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  • Writer's pictureLuke Dowding

Learnings from the Land of the Eagles

Albania is known locally as the “land of the eagles”, and it’s a name they are proud to own. With its rugged mountains, the northernmost called “the accursed”, and bold red flag emblazoned with a double-headed eagle, it’s easy to see why the nation has an affinity with this bird of prey.

But I think the relationship goes deeper than that, there is a connection between Albania and the eagle that articulates pride, resolve, harshness, and of course beauty. The eagle has adapted to live in environments many other creatures would find inhospitable and thrives through its strength. In Albania, and in the Albanian people, I’ve seen this same strength – this same commitment to overcoming the odds and fighting for another day. The beauty of the eagle shares a kinship with the vibrance and transparency of Albanian culture – one that is rooted in hospitality and warmth, and it’s not surprising that such a people live in a part of the world that boasts some of the most stunning natural landscapes, from mountain peaks to coastal idylls.

My own relationship with Albania is one that is too long for just the one blog post – it spans almost half of my life to date and is woven into some of the most trying, and also the most joyful, experiences in it. In the Worldly Wellbeing podcast episode “Adventuring in Albania”, I talk a little more about this, and share some further thoughts on loving life in Albania.

For many, this country on the “frontier” of Europe remains hidden by reputation and poor media representation; and whilst tourism is on the rise, many still avoid this magnificent country because they are ignorant to all that it has to offer. The majority believe Albania to be poor, backwards, and stuck in a rut that started before the arrival of post-WW2 Communism, continued through the harsh dictatorship of Enver Hoxha until the end of the 80’s and the subsequent fall of the iron curtain in the early 90’s, and only further stagnated and decayed during years of civil unrest and financial disasters.

However, this is not all of Albania’s story. It would be wrong to minimise the impact of the Ottoman Empire, the subsequent and briefly reigning monarchy, the years of dictatorial Communism, and the political strife since democracy became a renewed reality, but it should not be the only focus of who and what Albania is now and will be in the future.

A country where the honey looks and tastes like it has been poured from the sun, where the tomatoes are as a red as the flag and bursting with the same zeal, where the raki could floor a horse (and likely has done), and where that same horse might later be seen pulling a cart down a busy car-filled motorway. A people who are of such a generous spirit that it has often made me deeply uncomfortable to be with them, and who acknowledge their shortcomings in humour and a completely exposed patriotism.

Albania taught me at the age of 18 that travelling to places unknown is the purest form of education, and I have been a humble student to its wisdom ever since. All the while it remains a badly kept secret from the world, I am both delighted that my personal tutor is kept safe for a little longer, and despair for a world where Albania is absent and unknown.

It is my hope that many more choose to adventure in Albania and learn some of their own personal lessons from the wisest teacher I’ve ever encountered.

I explore adventuring in Albania in more detail over on Instagram: @shkopi_in_albania


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