Mountains this way

Hiking in Albanian Alps

Is visiting a truly remote place on your must see list? Unspoiled mountains, far from touristy trails? In Europe? Yes, read on.

In spring 2011 I traveled on organized cycling tour in South East Asia. Lots of sightseeing, lots of cycling, lots of money spent ….. and an average experience. Afterwards I spent few weeks thinking what was my most memorable trip ever? One stood out, a five day trek along Polish Slovakian border. Five days of having stunning scenery only for ourselves, walking the hours, and camping in desolated places. Just the two of us and unspoiled nature. Idyll? For five days I carried heavy backpack, there were no showers, or even running water, we eat meals from a can and dried noddles. But still this was a perfect trip!

Back to 2011. After few weeks of planning I bought the cheapest air tickets I could find, and we landed in Skopje in Macedonia. We spent the first night in a very friendly b&b, were given breakfast with shots of raki (local very strong spirit) and a lot of advice. The next destination was Ohrid, by the lake of the same name. We again stayed in a lovely b&b, eat local food, cycle and walk around. Than while visiting old church I spotted road sign saying ‘Albania’ and this is where the real adventure started……

Next day we were on a bus traveling towards one of the most enigmatic countries in Europe. Our destination was Theth in the mountains. True ‘middle of nowhere’ as is often described.

In order to go to this high in the mountains village we boarded minibus from Shkodra. For next 3 hours we were lurching back and forward, left and right as the driver was negotiating road full of huge potholes. Local music was blaring from the radio, plastic bottle full of raki was passed around, and the views outside windows were more and more picturesque. The road vanished after a while and we were traveling on a narrow track through the mountains. On our right was a steep slope, on our left was an abyss.

Views on the way to Theth.

Cramped, but happy we disembarked and walked to our accommodation in a local house. For few days we walked around the village, exploring the nearby treks, soaking in the tranquil settings. The weather was pleasantly warm, the food was fresh, the views never failed to impress.

Road users in Theth.

Our next step was a walk to another village. Valbona lays on the other side of mountains. The path goes up from Theth, reaches high pass and goes down again, till the next village. It takes roughly 7 hours. For this step we joined 3 others and together we hired guide and a horse to carry our luggage. We needed no horse to carry our light pack, but we thought, doing so will add to the experience. It turned out to be the right thing to do.

Short break while crossing the pass.

For the whole day the five of us walked on the track through the forest, followed by ‘our’ horse, followed by the guide, who was for the entire time on the phone. After reaching the pass we stopped to take few photos and to enjoy the moment and fabulous views. After few more hours we reached Valbona. We decided to stay with family of another ‘guide’, whom we meet on the way down. The accommodation was very basic, but beautifully set. This was a smallholding with few farm animals, what we discovered a bit of unusual way. Firstly, the cow arrived. She walked through open gate to the front of the house and without hesitation entered the kitchen. It took me a while to alert the landlady to this fact, as we share now common language. Only the laud munching from the kitchen betrayed the cow…. Then there were two pigs. They waited patiently outside the closed gate. Our companions wanted to go for a walk around the village and started opening the gate, the pigs went for it. For few moments three people were leaning against the gate trying to close it. The pigs were standing on their back legs pushing the gate open. They won. There were few chickens moving around, but later on they disappeared, only to be ‘found’ at the dinner time.

Following morning we took a ‘taxi’ to the Komani Lake. The taxi took a bit of unusual route, because we drove through river bed for first hour and a half. Another long drive on a gravel track and we arrived at the ferry pier. Boarding few cars, animals and small group of people was easy and quick. Bobbing indicated start of our journey, strap of water between ferry and land growing wider and wider. Sudden noise broke the tranquility. Out of nowhere a truck appeared, racing towards the pier, loud constant sound of horn piercing the air. Ferry stopped and slowly started moving back towards the pier. Group of men jumped on land and helped the driver to unload his cargo. It was … a cow. Who was sending a cow by ferry and where, we never found out. Nevertheless it added to the local flavour. Time to move.

Next few hours we spent basking in the rising sun and admiring our surroundings. We traveled slowly throughout a gorge, white cliffs closing and opening the lake at the front of us.

Beautiful views while on the ferry.

Sitting in the cafe back in Shkodra we were not saying much. There was no need for it. We both knew, we found our perfect way to spend holidays, our way of traveling and collecting valuable memories. Picture of the horse still hangs on a wall reminding us where all this started.

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