We were told during training that at the end of August all the government offices clear out while everyone is on vacation. From my American point of view, this didn’t make much sense. If everyone takes vacation at the same time, how is anything going to get done?
But sure enough, when August rolled around the Bashkia slowly started to clear out until about August 15, when suddenly it became a ghost town. I am not sure how anything got done between August 15 and Sept 1 because I followed everyone’s lead and took this time to visit friends and see other parts of the country.
We went to Antigone, a settlement just out side of Gjirokaster that was built 300 years before Christ. There we saw a Byzantine church with almost perfectly preserved murals vividly displayed on it’s walls. We also visited a church built into the side of a mountain. After taking a drive through the ruins of the ancient city we stopped for a picnic and hung out with an Albanian family also picnicking there.
During the second week of my vacation I took a trip up to Thethi to do some hiking. Some friends met me there and we hiked over the Albanian Alps to get to Valbona. The hike from Thethi to Valbona isn’t too hard but it is gorgeous. Since the hike is popular among foreigners everything was expensive in Valbona and Thethi. This wouldn’t have bothered us if we had been tourists and not know the difference in prices but on a Peace Corps budget it hurts to pay 500 leke for a 300 leke meal.
It was nice to get away for a while and see different parts of Albania. It is particularly interesting when I return to Vau Dejes and talk about my travels because many Albanians have never traveled around their own country. Part of this is because during communism nobody was allowed to leave their city. Another reason why Albanian’s don’t travel is because it is expensive and there aren’t very good transportation options. If you leave the coast and head into the mountains the roads become almost unbearable and travel times double.