Hiking Peaks of the Balkans

Set System to Chaos

There are two types of countries in this world: orderly ones and chaotic ones.

Upon exiting the airport in Tirana (Albania) I was immediately reminded that we are now back in chaos country.

Although I guess it’s really not that black or white. Countries are not orderly OR chaotic but rather exist somewhere along a continuum that stretches out from one extreme end to the other. But Albania definitely leans more towards the chaotic side (especially compared to The Netherlands which might as well be the definition of orderly).

This is the point where I must make clear that this is not a value judgement. I’m excited to be back in chaos country. I really missed chaos. I’ve lived in chaos countries for years.

It’s the difference between living or existing in a country where there is a definite system. And the system is explicit, and therefore it is knowable, and therefore you are expected to know it (even if it is wholly foreign to you), and you are expected to adhere to it, and if you don’t, we’ll, that’s too bad because good luck getting anything done and not falling through the cracks of society.

Whereas in chaotic countries there’s probably also a system but it’s implicit and therefore not really knowable, especially not for outsiders, and it’s kind of broken half the time anyway, so even if you want to play by the rules that’s no way to get anything done so there are workarounds around workarounds and you just kind of have to trust and miraculously it does work out most of the time.

As a traveller jumping from order into chaos (and I guess the other way around) you have to readjust your own system too.

It’s the difference between “computer says no” and “my uncle knows a guy who can get you there”.

It’s the difference between a system optimized for efficiency, a testament to the human capacity to make seemingly simple things incredibly complex, versus a system that’s seemingly complex but boils down to a very simple question: can we help each other?

(Here is a brilliant article about the alternative postal system in the Balkans, a great example of workarounds for broken systems that’s actually perfect)

Leaning into Chaos

It’s the difference between being able to go to a foreign website, navigate it in a language understandable to you, look up a bus timetable, book a ticket online and pay it with a foreign credit card and take the bus at the time it’s supposed to leave. Versus…taking a taxi to the busstation because you don’t really know where it is (but taxidrivers do!) and walking around until you spot the right bus and waiting and waiting and waiting until it’s full because that’s when it will depart and not when the timetable says it should.

Which takes us to the bus station (really, a parking lot) where we are waiting for the bus from Tirana to Shkoder before heading further into the mountains.

And then chaos takes us to Shkoder, where we arrive at nightfall, and navigate our way to the guesthouse only to find the gate closed and nobody home and no signs of life anywhere and the phone is not working and now its dark and we don’t have a place to stay.

Leaning into the chaos we take a breath (okay, not until after I had my little freak out moment) and navigate out if the neighborhood towards some other hostels and just ask around until we find one that has a room left.

Of course we find one.

We sigh and breathe and shower and laugh and embrace the chaos and each other.

Tomorrow to Theth. Tomorrow we start the trail.

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