|Ready to hit the beach|
Today is a day to bring awareness to this important, yet endangered natural resource. So what did we do to recognize the day? We headed to the beach of course! On what felt like the first warm and rain free Saturday in months we decided to head north and explore the beach area around Shengjin. Located just over an hour north of Tirana, Shengjin is home to both a commercial port and the Albanian Navy's northern base. It also has the hotels, boardwalks and beachfront restaurants that you would expect in a seaside community. (It is also home to a large number of oil storage facilities that add to the economy of the area but do little for the pristine beach feel we were looking for). Continuing with our desire to avoid the commercial beach/boardwalk scene and following the recommendation of a friend, we headed "out of town and up and over the hill" (these were her exact directions) north of Shengjin to an area called Rana e Hudun in search of unadulterated sand. Fortunately our four wheel drive allowed us to get there and what we found shouldn't have surprised us, but it did.
Set amongst the desolate beach we sought, we found a couple of well developed beach front resorts, complete with row after row of umbrellas as well as the typical half built concrete structures that are typical sights throughout Albania. These beaches were essentially void of people since despite the beautiful weather, beach season in the Balkans does not start until July. It was obvious that money had been invested in these properties since they were clean, relatively well maintained and most importantly, their beaches were free of litter and debris. We continued on until the narrow rutted road dead ended right on the beach. When we got out to explore the relatively deserted beach (there was only one other family there with a ubiquitous black Mercedes parked on the sand) we were immediately saddened to see that the beach was covered in trash and debris. In fact, the scene was reminiscent of the one we had encountered during our visit to Cape Rodon last fall. Household waste, construction debris, and hypodermic needles shared the sandy space with seashells, seaweed, and driftwood. Despite the off shore fishing nets that would normally attract them, we also noticed a lack the typical birds that live along the shore. Where was nature in this natural environment? The entire scene left me feeling a little sad.
But as is the case with many things here, we made the best of it. We tailgated out of the back of our SUV then set out on a walk along the beach. Glenn and I abandoned our shoes and carefully stepped our way through the surf. (Sidney remained shod as to avoid any dangerous steps). I collected seashells that will be added to our growing collection and even used a plastic bucket that had washed ashore to hold them. If you avoided the occasional piece of plastic or random shoe (there were a surprisingly high number of single shoes dotting the shore) that washed ashore in the surf, the water was nice. Whether looking at the rocky hills to our north or the vast sea and distant mountains to our south and east the views were magnificent. The key was just to not look down at the sand which we actually had to do in order to avoid stepping on any foreign objects. We were both reminded of a conversation we had had with a hotel clerk in Croatia last year who, upon discovering we were living in Albania, had bemoaned the Albanian trash that was starting to wash up on Croatian shores. Whether we've travelled north or south along the Albanian coast, we've witnessed this for ourselves. And given the way the world's seas and oceans connect all of us, this is truly scary. One country's trash disposal habits and approach to the eco-system can have a negative impact on all of the world's water. And this is why we must all care about our environment. We owe it to ourselves, our children, our neighbors children, and the entire world.