WARNING- This is a dramatic story
I needed a break. I had just finished the school year and spent the day at my host sister’s wedding, which was a day that lasted from 5am until 3am. I was tired. I was stressed. I needed to get away from Milot for a while. I figured the best thing for me to do was to head down south to a place of anonymity, cool rivers, sunshine, and best friends. My itinerary: Permeti and then Gjirokastra.
My trip to Permet was anxiety filled and difficult – a whole other story in itself, but I can’t tell you it because it is nothing compared to what happened to me in Gjirokaster. Permet itself, and time with Amber, however, was phenomenal!
Ok so without further ado, here it is:
I arrived in Gjiorkaster chipper as ever. I had just had a nice time in Permet with Amber and I was excited to spend time with my #1 fan, Tyler. Tyler met me at the bus station and greeted me with a warm hug and the suggestion to go tubing. The sun was shining bright, I had a bathing suit, and the idea seemed just about perfect. We made the plan to pick up tubes, grab some fruit, hitch-hike to the river, float down it and then eat lunch at a beautiful restaurant surrounded by nature, waterfalls, and super fresh honey. We also decided we would buy fresh fish for dinner there and some honey, and bring it back to cook at Tyler’s friend’s restaurant.
Everything seemed wonderful and in order and as we hopped into the river on our tubes; we smiled and felt glorious. We took many pictures with my iphone of us enjoying the river, waterfalls, and serenity of the river and talked about how we hoped it would be a couple hours of floating before we had to get off our tubes to get to the restaurant. I should mention at this point that I had packed my iphone, wallet (complete with driver’s license, Peace Corps ID, 2000lek, American and Albanian bank cards, and photo of me and 2 Japanese girls), Tyler’s house keys and shirt into a big red bag for the trip because Tyler and I were both under the impression that the river was calm and we had no reason to worry about losing our things. My iphone was in a waterproof case and two zip lock bags as well so I truly thought there wouldn't be any issues. Anyway, we floated, snacked on fruit, chatted and were in the middle of a game when suddenly we heard the sound of rushing water. The sound was quickly met by the image of large rocks and rapids. And much like the titanic and the iceberg, we knew nature was going to win this one. We were unprepared.
“You have to go feet first!” was all I remember Tyler saying to me as our tubes crashed into the rapids. Unfortunately, we had bound our tubes together by rope and so the angle made it hard for me to turn to face the rapids feet first. I hit the first rock while facing sideways and immediately fell off the tube and into the rapids. It was at this point that the bag with all of our things fell into the river. I was wedged in between a big rock and a current and finally was able to get my feet in front of me. However, due to the strength of the current, my bikini bottoms had most definitely fallen to my ankles. For some reason, my first concern was not that I was in a dangerous situation or that I had just lost all of our things, but instead that Tyler not look at me with my bottoms down. He stood in the rapid against a rock, both tubes in hand and eyes closed trying to get me back on the tube and out of the rapid, but I struggled. A minute later, backside scraping against the rocks, I moved along the current and out of the rapid back onto my tube. I felt relief for a second, but then realized we had to go find our things. I was silly to think that the one rapid was all the river had in store for us.
Along our journey/mission to retrieve our things, we encountered another small rapid where I again fell off my tube and this time lost my prescription sunglasses. We found the red bag, but the plastic bag with our fruit and the other will all of our valuables were gone. The only things left in the bag were Emily Thorn’s sunglasses. Tyler climbed out to shore and went back a ways to see if he could spot a sign of anything, but there was no luck. We decided to continue down the river to see if maybe the bag had floated further down.
It was a big mistake. We immediately hit a giant rapid that led to a current into a huge fallen tree. Unable to fight the current, I hit the tree first and fell backwards into the river. Tyler hit right after and fell off as well, but was able to use the tree as a block against the current. I, however, went under the tree only to find a bunch of pointy branches right at my face. I dove under the branches and into a current which kept me under water for a while. Tyler thought I had been dragged down and panicked to find me. I eventually popped up and caught a branch and waited for Tyler to find me. When he finally discovered where I had wandered off to, he pointed out that our tubes were stuck on the tree. I held onto my branch as he climbed a tree on the side and swung himself into the spot where we lost the tubes. He had to be precise as there were rocks and branches all around him. I was so nervous about his endeavors that I didn't notice the fact that my arms were covered in dozens of maggots. Unable to wash my arms off—as I was holding onto a branch for dear life, I ignored the maggots and waited until Tyler floated by with the tubes. We continued to float on until…
Again rapids. Mother effing rapids. I decided that we couldn't handle another trial through the rapids, and so we found a place to climb out on the side. The only land we could get to was filled with very tall grass; the perfect home for a snake or two. Because the grass was so tall, it was difficult to know what we were stepping on, and a lot of spots led to deep river puddles. I formed a method of pushing the grass aside and tapping my foot around to find rocks, and guided us into the clear that way. Once on dry, visible land, I immediately heard Tyler say “ow!” followed by a slapping sound. I wondered what had happened, but then suddenly felt a burning feeling myself on my leg. We were being attacked by horseflies. Many horseflies. I now understood why there were so many maggots on my arms before. We quickly jumped back into the river and finally found a way out. We called it quits on trying to find our things, and just turned our attention onto figuring out how to get home. After all, we didn't have any money to eat at the restaurant or buy fish. We were soaking wet with two giant tubes, and Tyler was shirtless so our chances of getting picked up by hitch hiking were slim. We didn't have any phones and Tyler no longer had keys to his house.
Luckily, we found some policemen who waved down a furgon to take us back to Gjirokaster for free. Tyler ripped three holes into the red bag and made himself a shirt. We decided to buy fish in town to try and recover the “awesome day” we planned on having. Unfortunately that ended in Tyler swallowing a bone that impaled his throat and me having to pull it out with tweezers and a flashlight. The whole day was an adventure and a mess. I've spent the last couple of days trying to get my life back in order, which has been tough on its own. On top of all other things, I have a very busy schedule, and my amazing school director was just fired due to political reasons. Despite everything, at the end of the day, I’m just glad that Tyler and I are okay. Things can always be replaced, and while it sucks to feel money-less and phone-less for a while, the important thing is that we’re here to tell the story and can do it with some laughs. I am so grateful to have supportive friends and family, and a good attitude. I may have lost a valuable item or two, but my friendships, stories, and optimism are intact and here for forever.