29 June – 1 July, 2011
I journeyed up north, into the mountains near the Montenegro border (the accursed mountains in Serbian, the blessed mountains in Albanian), to a little village called Valbona. The first leg was a minibus ride to Koman, from where a boat plied across Lake Koman to Fierze. From there was another minibus to Bajram Curri, and then a final minibus to Valbona.
The trip across Lake Koman would have to be one of the world’s loveliest boat rides. It was about 35km across mirror-still waters through fjord-like gorges. There were a few stops at the bank to let off hardy souls who had a steep climb ahead to reach their homes. I met a couple of English mountain climbers on the boat. They had been climbing on Albania’s highest mountain, Mt Jezerca (2694m) and were meeting up with some friends in B.C. who had done the trek from Theth to Valbona (recommended only for experienced hikers with a guide). They have also been to Victoria to rock climb the Arapiles. I was tempted to mention that I have hiked along the ridge at Cathedral Ranges, just to see the look of new respect come over their faces, but I was too modest.
Valbona was all I hoped it would be. In a valley, with mountains all around, Alpine meadows and great walking opportunities, from very easy to very hard. I had a few Julie-Andrews-Sound-of-Music moments. I hadn’t booked anywhere to stay but the English guys recommended a place where I got a private room (actually a 3 bed dorm, but no-one else turned up) on the top floor (see pic). Breakfast and dinner were included in the 20 euro per night cost. The honey from their own bee-hives was delicious. The people were lovely too. There are no shops here at all, just a few guesthouses and bar-restaurants.
At the Rilindja Hotel where I walked to for lunch one day, I met Catherine, an American woman who fell in love with the place and moved here. The pic shows her feeding a baby hedgehog milk with a dropper. She said its mother abandoned it and it was like a small scoop of cold chocolate ice-cream when she found it. It’s getting better.
The last pic is of one of the 60,000 bomb shelters constructed in Albania during Communist rule.