7/8/11 - 7/10/11
“Are we really going through with this?” Scotty asked me with a mixed look of excitement and apprehension. “I think we have to, man. Let’s have an adventure.”
I had arrived In Berat a mere 2 hours earlier, and if I’d had a chance to unpack my bag, I would have already been joining Scotty in repacking. I had planned on spending 2 or 3 nights in Berat, but at dinner that plan got nixed in favor of a venture into the unknown.
“Have you guys ever heard of a Goa Party?” Doreen, an outspoken, pretty Belgian girl was chatting Scotty and myself up about a party that her and a few friends were getting ready to travel to. For those of you who have never heard of such a thing, a Goa party is essentially a type of secret-ish party that takes place at random times all over the world. When they occur, they are always in an obscure, difficult to reach location, and there just so happened to be one going down in Albania the following evening. We were told that in order to get to the party in time we would need to begin by catching the next bus, at the delightful hour of 4 am.
After dinner I spent the rest of my short lived trip in Berat exploring the various castles and bat caves that dotted the landscape. The city was beautiful, but a more in depth investigation would have to wait for another trip as there was partying to be had. After staying up till 4 am, less than 12 hours after arriving in Berat, I was on the cramped minibus with Doreen and her Belgian friends Adeline and Clara, along with Scotty and a wonderfully pleasant Swiss fellow named Marco.
We arrived in Luzat, everyone a little confused, a little hungry, and a lot exhausted from a night of minimal sleep. Planning to sleep on buses in Albania is a losing prospect, as what the buses lack in legroom they make up for with exceedingly bumpy and pothole laden roads.
Pit stop. Sleeping on the buses is hard enough, but it becomes increasingly difficult when they insist on stopping every hour. Oh, and don't believe the words ''air conditioned'' on the side of the bus, I've yet to encounter a vehicle in Albania with said amenity.
Our chariot. Mercedes headflaps, non-existant shock absorbers. Picture taken while the Albanian contingency of the bus were outside. Picture a person in every seat, and a person sitting on a yellow plastic stool between each set of seats.
After sitting on the ground eating Burek – a delicious rich pastry stuffed with meat, cheese, spinach, or whatever tickles your fancy – we lazily discussed where the hell we were. People walking by all gave us that distinctive stare you get when you are in a city that doesn’t attract backpackers. In most towns we blend in semi-seamlessly, a typical abnormality to the locals day to day routine. In this town, sitting on the curb eating burek, and one girl wearing a Baltimore flat brim hat, we stuck out like, well, like non Eastern Europeans in Albania.
In typical awesome Albanian fashion, random people came over and started chatting us up. Translations courtesy of Adeline, our fearless translator.
Where are you from?
What are you doing here?
You don’t need to eat on the ground.
Eventually a stalky, English speaking gentleman meandered over and asked us where we were trying to go, and he cheerily offered to help us catch a bus. This process involved him calling over a seemingly random person, giving him the equivalent of about 50 cents, then that fellow walking us around for a while until he saw a minibus driving by. He flagged it down, and off we went. About 50 meters into the drive (sorry, 150 feet, my brain has been infiltrated by the evil metric system) the minibus driver stopped and shouted something at some old men sitting at a table. According to Adeline, he shouted “Look how many customers I have, ha!” “Awesome,” replied Scotty.
We hopped out of the bus, and the apparent final leg of the journey was upon us. Panoramic hillsides encompassed our current spot, and all we knew was that the party was near a manmade lake on one of them. “There will be signs” we were told. There wasn’t. Speculation involving the existence of the party trickled into our minds, and with that we essentially pulled a path out of a hat, and were off. “This is awesome” noted Scotty.
As the sun continued to melt our brains, we sent out search parties to try and find the right way. We never did.
“Where the hell are we?” It had been two hours since we got dropped off and we were in the middle of nowhere. We were tired and dripping with sweat, as lugging months worth of supplies on your back in 100 degree heat up and down hills will tend to do. After aimlessly meandering down random paths for another hour or so, Doreen made a phone call and finagled a ride for us. “Awesome,” exclaimed Scotty. Well, for most of us…
We couldn’t all fit in the truck. Being both chivalrous and awesome, Marco and myself told them we would walk, and that the girls should get in the truck. We got the directions from the driver: Walk to the main road, and 200 meters on your left there’s a sign, then it’s about 2 kilometers up that trail, follow the ribbons. Easy right? Wrong.
After walking about a mile and not seeing any sign we were convinced we were hopelessly lost. We had no phone, no food or water, and only the crappy directions. Oh, and all of our gear was in the truck that drove away without us. If we couldn’t find the party, we were utterly screwed. Suddenly, up ahead on the right, we could vaguely make out a cardboard sign with the word “party” on it, it was our albatross in the sea of hills.
From there we recalled that it should be about 2 km to the party, and that there would be ribbons on the way. We had walked 2 km, and there was nothing. Yet again, morale was beginning to sink. But as with the “party” sign, when it appeared that all hope was lost, something was glistening in the bushes up ahead. It was our first ribbon, a confirmation that we were, in fact, awesome.
About 4 km into the trail we saw Doreen and Scotty walking towards us from the other direction. We celebratorily yelled in unison. For the first time since we started the journey 15 hours before, I knew we were going to make it. “Dude, that guy's directions were shit” stated Scotty. “We know.” His directions: Walk back to the main road, and 200 meters on your left there’s a sign, then it’s about 2 kilometers up that trail, follow the ribbons. Reality, with changes in bold: Walk back to the main road, and 1.5 kilometers on the right there’s a sign, then it’s about 5 kilometers up that trail. Follow the sparse, erratically placed ribbons. But all of that was insignificant at that point, because we had made it. At that point the feeling of euphoria of actually finding such an obscure place was enough, the party was just gravy. Delicious, shenanigan laden, whimsical gravy
First sighting of the party
The scene of the upcoming party. Even though it took us much longer than anticipated to arrive, we still made it before everyone else
Sunset before the party
My apologies, but this is one of those parties where I’m gonna have to flake out and tell you to use your imagination. I know, I know, you read this many words and I’m doing this to you. I’m an ass, I know. But some things are best kept to oneself, and not projected on the interwebs. I’ll tell you that there was lots of electronic music, a lot of dancing, something called special ham sandwiches, and a very late night. Ask me when I get home, and I’ll fill in the blanks for you.
The next morning, we realized we had to figure out how to get out of there, as there was no way we were walking all the way back down the trail with our heavy packs. Doreen and Adeline disappeared into a neighboring house, and a few minutes later we were hooked up with our lavish ride, a cart pulled by what was essentially a tractor. “Awesome,” declared Scotty.
Tuckered out. Understandable after 2 days of not sleeping.
I know it’s cliché, but oftentimes this trip I’ve found the journey to be more enriching than the result. This is not a condemnation of the result, but a testament to the journey. It took us about 15 hours to get from point A to point B. We stayed up all night to catch our first bus at 4 a.m, wandered aimlessly for miles in triple digit heat, and were hopelessly wayward, but in the end that’s what made it so great. Had we gotten on a 1 pm bus, and arrived at a party shortly after in a town with hoards of other backpackers it wouldn’t be special. The fact that it was so difficult to find, paired with a great group to simultaneously bitch and laugh with is what made it so memorable. When I think of the Goa party years from now, I’ll vividly remember the people and journey, and the party will be but a blur.
Well that was fun, let’s find a beach shall we? Alvederzein.