Take the F******* Taxi!

We normally travel light, but when we're moving around a country by bus, our load gets heavier because of household essentials and groceries that we can use at the next place we call home.  

A few weeks before, the bus ride from Tirane to Sarande was cold, so regardless of the 100 plus temperature I dressed warm. This made waiting for the bus with extra weight in our packs and more clothes on a little more than uncomfortable, but I knew once on the bus I would be happy I did.

We were early and had no trouble finding our bus. We loaded our luggage underneath and waited on the side under a shade tree until it was time to board. As I sat there fanning myself Jim said, look at those tires. I don't know why most places that we travel, public transportation tires are bald. I immediately thought of the trip to Sarande and how the driver was going way too fast around mountain curves, passing cars and I got a little nervous thinking about riding on balding tires proudly displaying their steel belt.

When it was time to board we got on and had no trouble finding our seats.  We shoved our small backpacks and reusable grocery bag filled with supplies under our seats because they were too big to fit in the overhead space.  We plopped down sweaty and hot only to find warm air blowing from the vents. I immediately started using the tiny ticket to fan myself and making a mental note to purchase a small paper fan like the woman in front of me or better yet the battery held one the woman across from us was using. Jim reassured me that once the bus started going the air would come on.

As we made our way out of the crazy city traffic my fear of dying because of the bald tires and having a crazy driver subsided as we crept along the highway going less than 35 miles an hour all while warm air was blowing on us. This was going to make for a long, hot four and half hour ride.  Throughout the whole trip, I don’t believe we ever went over 50 miles an hour.  The driver pulled off the tiny two lane road three times.  The first time to change his shirt, which I assumed was drenched in sweat like the rest of us.  The second time to get water from a spring on the side of the road.  And the third, was to get watermelon for himself and a banana for a passenger. 

Our host explained that we should get off at the Plepa bus station, just south of town to catch the local number eight bus, which would take us to our home seven minutes away.  Arriving in Durres we were both happy that the temperature was a cooler 90 degrees.

Bus stops are always a little sketchy, this one was no different.  However, this one was located under an overpass welcoming all the usual suspects.  The number eight bus sign led us to believe we were in the right spot.  As Jim was talking to the one and only taxi driver and gave me the, "you want to take a taxi look."  I shook my head no and we waited for the next bus, which supposedly came around every 30 minutes.  

We saw a few people waiting across the intersection where red and white buses came by every so often picking up and dropping people off. After about 45 minutes of no bus we decided that we needed to cross over to where the red and white buses were stopping. We lugged everything across the divide and found a small spot of shade to wait for the number eight.  

As a white bus started approaching, we quickly made our way to the edge of the road where I started waving money in hopes it would stop.  I made eye contact with the driver and I was sure he was going to stop but he flew right by.  We decided that wasn’t the right bus and lugged all our stuff back to our tiny spot of shade to continue to wait for "the red" bus.  We stood there sweating and hungry.  We ripped off a piece of hard french bread to shut the hunger pains when a red bus started to approach.  We both threw down the stale bread and quickly made our way to the edge of the road.

It stopped and I immediately regretted not taking a taxi.  We boarded the cram packed bus with no AC and really no room for us.  Jim got on first and did his best to squeeze in to make room.  I stood at the open doors afraid I wouldn't be able to fit.  Jim squished in the aisle up front standing between two guys who were sitting on each side of him.  I got on and stood right in the doorway, next to the ticket guy and another passenger who was directly facing me.  I was literally blocking the door from closing and scooted over enough for the doors to shut and we were off.  Now my experiences on crammed local transportation without air seems to end with me passing out or feeling like I can’t breathe.  I kept telling myself, you got this it's only a seven minute ride.

With way too much weight on my back and more in my hands, I soon realized that there was no way my legs were going to support me from the stop and go, swerving in and out of traffic and dodging potholes.  I put my small bag between my legs and held onto the pole that was slippery from my sweating hand, to prevent myself from flying forward or worse going down. 

As the driver took off, I paid the guy and he gave me two tickets that I crumpled and held in my hand.  I could feel the sweat pouring off me, dripping down my face and back.  Only when I felt it was safe would I let go of the vice grip I had and push my falling glasses back up on my nose.

No one seemed to be fazed by the heat and I felt like everyone was watching the sweaty weird woman in the front.  To avoid making eye contact with anyone I kept my gaze downward.  As I did, I noticed water dripping from somewhere above.  The guy in the first seat continued to move his leg to avoid getting dripped on.  When I looked up to investigate where this water, that was forming a small puddle on the floor was coming from, I realized it wasn't water.  It was sweat that was dripping down Jim's arm, to his elbow and then the floor.  He was drenched!

After about 30 minutes the bus stopped at the north end of town and everyone exited the bus, except us. We quickly claimed the two front seats across from each other.  Unable to comfortably sit with our backpacks on we both just leaned into the chairs grateful for space.  Leaning against something did help, but it was still hot as hell and soon the bus filled back up.  No one believes in personal space and these two girls were so close to me that I could smell their breath.  I had to keep my face against the wall to prevent myself from being sick.  I was thankful when out of the corner of my eye,  I saw Jim pull out his phone.  It must mean we were close to our stop.  

The money guy started to make his rounds again and stopped next to me.  I gave him the two wet tickets from my hand and he said something to me I couldn't understand.  Jim said to Plepa, he gave me a funny look, took the tickets and recorded something in a book.  He smiled, gave me back my wet tickets and continued collecting money. 

About 25 minutes into the ride Jim said something I couldn't hear, but assumed it meant to get ready to get off so I shook my head and started to prepare, thankful to be so close.  The bus stopped and the ticket guy pointed and we both proceeded to get off.  As I looked at Jim he had a grin from ear to ear.  Yes, I felt the same way, happy to finally be getting off and breathing fresh air.  As soon as the doors shut, I looked at him implying which way to the house.  He didn't respond, being hot and tired, impatiently I said which way?  He broke out in a laugh and said look around Alisa!  I looked around and realized we were right back where we started and at that moment I was thankful no one was around to hear the cuss words that flew.  

We crossed the intersection back to the bus station to get something to eat and drink while we waited for a taxi.  As soon as Jim walked out with a bag of chips and two beers a taxi pulled in.  Seven dollars and ten minutes later we arrived a block from our place.  I couldn't wait to get settled, take a cold shower and be done with the day. 

Finding our place was easy, but I silently hoped we had the wrong spot.  The door that welcomed us to our building was plastered with stickers that I am sure said enter at your own risk or the building was condemned.  Jim dropped the bags in the corner of the first floor and took off up the four flights of stairs to retrieve the keys from a lock box so we could use the elevator. 

As I waited in the corner for Jim, I started looking around. Graffiti and trash littered the walls and floor, lights and electrical wires hung from the walls, there was a locked gate leading to who knows where and some guy walking back and forth outside.  I suddenly had an uneasy feeling and wondered what was taking Jim so long.  When I heard the chime of the elevator I quickly started to grab our stuff, but dropped it when I realized it wasn't him.  It was a young girl who looked me up and down, smiled and took off outside to deal with the guy who had been pacing back and forth.  Thankfully the next chime was Jim and we piled into the 4 x 4 elevator that I am positive had not had a maintenance check for safety in the past ten years.  

The fourth floor looked no better than the first.  After trying the first two keys, the third one finally opened the door, we stepped in and thankfully the inside looked nothing like the outside.  We dropped our luggage on the floor, cranked up the AC and plopped down to cool off.  Exhausted, we sat there for a few minutes unable to move and decided to split a beer before unpacking and finding a place to eat.

Before we could finish our beer the power went off.  This happened frequently while we were in Sarande, but most of the time it came back on in 15-20 minutes, one time it was eight hours, which made for a long hot night for this 50 year old woman!

Unable to shower and instead of roasting, we decided to venture out and grab a bite to eat.  Just as we were getting ready to leave the power came back on.  As Jim stepped toward the elevator I said NOPE because from past experience, once the power goes out it will happen again shortly thereafter and the last place I wanted to be when this happens is in an elevator, especially this elevator.

We only had to walk about a block before finding a place on the beach to eat.  We had the best spicy Italian sausage pizza, crab croquettes (the most expensive item, $6.00) that ended with my bite being discreetly spit into my napkin and two cocktails for only $19.00. 

We ended the night agreeing on two things from now on.....
1.  We will always take a taxi when we first arrive at a new place…..and…..
2. While we are here, we will take the elevator only if we have food and water...just in case.


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