Monday, September 7, 2009

The River That Became a Lake

Once upon a time eight friends loaded up in two vehicles and drove an hour and a half northeast of their home. One SUV took the modern road through the airport, the other through the outskirts of Tirana where they saw daily Saturday life in action. The two met again on the road to Shkodra and turned east. On and on they drove on a nice paved road, past new bridges, along a clear river. Nearing the end of the drive, the paved road became a bumpy road that went under blown out tunnels. The eight friends reached their destination knowing they were in for another Albania adventure.

So began our kayaking day on Lake Mati. This lake is part of a river that was dammed and is now used for hydroelectric power. Once again, Tracey organized this outing with Outdoor Albania, the same organization that we used for river rafting. I can't say enough good things about them. They are a very organized organization and had this trip down to a science. Gent, the owner and our guide for the day, had the kayaks off both roofs in a jiffy. We were ready in our spray skirts and life jackets in two shakes of a lamb's tail.

Sarah, as seen below, was outfitted in a light weight river kayak, which responded to any movement whatsoever. Gent asked for volunteers to take the two double kayaks. Travis and Amy took one and Violeta and I took the other. Violeta and I found it difficult, at first, navigating our bulky craft, though we quickly became a team. With the wind at our back, we were able to stay in the middle of the group and enjoy the company of our friends.

At one point Violeta and I challenged our friend Florian (not Florian from school, a different Florian) to a race. He graciously gave us a head start and then quickly overtook us. I stupidly challenged him to a rematch for the way back. At that point I didn't realize that we would be head straight into the wind. Needless to say, we lost that race too. Florian had no trouble rubbing it in.
It was a rather windy trip back up the lake. We used all of our strength to stay up with the group. Disaster nearly struck when Violeta and I found ourselves in the middle of a wind tunnel with no way out. We managed to steer ourselves parallel to the wind and get out of it. Travis and Amy were near by, which was comforting to me.

We stopped at a beach for watermelon and to watch the horses and donkeys playing. There were several footbridges high over the water that villagers and their animals use to cross the river (since there are no roads to their homes). Gent said that there are usually a few deaths per winter on bridges like these. Tracey took a picture of a man leading two donkeys across. We were standing open mouthed watching as Gent said, "You might have never seen two donkeys crossing a river, but I can guarantee that that man driving the donkeys has never seen girls in bikinis." It's a different world.

We also stopped at a small, clean cove where we swam to our hearts' content. I've never swam in such clear, warm lake water. I'm still more of an ocean girl, but I really, really enjoyed this lake. Amy said, "You know Holly, no one ever visited Albania before '92. It's like we're seeing an untouched part of the world." Well said. Almost every weekend, we find something new to love about Albania.
We returned to shore and had a fish and pasta lunch surrounded by honking geese and quacking ducks. Tracey and Sarah had the brilliant idea of taking a shot of rakki to ward off any crazy bacteria. That is brutal stuff, but I felt well- cleansed after swallowing only half a shot.

The timing of this trip couldn't have been better. Sunday morning brought thunderstorms and rain and Sunday night an earthquake (I heard that it was 5.4 with the epicenter toward Macedonia). This morning (Monday) we have experienced a step toward the cooler temperatures that autumn brings. Even though summer is waning, I can't wait for the fall!


Jennifer said...

What happened to the pink?

Love the pictures.

Andrea said...

OH Holly, you write like a novel, the opening paragraph, the lake, the watermelon, the donkeys playing!!! What adventures, I just want to keep reading! Write more!!!

KIT said...

What a delish adventure and terrific way to end the summer!