A little background to this post….last week the Bible school students split up into three different groups and each group went to a different town in Albania…this was supposed to be a week-long deal where you interacted with the people of the town and hosted programs and stuff with a Christian tone for the children or whoever came. I’m not sure how much good we actually did because I can still only understand a little bit of the language, but all in all it was a great experience. We were able to get a bit closer to Albanian culture and how most people here live which was an eye-opener as well. I am glad we were able to do it.
…….Our group went to a town called Leskovik, which is a small town in the middle of some gorgeous hills and one rather spectacular hunk of rock rising up west of the town…..
*leans back in rocking chair and puts feet up on the porch railing*
Well, this mountain right behind the town, it’s a real nice looking mountain with some enticing slopes and if you know me, you know that I really enjoy climbing mountains. Basically if I see a mountain, a desire springs up within me to climb said mountain.
And that’s how it started, innocently enough.
The mountain behind Leskovik was no different and it kept talking to me, saying, “Come and climb me.”
Well, who was I to argue with a mountain?? I mean, by sheer weight alone I was by far the lighter of the two.
We arrived on Saturday the 11th, and Sunday afternoon two other students and I went out to climb up the mountain.
This mountain is kind of more a climb than a hike, at least the way we took. It was a fun challenge to climb up, but only managed to get about halfway up before we knew that it would get dark and that the prudent thing would be to head back down.
So we did.
I told the mountain, “Well, there’s the whole rest of the week, I’ll be back.”
Tuesday afternoon arrived. We completed the children’s program for that day and as the last of the children disappeared out the door, I looked at the time.
3 PM. Plenty of time.
“Come on!” I said to one of the other students. “If we really move, we can get to the top of the mountain and back before it gets dark.”
Well, you know how peer pressure goes. Once two of us were set to go, one by one everyone else decided to come too, which was slightly annoying as it’s a lot easier to hike with just a few people.
Whatever. I shrugged and headed off up the mountain as fast as I could, knowing that the extra people would only slow down the whole group and we’d be less likely to make the top before dark. I grant you it wasn’t very thoughtful of me….I should have just poked along with the slower hiking people and not worried too much about getting to the top…but I didn’t. I moved right along and pretty soon we were in two groups; a slow group and a fast group.
By looking at the mountain from a distance the day before, I had discovered what I thought would be a better way to climb it and get to the top. That’s the area I headed for, it proved to be a fairly good way to get up without a lot of climbing, and before long, most of the others were out of sight.
I didn’t give them much thought; the mountain top was calling me and I was responding as fast as I could. 🙂
Although it was somewhat cloudy, they were high enough that the view from the side of the mountain was great, and I stopped a couple times to take pictures.
One other student and I got to the top about 3:30. Actually it wasn’t quite the tallest part of the mountain; there was a taller peak farther up but we didn’t have time to climb up to that. As it was, we had gorgeous views…it’s a fairly long and narrow ridge; we could see Leskovik on one side, more Albanian ranges and valleys on the other side, and then to the south the rugged peaks of northern Greece.
There were some tunnels in the top of the mountain, which we eagerly explored; I am not sure exactly when they were constructed…either at some point during Albania’s Communist history, or during one of the World Wars. Either way, they were pretty exciting to walk through, although we didn’t find anything. Upon exiting, we found another student had made it to the top and together the three of us explored the trenches and gun bases that were scattered across the top of the mountain. It was something to imagine being up there during an actual war….one would have a fairly good vantage point of a large area.
Anyway, after jumping around all that, we took a different way down the mountain, about 4PM, well before dark, still not giving a thought to the other four people. I assumed they just didn’t make it all the way up, and had started back.
About 4:30, just as we reached the lowest slopes, sure enough, we were hailed by the slower group, who had already headed down and were below us.
“Hey!” they called up to us. “Where’s Sally Ann?” (name changed to protect)
Now Sally Ann wasn’t actually a student, she was some random girl, about 20, from the town that had decided to hike with us at the last minute; she didn’t even have proper boots for hiking.
“Dunno!” we hollered back, stopping for a minute. “Probably she headed back earlier.”
“Nope!” they shouted up at us. “Not possible, she was ahead of us but behind you guys.”
The three of us kind of looked at each other.
Great, now it was starting to get dark and some girl had managed to get herself lost on the mountain in broad daylight. It wasn’t like there was a forest to get lost in, and it’s a fairly small heap of rock with not too many places to go.
Somewhat disgusted, I turned around. “You head back,” I said to the others, “and I’ll go back up and find Sally Ann.”
It was somewhat cold, but I wasn’t worried about it as I had dressed accordingly when we started out. I also had taken with me a fairly powerful flashlight that I had obtained from my dad at some point; it’s small but with a long-lasting strong beam of light and I felt grateful that I had thought to bring it along (although I also used it when we went exploring in the tunnels earlier).
So I pulled it out and started back up just as the light was starting to fade. Fred (name changed) from the slower group also started back up the mountain some distance behind me, although he only had a light on his cellphone and wasn’t wearing hiking boots or appropriate pants…just had sweat pants on.
But he plugged along courageously.
About 5:15 or so I got to the top of the mountain again, by this time it was fairly dark and I felt pretty cool shining my powerful flashlight across the top of the mountain looking for someone.
I mean, how many of you have been on top of a mountain in a foreign country looking for a lost girl?
Ha. That’s what I thought.
I suppose I should have been scared for her or something, but I really wasn’t. I truly was confident that she was fine, that the Lord was with us, and to be honest, I was reveling in the adventure of the moment. 🙂 ………..And I was kind of annoyed with her for going off and getting lost, because by that time it was pretty apparent that she had got to the top and gone a different direction by herself.
Anyway, after whipping my cool flashlight across the top of that part of the mountain, I hollered back and forth for a bit with Fred, who was still climbing up but was below me a little ways yet. I could see the little glimmer of his wimpy cellphone flashlight.
“Did you find her?” he yelled up at me.
“Nope,” I yelled back. “Maybe she bypassed all of us and got down a different way and is already back.”
“Maybe,” he said, sounding unconvinced.
I went back to where I knew he would come up and waited for him. When he arrived, we had a little confab. Unless she had fallen off a rock and landed in little pieces down at the bottom, we decided that she really couldn’t have gotten back down already without us seeing her; and thus, in all likelihood, she was huddled somewhere at the top of the mountain.
Fred figured she had gone further up, and I didn’t know, but it couldn’t hurt to look. So we went higher up, after looking again over all the area I had just scanned.
Every little bit, I’d shine my flashlight around both sides of the mountain, down into the crevices where she might have fallen, and one of us would bellow “SALLY ANN!!!” out into the night, which was by now very dark.
It was also starting to rain.
And the wind was picking up.
What fun. I half grinned to myself and glanced down at the lights of Leskovik and other little towns far, far below.
Fred wasn’t having such fun. He wasn’t dressed for the occasion nor was he as used to climbing mountains, particularly in the dark and windy night. I felt sorry that he wasn’t having as much fun as I was, and I tried to keep his spirits up.
Doggedly he kept on, and we kept climbing up the rocks now slippery wet, rain biting into our faces and wind shoving against us.
After a ways we stopped. It was still raining and very windy and rather cold. Fred called someone in town and mentioned that it was probably about time to contact the police. Fred felt there wasn’t much more we could do at the moment, and I didn’t know, so we started the long trek back down the mountain.
It’s pretty easy to lose your path in the dark on an unfamiliar mountain, and we ended taking a rather rough way down, but made it safely and at the bottom met with the rest of the group, who was anxiously waiting and probably chewing their fingernails all to shreds.
I felt bad for all of them and wondered if I was somehow more callous than the rest. Yes, I had prayed that God would be with us and for some reason I wasn’t really worried; I felt sure that Sally Ann was fine and was either in town at some coffee shop yukking it up, or was still hiding out somewhere on top of the mountain. Everyone else was super worried and stressed out and together we headed back to the church building we were staying in for the week.
We got back about 7 PM and although by this time, I was a little tired, somewhat wet, and fairly hungry, we sat around and waited for the police to arrive because apparently no one else was hungry.
Soon they arrived and talked very fast in Albanian with the other Albanians in our group. They didn’t seem particularly eager to start out in search of her, and to be fair to them, they really don’t have a lot of resources. No heat sensors, no large searchlights, no helicopters.
Well eventually after talking very fast in Albanian for a while and making quite a few calls on their cellphones, they gathered a bunch of shepherds together and then everyone talked for a while again.
About 8PM then, Fred and I and a police man or two and a few Albanian shepherds and some other people headed out to go back up the mountain again.
At the point where it started to get really steep, some people stopped. Two men (I think it was a police guy and a shepherd) headed up the mountain in one direction, and another Albanian shepherd and I headed up the other direction.
These men spend their lives herding sheep and goats and cows and they know the area, including the mountain, probably better than they know the back of their hand.
My respect for the older Albanian shepherd leading the way up the side of the cliff in front of me grew as we walked up that ridge faster than I thought possible, in the complete and utter darkness. He never seemed to hesitate, but to know exactly where he was and how to find the easiest path to the summit.
Well, my sense of adventure was still with me….by now, I could add to my list of life accomplishments climbing around on top of a mountain in a foreign country in the dark with a shepherd to whom I couldn’t talk, looking for a girl on this huge chunk of rock way up in the air miles and miles from helicopters and airplanes, in the middle of a rain storm with a little howling wind for good measure.
I doubt it took longer than about twenty minutes to get to the summit a third time, with the man shouting her name every so often.
When we were getting close to a different part of the top (which in our defense was further north than we had poked when Fred and I had been searching) we finally heard an answering call to his bellows.
He ordered his steps accordingly and shortly thereafter located her. He told me to stay where I was and he went the last little distance to actually retrieve her, then retraced his steps and we started back. Once at the point where we started down again, the other two men who had climbed up a different way, joined us and they asked Sally Ann if she was fine, which she was. Although she had taken off her fancy boots, as they weren’t the type one climbs around on mountains in, especially when one is lost. I felt a little sorry for her, as she looked pretty bedraggled, wet and walking in damp socks.
Someone called the people below to let them know she had been found, and we headed back down the mountain and returned to the church building about 9PM.
By now I was even wetter, more tired, and very hungry. But still no food.
The guy there that was in charge of the church building was pretty upset and yelled at us for quite a while, which annoyed me because there wasn’t much to yell about, in my opinion. The girl was fine, we were all fine, end of story. Let’s go eat.
In his defense, he was afraid that the whole episode would harm the children’s programs in the town. (it didn’t) and he claimed he had told us not to go up the mountain without letting him know. I honestly don’t remember him ever saying that as we actually had very little direction from him the entire week, and I have the feeling that if I had known that, I would have felt guilty the entire time I was climbing up the mountain. But I didn’t.
So anyway after a bunch of that, where all of us took part of the blame (granted, we should have looked out for each other better), then it got to be about 10:30 and time to go to the police station.
Since the police had gotten involved, now there needed to be official reports and all that jazz.
By now, I was even more tired but yeah, it would definitely be a good story, so I came along and we all walked through town up to the police station and arrived there about 11PM or so.
Apparently they had contacted the head honchos in Erseke and Korca over the whole situation, and they hadn’t gotten there yet since most of the roads in Albania are poor and very curvy, especially at night. So we stood around and waited some more.
It was intriguing to me that the police station there had kind of the same smell that American ones do. I didn’t expect that.
But then, I wasn’t expecting to be in an Albanian police station in the middle of the night.
The police men were very polite and friendly, obviously they were not worked up about the whole deal and were merely doing the expected paper work and reports.
First, Sally Ann had to go in and get interviewed and give her story. To her credit, she also placed blame on herself, saying she had gone with us of her own accord, and then, once on top, gone off again. It could have gotten messy if she claimed that a bunch of Americans who claimed to be Christians kidnapped her and dragged her up the mountain.
Then the two leaders of our group went in to give their stories; the rest of us just sat or stood in the hallway waiting and dozing.
About 12:15, everything was done and we were free to head back to the church building. The town was very quiet and empty as we walked through, and it was sure good to pull out the sleeping bags and bed down, which was finally accomplished about 1AM.
What a day!
*shakes head incredulously *
*as it is getting pretty dark now, I drop my feet off the porch railing and head inside to mix up some hot chocolate*
“There’s plenty here………..do you want some too?”