Well, we learnt that lesson the hard way! When I wrote my last blog entry, we were enjoying the generosity of our Albanian hosts on a “home stay”, and when we asked about price we were told “tomorrow”. Well, tomorrow came and the price for lunch, dinner and breakfast was €80! I had read that the going rate for full board including accommodation is €30 per person, and we were camping, so we were pretty shocked, and somewhat out of pocket! But we paid up, shook hands and cursed ourselves all the way up the next hill for not having agreed a price beforehand.
But we soon managed to put it behind us as we sweated our way steeply up through meadows full of wild flowers, and along a dirt road up to the Montenegro border. We followed a mountain ridge first on the Montenegro side, then on the Albanian side, through beautiful lush forest on mostly good paths.
As we dropped down on the Albanian side, we said hello to an old man chopping wood. He shouted to his young son, who walked with us to the next village, Balkin. The lad’s name was Almad, and he seemed glad of the chance to practice his English. He invited us into his home – a typical cowherd’s hut, a single room building made of stone with a tin roof. We sat on the sleeping platform, with Neil next to the stove where a large pan of milk was heating up, and Almad’s mother offered us chai, or mountain tea, in dainty little glasses. We couldn’t work out what herbs were in it, but it was delicious, and very very sweet. We chatted away as best we could, in a mixture of English and mime, but never did work out where Almad went to school! It must have been a long way away: Balkin is perched on a steeply sloping meadow a long way up a mountain, and as far as we could tell there wasn’t even a dirt road to it.
Leaving the shade of Almad’s home, it came as a shock heading out into the intense sunshine of the early afternoon, but we had a few more miles to cover before that day’s destination, the shepherds’ village of Doberdol.
Arriving at Doberdol, our first impression of the valley was that it was a bit like the Lake District. Intensive sheep and cattle grazing had left the valley bottom and sides covered in closely cropped grass, with crags and corries up above. The “village”, however, was a widely scattered collection of single room huts, many with their own vegetable gardens, with sheep, cattle, goats and horses wandering freely amongst them.
We spotted a friendly-looking sign for Guest House Bashkim, and enquired if we would be able to camp there. No problem, and the owner showed us a place beyond his dormitory huts and toilet huts where we could pitch our tent. Freezing cold water flowed constantly from a pipe next to Mr Bashkim’s family’s hut; this water was also put to good use for cooling drinks as it was piped in through the top of a 6 foot tall display fridge, crammed full of beer, wine and fizzy drinks, and allowed to trickle over the cans, a great solution which Mr Bashkim was obviously very proud of!
There were two guided groups staying at the same time as us, and it wasn’t a problem for us to cook for ourselves on our stove, out of everyone’s way. The next morning we asked if we could buy some yoghurt, and were given a huge bowl of tangy yoghurt, freshly made there at the guest house, which made a great breakfast with the muesli we’d brought with us.
We’d planned to take the fifth day of our hike as a rest day, but once the overnight rain had cleared out and the blustery winds dropped a bit, we set off for a walk up the valley (minus heavy rucksacks) with the intention of visiting some glacial lakes to the south of and above the guest house. When we saw them they were just unremarkable little tarns, but the ridges round the back of them looked far more interesting, so we went for a bit of a scramble! The tops of the ridges were either rocky or covered in thick low-lying juniper and bilberry bushes, and the sides were precipitously steep, so it was quite hard going but a great short walk. We also bagged the highest point which we expect to go to on this hike – Kersi i Kocaj at 2399 metres.
We loved Doberdol and its feeling of hard-bitten isolation, but this morning it was time to hike on. A steep climb up the north side of the valley led to a cairn where the borders of all three countries of our hike, Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro, converge. We then followed the Kosovo/Montenegro ridge north through absolutely lovely scenery, much of it limestone, with masses of colourful alpine flowers everywhere. It was also good to meet an Albanian professional mountain biker on the trail, who was recce’ing single track routes to offer as guided mountain bike tours for an Austrian company. I hadn’t realised until then that all along Neil had been working out which bits of trail he could ride his mountain unicycle on!
Dropping down off the border ridge on the Kosovo side, we had another long ascent up to Roshkodol Pass at 2290 metres, then it was a long descent of over 900 metres through meadows and forests to the sweltering hot valley below. A steep ascent up a dirt road took us over to Milishevc where after a bit of wandering about we found a guest house (no sign outside) where we have enjoyed dinner in the company of two German hikers. I have also enjoyed my first shower for 6 days!!! It felt great to be clean again, even if I did have to put my sweaty clothes back on. Another long and probably hot day awaits us tomorrow, but we’re enjoying the hiking and the scenery so far has been amazing.