It’s an ill wind that blows no good . . . . On Saturday night, Alfred and I realized we’d rented out every single sleeping space at Rilindja AND at the house. In a possibly mis-placed fit of fellow-feeling, I’d even promised our tent to a lovely young man from Tirana, who’d been trying to make it to the mountains for 2 years and FINALLY arrived to “no room at the inn.” Alfred — in a familiar theme — was once again laid low with toothache, and a sighed to myself as I spread a bright blue tarp over the least-rocky patch of ground behind the hotel, under the distracting camoflague of the laundry line and behind a rickety bench-of-better-times. On top of the tarp went two foam matresses, and an odd assortment of blankets and pillows. I parked Alfred in the nest, noted his immediate descent into unconsciousness, and crawled in next to him.
Strangely, it was the starry-starriest night I’ve noticed in a long time. I can rarely find my glasses, so stars-gazing (and bird watching) are infrequent pleasures for me. But I remember thinking happily that I wouldn’t have seen THIS from the double room, as I lay there gazing up, and that while it might be a little sad to be sleeping in a lot of scrub next to the small pile of rubbish to be burnt with someone’s pant-legs hanging over my face and prey to this summer’s invasion of tiny stinging invisible bugs . . . . (okay okay – Valbona is always beautiful, and it wasn’t actually bad at all, but this is the way one thinks after realizing one hasn’t got a bed of one’s own!) . . . . at least I got to see the stars . . . . and then I fell asleep.
And THEN I woke up! It was 3 am, the stars were far away, and a sort of wuffling, snuffling, gently crackling noise was migrating past my head. From the depths of my sleep-soaked brain emerged the only sensible thought: ”HEDGEHOGS!” I sat up, fished around for the flashlight, and operating sheerly on instict instantly trained the beam precisely on . . . . . BABY!
Those of you who visited last year will remember the two hedgehogs we raised, after their giddy young mother left them in our office. Fatty demanded to be let out last October, to find his own place to pass the winter, but young Baby, always the more social and physically timid of the two stuck to the office. Following helpful instructions from the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, I built her an insulated hedgehog house which we installed on our front porch, and popped her (and her whole nest) inside to sleep out the winter. I spent the winter fretting — was it too hot, not warm enough? How can you tell the difference between a dead hedgehog and one that is merely sleeping, without waking it up – and thus probably killing it? In March, when there was still snow on the ground, Alfred came home one night to tell me “The Hedgehog is awake!” Five months later she had woken up, looking a little bemused but happy to see me (a happy hedgehog makes a sort of chuckling noise, if you didn’t know). After a little cuddle she waddled back to the house and crawled up the tube to get back inside, back to the business of sleeping. One week later, when I peered inside, she was gone.
When people here ask after the hedgehogs (which they do, they think it’s hilarious that we had them as pets), I tell them stoically that they’ve gone to find their “Vendin e vet” – their ’place of their own.’ Still, of course, one worries.
At 3 o’clock in the morning I picked up Baby, noticed she’s mostly the same – still quite small, and now smells really really bad (she’s clearly been “annointing” which is something peculiar hedgehogs do, and which you can read more about on the BHPS website!). She went through the motions of curling into a half-hearted ball, did the obligatory hissing as I put her on my lap, and then chuckled too – she uncurled a little, sniffed my fingers and peered up at me. I thought about waking up Alfred – but a smelly little hedgehog is probably not what you want waved under your nose at 3 a.m. when you have the toothache. So instead I tickled her spines a bit, and then watched as she waddled away, returning to her hedgehog life in the wild wild realms of Rilindja’s back yard. Sigh.
A nice Canadian just sent me this picture with the name “Albania snaky cliff road” – asking where it is. Does anyone recognize it?
Alfred guesses “Logara?” and says “It’s Great!”
Free beer when you get here, if you can tell us where it is!
A Belated-ly Published Post from Ellie Burnett, International Volunteer Extraordinaire (IVE)
Our little family of two has a tepid relationship with signage. We are always first in line to commend a place for clear, legible, eye-level pedestrian signs. I have a distaste for billboards, not only aesthetically but also in terms of injury prevention: they cause accidents. For his part, Ian’s pet topic of “traffic calming” paradoxically asserts that the less information a motorist has, the more likely they are to behave civilly on shared roadways. Our first introduction to sign pollution was also the one and only traffic violation we have together. We were mistakenly driving against traffic in a one way parking lot in Canyonlands National Park when a not-so-friendly park ranger pulled us over. According to her, we were perpetuating sign pollution by ignoring existing directionals. Never mind that we were committing lots of other environmental and aesthetic pollution in that parking lot. Bitterness over paid tickets aside, Albania has turned me into a bit of a sign pollution vigilante.
For example, on the nearest overland border from Kosovo, there are two adjacent identical large maps of Albania posted on the roadside facing the same direction. There is nowhere to turn off for a pedestrian to have a look and the signs are not eye level, making them entirely inaccessible. The type is too small for motorists and there is no ‘you
are here’ message. These signs only offer the shape of Albania to newly arrived motorists and block a pastoral view. At my most optimistic, I believe the signs mean “Yes, yes. Bunkers. We’re not that paranoid anymore.”
That said the UN’s various agencies seem to be the single largest purveyors of polluting signs in Albania. After an initial day of trailmarking with Catherine, my mental state quickly devolved from pleasantly painting the town red to wondering if anyone will be able to understand the system to considering starting over with cairns to seriously contemplating what sort of human being shows up in another country and starts polluting. How does Ban Ki Moon sleep at night?
Well rested and feeling more hopeful about the signs’ intended audience, my sign-hating-in-a-nuanced-sort-
My first summer here was marked by a stately progression of bugs. Each different bug managed I would say to dominate for about a week. It’s all a bit jumbled now, but I remember a week of Gigantic and furry Cecropia moths which seemed particularly fond of the upstairs corridor, then a more modest period of electric blue beetles (sort of Batman black – blue when the light hits it). Some lemony yellow butterflies. Something I would call June bugs. Tiger moths. It was all too rich, so I just looked forward to the next year, when of course I would carefully note each kind of bug, its arrival and length of stay — draw and diagram each one, that sort of thing. Then last year, weirdly, there were no bugs. At least, not in that way. I didn’t see a single bearlike moth or even one of the carnival colored pink and green grasshoppers. There were bugs of course, there are always bugs, but not that marching pantheon.
This year is much better. Every morning there’s a litter of moths to pick through – we seem to be going through a period of green and silvery white ones. A few days ago a kamikaze beetle crashed into the table in front of Alfred, rattling the crockery. It turned out to be this rhinocerous-horned, polished-furniture colored beetle. There’s also a bizarre outburst of parti-colored beetles, of the sort (Cerambycidae I think) that usually show up here all in stately undertakers black. Just in the last week I have seen one gilded gold, and one whose antennae were bright blue ringed with regular filips of cute black fuzz – a more frivolous antennae I’ve never seen . . . .
Just a quick e-mail to let you know that we made it up and over the top (photo attached) and are now back in the UK. The top took us 5 hours from the farmhouse and then 2 hours to Thethi.
Many thanks again to you and everyone at Rilindja for your hospitality and assistance.
Kind regards, Graham
We’re oh so pleased to be bringing you this guest blog post about weeks 1 and 2 of our three week stay in Valbona Valley. After doing a bit of research into the tourist mapping situation in the Balkans, we were kindly offered a spot in the Journey to Valbona family in exchange for a little cartography expertise. Ian is an urban planner with map making skills and Ellie is a public health nurse.
What an adventure this has been! We arrived with our sights set firmly on the goal of making 1 really fantastic tourist map and have ended up flexing our muscles in, among other things, sheep care, chronic disease management, and trail maintenance.
The map is in its final editing stages (yay!) and after having all sorts of Albanian language inside jokes that are not actual place names removed, it will be ready for your consumption here at Rilindja.