our best. The man should not have put you in the empty building, you must come sleep in my home. What do you need? What can we give you?”

In the midst of this huge outpouring of hospitality, she also managed to explain that the truck that woke us up was actually AN EARTHQUAKE! Naturally, this caught my attention – why wasn’t it the first thing said?! This is why the whole town was in the street at eleven pm: protocol.

“Should we be worried?”

“Oh no, no, just protocol. You both must be very tired, don’t worry. You can sleep. But before you sleep – I am so ashamed you’re sleeping in this empty building, you will be more comfortable in my home, please come.”

“No, it’s ok! We’re already settled in and sleeping, please, don’t worry. We’re thankful to be inside!”

“No, this is not enough. You will come for breakfast tomorrow.”

Still a bit concerned about the earthquakes, I accepted and excused myself for the evening. The rest of the night I dreamed of rumbling trucks and people talking in the streets.

Breakfast for everyone. Photo by En Selle.

Protected Guests

In the morning, we were ushered up to Vjollca’s neighbor’s home, where an enormous breakfast awaited us. We were expected to eat all of it – plates of fruit, cheese, eggs, sausages, fresh bread and jam, coffee and glasses of raki. Our hosts were charming, funny, kind and attentive. We were already sad to leave such a welcoming place when Vjollca said something that we will never forget and speaks to how deeply Albanians care for their guests:

“Ashley, you must forgive us for being tired this morning. There were more tremors last night and everyone was outside from 2am until sunrise.”

“What?! Why didn’t you wake us?”

“We could never! You were very tired and needed to sleep. We sat close to you, so we could have woken you if we had to.”

They had sat vigil outside the police station through the wee hours of the morning while we slept through the tremors, and then, since they were up, had prepared a breakfast feast for us to enjoy.

As we travel through Albania, we are daily awestruck by the stunning countryside and the pristine state of the natural environment. But we are also daily awestruck by stories like this one, where the people open their hearts and their homes without hesitation to welcome us.

The spectacular scenery in the south of Albania – no cars, only the occasional shepherd. Photo by En Selle.


Leave a Comment


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *