Welcome back to the blog. After spending a couple of nights at the cosy valley spot just below the village of Theth we pack up and continue the last stretch of the path. We think we are in for a smooth ride but the last 30 minutes of the track require our full attention. On top of some large rock steps we need to pass a couple of narrow passages. This last stretch of track (or the first if you are coming from Theth) is frequented by quite a lot of vehicles transporting visitors to the near-by Blue Eye hike starting point. We have to reverse a couple of times to find wider spots in the track to let the oncoming traffic pass. Not always an easy tasks when there is a cliff 50 cm away from one side of the car. Luckily we do not end up as scrap metal and reach the village unharmed. Theth is said to be the best starting point for a variety of activities in the albanian alps with the Theth to Valbona hike being the most famous one. It would be an easy task to spent more time here enjoying the outdoors on foot but we do not spent more time in Theth as we are about to meet friends soon. So we leave the area via the so called Theth north route. What once was a similar mountain road like the one we have just driven is now a paved road leading all the way to Lake Shkoder. By the time we are here the last constructions are in full swing and the last tarmac all the way until Theth is being laid. Nevertheless, it´s still a beautiful drive with scenic views into the surrounding valleys and mountains. We heard that this road has just been opened shortly before our arrival because of the weather conditions. When we spot huge piles of leftover snow – at the beginning of June – we understand why.
Last stretch to Theth
Views from the north route to Theth
On our way down to the lake we pass idyllic villages but are surprised to come across a large prison which is situated on a plain after the valley gets wider and wider. Well, we are not exactly surprised by the fact that Albania has a prison but rather by the unconventional writing we see on the prison wall. Quotes like „Bad choices don´t make bad people.“ or „Everybody deserves a second chance – it´s called tomorrow.“ suggest that Albania has a modern approach to the re-socialization of criminals. We can´t find out if this is really the truth, nevertheless the unexpected writings on the wall stick in our minds for longer.
In need for a proper shower and a table tennis match we check in at the Lake Shkoder Resort campsite we have already stayed at when we first crossed the border into Albania. Also, this is the meeting point with good friends from home who are on a parental leave trip with their baby and dog. The plan is to spend a little bit of time in Albaina and to cross into Greece together. But for now we just enjoy the early summer days at the lake with a lot of swimming, sunset watching, cooking and catching up. We are happy to see some well-known faces from home and start to make plans on how we further explore together as they are travelling in a different style of vehicle – a Fiat Ducato based camper van. Quickly we all agree that the first thing we want to do is the ferry ride on the Koman lake. You might think that it is just an ordinary ferry ride but instead it´s something pretty spectacular: The rather small ferry boats with an open deck follow the river Drin and the Koman lake through fjord like mountain peaks offering amazing views. While this ferry ride was never created for tourism, it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Albania and we are about to experience it ourselves. A common way is to take a ferry round trip from the harbor town Koman as the final destination Fierze is located at the foot of the albanian alps and it is quite a ride back towards the coast. Nevertheless, we are up for exploring this part of Albania as well, book a one way ticket for the ferry online and head to Koman one day before departure.
Lazy days at the lake
Who needs a yacht when you have a surfboard
Arriving in Koman we quickly find out that there are not many spots to camp wild and as there's only one campsite the decision where to stay for the night is quickly made. Eventhough the owner welcomes us friendly the place is creepy on first sight. The whole place is a bit outdated with building constructions hosting the bathroom and a 'restaurant' under the bridge and when we arrive their dogs get put away in a shelter, which irritates us. The grandma grinding by with her walking stick doesn't really help to calm our minds.
Thumbs up for this epic fire!
On which we made this!
However it is not a bad place at all and we are happy to make us some delicious Pitas and for the short drive to the ferry port the next morning. The ferry port lies on the other side of a tunel and shortly before we reach the end of it we get stopped by a crowd of people who claim to be ticket salesmen for all kind of ferry boats. Luckily we have our ticket already and the guys quickly loose interest in us. One of them though turns out to be our real ferry guy and guides us through the crowd of people and other cars to the booked ferry. While loading the ferry they use up every inch of space so we have to park Rosie just centimeters away from the side of the boat. When we see our friends boarding the same ferry with their van a couple of minutes later we are relieved we all made it through this Albanian kind of organisation. The following three hours confirm why this is one of the most beautiful ferry rides of Europe. Through mirror like water we sail alongside green hills and steap cliffs, sometimes just a few meters wider than the ship itself. As Rosie's roofrack makes a good viewpoint we are happy to share it with a local passanger. After spending four weeks in Albania so far we are well aware of the littering problem and sadly the Koman lake is no exception as we drift through a lot of plastic garbage along the way. Once again we hope that the Albanian government and its people will soon tackle this problem threatening the beautiful nature of this country. As soon as we land in Fierze the summer heat hits us and we cut up a watermelon to cool down before hitting the road.
We decide to get closer to Tirana the next days and while driving we spot a pretty nice guesthouse in the little mountain village Kryezy called: Guesthouse Makry. It is not an official campsite but when we meet the owner Marco he welcomes us to stay the night in the parking lot and use the facilities. In exchange we take the chance and order a traditional Albanian dinner which turns out to be very delicious. During our stay, which turns out to be longer than expected, we get to know Marco and his family and are thankful to enjoy real Albanian hospitality. Their place is located not far away from a waterfall and we decide to take the walk on a sunny day and go for a swim in the natural pool. The star of our crew is definitely the baby as especially Albanians are very family friendly and just love the tiny feed of our friends son. Travelling quickly shows us what connects all people: babys and football. Together with Ronaldo fan Marco and his friends we watch the football match Germany – Portugal of the European Championhip and much to Marco's disappointment Portugal looses. We do not share his pain though but are happy that we are not kicked out that night. The next morning we say farewell to the people of Bujtina Makry (click here) and leave for Tirana.
At Guesthouse Makry
Homemade albanian food
Approaching Tirana the temperature rises to 35 °C which makes us not stay long in the big city. After a short stop at the local department store to stock up some tools we leave the city eastbound for lake Ohrid. Spontaneously we decide to cross the border into North Macedonia this evening. This detour is the only way to get into Greece as borders from Albania to Greece are closed at the moment. We get rid of our Albanian cash at the supermarket and the petrol station and head for the border. On the last kilometers we watch the sunset in the back mirrow and joke: „would be funny if the border crossing takes ages now...“ unsuspecting that it does. While our friends pass the border checkpoint easily some Albanian border official runs off with our passports and car documents. He gives us a sign to follow him and we find ourselves in a large garage where we are met by two customs officials. We realize quickly that we are in for a drug sweep. Eventhough we do not have anything on us we get a little nervous because it's our first experience of this kind. The car is put on a lift to be searched underneath and we have to open every storage compartment. Clearly they are looking for weed and while the bad cop sniffs at every item the good cop whispers to us: „Everything will be fine.“ We fear that they won't let us go without a bribe but this negative prejudice turns out to be wrong. After 25 minutes we get handed back our documents and are free to cross to North Macedonia. Yeah! Goodbye land of Byrek & Benz!
Travel period: June 2020