Well, I recently recovered from having 28 people stay at my house and almost shooting myself, some friends, a dog and a power line with fireworks over the span of one weekend (July 4th!) and then barely had time to get back into work before I taking a trip to the mountains. Also – I’ve started working on some tourism projects with the eager new mayor of the municipality in Shengjin (the beach town 15 min away), so suddenly I am a commuter for part of my week and am feeling very productive for a PCV in Albania in the summer. Keeps me on my toes…and gives me an excuse to take a dip in the ocean after work.
But back to the mountains.
As of this June, the American Embassy now lets PCVs travel to the far north of Albania. This means that finally I can check out two of the most famous areas of the country among foreigners – Valbona and Thethi. The two mountainous valleys look like nothing I’ve seen here yet and are connected over a high pass by a trail that is well marked (probably the only marked trail in the country).
This past weekend a big group of us took a trip to this previously forbidden territory to check it out for ourselves. We traveled by ferry across Lake Fierza to Bajram Curri, visited with the volunteers there and swam in the river. Then we camped in Valbona, hiked the pass and spent the better part of two days in Thethi exploring the historic homes, crystal waters and helping with a British-run summer school that is the only operating school in the valley these days.
Since the fall of communism, most of the families move to the coastal area close to Shkoder in the winter as there is routinely more than 2 meters of snow in Theth. Because of this, the small elementary school building has fallen into disrepair and isn’t open at all in the school year. The Balkans Peace Park (B3P) summer program has secured funding with the help of the Germans to renovate some of the school and use it to teach English and environmental studies during the summer. Through some contacts I have with B3P I arranged for us to help with the program’s first day. It was wonderful to get to meet some of the kids and have them show us around their hometown.
Theth is growing in popularity as a tourist site, but the road in is still very poor quality (the worst I’ve seen since being here) and there’s no electricity. This means that most of the traffic is from foreign, not Albanian, tourists. Because of this and because of the nature of the big old family homes in a unique architectural style in town, there are a lot of small guest houses. So different to see after having worked in an area with big, tacky hotels! It’s also an area famous for being at the center of the Albanian Kanun, or historic legal code that condoned blood feuds. There’s a small museum and a Kulla (tower) that we toured that served as a refuge for those men targeted in the feuds for over 300 years. Kindof like “base” in a game of twisted tag.
The more I learn about Albania, the more it never ceases to surprise me. I’ve been here long enough to see so many changes, and I wonder how Theth will continue to change as it becomes more accessible over time. For now, I’ll let the photographs speak for themselves.
Check out the album on the photos page.