The five of them traveled together to Karavasta. They had left Tirana at dawn, and approaching the destination their conversations livened up. The driver suggested to have breakfast. The restaurant was a village shack packed with farmers, their faces already tired from the sunlight, even though they weren’t out in the fields yet. Behind the kitchen, through a back door, there were tractors filled with watermelons.
The sun was up welcoming the new day, but this was a normal routine to the inhabitants of the area. I was trying to hide my impatience to reach the place we would film: a colony of birds, discovered randomly by a fisherman. We had taken the equipment with us. We would quietly approach the place and then would launch the drone to film from the air. It was the only way to discover some of the mysteries of the lagoon.
One of the guys ordered seconds. Food to some is a a sacred hobby, a consideration not to be denied! For some it is the mission. A meal that is both filling and enjoyable and puts everyone at ease. Still not there, I was feeling anxious. A woman was washing some glasses at the bar. Up on the wall, a flat screen was transmitting old news. We paid and got up. The car drove through the planted fields and entered the woods of Kular. We stopped before an iron gate, and as we carried our equipment on our shoulders we started walking. We traveled for two kilometers through wild pine woods until we reached the other side of a canal. We continued to walk over a sand dune with low shrubs on both sides of the path. It wasn’t long before the reeds appeared! Right where they should be.
“I hope we find them soon,” I said to the drone operator. The others were silent. The traces of a faint sun were seen on their faces. We had left three hours ago, but it seemed like half of the day had gone by. Even if we lost valuable minutes, now that people were fed, I hoped they would be more zealous.
The drone took off with a screech and left a yellowish powder trail behind. The people reached the shade, while together with the drone operator we covered ourselves with a black trench coat. I could follow the images through the tablet screen that he was holding. Everything seemed paradisiacal from up above. Something like a grey net appeared in the middle of the screen. A few seconds and the drone was at 500 meters height and all doubt was gone. We were flying over a colony.
In order to film everything we had to go closer, but we couldn’t make it! The drone owner informed us that the memory card was not recording and the drone had to come back down. We were in the middle of a park of thousands acres and the only card we had was not working! The situation seemed hopeless. Hovering over our heads there was a group of herons. The rotating blades were heard from above. The drone was loud as it landed with blowing the yellow powder in the air. The drone operator did a routine control. He repeated the same process several times but to no avail: the card was not recording!
“Go to Lushnja,” I said, “buy another card. We cannot fail. I am leaving for the Lagoon.”
We were returning on the same road, without having achieved anything. My mind was off at the heavy breakfast and the wrinkly face of the woman washing glasses. The people became more silent as the sun rose up. Çimi Malkua and his long boat were waiting at the side of the lagoon. He was from a small village, he welcomed a lot of tourists between Gjeneruka Woods and the shores of the lagoon. This time it was a filming crew.
We split in two parts: the drone operator, a technician, and the driver left for Lushnja, the caneraman and I embarked on the boat. Our destination: the Pelican Island. It was afternoon when we traversed the waters. We sat on the boat keeping the right balance. We left the swamp vegetation behind while we were approaching the soft barren hills at the other coast.
“There is a beautiful forest hiding behind there,” Çimi Malko started narrating. “The inhabitants cut the trees in 1997! They destroyed it! But it sprang up again. Now we protect it. There is no security in place.” The fisherman spoke as if this was something normal. He expressed a balanced or hidden self control in his narration. The boat glided over the water and I observed the hills. The forest was restored in a decade, but the massacre of Gjeneruka could not be easily hidden.
“Until here,” said Çimi Malko, “we cannot go any further!”
It sounded more like an order. He looked at me with the same calmness. From here, the pelicans in the island were just white dots and the short camera lens couldn’t zoom in. I didn’t speak and I went in the water. My feet went deep into the muddy swamp and the warm water surrounded my chest. The cameraman was on the boat as I gave him a sign to follow me.
“We will walk through water,” I said in a quite voice, “and we will stop every 50 meters.”
So with a little luck we would reach a distance so that the white body of the Pelican would fit in the frame. The operator looked around without moving. I took the tripod and pushed ahead. I walked slowly and quietly. We stopped after some time. We placed the tripod and peeked through the lens. We still were too far away. This was a small island, not more than a several dozens of square meters. It lay in the middle of the lagoon and had such a thin shoreline that often couldn’t be observed even at a close distance. Usually, for the untrained eye, they almost didn’t exist.
Our team was moving forward slowly but surely. We planted the tripod in the mud. We placed the camera, fixed the lens, and saw the island. We were still far away from the goal of our mission. The tension was rising. It would be dangerous to walk a little closer: the pelicans could fly away and leave. It was time to make a decision. Everything, until this moment, had left me with a bitter taste. So, I didn’t have anything to lose.
I looked over toward the island. A group of small and adult pelicans was not moving. We didn’t pose a threat, yet. I continued! “I come in peace, I come in peace,” the lyrics of a song from my youth were going through my mind. I started repeating them at each step. I raised my feet so little, enough that I just unstuck them from the mud as I moved in the direction of the shore. I was scared! It looked like I had gone too close. I turned my head and made a sign to the operator.
At the distance, there were the hills of Gjeneruka, covered with woods. The forest took only ten years to return! It was difficult for this news to reach the capital. The cameraman planted the camera and started setting up the frame. We had established a friendly relationship with the birds. The birds were moving, but didn’t fly away. It resembled a parade. The green surface of the island became a catwalk. A pelican flew low in front of the lens. Another was immovable and huddled with his head up. Some were courageous and moved closer over us. So, we started filming.
When we got back on the boat, Çimi Malkua said that no one had come so close to the island before. I took a deep breath and felt tired. I had two small pieces of bread inside my bag. I took them out and we split them between us. Around us the view was gloomy and deserted. At a distance, the field of Presa was visible through the water flow. We reached the shore after half an hour. The car wasn’t there yet, so we sat under a shade. I phoned Adrian Koci, the director of the National Park. He was leaving for the pine forest. One of his guards had discovered unusual animal excrements. He doubted it was a roe deer. “Good news is coming back,” I thought to myself.
“Before, there were more,” said Çimi Malko, “but they were hunted, in 1997. They didn’t stop until they had killed them all. One of the hunters in the area, set a trap close to a well. He covered himself in leaves and didn’t stop until he murdered them all, one by one!”
I was shocked. Çimi sneered and was quiet. “You cannot beat up nature so easily!,” I thought. Far away, at the direction of the road, white dust rose up. We were coming back.
Çimi Malko greeted me, untied the boat and left. I had met a simple person who lived in the midst of Gjeneruka forest and the shores of the Lagoon. I felt well. The car was returning to Kular. The sun started turning into colors. The people were silent. The drone operator had found a new card in Fier. We stopped in front of the entrance gate of the forest. But only us two left. The others were left waiting. We crossed three kilometers, before we reached the side of the canal. The drone flew up our heads for the second time. We saw the vast sea in front of our eyes. The sun rays were reflected into water giving the surface a golden hue. We passed onto the Bruka field and flied over the swamp. We crossed the reeds, at a distance, our eyes caught a white dot. The drone was descending, while I held my breath.
An unusual silence and confidence was necessary at this moment to fully enjoy the pleasure evoked by this wonderful moment. The white dots were becoming soft bird wings and the swaths of green that covered the surface were nothing but the green reeds over the swamp. The secret colony, its borders, were being uncovered before our eyes for the first time! I was observing the wing movements, the snapping and swinging of branches, while I was trying to imagine the wonderful sounds emitting form this community of birds. We shot everything that we needed and left. At last!
On our way back, when the sun set, the people were rejoiced. While we approached Tirana, the travelers talked about greedy technicians and smug drivers. I was calm and pleased. I was exhausted, perhaps, but still sober to ask myself, why had no one appreciated the cameraman, who approached the pelican as close as no one every did before?!