We are picked up by a Mercedes mini van, organised by Green Garden Hostel, and driven to Theth. We felt like we’d been teleported to Nepal. Initially the road was narrow and although sealed, dodging or moving over for other traffic made the journey slow. We drive past fields of lavender and what appear to be chamomile flowers blooming. Soon we were on a mountain road. The mountains were steep and rocky, some with pockets of dirty snow. Clouds hung low in the drizzle. The road was very narrow with steep drop offs. Later the surface deteriorated to rough gravel and embedded raised rocks. There was no room to pass on-coming vehicles, so some backing-up to wider verges was required. It took almost 3 hours to travel 70 kms.
We arrived in drizzle at accommodation Alpbes Theth, a guesthouse that is associated with Green Garden Hostel. Meals are included and we are almost immediately sat down to lunch of bread, spinach pie, sheep milk cheese, salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, and yellow capsicum, coated in olive oil, sheep milk yoghurt, washed down with a shot of Rakija. The soft rain turned the air cold. In fact I found it hard to generate any warmth in spite of donning all of the clothes I’d brought for the hike. While packing for the trip the last thing Nev said to me was he had his bathers, because there was a blue spring, and you could swim there. I didn’t even open my bag of warm gear that I had brought for the possibility of cycling getting cool, and now I am berating myself for my stupidity, entering a mountain region unprepared. For most of the afternoon we rested in the room, I was wrapped in the quilt.
Later we were bored, and still had to wait until 8 pm for dinner, so we walked out in the soft drizzle.
When we were called for dinner, I was reluctant to go to the dining room and leave the quilt behind, but soon warmed up after a dinner of soup, chips, BBQ lamb leg, cheese, salad, bread, and vegetable slice.
We requested breakfast for 7:30 and hoped that the weather would be fine so that tomorrow we can undertake the hike we intended. Breakfast is: mountain tea, bread, omelette, homemade butter, white cheese, ricotta, honey, fig jam. Feeling very full of food, and with a pile of additional food hastily prepared for a picnic, (our hosts hadn´t realised our intention to complete the hike) we departed just after 9. The 4WD track lead us about 3 km downhill to the trail head. The sign indicates that it´s 6km to Valbone Col, so that means 6km uphill! We continue on a rocky 4wd trail, that soon turned to zigzag up the steep shingle hill. Later it was muddy underfoot through beech forest. Still we continue upwards with occasional pauses for photos. The mountain views were stunning. About 40 minutes from the top, on the edge of the forest there was a cafe! We supported the local economy by purchasing cans of Nescafé Latte, and a slice of pancake-layer-stack, glued with honey.
At the Col, nimble Nev detoured out to the highest point to get some 360 degree views. We crossed through to the other side and then began descending, crossing many shingle avalanches. Sometimes the track was quite narrow. This is the type of surface I don’t like walking on. I’ve never slipped, but the consequences of doing so, would be treacherous. Eventually, after much descending, we arrived at a meadow that was a good place to stop for lunch. Our packed lunch was bread, white cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers. Up to now we had seen only one other couple, but at this point we passed many people going up from the Valbone side.
The descent continued following a stark white, rocky riverbed, and we are completely surrounded by mountains. The sun was shining and it was a pleasant walk all the way to Valbone where we stepped onto tarmac opposite a luxury hotel, where we celebrated by sharing a bottle of beer.
The walk wasn’t over for us; we didn’t have anywhere to stay, so we continued, looking for a guesthouse with a spare room. We met 2 French couples on bikes. They were travelling separately, and had met a month ago, and now, by chance, had met up again. It was interesting to get their perspecive of cycling in Albania. By the time we had found suitable accommodation we had walked 22.2km. I was extremely cold, and again I’d been tucked under a quilt trying to be warm, but dinner was served outside, sitting in armchairs at a small table, surrounded by peaks kissed by the last of the sun. Tepid Moussaka with some rice mixed in, bread, pasta shells that had been cooked in a broth, (but with no sauce) salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, ricotta with chopped green pickled tomatoes stirred in. We watched as goats on the road were herded to safety for the night, and a lone horse wandered home. We declined the offer to watch the World Cup Soccer, and headed for bed.
An early start; breakfast is to be at 6:30. I used Nev´s phone to set the time not realising that the 6:00 alarm was only for Saturday, for the rides he used to go on in Australia, with his mates! Just as well I wake early. By the time I thought to check the time it was 6:15. We managed to pack ready to leave, and be at the outdoor table in time for breakfast of deep fried omelette, bread, another type of white cheese, and fig jam, washed down with mountain tea. Mountain Tea is an Albanian breakfast accompaniment. It is made by steeping the plant, stem and leaves, in hot water. It is served hot or room temperature, and has a very pleasant flavour with a hint of perfume similar to lavender. Evidently it is an endangered plant, Sideritis Raeseri, a medicinal herb, rich in antioxidants.
A minibus took us to Busan, where we needed to catch another minibus to Fierze. While we waited on the footpath what appeared to be a minibus pulled up in front of us. Yes he was going to Fierze and we had difficulty understanding the fare. Nev gave him 1500 Lek and then he snatched the remaining 600 Nev was still holding. We took off at a crazy rate. Nev and I simultaneously reaching around for seat belts, and exchanging the same thought as we looked into each other´s eyes; ¨what have we got into!¨ Nev checked Google maps and the exchange rate. It was now obvious that this vehicle, in spite of it´s disheveled state, was a taxi, and we were in the hands of a crazy Albanian driver! At a village he pulled over and he told us to get out, and pointing and waving, indicated we were to go with another man who was at the side of the road standing beside a small car. We clarified that we didn’t need to pay the man any money, then the minibus did a u-turn and disappeared. The driver of the small car lit a cigarette, and we were off, enveloped in smoke, to Fierze, only a few kilometres away. The driver stopped outside a restaurant and told us, quite sternly, to get out. So we did! On asking at the restaurant, we found it was still 3 km to the ferry and it departed in 45 minutes. We set off at a brisk walk and then decided to hitchhike. Thumbs out to the first car and it pulled over. Two young men quickly moved stuff to one side of the back seat and we squeezed in. We were offered, and ate their biscuits, and soon dropped at the ferry.
The three hour ferry ride on Lake Komani was beautiful, even though the peace was disturbed by accompanying local music, played just a little too loudly! Lake Komani is a man-made reservoir as a result of damming the Drin River. Large hills rise from the water and occasionally there is a view of mountains behind. The scenes are very picturesque but not dramatic like the country we had walked through yesterday.
As soon as we disembark the ferry we are approached by a man who asks if we need a ride to Shkoder. He has a taxi with two passengers and is happy for two more fares. We are happy to accept his offer that is cheaper than the minibus we were expecting to catch. Today, in terms of transport; you lose some; you win some!