There are two spots on the map – A and B. If you are a crow or Superman, it will be six miles to fly. Another option? You can walk from A to B. It’s around nine miles and it takes six-seven hours. Not for everyone, but possible. So, maybe the third option, you lazy bastard? Ok, just jump in a car. It’s only one-hundred-sixty miles and it takes seven hours. THIS IS ALBANIAAAA!
Yep, we are still talking the same spots on the map. We choose to walk from Theth to Valbona. Where is Theth? Well, somewhere at the end of the world, where civilization is only a vague memory. They say it is still Europe, but let me tell you – it’s a bullshit. Prokletije – Accursed Mountains. Sounds sinister? Not for us. It sounds like a fairytale place, and we know that we simply have to go there.
To get from Theth to Valbona by car, you need to cross virtually half of a country…
Adventure time! There is only one way to get to Theth. We spent night in Shkodër, the nearest city. Four hours by car. A tent in the city centre? No problem, with such high temperatures it’s even better than hostel. In the morning we get to the van with few other people. Let’s go. There are some French, there is a Belgian couple with the baby. There is no impossible.
In Albania, you can see bunkers absolutely eveywhere.
After you left the city, you can see real Albania. Stalls, tiny shops, thirty-year-old cars, cabbage fields, horses and carts and bunkers, bunkers everywhere… Bunker for everyone, million of bunkers, god damn Enver Hoxha
! End of the flat land, mountains slowly appear. After two hours we stop at the cafe. Ten minute break for a coffee and pee. The barmaid is probably the nicest person in the entire world. She doesn’t speak English and we know literally two words in Albanian. Who cares? We understand each other perfectly. ‘You’re such a nice couple’ she says. We get some free sweets. Yaay, we’ve got an Albanian auntie! There must be some catch… Albanian people CANNOT be so nice and kind. My very limited trust in mankind makes me doubt. Is it just another, developed way of getting tourists’ money? But there is no catch. You can tell. You just won’t detect any crap and bullshit. Because there is none. It’s a genuine unselfishness. Beautiful.
We’re on our way to Accursed Mountains… on accursed road. End of tarmac, there’s just really bumpy gravel road. Average speed – twelve miles per hour. Mountain on the left, precipice on the right. Crash barriers? Are you kidding me? This is Albania. Nevermind, everyone’s in great mood. I make jokes with French, baby is laughing, only Kasia is pale and looks terrified. I bet she would like to be that baby at the moment – oblivious and happy.
It seems that we spent all eternity in that bloody car, but finally we got to Theth. What a breathtaking valley it is! The whole settlement is just a dozen houses or so. Guesthouses mostly. We’ve heard that only one family lives here permanently. It’s time to say goodbye to our fellow travellers. We are the only ones who go straight into the mountains and Valbona. Our backpacks weight twelve kilo each, but we’ve got our tent, food and water. Everything we need. It’s still hot, but comparing to sweltering heat we left in Shkodër it’s nice and fresh. Our path begins here. Let’s go.
Crystal clear, amazingly cold mountain spring water!
We meet few other hikers on our path. They go down, opposite direction. They look at our huge backpacks and probably think that we are crazy. No worries guys, we are absolutely fine. In the beautiful beech grove we find relief from the scorching sun. We find a brook. Let’s chill here for a moment. But, what’s there? A cabin in the woods? A witches hut or a mirage or what? Oh, it’s just a little bar with cold drinks, snacks and home-made cake. We are in a fairytale indeed.
Soon we nearly reach the pass – the highest point on our route. We will see Valbona Valley from there. And finally we will go down. I am the first one to reach the pass, Kasia is few steps behind. I stand there, speechless and fascinated (in fact I got excited and shouted ‘Kasia, you got to see this, hurry up for fuck’s sake!’, but I’m trying to be romantic, ok?). Anyway, this place is absolutely dramatic. If there are such places in this world, maybe some of the gods are not dead yet?
The pass right between Theth and Valbona valleys.
Majestic Valbona Valley. It’s not easy to go down the steep and narrow path. Instead of watching your feet, you stare at those mountains, you admire that grand panorama. We stop under the rock. We will picnic here. In this scenery, even ordinary bread and tinned meat is a great feast. We go further down. Soon we find another evidence that Japanese tourists have taken over the world. They are everywhere, even here. We don’t mind that and have a nice chat with solo travelling girl.
Last few miles are not very exciting. Just a flat route in the valley. Or we are so tired that we can’t really enjoy it. But soon we can see the village. We made it. Oh, our poor legs and backs! We crawled into the restaurant. Ordered some food and cold beer. Again – amazing Albanian hospitality. We are the only guests, so they set a fire and grill some fresh meat especially for us. Soon we chew on huge portions of lamb and veal with chips and salad. Ridiculously cheap and ridiculously good. The owner of the restaurant lets us to put up our tent in the yard. He says we can take a shower in his own house. How great is that? We go to sleep, exhausted but extremely happy. What a day. Chafes and blisters on my feet will disappear soon, but memories – never.