A leap and a climb

by Johanna Roberts (Canada)

A leap into the unknown Albania


Hitched breaths and rhythmic crunches were already a familiar soundtrack to my wandering thoughts. The simultaneous exhaustion and determination of trekking is a newfound craving I am currently satisfying in the south of Albania. The air flows sweet and crisp through the grandeur of the mountains, and time moves slowly and peacefully despite the physical exersion. It’s amongst this landscape that I’ve found a distraction from my fevered anxiety about the entirety of my worldly possessions. The location of which, I was unsure and under the protection of whom, I did not know. I had arrived the evening prior at an isolated homestay, nestled in the serene shadows of the Albanian mountains. It is a picturesque starting line for my mountain hike. I had a plan and so, unlike others, I had all my belongings in tow. I intended to leave them at the homestay, summit the mountain, and return to travel onto my next destination. Sitting at my host’s small dinner table, in front of a piece of meat from a freshly slaughtered cow, hysterical laughter bubbled in my throat. The daughter of my host, a patient young muslim woman, informed me my plan wasn’t possible. I would have to take my things with me. My lack of physical prowess and an injured shoulder had me blanching at the prospect. Uphill climbs across snow covered slopes, rocky outcrops, and overgrown forest floors undoubtedly offered the visual splendour I yearned for but a worrying feat with the added unbalanced weight of baggage. I was offered another possibility so casually by Besim, my host. Leave the bags, he would bring them to the bus that was the first mode of transport to the nearest city. He promised a chain of strangers and transport from bus, to boat, to car, and finally to hostel. I had whittled my belongings down to fit into a backpack a year ago and chased the unknown. I am accustomed to being on my own now; I am independant but also at times heavily guarded. My distrust is a wary life jacket in a sea of strangers that I cling to when I feel vulnerable and foreign. In many ways it is, by now, my default setting. I am money belts and padlocks. This was a kind of trust I had long resisted. Palms clammy at the prospect of losing every possession in a foreign country. I acquiesce to the multifaceted trip my baggage will take without me. In doing so I relinquish a fierce self preservation insuced protectiveness that has sat deep in my bones since beginning my solo travels. It seems monumental and irresponsible. Vulnerable. In the fog of daybreak the following morning I joined a small group of travellers to set off. Following through with my decision, I left my bags. I looked back at one of the many people who would handle my possessions over the next few days. His answering smile was casual and kind. Mine was tinged with a plea. Chest heaving and muscles burnt with exertion I firmly plant my feet with every step along a particular icy incline. My existence is narrowed to an almost single minded intentionality. A purpose driven energy enlivening my limbs. I pause at a small plateau and pivot. The world opens up in front of my eyes, the vibrant grass skirting proud sugared peaks and crowned by endless blue skies. Its radient and imposing. It feels like a reward. My backpack enters the hostel reception, held aloft by a visable pair of legs walking toward me. I've been back from the hike for a day now. The bag drops, the stranger smiles, nods at my reverent ‘thank-you’, and rushes off. I don’t learn his name. Unbeknownst to him I have a quiet triumph of trust. One I'll remember through stolen phones and taxi scams. For all the things I know about travel the unexpected comes carrying my bags through the door. My ultimately banal leap of faith has unveiled the joy of encountering kindness and trusting freely enough to let it be given. It feels like a good place to land.