My Big Solo PC Extension Trip, Aug/Sep 2013


“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.” ― Pico Iyer

A solo 5 am return from a night out, was what greeted my first morning of my extension leave trip. Scrounging for a spot on the floor, as the couches were covered by my fellow volunteers crammed into my dear friend’s house, all of us here for the final night of the Korca Beer Fest. I’d escaped here earlier in the week (#textedout), on the second day of the fest in order to get away from the consistent hordes of visitors in Saranda and the obnoxious heat that stifles everyone’s ability and drive to do anything. Korca was cooler, literally. People from all of the groups and even Macedonians were coming together, some of us for the first time to meet, drink, fight, drink, dance, eat, cry, cook, and bumper car (#FF- Bumper car in British English is Dodgins). But this trip began on my last night, and my first day of my trip.

First of all, dear readers you may be wondering why I took a big trip in the middle of my service. Peace Corps suggests/requires that volunteers extending take a month off, and technically then have 13 months longer. As a year extender, I received a third of my readjustment and air flight comparable to returning home. Plus, I threw in a little savings from Grandma and Grandpa Brandes. Admittedly, I wasn’t the best college student and believe that education can be found in different manners.

While traveling, I learned quite a bit about the places I was visiting through free tours with knowledgeable young people who had lived in the area their whole lives; visiting museums of art, history and culture; and seeing the churches, city, architecture and the people first hand. Sociology, geography, urban planning, theology, and endless other topics were brought to mind throughout the trip.

Well… as you may recall I’ve been back a few times, three times actually, to the Unites States.  This earned me a joke award at my group’s close of service conference, for person who attended the most weddings in America while in service. Ya, I did and they rocked. Thanks M&D.  I’m not avoiding home, I just wanted to do something else. I signed up for Peace Corps to get out and see the world more and this was the right time to do so. Like Peace Corps, I want to consider that this trip is something I’ll share, which can be inspirational and enrich our lives.

Inspirational, was definitely what it was for me.  Once off on this trip, there was no worrying about deadlines, PC drama, and all the other things that usually compound into problems. Time was spent just being, just enjoying life in whatever way I wished. Being solo just made it that more special and interesting. The raki bar in Sarajevo during the rain, climbing the hill in Dubrovnik, this road vs. that one, these were my decisions.

So, I planned this trip for a long while. Hours of working out the details making the exact plan of the where and when and how. When the time came this much planning was exactly what I needed. All the plans were something that said you don’t have to question anything, you were meant for this to happen in this order. Which really isn’t what life is like right? I haven’t achieved this very often in Albania. Not to jump ahead in the story, but the trip obviously went well, it feels like what I want to work on or achieve now is actually closer to possible from this experience.

Keeping a journal, I wrote to myself of my thoughts. Pausing in scenic areas, I tried to capture how I felt with everything I’d experienced and what I was appreciating at the moment. The stories, the lessons, the best moments and the worst; I always had somewhere to put them, even if the hostel social hour really wasn’t cutting it, or sitting enjoying a solo beer on the Croatian coast. Plus I glued in a postcard in every place; ticket stubs for museums, shows, and transportation; and other little keepsakes like a map a guy drew to show me the layout of the Netherlands.

Unfortunately, I’m a little lazy and I feel the stories I will have to tell could only come out as additional commentary in future conversations, when the right moment arises. But the major highlights can be quick and simple:
– Finding out I could do, I could make myself a plan and stick to it to have a terrific travel experience.
– Majda Hostel in Mostar, Bosnia and night walks around the old town
– The ride to Sarajevo
– Staying at Mickey’s place in Sarajevo and the night out with the guys I met there.
– Amazing shrimp, canoeing/snorkeling, and kalon koha on the cliffs of Lagos
– Hiking up the hill and going out in Dubrovnik
– Hanging out with the American couple at Plitvica
– Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb
– Budapest spa and night views along the river
– Mesmerizing fountain show in Barcelona
– Sevilla parks and plaza

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