Sunday, May 29, 2016

Live to Serve and Serve to Live

I always had a dream of traveling and doing service. As a Rotarian, I traveled to Ethiopia and Uganda for polio immunizations and minor service projects. One day I decided to shake up my life and go away from everything I knew and immerse myself in service. I joined Peace Corps.

I spent 5 years traveling and living in places like Chile, Uganda, Ethiopia, India, and Albania immersing myself in service work. With help from Rotarian friends, we raised money to pay school fees for children unable to attend school. We built a bakery that would support an orphanage, and dug clean water wells. I taught businesses how to develop better financial habits and ways to prevent corruption. I made friends and gave hope to others.

Everything we give to others, we receive it back 10 fold. The more we give and the more we do for others, the more our lives are enriched. When we give; we receive.

I recently returned home after my 5 years of service. I was unsure how I would make a living and where I would live. But with faith, I secured the most fulfilling job imaginable with a non profit that supports educating children! I can continue my dream of serving others as I support myself. I have been truly blessed.

The most important message I came home with is GRATEFULNESS. Everyday, I am grateful for everything I have: my faith, my children, my health, my job, my home. I am grateful for the simple things in life; running hot water, electricity, safe drinking water, clean air, etc

I look forward to the future. I know that I can survive anything because I have GOD at my side guiding  me and sometimes carrying me.
I hope you enjoy my story, my adventures, my travels!!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cerrik, Albania was My PC Home for 2 years

My Peace Corps Service has officially ended and I will soon head back to Hawaii, USA to start a new chapter of my life. I wanted to share with you what the little village looks like that I have been living and working in the last two years.
This is my neighborhood. I have very kind neighbors. My apartment is the lite yellow one on the second floor in the middle of the photo. 
These buildings were built during the time of communism. They are cement block buildings with no insulation. I have a good breeze in the summer and nice sun in the winter. I really love my apartment here. 
This is the view from the other side. I have a front balcony and this back balcony which is off the bedroom. It is the light yellow one.
This is my front door and the bathroom is to your left when you walk in. 
I love my bathtub and the blue tile in my bathroom. I am on a water schedule, which means that we only have water during certain times of the day. So I keep buckets of water in the bathroom and kitchen for those times the water is off.
When you walk in the door, you have two doorways in front of you. The left is the kitchen/dining area and the right doorway is to the bedroom. 
This is the bedroom and the balcony is off to the side. This room stays cool in the summer. In winter, this is the only room I heat to about 55 degrees. The rest of the house can get as low as freezing temperature at times.
Another view of the bedroom. T.V and internet are important to have! 
The dining area has a set of bunk beds for guests... 
I have an oven and two working burners on the stove.  
It's a nice little kitchen. We use a water filter because the water is not safe to drink here.
This is just down the street from my house. These sheep cross the road every evening on their way home. DJ (my puppy) especially enjoys watching them on our evening walk. 
She wants to be friends with the sheep...
And the goats... 
And even with all the stray street dogs!
Every evening we walk past this bunker on this country road. 
And up this hill.
This is the top of the hill. Elbasan is to the right and Cerrik is to the left.
This little "oil" store is on the road near my house. It's where I catch a furgon to Elbasan.
I get most of my produce from the bigger city near me, Elbasan. Elbasan is a 25 minute van ride from Cerrik. 
The market has a great selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, olives, cheese, etc and the prices are so low! 
There are two kinds of cheese: Katcaval (hard yellow cheese) and white soft cheese. They are made with goat, cow or sheep milk; with or without salt. 
Elbasan has a McDonald's (ha ha). It sells a rotisserie chicken for 400L ($3.20) 
Elbasan is a beautiful city with it's own castle wall 
The famous Silk Road, Egnatia Road, passes through Elbasan 
The last few pictures are of people in my community loving on DJ....

I have been truly blessed to share my life with the wonderful people of Cerrik, Albania for these last two years.

Valbona to Thethi Hike, Albania 2015

Qafa e Valbones (Valbona to Thethi trail) 20 km (6 miles UP and 6 miles DOWN)
1815m (5955ft) Max elevation
815m (2674ft) minimum elevation
 A climb/descent of 1,000m (3,281ft)
 Difficulty level~tiring, exhausting
 Time 6~8 hours for marathoners/alpinists, 8~10 hours for normal people

#1 ADVICE: DON'T RUSH! It is the PROCESS of the journey that is important and memorable.

The Valbona to Thethi Hike is a challenging yet popular hike from Valbona to the village Thethi in Northern Albania. The scenery is amazing, the trail is well marked, and I am writing this blog with many photos to help those who would like more information about what to expect if they want to do this on their own. Some say this is a 6 hour hike. If you do this hike in 6 hours, you did it wrong. There are 15 hours of daylight. Take your time. Rest. Stop for panorama views. Appreciate the view. No one will ever care or even remember if you hiked for 6 hours or for 10 hours. It is the PROCESS of the journey that is most important and memorable. HAVE FUN!!!

Since the ferries from Koman Lake leave in the morning, we started our trip from Shkodra.  We stayed at @ Home Hostel Shkoder.  Clean, nice people, home atmosphere. 10 Euros with a great breakfast. Gregor +355698670887.
Gregor has remodeled his 100 year old family home into a resting place for travelers.
Gregor arranged for our transportation to Koman Lake. We had two choices: We could get up early for a 6:30 furgon (local van) that was leaving for sure, or we could take our chances on the 9am furgon, but it won't leave if it's not full. We left Shkoder at 6:30am, and got to Koman Lake at 8am. It is a 1.5 hour ride. The cost was 500L ($4). 
 Koman Lake Ferry Landing. You have several choices for this 2.5 hour ride ranging from 10 Euros to 300L ($2.50). We took the local Bus Boat. It is literally the body of a bus put on a boat. We paid 500L ($4) and we left at 9:20am. We arrived in Fierze about 12pm. 
There are restaurants to wait for your ferry and a little store to stock up on supplies and snacks.
The view as we began to 2.5 hour journey. 
The Koman Lake ferry ride has been named by some tourist books as the most beautiful ferry ride experience in the world. We met two couples who were just riding the ferry to Fierze and back on the same day just to experience the beauty of it! 
In some places there was a lot of trash in the water, which made me a bit sad.
 My pictures don't do justice to the amazing beauty our eyes enjoyed. The ferry ends at Fierze. It was another 500L ($4) for a ride to Valbona. While we were on the ferry, plans were made by the boat staff for us to get to Valbona. There are many private cars waiting when the ferry arrives. Our car had 4 people and the driver. I think it was about 1.5 hour drive with a small stop in Bajram Curri. 
We stayed at a guesthouse in Valbona about 4km, or a one hour walk from the end of the pavement. There are many beautiful guesthouses and they all charge about the same 10 Euros, 1400L ($11) a night and includes breakfast. 
 We stayed at Hostel Jezercem, named after the tallest mountain here. We ate a delicious dinner at this table, surrounded by a stream. You can even see the fish in the water! For 2400L ($18) we had a meal for 2 people and a puppy of lamb, fish, potatoes, salad, and red wine. We were famished, and it was delicious!
We even caught our own fish for dinner! DJ wants to eat it before it is even cooked! :) 
It is my humble opinion that heaven will look just like Valbona.
After dinner, we walked to the end of this paved road where the trail head begins in the dry river bed. We had an extra hour walk on the pavement.Try to get a ride to the end of the pavement if possible!
At the end of the pavement, veer left into the river bed. You will see a well walked on path to follow. We left the hostel at 8am and arrived at the end of the pavement at 9am. We took a small break to fill our water bottles in the spring of the guesthouse/restaurant at the end of the pavement. Walk to the very left (if you are facing it), and you will see a beautiful water station. 
The trail is well marked. 
Continue for about 3.5 km in the river bed. The trail will split left (down) or right (up). Take the right trail and you will see this sign:
This is the beginning of the ascent. Trail to Thethi. 9.5K (6.25 miles) each way. A climb of 1000m (3281 ft), as well as a descent of 1000m (3281 ft). It took about 1.5 hours in the river bed for us. We here at 10:00 am, so total 2 hours so far. 
The trail ascends into forested paths. It gets steeper though... 
About 1.5 hours later (11:30 am) we came to this rest stop. He says its about another hour to the top. 
We filled up our water jugs, bought some coffee and home made donuts (petulla) to refuel. We rested about a 1/2 hour. We aren't in any hurry. We don't need to go fast. We have 12 hours of daylight to work with, so we are enjoying the trip, and our little puppy. 
We still have a long ways to go. This is the peak we have to go over!
It's a damn hard climb! And it keeps going up and up and up! When DJ got tired, she was carried...but not me ;)  ha ha!
About 1.5 hours later (1:30 pm) we have arrived! This is the PEAK! You can see the trail on the right, and two little people on top! We did it!! We rested for 1/2 hour and ate lunch.
 I thought when I reached the top that it would be easier. Hiking downhill is just as hard on the body, but in a totally different way! As you begin the descent, you can see the valley of Thethi a million miles away. It was 2 pm. We had been going for 6 hours. My body was tired. How could I possibly walk DOWN another grueling 6.25 miles and 3,281 ft? 
About an 1.5 hours into the descent (3:30pm), we came to this wooden rest stop. We chatted with a fellow American Embassey hiker and rested 1/2 hour. Again, fill up on water, enjoy the scenery and put your feet up until about 4pm. The owner said we had about 2 to 3 more hours to the valley. He was right! There came a time when I had to block out the pain of my tired, aching feet and focus only on breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. Every step down was one step closer to success. My phone battery died, so I have no other photos of the descent into the valley. I stopped caring about documenting my experience. I was 100% concentrated on my survival and completion of the hike!  I think we arrived in Thethi Valley about 6:30 pm.
This sign is on the Thethi trail, but not at the bottom. There's still another 2km to the bridge, then another 1km to our seemed forever! :)
Our hostel was far away from the end of the Thethi trail and near this beautiful church. Prices are the same; 10Euros (1,400L) with breakfast. I was too tired to eat dinner. I took a shower and was in bed by 8pm and didn't budge until 7 am the next morning! I took this photo the next morning. We had two choices to get back to Shkoder; a 7:30am van or a 2pm van. We chose the early one. It costs 1000L ($8) to get back to Shkoder. I wanted to get home and rest in my own bed! 
I suggest that you make reservations in a reputable guesthouse in Thethi. Call them a couple of days before you leave to confirm. Call them again the day you will be arriving to confirm that you are on your way and get directions from the big bridge, where the Thethi trail will come out. Thethi has a lot of site seeing and I recommend spending a full day there if you haven't been there before. They have a beautiful waterfall hike (small hike, huge waterfall), a "safe" house tour, an old church, and another farther hike to the Northern Blue Eye fresh water spring. All of these places are common tourist places and easy to find on your own. 
This is a view of the mountains from the Thethi side. 

I am glad I did this hike. It was harder than I thought it would be. My internet research led me to read phrases like, "easy Sunday hike" and "good for the whole family". Not! I think the average person can do this if they take their time, use walking sticks, drink enough water, and stop and enjoy the experience of it. Especially stop and look up and enjoy the scenery. Look down at how far you've come and appreciate it. Look up to see the other mountain peaks. Don't rush, because it is the process of the journey that is important and memorable.

The prices I have listed were my experience only. I was traveling with a local Albanian, so we were treated as locals, not tourists. Tourists prices are always higher than prices for locals. Prices can also vary by who you book with, the level of services or food included (dinner, bed, breakfast), season or month, etc. Use my prices only as a rough guide.

Don't hesitate to email me at if you have any questions about my experience.