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Published: June 13th 2023
I had a horrible sleep. Yuki was asleep before me and at first I thought it would be ok but then the snoring started. I used to be able to sleep through anything but I can’t seem to do it anymore. I put in earplugs and I can still hear it. I put my headphones on a sleep story waking around Toronto of all places but it doesn’t work. I try waves on the ocean. It must work at some point because I have nightmares about people putting my onto psychotic medication I didn’t need and I wake up several times. I hear Yuki’s alarm and to his credit he gets up and takes his stuff outside. I doze for a bit and when I check the time it’s half six. Still half an hour before I need to be up but I’m too agitated to go back to sleep. I force myself to stay in bed until 5 to 7 then I get up and get ready. By ten past 7 I have left my big bag behind the desk and am waiting across the road. I order a takeaway long black from the coffee shop and get
take away espresso. I sit and wait for my bus. At half past I decide to ask my waiter if I am in the right place, I figure he sees people get picked up all the time. We are in the process of checking my ticket when a black minibus pulls up and the driver beckons me into the front seat. He takes my ticket and asks where I’m from.
On the bus we make three more stops, one brings us past some ruins with really cool street art so I drop a pin for when I’m back in shkoder. The other stops are on the way out if town and I realise it is much bigger than I thought. The last guy we pick up has a rucksack bigger than him and they give it a seat to itself. Then we stop for an old guy hitchhiking and the bag has to squish on the floor leaving me glad I’m up front alone. We slowly head towards the mountains, getting closer and closer.
After an hour the map shows us as half way there but its meant to be a 3 hour trip. We stop at a
little market on the side of the road and the hitchhiker keeps shouting orders through which the driver collects. Assuming he works at one of the guest houses and these are supplies they need. A bag of cigarettes, a slab of beer; vital supplies. As the road heads up towards the mountains the scenery gets more impressive and any attempt at sleep proves futile as there is far too much to look at. We pass the standard sheep in the road and the one that has no intention of moving and gets pushed by the farmer. To my right I spot a pig and get a photo. As we drive the mountains get closer and bigger and more impressive. We stop at a lookout for ten minutes with a view right down the valley. It’s amazing. I chat to some other people on my bus about their trips most are going through Montenegro or have come that way. Back on the bus we start to head down the mountain and then the driver pulls over and tells me this is where I get out. The two Australian couples too, from here we need to walk in.
Maps.me says its
a 48 minute walk, the others are at different guest houses but the route looks the same so we set off together. About 10 minutes in I notice my distance has gone up to 58 minutes but the route looks right. One of the Aussies checks on his Google maps and we’re going the right way so we plough on. After twenty minutes the young Aussie couple reach their accommodation. They can’t find out how to get in but the older Aussie woman has a data plan so she calls for them. We wander on over a bridge and after twenty more minutes the couple are at their accommodation. Mine still says 20 minutes so I have a feeling I missed a turning and as a result added 40 minutes to my journey. At least I had company and the scenery was good. The path is flooded and I am trying hard not to go so deep my boots flood but eventually I cross over and am back on track. I need a second pair of socks or some blister pads as the ball of one foot is really sore. I feel every minute of the twenty it takes to
my guest house and I am grateful that I left my bigger bag in Shkoder. Then it hits me. I split my money three ways and 6000 of it is still in the bag in Shkoder. That means I don’t have enough money for this part of the trip. Crap. I go through possible scenarios in my head but I try to take the Albanian attitude and hope it will work itself out.
Finally a sign for my guesthouse and an uphill path to get in. I pass a woman playing with her children who says hello and I point at the building at the top of the path and ask if it’s my guesthouse. She confirms it is. I wander on. An old man who looks like sensei from karate kid is staring out at the view next to a bench. I pop my head inside but there is nobody there so I head towards sensei. He says sit so I do and he gestures to the woman playing with her kids ‘owner’ he says so I wait. Eventually she comes and she says hi but nothing else. I wait longer and an older woman in an apron approaches.
She says her name is Rosa and do I have a reservation. I say yes I do and she shows me to a 5 bed room. The house itself is stone and rustic and the bedrooms are round the back on an upper level. All 5 beds are on the ground floor and I am offered two beds, one near the window in the corner which would be my preference but the mattress looks sunken in the middle so I opt for the one by the door which looks firmer. Once she is gone I test both and think I made the right choice.
She returns with a towel for me and says there is no electricity it has been off all morning. Explains the no WiFi. I ask about money and she says there’s an ATM in Theth about 15 minutes away. I’m wondering if Theth is 15 minutes away why I wasn’t dropped there instead of walking nearly two hours. Maps.me says its 30 minutes to Theth and it is on the way to Blue Eye the hike I had planned for this afternoon so I will chill for a bit and then do both later. Hopefully I
can pick up some water too.
Outside on the patio a couple has arrived. I thought French but turns out they’re Swiss and Portuguese speaking Italian as they live in Italy. We have a chat about our trips and Rosa comes out offering coffee. It is more espresso and a glass of water, the Albanian way. We sit and chill for a while enjoying the peace and the view. Eventually I decide to head out and start walking towards town. It is beautiful so I take my time and lots of pictures. An old, bald Albanian man carrying toilet roll stops me and asks where I’m staying. I say Guest House Rrashkoli and he asks me if it’s any good and if the woman was nice to me. I tell him very good, Rosa was very nice thumbs up and he takes my hand and clasps it. Then he says that makes me happy; it’s my place and Rosa is my wife and gives me a big hug. I wonder what would have happened if I’d given a negative review? His happiness was so infectious though and I was giggling to myself as I carried on down the path.
Soon enough I come across the trail head for the valbone hike; this is definitely the closest guesthouse to it so it looks like a good choice there. I carry on into town. A big building still clearly being built, you can see through the windows on the upper floors, dominates the landscape. As I get closer I realise that this is the market and the whole bottom floor is a shop which leads out to a beautiful patio and restaurant bar. I go inside and ask about money, he can do it for a ten percent fee which is cheaper than the ATMs so I go ahead with the withdrawal. I also ask for some plasters having to demonstrate sticking to my foot. He hands me a small box I pick up some almonds and head out. Once that’s done I take a seat outside to sort my money and realise they have free WiFi so I jump on and check in at home. I sit for a while just chilling until 4 Germans join me at the table. They have just done the small waterfall hike, the one Rosa recommended and they rated it. They agreed with Rosa
that Blue Eye was too far this late in the day. I set off along the path for the hike, really taking my time, chilling. It is only an hour but I’ve already done 17000 steps today so I don’t want to push it. An Albanian guy starts to talk to me; where am I from, where am I staying and my guard instantly goes up but he is genuinely making conversation. People here are so genuine and friendly. I have no idea where the bad reputation they have at home might have come from. I realise then that I’ve left my water bottle in the market. I’m not heading back though, I’ll try on the way back but I always knew it would be my first loss of the trip.
I continue waking past a bin crew. The guy says hi and I say hello back he then mimics my hello laughing as I walk on. I can cross some fields with guesthouses, one restaurant looks especially cute until I come across a path downwards which says waterfall. I am weighing it up when two guys and a girl join me. One of them looks Albanian and seems
to be acting like a tour guide so I ask if he’s from here, he says no Toronto but he comes here so much he may as well be. I ask if this is the path to the waterfall and it is so we head down. We chat for a bit but the others in his group are not very talkative. At the river there is a new bar that are constructing across the river, it looks cool but a lot of the landscape has been damaged to build it which is a shame. I head down to join the river. There is a bridge with slats missing and the Canadian guy comes back over to show me how to cross it. I’m sure he is being nice but he comes across condescending. Still I take his help over a rock that looks a bit like a jump. Then I try to lose them. I head down to the river and take my shoes off and sit with my feet in the cold water. It is quiet apart from the people constantly crossing the bridge and looking scared which makes for entertainment. I sit and chill for a while enjoying
the beautiful area and also attempting to lose the Canadian and his friends. When I am done I dry off my feet and attempt to apply my plasters except its not a plaster its superglue; clearly a miscommunication and I can laugh about it. Eventually I decide its time to head on and I rejoin the path.
At a fork two German girls are looking lost so I tell them the way my map shows and we walk the next part of the trail either me ahead if them or them ahead of me. Their navigation has gone completely so they are now using mine yet don’t seem to actually want to walk with me which I’m ok with. We head into the woods across the river and the trail looks like it could be a bit more tricky on the way back. It is all rocks and slippy underfoot and pretty steep uphill. I am struggling now, back, feet, everything’s sore then just as we hit 20 minutes to the waterfall the heavens open in a torrential downpour and we are soaked before we can even get our coats on. It shows no real signs of stopping so
we plough on. Finally we reach the waterfall and it is lovely but far too wet to really appreciate it. Also too wet to get the camera or even your phone out. I manage a couple of pictures then my phone battery dies completely. I put it on charge with my power-pack in my bag and we head back the way we came.
The walk back down was hellish and I had to use all my breathing techniques to stay calm as it was so slippy but we made it out and took a guess at the path as my phone was still not charged. Ten minutes later we hit a wall and the way was not at all obvious so I got my phone out to reveal a hidden path we’d never have seen. Now I’m miserable, soaked to the skin and everything hurts. There is one more dicey uphill and we are back where the girls have parked their car. They offer me a ride back but also emphasise how full their car is and how they have a three hour drive still. The emphasise it so often I tell them I’ll go in the cafe and get warm and wait for the rain to stop. I regret this decision later and curse British politeness.
In the cafe there are big groups sat round and other tourists who clearly got caught in the rain too. They clear a table for me and I order a soda, they have fanta. I take my camera, coat etc off to dry and sit there for a bit. I don’t think the rain is getting any less and after around an hour I voice this out loud. The girl on the next table agrees. She’s from Reading and her companion is from London. We decide to make a bolt for it even though putting wet clothes back on is horrible. It’s half an hour to the market and Reading talks non stop about her trip, her family, politics, how we’re all migrants who still think like apes. She’s young but she’s A LOT. I feel sorry for Nick the guy from London who is moving to Liverpool in August who hasn’t been able to get a word in. Still it passes that bit of the trip way. At the market I duck inside and collect my water bottle; they still have it and I am back on my way.
The last half an hour seems to go on forever. It honestly drags. By now I am light headed, I realised how little I have ate today. I am soaked through, my feet hurt and my back has really kicked in. Somehow I make it back, I grab my towel from my bed, my clean pyjamas and jumper and jump straight in the shower. It is warm but not hot but it gives me a bit of warmth as I peel off my freezing wet clothes and replace them with dry. I try and hang them around the room which is now full as I don’t see a drying area anywhere. There is a guy in the bed next to me who doesn’t speak much. I see him heading outside wearing his blanket so I ask if you have to go inside to get the lounge area. He’s snarky but the general response is yes. I follow him outside, down the steps and into the little dining room they have. It is pretty full but a girl smiles so I ask if I can sit beside her. She’s kiwi and doing the Balkan’s trail which sounds intense. Another girl asks where I’m from as she can’t place my accent, she’s from Cheshire so the three of us chat for a bit. I say I’m starving and order dinner and a fanta. The girls give me bread which I demolish. The husband is playing Albanian music on the TV really loud and keeps trying to draw our attention into it. He’s also offering up raki to anyone who will say yes. By the time my dinner comes I feel a bit sick and I’m not really sure of the cause. The Cheshire girl has just come back from a really hot shower so the suggestion is that if I warm up I’ll feel better. Rosa gives me a hairdryer. The shower is warm for all of 5 minutes but it’s better than nothing and then I sit in bed drying my hair. It goes cold after a few minutes do you have to turn it off and wait for it to reheat so it takes a really long time. At least I’m warm.
A funny moment occurs when Rosa came to check on me and found the Aussie boy eating pizza in bed. She scolds him like a child and pulls the duvet off him. He tries to apologise but she keeps patting the sheet. I tell him she wants him to eat on the sheet as its easier to change. She nods, scolds him again and disappears. The incident makes us all laugh. She's like an Albanian grandma. Once my hair is dry, I do feel better, so I head back to the dining room. It’s too late now really to eat but I need food and she’s reheated it for me so I manage half. I chat to a Dutch couple for a bit, and then the Cheshire girl comes back from her walk. Rosa asks what time I want breakfast, and I push her back from 8 to 9, but she isn’t offering any later. I sit up for another hour, but I am so tired, so as soon as my food feels settled, I go to sleep.
Money 360 lek
Food cake bar, orange, almonds, beef stew, bread
Fanta x 2 water x 8
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