There is a town smack in the middle of Albania, about an hour south of Elbasan by the name of Gramsh. Gramsh is much smaller than Elbasan, but not nearly as
small as the villages around Elbasan where training took place. I have found that it is one of the most enjoyable places to visit in Albania. There really isn't anything special about it, but it just feels comfortable. I think this has to do with the fact that the regional culture, language dialect, and geography is much like the villages where we spent our first three months in Albania and got our first taste of true Albanian life.
Two volunteers from my group were placed in Gramsh. It seems like they have really become part of their community and are making an impact in Gramsh. Not only have they become acquainted with the town and community members, but they have also explored the area around their site. While exploring they came across an amazing camping site.
At the beginning of June, a group of volunteers, myself, and a few Albanian friends went on a camping trip in Sotire, a small village outside of Gramsh. The hike was pleasant and beautiful. The trail we took crisscrossed back and forth over a small creek. Since we did this hike at the beginning of the summer before it got too hot, the hillsides were covered in an array of green hues and the wildflowers were in bloom. Eventually, we made it to a large, flat, grassy mesa. This field was where we camped. At the campsite there were a few cherry trees. The cherries were a bright yellow and red color and were a refreshing afternoon snack after our long hike and activities around the camp area.
By following a trail that ran alongside a creek we had worked our way back into a small canyon-like area. The field in which we camped on was atop one side of the canyon while the opposite side of the canyon a large waterfall was flowing from the facing canyon wall. The water looked to be coming directly from the rocks in the wall of the canyon. At the bottom of the canyon was a small swimming hole where the waterfall came to rest. Because it was so early in the summer, the water was absolutely freezing, but it sure felt good after our long hike in.
Ok, this is where the story gets interesting. Hiking is not a common hobby or pastime for most Albanians. So the Albanians who came with us were not the most seasoned in the idea and etiquette of camping. While the majority of the group first set off on the hike to the waterfall, the Albanians along with a couple accommodating PCVs stayed behind to wait for the donkeys. Yes, I do mean donkeys. While all the Americans carried their small amount of belongings on their backs, the Albanians rented and loaded up two donkeys to carry their items to the campsite. It is also important to understand that the entire hike took only 2 hrs and we were only staying for one night. The PCVs packed sleeping bags, tents, food for dinner, headlamps, and matches. The Albanians, on the other hand, brought along a generator, 2 cans of gas, large speakers, a computer, extension cord, and, best of all, a lightbulb.
That night, after us PCVs started a fire and began to cook dinner, the Albanians set up with gear and basically created a club out in the middle of this field. The lightbulb had been lit by the generator and was allowing the Albanians to run their music and large speakers while making it possible for them to circle dance to the music late into the night.
It was a rare, unexpected, entertaining site, but unfortunately we were not able to listen to the waterfall as we went to sleep. After this experience I have decided that I definitely prefer camping in peace while taking in the nature around me.