Journal - Napló

The mountains of Albania

Posted on August 3, 2009 at 5:05 PM

   Everything blue on the map, whether it is a thin line, a dot or whatever: it is usually a good bet in this heat. Sometimes the color on the map can be deceiving, but here in Albania the blue has never been a disappointment. White and gray also attracts great attention for us, so we were anticipating great things from the southern parts of Albania where mountains, rivers and canyons are abundant. A Norwegian girl we met in Tirane recommended Corovode and the regions south of it. We went there and I can't say how grateful I am to her for that little piece of information.

   The adventure of Corovode started and ended with a 17 year old guy called Zim. We met while walking along a dirt road towards Lapanj. Having walked up, up, up for about thirty minutes suddenly there was a path going steeply down into the canyon. He asked if we wanted to have a look. We wondered a bit if we wanted to take the detour, but are very happy that we did.

   That evening we went swimming in the canyon river and made camp on a sandy beach at the bank with walls towering up on both sides. As the night drew on Zim asked us if we wanted to come and rob some fish. Every three or four hundred meters up the river there where fish traps. The closest one was just down stream. This trap wasn't his, but he said it was no problem. Turned out that he had many traps of his own up stream. The people who had made this one were robbing his traps just as much as he was robbing theirs. He said we could catch 3 ? 4 kg fish. He was right, only it was not one 3 kg fish, rather it was many many tiny ones. Each one maybe 10 cm. I have to be honest and say that it wasn't the best fish I've ever had, but I was hungry and it was food. After finishing off the fish we headed out to find more food. This time we went frog hunting. We caught three frogs and then gutted, skinned, cooked and ate them too. They were a treat! Tasted like chicken only better. Could have done with some salt though. Suddenly we hear something in the bushes behind us. Zim gets up with his knife and says: ?Wolf?!? He goes into the bush with a stick and his knife, we get out our knives and follow. Aaahh he says: ?It's only a snake.? Personally I think it was the turtle we found later that evening. Zim was always asking if we were scared or if we should try to scare the others. But who knows, I did see a huge nasty black snake some days later.

   I got up the following day at six and went with Zim into town to get supplies. We bought bread, salt, flour and eggs. Then we hid our bags and went up river in the canyon getting fish from all the traps. It was a bit unfortunate that it had rained up river somewhere and so the crystal clear water had turned gray over night. Never the less, we where very excited. Deep in the canyon Zim and his friend caught a hawk. They threw water at it and the hawk crashed into the river where they could catch it. Zim wanted to let it go again, but one of his friends insisted that they keep it. In the end they decided to tie it up and take it home. Unfortunately it died that night. We camped up river at a place with a lot of wood for a big fire. We prepared the fish properly with salt and flour, fired up our music and danced around the bonfire with our Albanian friends. It was a perfect night.

  We spent one more night in our canyon. It was a hard place to leave, but the mountains were calling. Our original intention was to cross the mountain on foot over to a village called Balabanj. That would have been a 20 km walk, but Zim wanted us to come to Permet instead. The road to Permet was acually not so much a road. It started out as a really really bad dirt road, got worse, occasionally turned into riverbeds, went straight up at an inclination you wouldn't believe and then turned into a path that occasionally disappeared in the higher parts of the mountain. Only as we got closer to the villages on the other side the roads started getting better and better again. We would never have ventured to do this crossing by our selves, but Zim had done it ten times before and with a local guide we where confident that it would work out. We got a ride with a 4x4 the first five km. There we witnessed locals fishing with dynamite deep in the canyon. They blew sticks of dynamite in the river and then collected the fish that would float up.

   The next fifteen km we hitched on a truck heading for a logging camp up in the mountains. It was the most amazing ride I have ever had! Standin on the back of the truck in that amazing landscape. It was incredible! From the camp we went four hours on foot to the first village on the other side. We thought that we could hitch hike from there, but it turned out that there was only one car in the village. So you could say that the chances of getting a ride were slim. And as far as bargaining for a price for him to drive us to the next village he kind of had us by the balls. It was getting late and Zim said there were packs of really big wild dogs in the area ahead. After discussing a bit we agreed to pay for a ride to a village down the road where Zim's uncle lived. Turned out that the uncle wasn't there and that the dogs in this next area where also huge. We resigned and payed up to get a ride the remaining 20 km into Permet. Some how I suspect that the dogs didn't have so much to do with it as the fact that Zim wanted to get to Permet and his girlfriend there. But who knows, there really where a lot of wild dogs in the area. In the end we got to Permet and had a lovely swim in the river before squatting a house in the outskirts of town.

   We managed to loose Zim in Permet and were sorry to start hitching again without saying goodbye. We headed for Fier and met some dutch guys who were traveling Europe in their old but lovely VW Caravelle. The reason we wanted to go to Fier was to see a huge abandoned factory complex from the communist period. We had seen one outside Elbasan and according to the general director of Albanian roads who gave us a ride from Tirane, the one in Fier was even bigger. The Dutch guys decided to go there also. When we arrived in Fier we found a concrete shell of a building where we squatted the rooftop. We miscalculated one thing though. When you squat you usually sneak in and stay quiet until morning. This time we came with a car, parked it right outside and talked loudly as we where climbing up. Off course we where noticed and suddenly we see a guy walking toward us from the neighboring house. We didn't see him well, but what we could see was disturbing.The light from his cigarette and the outline of his shotgun was very clear. Damn! It was no problem though. We greeted him, he put downhis gun and we gesticulated that we only wanted to sleep there for the night. When he understood this he immediately turned very friendly and indicated that off course we could sleep there. Later he brought us water and came up to sit with us a while. Unfortunately he was not the only one who had seen us. In the night we where woken up by three police officers, one of them carrying a Kalashnikov. Once again they turned very friendly as soon as we greeted them though. We had to show our passports and then they apologized to us and went on their way. Stupid of us to squat a house leaving the car outside. Very stupid, but lesson learned.

   It is interesting how much can be communicated without language. Putting our hands together and resting our heads on them solved the entire situation with the farmer. It also interests me how important communication is for establishing a friendly relationship with someone. Suspicion turns very fast to some level of trust with the successful communication of something, anything. For instance, some days ago we where hitching down a dusty road in a dusty truck heading into Corovode. We did not share a single a singe word with the driver and most of the time there was silence. To break it and communicate something the driver writes "1979" in the dust on his dashboard and points to his truck. We all smile.

   One very interesting thing about Albania is the hierarchy based on age. We have spent some time with groups of kids both in Tirane and in Corovode. The groups consisted of kids aging those that could barely walk right up to kids in their twenties. It was clear that the older kids commanded a great deal of respect. If an older kid wanted a chair around a table which was occupied by a younger one. Then he would take it without any form of protest from the younger one. They can be quite hard on each other. The game of insults, threats of retribution, retribution and semi fights is constant. It is a game to establish authority and it seems pretty well accepted. An older kid smacking a younger one on the chin because he failed to move quick enough will provoke no response from onlooking adults. At some point adults will take action though. We witnessed a funny incident where a boy and a girl of about the same age were going at it full force. Hitting, kicking, clawing and biting. After some 20 seconds of commotion there is a big splash and they break up screaming. An old man in the building above had poured a bucket of water on them.


   Another thing we have noticed here in Albania is the inverted regularity in who picks us up. Normally we've been used to expect rides from older cars and only very seldom being picked up by someone in a nice car. Here it is opposite. Our ride to the border was with an Albanian American from Montenegro in a brand new Audi, the one that took us from the border was another fairly new car, from Tirane we got a ride with the director general of Albanian roads. It seems that it is not very common here to hitch hike like we understand hitch hiking. It is common to get a ride and pay for your share of the fuel however. This has caused us many an argument. Someone stops, offers a ride and a price. We decline and try to explain that we are hitch hiking the way we understand hitch hiking. That is, we go where they go and because we only fill an empty seat we don't pay anything. Unfortunately what usually happens is that whoever just stopped simply thinks that we are bargaining. So he lowers his price more and more and in the end he gets really annoyed that we don't accept his fare which then often is cheaper than a bus ticket. Once we misunderstood the terms of such a ride and had to pay up a little. It was not much and we don't mind it. But then again we are trying to hitch hike around the world and it is with some reluctance that we pay up for a ride.

   Finally, here is one interesting piece of information for any artists that would like huge, cheap factory spaces to work in. In Albania there is a  law which states that vacant factory spaces must be rented out upon request to anyone who wishes to rent. This includes foreigners. The price for this is set to one euro per m2 per year. There are a great number of such factories here and Albania is a wonderful place to be. Anyone interested can contact the general director of roads in Albania.

Categories: English, Albania, by Kenneth

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Reply X4Nd3R
12:58 PM on August 4, 2009 
Great man!! Wish I were with you to share the experience...
Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy...
Reply X4Nd3R
1:00 PM on August 4, 2009 
P.s. last picture looks familiar??
Reply Kenneth
7:26 AM on August 9, 2009 
X4Nd3R says...
Great man!! Wish I were with you to share the experience...
Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy...

Nema problema:) When you take your sabbatical we have to hit the road together again somewhere. Or at least break by the side of it and play some tabla:)
Reply Ahmed Jackson
3:49 AM on February 19, 2010 
Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!
And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :)