Day 102 – Journey to Valbona

No way but up

On the plains and in the valley, the summer sun has risen. But high in the mountains of the Valbona National Park, the world is still waking up from a long winter. The last snow still lingers in splotchy white sheets across the slopes. Walking through it your feet freeze while the sun beats down on your uncovered arms.

 

After cycling more than 2500 km from Provence to northern Albania, we’ve stored our bikes in a friend’s garage in Bajram Curri. Taking a week to breath before descending to the south of country and begin horse shopping for our trek across this wild land, we decided to hike the dramatic mountainsides of the Valbona National Park.

 

Until recently, and even still, the paths leading to these mountain villages are traversable only by foot or mule, and even then only in good weather. The families living here are almost entirely self-sufficient. As visitors, and foreign ones at that, we are welcomed like royalty by the tanned, modestly dressed, and grinning locals.

 

“Come in! Come in! Coffee? Raki? Eat?”

 

From the moment we come into view we are heralded down, ushered inside the family home, or if the sun is out, pulled to a table on the patio.

 

“Where do you come from? How long do you stay? Are you married? How do you like Albania? Show us photos of your family!”

 

Though the landscape may be foreboding and unforgiving, its people are the opposite.

 

“Gëzuar! Cheers! Welcome! Eat!”

 

Even if our hosts would let us leave, I’m not sure we would.