Blue Eye and the Unibrow

Trip Start Jun 22, 2012
Trip End Jul 30, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hotel Nertili Sarande
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Albania  , Vlorë,
Saturday, July 7, 2012

There's something about the Ionian Coast that makes you feel LAZY ... but in a good way.  Perhaps it's the heat, or the beautiful coastline, or the multitude of tempting cafes, but I just haven't felt like doing a whole lot since arriving here.  Take today, for instance - I didn't necessarily plan on staying in Saranda for a third night, having built in a flex day into the itinerary. 

The alternative was to spend the night in Dhermi, a much smaller town further north on the Ionian coast that, by all accounts, is stunning.  After considering a night there, I decided against it, as I was unable to find any decent accommodations online, though I'm quite positive I could have had a selection of rooms upon arrival.  But the idea of hiking fifteen minutes down from the highway in the hot afternoon heat, and subsequently wandering around looking at a number of hotels and guesthouses, simply didn't appeal to me.

Even less appealing was the thought of the day after, which would be a Sunday, and hiking back up to the highway with my backpack, and sizzling under the sun waiting for a Vlora-bound furgon to pass by.  Especially since it could take hours on a Sunday, when transport is scarce in most European countries, or even worse, have them simply pass me by because they were full.

So Saranda it is, though it's not like it's a bad alternative, especially with a potential day trip today out to the Blue Eye Spring which, by all accounts, is a stunning sight to behold.  Once off-limits to all except for the Communist elite, it's a natural pool so named because in the centre is a circle of deep-blue water, resembling an iris.  It's fed by an underground spring that bubbles up in the centre, which, tourists apparently like tossing rocks into, as they eventually float back up to the surface.

But alas, the Blue Eye Spring is 3 km off the main road, and as I woke this morning, the idea of a hot and sweaty hike both ways wasn't exactly appealing to me.  Of course, you can take a taxi all the way there, but my inner cheap Asian revolted against that idea, so there would be no Blue Eye Spring today!

On the topic of eyes, this makes me think about the dreaded unibrow, something which I'm sad to report, seems relatively common in Albania.  Rarely is it the case that it is something to be celebrated, as in the case with Anthony Davis, this year's number one overall pick in the NBA draft, a shot-blocking machine who will be feared by anyone that dares venture into the paint.  In addition to his fame as a basketball player, he's also known for his unibrow, even going as far as attempting to trademark the phrase "Fear the Brow".

Anthony Davis has a pretty intense unibrow, but it's got nothing on some of the specimens I saw yesterday, which were so complete in their unity, that they resembled furry headbands more than eyebrows.  However, it is possible that they weren't unibrows at all, but instead giant furry caterpillars with scoliosis, a twist of the spine right where a unibrow would normally have a 'V' in the middle.  Of course, caterpillars have no spines, so that does rule out that postulation ...

So the day was largely spent relaxing in Saranda, pondering the delicate intricacies of the unibrow, a wonderfully lazy day - I'm rather fortunate being a lazy tourist in Albania, because locals aren't afforded the same luxury.  Relatively speaking, the Albanian economy has been "booming" in recent years, but most locals still need to work multiple jobs to get by.  Albanians work very hard for very little, and sometimes for nothing at all, as it's not uncommon for workers to go weeks without pay.

I've come to befriend a local kid working at the hotel, who has worked here for two summers now, waiting tables in the beach-side bar.  All of 16 years old, Kleo works from noon until midnight, but only gets paid for eight of those hours, working for free the remainder of his day.  Imagine that in boom town Calgary, where we are all spoiled with a hot economy, asking people to do an extra four hours each day unpaid?  Merely asking the question would result in workers quitting!   

People in this region are definitely industrious, as you can see with the stores - it's not uncommon in the touristy parts of Macedonia and Albania to see clothing and jewelry stores open from 10 AM until midnight.  Residents here do what they must, in order to survive.  As beautiful as the Albanian Coast is, and as wonderful a place it is to visit, being here really does make you appreciate how good we have it back home.  For many Albanians, traveling the World is only a dream, while for North Americans it's an expectation ...
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