Day 162 – End of the Wild
The End of the World
“My company just opened a road, it will be much more peaceful than the main road.”
That was all it took for us to decide to follow the advice of the middle-aged business man sitting next to us in a café in Krastë, central Albania. Leaving the forest and heading to Kraste we had crossed exclusively minibuses which clanked down the roads dangerously fast, filled to the brim with miners. In his book, Land of Eagles, Robin Hansbury-Tension compares the town of Krastë to the end of the world, with its derelict communist buildings and the transitory nature of the local miners.
The night before we camped in an open meadow nestled the mountains, an icy stream winding through the middle with rich lush grass for the horses. Not a soul for miles around – the nearest town was Bizë, and it was totally abandoned. The rich smell of wild mountain strawberries was all around – a sharp contrast to the odor of greasy burnt meat and sweaty miners that presently enveloped us.
“Okay, show us where it is.”
He indicated to us on the map where the turn would be and said he would tell his foreman to expect us; we could camp in a meadow by the river and continue down the road in the morning.
A Road to Progress
As the horses walked along the dirt path, wide enough only for a work truck, we looked out over countryside. The homes were mostly abandoned and crumbling but the canyon was stunning. Maybe this road would bring the families back. We arrived at dusk by the meadow and the foreman showed us a path down.
In the morning, the owner came by to see how we’d slept and told us more about the road. It was being built by his construction company so that his brother, who had received financing for a hydroelectric plant, could begin construction on the river.
“This river? Is it even big enough to produce power?
“Yes, yes, of course, we’ve done the calculations.”
We remembered our time spent with TOKA, and the documentary Blue Heart and knew what he said was bullshit; this type of development, building expensive roads that only 4X4 trucks can drive and hydroelectric plants that will never run, is happening all over Albania. We didn’t approve of his activities, but he had helped us out and we held our tongues.
Learning this road had been built for a hydropower plant and would not make any useful paths for the locals, most of whom were already gone, put a big damper on the morning. The canyon was magnificent, rich green, dramatically rocky and full of wildlife. We felt like we watching the hangman prepare his noose for this fragile ecosystem. But we couldn’t let these feelings sink in, because a surprise was in store for us.
Into the Dark
The road had been bulldozed along the ridge, and dynamite had blasted through the rock to build tunnels, the most direct path. Being manmade, tunnels are rarely something horses have to confront and the darkness, damp smell and confined space can be stressful for them. In front of us loomed our first tunnel, 800 meters long. It was pitch black, meaning no active construction was taking place. We strapped on our headlamps, said a quick prayer that the horses would keep their nerve and marched in. Griva placed her muzzle just below Ashley’s elbow and kept it there the length of the tunnel, bravely leading the rest of the herd through. The following tunnels were full of work crews, quite surprised to find two riders and three horses coming through their active construction site. They were well lit, and the horses took this new development in stride, though we all exhaled a sigh of relief when we finished this new road and found an old trail to take us to Bulqize.
The next night we finally climbed back into the mountains. We made camp early in a beautiful prairie with a watering hole, far away from progress and development. Maybe this trip is making us anti-social but if the notorious mining region of Bulqize is what progress looks like, we don’t want any of it.