Updated: Mar 5, 2021
I believe it's time for me to explain this adventure in way more detail and also show you some pictures of this half-ilegal full-amazing adventure! Hope you enjoy!
Volunteering in Shkodra, Albania
As most of my stories this one begins with me volunteering in a hostel, one I have mentioned a couple of times in my videos: Mi Casa es Tu Casa in Shkodra. I was a volunteer here in the summer of 2017 if I remember correctly, my bosses were Ani and Alma. My job consisted of making sure breakfast was ready and cleaning up the toilets in each room all around. I want to point out that the breakfast in Mi Casa es Tu Casa is one of the best hostel breakfasts I've ever had the pleasure to enjoy: homemade natural jam from the fruit tree inside the hostel, local cheese and bread, Albanian coffee freshly made, if you ever find yourself in Albania you have to visit Shkodra and stay in this place.
There was another volunteer working here, Cedric from France. Since I speak French we became mates real easy but that wasn't the basis of our friendship, we also shared a lot of other interests like smoking shisha, cooking and pub crawls. I don't quite recall what were Ced's specific tasks as a volunteer but I do remember he did some construction and renovation from time to time.
There was one time he was asked to prepare a room for a new kitchen in the hostel, and he asked for my help to measure and also design it, at the time my main job was still as a professional chef thus I had some experience on how to design a kitchen for maximum efficiency. After the renovation began we used to drive a van, property of Ani, go into town looking for materials and supplies and then comeback for Ced to prepare them. And here my lovely readers, here's were the fun begins.
A French man and a Mexican lad walk into a Greek pub
One day Ced had to either deliver or pick up some supplies I don't completely recall, but he asked me if I wanted to go with him, maybe have lunch on the way. I was free, and he vaguely mentioned something about passing close to a border, I said yes instantly. I helped Ced load the van, told some guests in the hostel I would be back for Mojito night and then hoped in the back. Oh the adventure that awaited me!
I was on the back of the van full filing so many Mexican immigrant stereotypes, I didn't notice how much time passed. After a while we stopped at what appeared to be a check point, Ced took out his passport and gave it to the officer whilst I felt a small amount of fear rising. See, I had left my passport at the hostel since I had no idea we were crossing any border and also because at the time I had already been three months inside the European Union's Schengen Area, I was still waiting the six months a Mexican citizen requires for re-entering said area as a tourist legally. Ced turned to me and said "It's OK my friend, they needed my ID and driving license, I only have my passport, so I gave them that." That calmed me down.
After some 20 minutes or so, we arrived at our destination where Ced and I unloaded the van. It was a construction site in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, Ced then talked with a man while I stretched my legs, he shucked his hand, and then we both hoped back into the van, this time I was sitting in the front. We were chatting about Europe and Albania when Greece came into the conversation, it's beaches and delicious food, Ced made a comment that changed the whole mood "It's a gorgeous country, I mean just look at it!" he said. "Look at it? From where? Albania?" I quickly said already knowing in the back of my head my fears were true, "We are in Greece right now" he answered me.
For someone born in the EU, borders are nothing more than jokes, but for tourists specially those of us coming from what could be described as "unsavory" countries, borders are law. A law we fear, since we want to stay and enjoy the many beauties of Europe. I had to explain all that to Ced as he laughed, I was nervous yet a bit excited too, it was illegal and risky but an adventure nonetheless. We figured out a plan, at the moment we arrived at the check point to enter Albania I would hop in the back as I did before and problem solved. Not the smartest plan but the only choice we had.
Before we even put our plan into action 100 meters before the border cross Ced noticed a roadside café-restaurant, I was already breaking the law might as well not do it on an empty stomach. We sat there for some coffee and a delicious fish dish prepared in what the waitress described as "a mix of Albanian and Greek recipes" absolutely marvelous it was. After lunch, I hoped in the back of the van, we crossed the border and were back for Mojito night and some shisha smoking once again.
A perfect ending for a perfect adventure.
Albania, the Hidden Gem of Southern Europe
I know this article was mostly about my quick adventure into Greece but I honestly feel I didn't make Mi Casa es Tu Casa or Albania true justice. They both deserve their own article and video.
Continuing with this honesty, my time in Albania was incredible, I did bump heads with Ani and Alma often to no fault of their own, mostly because of miscommunication and misunderstandings. It was all my own doing, I came into Mi Casa es Tu Casa with preconceptions of what I would do as a volunteer and I idealized stuff that wasn't there. Both of them did the best they could to make me feel part of the hostel and sometimes I took this for granted. I apologize for that.
Yet I have nothing but great memories of this people, how Ani allowed me to organize pub crawls and Mojito nights, how Alma would teach me some cooking methods of her form of cuisine, and I remember perfectly Ani's grandma lived there too! I had long interesting conversations with her about what living in Albania used to be, she would ask me to translate for her stuff she wanted to tell others and this also gave me the opportunity to practice my favorite language, Italian. It was because of this hostel I met Irgen, a man made out of the biggest heart ever to exist.
I said it once in this article and I will repeat it so it sinks in: when you visit Albania be sure to check out Shkodra and book your stay in Mi Casa es Tu Casa. I will write a full article about them but in the meantime enjoy this little tale. Oh! And also don't be like me, be better, nicer and kinder with them, you won't regret it. Faleminderit, miqve dhe familjes sime!