Monday, May 25, 2009

General's Beach

I know that I have been out of touch. Maybe it's the end of the year stress.... On the bright side, this past Saturday and Sunday were relaxing and carefree. That's because I was at the beach!
I first heard about General's Beach back in September. A few families from my class spent a weekend in cabins that spilled out onto a clean and remote beach. This was intriguing enough to stay in my memory. A few weekends ago Sarah, Tracey, and I asked Florian if he knew of the beach. He said, "Of course." We spent an amazing Saturday playing, reading, swimming and relaxing at the beach. We (meaning Florian) inquired about the cabins. The cabins are only $20 during the off season! That weekend put this past weekend in motion. Seven of us: Amy, Travis, Entela, Tracey, Sarah, Florian, and I spent two heavenly days soaking the rays (and probably getting skin cancer). I expected the same deserted beach that we had visited two weeks ago. A different beach greeted me. The beach umbrellas and chairs, not to mention actual trash cans, were all set up. The water felt 10 degrees warmer. And there were people. Lots of people.

Makes me sort of want to go back next weekend....
Travis and I admiring his sandcastle. I'm going to make it a point of publishing every picture of a sandcastle. Who knows? Maybe Travis's sandcastles will become a coffee table book. (This is a picture of Amy's). Oh, and see the peninsula in the background? Sarah, Tracey and I had marathon swims almost to that point on both Saturday and Sunday. I can't help comparing the Adriatic with the Pacific Ocean. I love swimming in the Pacific, but it's usually a quick swim with time on the shore trying to warm up (while the Central Coast wind's blow). You can stay in the Adriatic for hours without turning into a summertime popsicle treat.
I actually wish that I took a picture of the amazing fortress that Florian, Travis, Paulina and Josephine created. Who are Paulina and Jo? Students from school. Paulina is in my class. Have I, by any chance, mentioned just how small Albania is?
Another picture from Amy's camera! Tracey's friend had sent her a magazine (I think it was "In Style" but now I don't remember). I began it on our last beach trip, so I gladly finished it this past Saturday. It was truly an enjoyable read, feasting on the latest fashions and movies. Tracey was reading a book that Amy and I had read for book club, "Water for Elephants," which I recommend.
This was a difficult picture to take because of the angle of the three musicians. After a yucky dinner at the single restaurant (my pasta tasted stale), we had a sing along on the beach. Amy and Entela were in charge of the egg shakers!
Amy and I trying for a self-portrait! (Or is it selves portrait, since there are two of us?) Amy is another Albania- sister. I'm so lucky to have found so many kindred spirits.
How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue? I love that Entela is a kid at heart too! (I know that I'm not Stevenson, but do take a minute to admire the impromptu rhyming sentences!) Swinging is one thing that triggers memories of my maternal grandmother. She was never too busy to "push" me on the swing, even when I was perfectly capable of pumping. Grandma used to sing me a song. I sang it to Entela. I can't help it. Every time I'm on a swing (which is surprisingly often) I have to sing it.
The sun sets over the Adriatic Sea. Sigh.
This is not the most flattering picture of me, but my friends look put together and beachy! I had just emerged from the water, on Sunday, when our friend, Mary said, "Quick come look at the boys!" Now you are probably wondering who these boys are and who Mary is. Yep. Half our school turned up on Sunday. At least, half of the swim team was there and one of my students! There were around 5 or 6 families represented. Frankly, I loved seeing them. I love that Sundus, a parent from my classroom and my friend from book club, could come and read Tracey's magazine on my beach chair. I love that the "boys" wanted us to see their floating heads (they were buried in the sand) and the hermit crabs they caught in their net. I love that Madeline's dad didn't give up on me and tried (for the millionth time) to teach me how to throw a Frisbee (I swear that I'm improving). I love that little Sarah was so amazed that she saw her teacher at the beach. I love this community. And I love General's Beach. Is it summer yet?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Canyon Rafting

Tracey, who is excellent at networking, has made connections with a business called Outdoor Albania. Last week, she e-mailed her friend, Gent, to ask about river rafting trips. Gent happened to have a Sunday river rafting day lined up with an Austrian group (Tracey used to play Frisbee with one of the Austrians). Before you could say, "The hills are alive," Tracey and I were signed up to go on this trip and even had transportation with two Austrians from the embassy, Martin and Sabine. I love how things just work out. Our river destination was an hour and a half past Berat (see November post) located in the breathtaking Osumi canyon. These pictures all all from Tracey's camera... I can't take any credit!

Here is a picture from the van window. Once we arrived in Corovoda, the 14 of us were given wet suits, life jackets, splash jackets and helmets. We split up into two vehicles and drove another 1/2 hour to our launching point. This trip, itself, was hilariously fun. The van's driver- side door had to be tied shut with a rope. The driver spoke no English, but he had a mascot who rode on the dashboard. Two Austrians had their two dogs, one that had his own adventure. And there was a very real possibility that we could run out of gas.
This is Foxie. Our driver didn't seem to be worried that his dog was sliding all around the dashboard. Tracey asked him, using her charade skills, if the dog ever fell. We got our answer. One sudden stop and I ended up catching Foxie as she flew through the air. Her claws are sharp! She barked every time we past a horse, donkey, cow, or she could take 'em on. Foxie really freaked out when she heard barks coming from the back of the van. Flex, a dalmatian owned by an Austrian couple, was invading Foxie's territory. Foxie went crazy!

We stopped for a quick break. Flex's owners decided to let him run behind the van. Bad idea. Flex came to a sheep herd and started running up the hill. Where there are sheep, there are sheep dogs. One sheep dog came running and chased poor Flex down the hill, across the road, and then down another hill filled with cattle. Meanwhile, the driver stopped the van and practically threw Tracey and me out the passenger's door (he couldn't get out of his door because as I mentioned before, his door was tied up) and went chasing after Flex. I ended up holding Foxie, laughing my head off. Really, it could have been a tragic situation.

Here's our launching point. The other raft (as shown above) was larger than ours and had room for about 10 people. This is a picture of the Bulgarian and his water wings (he gave his life jacket to his wife). Our raft held six people, including Ilir, our Albanian hippy/mountain man/river guide.
This was our first stop. We hiked up to the bridge for an amazing view of the canyon. The rapids were just right. (This trip is only available during the month of May, because the water level is too low after this month). The rocks were the most frightening part of the trip. At one point Ilir pulled me into the center of the boat, by my life jacket, as the raft suddenly swung into the side of the canyon. My hero. There were waterfalls running off of the sides of the rocks. Martin said that the rocks were limestone. Vines hung down tempting me to swing like Jane. Trees stubbornly grew up from sides of cliffs. If anyone wants to film an independent adventure flick, this is the place to come!
This was our second docking point. The day before, Gent and Ilir had had another rafting trip, but were stopped just before this point. They were forced to wait for a number of hours until the water level of a waterfall decreased. We were able to float past the waterfall safely. After docking, we walked towards it for a closer look.
Oh waterfall, how I do love thee. I think I had this expression on my face the entire afternoon. Every bend in the river brought another wonder. I do so love Albania.
And here is the cause of my joy!
Tracey in front of the waterfall.
Sabine in front of the waterfall. Oh, a word about Sabine's job.... I think I've found another career path to take after another 10-15 years in the classroom. Sabine is a math/art teacher. Now she works under the umbrella of the Austrian embassy. She travels around Albania improving education. Projects include hygiene training, teacher benefits, and curriculum. Does this job say Holly? Yes, I'm afraid it does.
Another Albanian adventure comes to a close... I loved meeting new friends and participating in a wonderful rafting trip. Really and truly, if you are thinking about visiting Albania next year, come in May. We'll get a group together and raft!