In September, 2005, midway through my journey around the world, I entered Northern Albania from Montenegro. I had arrived in Podgorica the night before, thinking that I could just hop on a bus traveling to the next country, but a taxi driver who intercepted me at the bus station informed me that there was no such thing. He and an English-speaking friend convinced me to take his taxi to the border in the morning and to walk across in daylight. This proved to be very good advice and I hired him to drive me to a pension for the night as well.
“2:40 p.m., September 15, 2005 – Ohhhh boy. Albania is a new entity entirely. Big challenge. It’s way different from the rest of Eastern Europe. Probably much like the Soviet countries would have been for us without our team of youth translators along to buffer us from the basic realities. And why not? This has been a Communist country until just recently. It is so Third World that a lone Westerner is really completely lost, mostly because the familiar infrastructure just doesn’t exist here.
Goran let me out of the taxi within sight of the border control buildings but I had to walk the final half block. He seemed afraid. There is simply no relationship between the two countries. So, I walked across my second border. First, my passport had to be stamped by the Montenegran authorities, and then I had to walk over to the Albanian Entry Station and pay their ten Euro fee. The uniformed Albanian official asked me where I was going and I blithely said that I would catch the bus to Tirana, the capital, and he blithely informed me that there was no bus running from the border. The first bus could be caught thirty miles away in Shkoder. Whoops. A little bit of an information glitch between the two countries.
Lonely Planet was no help, as they simply advised no traveling at all in Northern Albania which is where I was now. Banditos. I was here because the French Foreign Legion man on the train told me the banditos had stopped being dangerous, or something like that. Hmmmmm. Anyway, the official waved over the next car passing through and told him to take me to town and to put me on the bus.
I completely believe, to this day, that this luck-of-the-draw car was full of said banditos. Three very skuzzy men, unshaven, with long greasy hair, driving an ancient very, very, very beat-up, caramel-colored Mercedes, pulled over and agreed to take me for ten dollars. While we were trying to set a price, a nice-looking, well-dressed man came up to translate for us. He said “Wouldn’t you rather ride with me?” and waved towards his fancy Mercedes with his family inside. My backpack was already in the first man’s trunk so I didn’t want to make waves and get it out. But soon, I regretted missing that opportunity when we were in front of the Albanian Customs Office and my driver waved me into his car and motioned me to sit quietly. It didn’t help that his seat was not securely fastened down and slid about when I sat down on it.
It also didn’t help that he became very nervous and completely unfriendly. It seemed to me that he was not intending for me to enter the office to get my passport processed. By now, I had reached my bandito conclusion. So, I slipped past him and went to speak to the professor in the car behind us, saying that I would rather ride with him after all… Alas, it was too late, as the first man was already going to have to pay a percentage of my fee to the border station officer.
Okay. I sat back down on the detached, sliding around, back seat, comforting myself with the idea that the border police on both sides of the line knew that an American was riding with them and anyway, what dastardly deed could they do at ten o’clock in the morning, for goodness sake? Steal what I had on me, is what, if they were banditos.
They sure looked tough. One had greasy long hair and very few teeth. He was probably in his forties… I was so glad I hadn’t tried this border-crossing business last night as I had originally planned. I do remember thinking, while apparently captured in this unstable back seat, that this was as good a day to die as any. It was sunny and warm and even a little bit lovely. I would simply go with the flow.”
[Buy the book to learn what happens next…. or tune in for my next posting when the story continues.]
For some time, I have been meaning to sing the praises of a piece of travel clothing that I discovered before the big ’round the world, and it’s probably the only one that made it all the way around and came home with me. To this day, it hangs in my closet and I still wear it frequently. That’s staying power, because I gave away so many items to make room for new, and I went through so many seasons and had to buy for the cold and the wet days that took me by surprise.
It’s my Macabi skirt and I’m thinking of getting at least one more in a different color to take both with me next time. The fabric is very lightweight, so it dries quickly, feels very cool, doesn’t wrinkle and packs in a squish – even in your purse. The pockets are very deep, and one has a hidden zip mesh compartment. One of the best things is that you can convert this skirt into pantaloons/punjabi pants with the help of a provided strap…or snap the sides up and make blousy shorts. The latter styles are good for getting the cloth out of your way while wading or picking your way along a rocky trail, or simply for keeping cool. Though there is something to be said for a skirt that frees your legs up and swishes away the mosquitoes and stinging plants.
When you emerge from your hike and need to walk down a village main street or take in a temple, you can unhitch and unsnap, and you are dressed very appropriately in an ankle-length skirt. It’s also available in a knee-length version. Because of the wrinkle-free qualities, you are now dressed well enough to go to dinner in the same skirt you hiked in, if that becomes a necessity.
Men are even buying this versatile thing because they like the freedom it offers not to have their legs bound so closely with cloth. They recall the fact that Scotsmen wear skirts and they call this one a MUG. It seems to be revolutionizing outdoor wear in its own quiet way and mine has been through the travel wars and it still looks almost new. I like it so well that I have written a recommendation for it in the back pages of my new book.
Why don’t you go have a look at it at www.macabiskirt.com and read the comments that all the veteran travelers have posted on interesting uses they have put it to.
Every now and then, I plan to give you a sneak peek at my Hey Boomers, Dust Off Your Backpacks book. so, here’s a sample that you might be able to identify with. Everyone who has ever crossed a border knows how it feels to suddenly have to operate in a new currency. There’s always a learning curve and it’s very helpful to equip yourself with a pocket calculator to work your way through the whole experience. Well, Poland’s monetary unit, the little zloty, (the plural is zlotych) was in a category all unto itself. Here’s the story, shortened to fit in here:
“At the train station, I finally found an ATM and drew out 800 Polish zlotych, without knowing the exchange rate. It’s so necessary to know this very important fact, even in order to understand how much you’re drawing down your debit account. On my way out to find a taxi, I inquired about the exchange rate and was told that $3.50 equals one zloty. Omigosh, if that’s true, then I had just withdrawn $2800 from my account and that was not good at all. I spent a moment of panic in the cab, thinking that my bank must have lent me the $800 above my current balance, and how could I repay that costly loan? But, then I talked some logic into myself and was sure that he meant that one dollar equals 350 zlotych, which meant that I had only withdrawn $28 and was completely safe…
Later: “I’m absolutely in shock and can’t really believe what appears to be the case about the exchange rate of the dollar to the local currency. By now, I’m very accustomed to sliding easily into a new value system whenever I cross a border. I simply need to know how many local tolars, koronas, forints, or zlotych that my one dollar will buy and then I can do the math on what things are costing. But, this challenge has absolutely thrown me and I don’t dare buy anything except my meals until I believe what actually seems to be the case. At the moment, things don’t compute (again) because everything seems to be so very cheap, costing only pennies and that doesn’t feel right. I have checked at the exchange boards and every one says that the dollar equals 320 zlotych. Guess the station guy was a little out of date, but with this reckoning a shirt costs fifteen cents and my Chinese lunch today cost a nickel. Other hostel guests aren’t from America, so they don’t use, or relate to, the dollar. I can’t consult with them.”
The next day: “At breakfast, I solved the mystery of Poland’s monetary unit, the apparently bizarre little zloty. It’s very simple. The exchange boards in Poland are using one hundred dollars as a base, not one dollar, as has been the case in all the other countries I have been in. So, the single dollar is worth 3.20 zlotych. Now things fall into place realistically. I should have figured that out, but I’ve never seen the exchange rate posted on a base of one hundred. Now I’m on solid ground again. I was quite correct not to believe what my senses were telling me when I looked at all of those exchange boards.
A girl named Cat cleared this up, saying that she had found the explanation somewhere in very small print. Cat’s a student of International Relations, a junior, studying at American University in Washington, after having spent one year in Spain and a summer in London. She came to Poland for a few days before flying home and back to a “normal life” and she’s wondering how she can ever return to the society of our immature college youth, with their high dramatics over trivia, after having spent a year abroad.”
I’d like to share something I wrote in my journal on July 12, 2002. I was living in Aspen and already thinking about an around the world trip, which didn’t actually happen for three more years:
Sometimes I conduct little imaginary conversations to any naysayers in my family who might think that I’m being irresponsible and not “saving for the future,” by spending my money as I get it on something as ephemeral as travel. Nobody would bat an eyelash if I spent the same amount on a mobile home or a car. You couldn’t get much of either on what the year of travel is going to cost. And those things require constant investment and upkeep. I have learned that its very easy to find a place to live when one needs that, and transportation is always available, in some form or another. I don’t need to own it, at all. Read more
There have been so very many tragic earthquakes, cyclones, volcanoes and tornadoes in the month of May, 2008, occurring in scattered locations all over the world. None have yet occurred in the areas where I have traveled, so I’m not visualizing a new friend and wondering if they have survived the recent tragedies. But, my potential friends are there and I just haven’t traveled yet to that part of the world to meet them. When I was in Central America, looking down into the cone of a smoldering volcano, or gazing up the slopes of another one, watching the lava show every night; I knew that it was simply an accepted reality that they will blow, someday. That seems to be the case in the Ring of Fire all over the Pacific. But, it will be a true horror and tragedy when that day comes for those who have built houses right up the mountainside. I sat beside the pool of my hotel in Costa Rica one night, chatting with the bartender as we watched the bright red lava run down from up above. Why the beautiful houses up there and why are the hotels around here expanding and building with such optimism? Wasn’t he worried about getting caught in a modern-day Pompei? “Oh, no! Not at all! Because of the direction of the earth’s rotation, any lava will pour down the other side and not onto us!” Read more
“THE SAGA OF THE SETH PARKER” or “THE INSATIABLE SEA” –
MY FEATURE LENGTH MOVIE SCRIPTS
This was my second dream, which has carried me along for many, many years. It started out as a true story manuscript written by my father, Russell Dickinson, in 1935. Too long for an article, too short for a book, I finally realized that it was ideal for a movie script, and I have crafted that into a wonderful screenplay, in several versions. But, who in Hollywood, is going to talk to a scriptwriter on social security? Right! So, here it sits! This fabulous and well-written (if I do say so myself) movie script gathers dust on my shelf, but gets better and better with age, as do I. Here is the back story on this dream: Read more
Pop Psychology Question #3 – What shall become of me? This Ultimate Question never arises until things go wrong and then it’s the only one you hear. People who can’t board an airplane because they read about crashes are really trying to avoid that ultimate question. But, 99% of the time, that question will begin to plague you right in the comfort of your own home. You receive a dire diagnosis; your spouse dies; you lose your job; the market crashes; your home is foreclosed upon; a tornado strikes. Suddenly, questions 1 & 2 are no longer important and you want quick and comforting answers about your future. How will I survive this? In what shape will I be in when the tsunami rolls back out to sea? Read more
Early in my sixties, I took short trips to Hungary and Romania, Croatia, and Central America, and the booklets about them are my Solo Senior Series, soon to be offered on this blogsite. I went out for only a few weeks, and, as the title implies, traveled alone, staying mostly in hostels and inexpensive hotels. These forays, as well as my Russian experience, became the learning lab for my long around the world bid. Here’s a short quote expressing my first impression of Dubrovnik, Croatia: Read more
Pop Psychology Question #2 – “How will I fit into this social situation? No matter how suave and socially-practiced we are, our mind rehearses its own little worries just before entering a room filled with strangers. Often, it’s: “How do I look?” or “Am I dressed correctly?” and we will soon find out as we scope the crowd, sizing up the people in it. By adulthood, we’re pretty good at this business of relating to other humans who are, themselves, worrying about the very same things. But, in extreme cases, you might choose to stay home, rather than open that undefined door in a foreign travel situation. Ask yourself why you always like to have a buddy along, whenever you go anywhere: a spouse, a relative, a friend, a lover, anybody… who will buffer you from the appearance and the risks of being alone. Do you think you won’t have fun? Are you afraid of winding up alone among couples and cliques? Do you worry about being assigned a weird roommate? Are you unsure of yourself in other societies among people who speak a different language than your own? Do you simply hate to admit “that you don’t have a date” when you sit alone in a restaurant? Do you feel like people stare at you and talk behind your back? Why don’t you want to wing it and then, simply, see what happens? Read more
Simply because we are human beings, responsible for our own survival, we are constantly tracking at least three questions inside of our minds. Because travel makes the answers less certain, anxiety can arise and we often blame that on the travel rather than on our own mental processes. If you stay home instead of risking a little anxiety you might be cheating yourself without realizing that simply the recognition of the question can calm it down and put you back in charge. Read more