Before I came to Albania, I read Edith Durham’s book “High Albania”. The book is an account of her travels through Northern Albania in the early part of the 20th century. Her story is remarkable because as a lone, 40 year old woman she journeyed through the wildest and most remote parts of Albania. She has many stories about blood feuds, rival tribes, and sworn virgins but what stands out the most are the accounts of her encounters with hospitable Albanians. Albania has a deep traditions of honoring guests that continues on to this day. Albanians may not invite you to stay a week in their home as they did Edith Durham but they are more than happy to take you to coffee, help you find your way, or do whatever they can to make you feel at home in their country.
As an American that speaks Albanian and lives in Albania, I have been drafted to also follow this code of hospitality and it makes for some interesting stories. Every time a foreigner stops in Vau Dejes, I will undoubtedly be found and taken to them to translate and help them get where they are going. It is a lot of fun and I quite enjoy being able to help travelers enjoy this great and beautiful country.
My favorite encounter with travelers in Albania was with two French hitchhikers last week. I had just returned from Bajram Curri and was going to the internet cafe to meet a friend. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door where two backpacking bags resting on the floor. These bags where definitely not owned by Albanians because they had sleeping bags, pads and other camping gear strapped on to them. It wasn’t long after that I was introduced to two French hitchhikers and recruited to help understand how they ended up in Vau Dejes so late at night.
It turned out that they were hitchhiking the Balkans because they had taken a history class on the region and wanted to experience it first hand. While at the internet cafe they had printed out some information from wikipedia about Albania so they could learn more as they traveled. They had just spent a couple days in Koplik and were hiking up through Puke to Kosovo. Since they had no place to stay and it was so late at night I was recruited to offer some old fashioned Albanian hospitlaity. An Albanian friend took us out to coffee and we talked about life in Albania and France before we retired for the night.
I was more than happy to give them my couch for the night. Usually the spent the night camping to be woken early by the intense sun. They were incredibly grateful to have a cool place to rest and catch up on some rest.
It was refreshing to talk to people so excited about learning and seeing the world. I admire their courage to hitchhike through countries where they couldn’t speak the language, however foolish and naive it might be. They had little to no plans but were very at easy with their journey. In the back of my mind though, I couldn’t help but question if a little more planning may have made their journey a little better and less haphazard. That may just be me getting old because if they had planned their journey anymore, they wouldn’t have ended up experiencing genuine Albanian-American hospitality.