Monday, September 24, 2012

Durres: Golem Beach Day, or, Going With the Flow

Scott's sand angel was, quite possibly, the prettiest thing about the beach.
The first weekend trip we made was to Durres, about two weeks ago (yes, friends, this is a back post, but don't worry pictures will be sprinkled copiously throughout). Tiara, Scott and I had finished our first week of work lesson planning and classroom decorating, and the kiddos were due to roll in the next week, so we decided we needed a beach day. 

Now, Bobby and I had sailed into the port of Durres, and I was well aware of the noxious slurry that is that particular patch of sea. However, I had read online that as long as one goes far enough south the water clears out and it's a perfectly acceptable beach- no Thailand or Hawaii to be sure, but a solid beach. Another reason I was excited to head to Durres was so that I could try out the train. We agreed to take the 7:30 a.m. train, which meant a very early wake-up call on Saturday. Scott had picked up a couch surfer at 5 a.m., so he (Julius) came along with us to pick up Tiara.

The train station is about 20 minutes from our apartment, and on the weekend it is filled with people selling their wares on the street. One patch of sidewalk will be lined with heaps of tobacco, another decorated with watches and lighters, yet another with mounds of vegetables. We found the train station without a problem, but we had missed the train as we had the wrong time for departure. Luckily the train station is basically the Durres bus station, so when we turned away from the empty station a man quickly scooped us up onto his bus. It was 125 leke for a 40 minute ride, the bus was clean, it wasn't crowded, and the driver didn't seem hell bent on killing us all, so it was a win all around.

We made it to Durres and hopped on a local bus to Golem. We were told that Golem would be our best bet for clean beaches near Durres. As we traveled to Golem we could see patches of sand and blue water in between the cafes, hotels, and shop buildings. Durres and the surrounding cities are much dirtier, to me, than Tirana, which is certainly a direct result of the port, but the water and sand looked beautiful and we couldn't wait for a day of lounging on the beach.

The bus stop dropped us off right next to a market, so we stocked up on beach snacks, water, and beer for those partaking. We walked closer to the beach, and as we did we were hit with a smell, like sewage, and we saw runoff heading right towards the beach and the water. Okay, no big deal, keep on keepin' on. We decided to go down the beach a bit away from the runoff. At one point, we noticed rusted out barrels in the water, so we decided to head still further:

Julius, aforementioned couch surfer. Please note: dirty water, rusted barrels, schwack all over the sand. Paradise! ;)

We started realizing that this beach day might not be quite what we expected, but we all rolled with it and just started making jokes about it. If there is one motto I have about travel, it is this: have NO expectations, good or bad. Then you can just have an experience, without being disappointed that it didn't live up to some fantasy in your head. We ended up in an area a short walk from the picture above, with umbrellas and chairs for rent. It was 9 a.m., so there was no one to take our money yet, but it was next to a boardwalk, toilets, and a cafe so we figured it would be a good spot to set up camp.

We still planed on having a great day, dirty beach and all. Tiara had been sick but was able to eat beach snacks:


Scott had beach beer:

And Julius stole my floatie and used it as a recliner:

Oh, couchsurfing- you bring us the most interesting temporary friends

We sat on the shore and watched as the waves rolled in- thick, watery bellies filled with brown, brackish water. As they broke, fluttery debris rushed through to the beach. If it had been a lake, the brown water would have gone unnoticed. As this was the sea, it was jarring since one usually expects, well, something approaching blue instead of brown. Of course, we were still going to swim, sludge and all. So we did.
We love Dirty Durres!

Mmmm, sludgey. My skin was itching a bit at this point, not gonna lie. 

We're swimming in diesel particulates, and we LOVE IT!
 As we swam, bits and bobs of this and that would brush past us, and when we left the water, there was a line of black flutter strips caught under the edges of my bathing suit. I felt grimey and dirty, but I don't particularly care about feeling dirty, so no big deal. Julius and I cat napped on the beach while Tiara and Scott went out exploring- when they came back about an hour later, they told us the water a bit further down the beach was black. Good to know!

Around noon the beach started getting a bit more lively, and the attendant came to work and collected our money. We paid 400 leke for 4 lounge chairs and two umbrellas with small tables around the base. The vendors started patrolling the beach as well, peddling sunscreen, water, snacks, but best of all, fruit. These donkeys would stroll down the beach ahead of their owners, loaded with fruit. This one was loaded with figs, so I bought a bag.


His owner fed him figs and scratched his face, so it seemed like beach day was probably better than farm day for Mr. Donkey. Later I kept saying I bought figs from a donkey, although said donkey clearly has no opposable thumbs and couldn't possibly count money or bag up my figs.
From a distance- looking good, Durres beach!
We took a break at the cafe and then went for another swim before calling it a day around 2 p.m.- 5 hours felt like plenty of time to soak in this particular beach. All in all, it was a fantastic day and I was definitely glad we went. We got out of the city, we explored the beach options, we had great company, and it was a dirt cheap day out (for breakfast, transport there and back, lunch, snacks, and my portion of the beach fees I spent less than 1,000 leke/ $10 USD). Speaking of dirt- I was incredibly dirty after the beach. Not just normal salty skin beach day dirty, but thin layer of oily grime dirty. When I took a shower that night, the water coursing off of me was a dark brown- hey, I'm just being honest so you know what to expect if you go for a dip in Durres. I don't think I care about swimming in Durres again, but I would love to go back to explore the city proper, and maybe even just to hang out on the shore in a lounge chair and watch the waves roll in.

Verdict: I don't regret going at all because it was a fun weekend adventure, but I live here and have the luxury of a kooky weekend trip gone interestingly astray. If you're visiting Tirana and want a break from the city, get thee at least as far south as Vlora, or, of course, the well known and beautiful beaches of Saranda.

Sidenote: One of Tiara's students was telling her about a visit to Durres: "We went to Durres, but we swam in swimming pools because the water is too dirty." Teachers: we have lower cleanliness standards than first graders. 

Opinion: Water regulations and dumping laws are your friends, fellow Americans. Trust me. Quit bitching about environmental protections. Really. 


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