The Road Ahead

In Albania on June 3, 2009 at 1:00 am

Archipelagos 100 

The agent, Dëfrim, nods understandingly. He seems impressed and pleased that I should cross his country on my own. He tears a sheet of scratch-paper and begins to write down my itinerary. “You must take a bus to Shkodër,” he begins. “From there, you will have to transfer to Podgorica.”


“From there, you will take another bus to Tivat or Kotor.”


“No, this is not the best way.” He crosses out all the names he’s written down and draws an arrow from Tirana to a re-written Shkodër. “So, you will take the bus from Tirana to Shkodër. From there, you will transfer to Budva. And in Budva, you will find a direct bus to Dubrovnik.” He tallies hours and costs. “In total, this will probably take one day. And it will most likely cost between fifty and seventy-five euro.”

When he’s finished writing the itinerary – a confusing flow-chart of cities and arrows that leaves more questions than answers – Dëfrim asks why I’ve come to the Balkans, and why alone. I explain how little Americans know of the region. I tell him about Amila, my estranged high school friend, and how I want to see what happened to Bosnia after the war. Dëfrim gives me his full attention, balancing his pen in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He hands me a business card and insists that I update him on the journey.

“Thanks so much for the help,” I say, shaking his hand.

“Well, if you are lucky, you will find your way.”

I’m still grinning with appreciation, but this well-wishing freezes me. If I’m lucky? What does luck have to do with finding a bus ticket through two foreign countries? Now that I’ve committed to continuing through Montenegro and Croatia, there is no turning back. Either I find a way, or I’m stranded in some random village. There is no choice. I must have luck on my side.

Dëfrim directs me to the train station, where the Shkodër bus is supposed to be located, and when I stand to go, I ask how much I owe him.

He waves off the idea. “In Albania, we do these things for pleasure.”


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