I suffer from expectations. While I don’t think it’s a rare disease I’m afraid I have a pretty bad case and there are precious few situations where my imagination doesn’t run away from me at such a fearless pace that, for a moment, I believe it won’t ever return. Sadly, they do always find their way back to me, accompanied with visions of future so twisted — spine-chilling death scenes and horrible accidents — that I dare not watch. These visions never turn into reality, but that doesn’t stop me from having them. Luckily, some of my expectations are positive, but alas, they are also never true.
We had been sitting at a cafe on the side of the road, waiting for a taxi, for almost an hour. We were on our way to Theth, Albania to enjoy a hike that is famous throughout the country and the entire time we sat waiting I imagined the trip that lay ahead. In some 10 seconds a jolly taxi driver would round the corner and stop in front of the cafe. He would get out of his car, looking as if we were long lost relatives and offer us—for once, just for once—a decent price for a ride and off we would go.
The reality was that we saw a few taxis pass, which were all full and started realizing we were too late. The only other visitor at the cafe offered to take us up, which we took for a kind offer, until he came out with his price. Even if we had that kind of money on us we would never pay it.
Then a jeep rounded the corner and immediately I saw that there was just one passenger. I readily imagined how we were going to spend our coming journey in quiet comfort in the back of the jeep, that came to a halt in front of us. It would be marvelous.
The taxi driver got out and seemed to be genuinely thrilled to meet us. He offered the right price and my expectations flared up as they turned into reality. I got my bag, went to the backdoor, opened her up and — the old man occupied the entire back seat.
I looked at the old man with his leg stretched from one end to the other. In broken English the driver explained the old man was injured and had to keep his leg up and I looked at him incredulously because this meant he only had the one passenger seat in front, how would he propose to transport us?
The driver walked to the rear, opened the trunk and motioned me to come. He couldn’t, he wouldn’t…the trunk slammed shut as I looked from the back how Ellis took the passenger seat (I can be chivalrous) and we took off for Theth.
So after an hour, our journey finally began, me scrunched into what I guess someone had designed to resemble a seat, Ellis in front, and a mild-mannered man at the wheel who seemed all too happy to drive us.
It were slow times in this part Albania he told us, just weeks before mountains of snow would make the journey impossible. As this lonely car went up I wondered why on earth we couldn’t have driven ourselves. The long and winding road was beautifully asphalted and a pure delight to drive. Even our car could’ve done this and I know Ellis would have loved it.
Then it stopped.
No warning, no reason, no nothing. As if the road workers, in the middle of their work, had suddenly evaporated. It didn’t change from good to bad, it went from great to surface of the moon.
As though the violent thrashing of his car and the power and control needed to not have us crashing down the steep side of a mountain made him come alive, the driver became more talkative. While I prayed for him to mind the road he went on to tell us how many children he had (don’t recall) and that he had been doing this job for 17 years already.
As I saw death creeping up on us around any of these corners, I thought of a book I read, called Algorithms To Live By, which helped me to calm down. From the book I learned that you can safely assume a process (or in this case a person) to keep performing a given task the same amount of time as it has been doing thus far. So, our driver had declined to violently die in a fiery crash for 17 years and could be expected to do so for another 17 years. I would not meet my maker today.
We came to the top of the road, after which we would begin our descend to Theth, where the driver pulled into a little parking spot next to a monument marking the peak. He asked if we wanted to take some pictures of the view. This meant I went to pee of a cliff and Ellis went to work. She took some great pictures, by far my favorite is the selfie we took with the driver and the old man. In it the driver looks like the kind of man you want to be your uncle because he always brings you sweets and the best stories.
As we got back on the road the old man in the back, just as the driver before him, became more talkative. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were coming closer to his home. He turned out to be every bit as sweet as the driver and even invited us to visit his home and family in Theth. As Theth came in to view at the base of the valley I caught myself thinking back to what people had told us about Albania and wondered where all the gangsters were.
The road became worse and as we thundered down the mountain I was busy holding on for dear life to stay in my seat. Ellis kept asking if I wanted to change and sit in front, where she promised me the view was most sublime, but I was dedicated to this newfound chivalrousness — a real nauseated knight in shining armor. Although, for a second I did wonder if I am the only man who takes no special pleasure in acting like a decent husband. Partly because, with Ellis as a wife, it has little use. She is far braver, stronger and more perseverant than I.
Also, Ellis has a way of not making many mistakes which drives me up the wall because I am forever going off and messing things up.
For instance, before we went off on this little trip I expected we wouldn’t be able to find a hotel in Theth when we arrived. Absolute nonsense because of low season, but I worried so long that I booked a cheap hotel, which it said was located in Theth. However, when we found ourselves finally in the center of Theth—my body still trembling from the ride—we found our hotel could as well have been in a different country altogether. We even met a little girl in the town green who was about 15 years and she told us she had never been to that part of town.
Theth is the type of village you expect to have fallen from a fantasy book. Nested in the fold of a green valley, Theth has no less than three waterfalls in the surrounding area — the perfect place, I laughed, to get jumped by one of those Albanian thugs. All the houses in town are spread out along the river.
On the village green, where we were the kind driver turned lifelong friend (or at least fondly remembered figure) dropped us off, stood the type of charming little chapel that should be the town icon. And sure enough, if you Google ‘Theth’ it is the first thing you see. At dusk, this church is lighted by the sun as if God himself is watching over it and maybe he is. The little chapel is made out of solid stone, while the rest of the town is fashioned out of wood, making everything all the more fantastical.
The people there seemed, even on our short walk, to be what we would later find was quintessentially Albanian; open, friendly and all too happy to see us. In less than 50 meters Ellis befriended two elderly women, scarves wrapped around their heads and leaning on a fence, eager, it seemed, to play the part of photogenic peasants. Ellis took their pictures and they just laughed and laughed and loved Ellis from the very moment they saw her. All elder women anywhere do this, I find.
Most of the time my expectations are far grander than reality ever is, but walking through Theth I found it to be more charming than I could ever have dreamed up.