Travel period: May 2021
Hi everybody! The next day we pack up and leave the campsite as a trio. First to-do: stocking up groceries for the next days. Not loosing each other in the traffic of Shkodra is a challenge, but we master it and additionally find three parking spots close to a supermarket – jackpot! We love grocery shopping in foreign countries as it is something so basic but still so exciting. Our first supermarket experience starts with weird looks we get from locals until we realize it is because of the facial masks we wear – so they quickly vanish in our pockets because it feels so odd to wear them when nobody else does. Here we are, victims to peer pressure during our first days in Albania! One of the first things we recognize is that there's only frozen meat available in supermarkets. As there seems to be no industrial livestock farming in Albania you get the meat either from the butcher next door or frozen. Another local characteristic is that there are no vegetables and fruits sold in supermarkets as well. As many locals grow them on their land or in their garden it is common that this produce is sold at little market stalls on the street or even out of a truck bed along the road. Everyday things which show us the local differences so well! With fridges and storage boxes filled to the top we leave Shkodra city and head off for our first offroad trail in Albania.
Driving out of the busy city we quickly spot a common problem Albania faces: garbage. The lack of proper waste management policies in the country provide for overflowing rubbish bins and plastic piles along the streets and in the rivers close to the larger cities. We spot a waste collection truck and wonder whether it is the only one in the country following tourists just to show that they are tackling the problem. Jokes aside these pictures definitely remind us to be mindful and never leave any of our waste behind. Our overland trio heads northeast and quickly we reach the entrance point of the trail. Last preparation is to lower air preassure and switch the CB radios on – ready to go! As a coincidence a Swiss overland crew in a Defender 110 and Defender 90 drive past, stop to ask us where we are going and it turns out that they are just coming back from the trail we are about to take on. When they confirm that it's totally worth it and give the hint „when you come to the bridge you better take the river crossing“ we know it's going to be good!
The trail we follow is a dirt road leading us through mountains of the Mirditë district. Unexpected green hills and untouched nature along the way make this first adventure a real pleasure! Reaching the bridge we were told of we take the branch leading us through the river. As it is not deep and has a gravel river bed it is an easy drive. Definitely more trustworthy than the bridge. All cars are doing a good job although Rosie is still making a quirky noise sometimes, the one we already distinguished in Montenegro. This gets inspected again by all three experts of our crew on an improvised car lift the next day. ;) Still nothing major can be found so we have to live with it for now – probably the life of a Defender owner.
After a few hours passing tiny villages, donkeys and rosemary fields we reach the paved road again and it is about time to search for a campspot. Quickly checking google maps we find a gravel road leading into a lake which indicates at least only one way traffic if any and we decide to check it out. With a glimpse of the amazingly blue water from above we make our way down to the shore on the most difficult road of the day due to some big wash-outs and boulder stones. Though it is totally worth it and we setup our camp alongside the deserted road with view and acces to the lake. It turns out that the road used to connect two villages but due to a reservoir dam the road is now a dead-end on both sides of the lake with the road just leading into the water. With a little fire in our Fennek fire pit we grill some vegetables and köfte for dinner. With a tasty glass of wine and background stories about the grape harvest it is a perfect end of the day. We are lucky to have Berit with us who is a professional wine-maker and teaches us some valuable things about our favorite drink.
Our camp at the reservoir lake
The trio shortly before hitting tarmac again
Lurë National Park & Peshkopi
Waking up at the lake triggers the urge to jump in and we take a swim and SUP ride after breakfast. Refreshed and happy we drive on to the official end of the trail which is small city called Rrëshen. With three overland cars we are hard to be overlooked and the people are curios what we're doing in their town. Quite handy if you're wandering around with a lost expression on your face to find an ATM as we get a private tour to it by a local. In the café where we head for a drink the owner calls his sister via video so she can translate our order to him. Probably three coffee and three coke would've worked without translation, but the effort to get everything right makes us smile. He even prepares the bill in English for us - so thoughtful & friendly!
The next morning we drive further up into the mountains of the national park in order to reach some mountain lakes. After enjoying the hill top panorama while taking a break at a little river the road quickly turns into a river itself as melting water is running down. Not a problem yet for our overland trio but when Marcel in front put on the breaks and stops we know something is wrong. We get out of our cars and cannot believe what the road ahead is covered with: a huge snow barrier. Not just a bit of snow left over from winter but a real icy snow layer. What should we do? Digging through the snow is not an option because we can´t see the end of it if there even is an end. Furthermore the risk that the cars slide of the edge of the road is to high because the leftover snow is deep and slippery. So we do with the only choice we are left with: We turn our cars around on the narrow path which is a challenge in itself and head back down to a little plateau which seems to be perfect for our overnight camp as we see many already used fireplaces. We are all still in shorts and tshirts which we change on arrival and with a cold beer we enjoy the sunset above Lurë National Park on more time. Dinner procedure starts with the girls preparing everything for a dutch oven meal and the boys searching for fire wood. No stereotyping! ;) To feed six people it is a big advantage to have two dutch ovens (fire pots) and we can cook a warming and delicious chicken vegetable stew served with fresh bread – so delicious!
A nice campspot always seems to near in Albania
Double purpose campfire: It keeps us warm...
Our plan is to hike to the mountain lakes – which we were not able to reach by car - the next morning, but as the rain which set in during the night doesn´t stop when the alarms go off we decide to move on by car and keep following the trail towards the city of Peshkopi. During the day the rain luckily stops and we can enjoy the mountain track which offers us amazing views and a stop at a waterfall we can at least explore with a little hike. On the way we do some passenger and driver switches between G-Class and Defender to experience a different offroad vehicle for a while. And because we secretly love G-Classes of course. Along the river we meet a local who just catched some fish „for his cat“ and he points out the way for us (and of course waves as we drive off). After some crew pictures on a platform in the mountains we drive off with the thoughts of saying goodbye but it will turn not to be the last stop yet.
...and the cars.
Driving into Peshkopi we get hit by city traffic again and look for a cozy coffee place to make up our minds about the next days. As the weather is still not too bright we all decide to spend the night a campground close to the city. While we are driving around the city we got waved at by an Albanian Land Rover Discovery in full off-road gear which escorts us to the campground. Arriving at Camping Kapxhiu we get a local welcoming drink: Raki. Everybody quickly builds up their awnings as it starts to rain heavily and the car outdoor-bar is opened. With two girls from Mainz in a van joining our group we have a chatty and relaxed evening despite the rain pouring down from the sky. We prepare dinner and sit together 'til late in the night talking about the experiences we made the last days. Tomorrow our pathes will part and every couple heads for a different destination around Albania, but we are sure one day we'll meet again!
"Welcome set" at the Campsite in Peshkopi