Rebirth and The Alpine Continuum

Rilindja is Albanian for rebirth. Alfred chose the name wisely; I came alive again. For all of the situations and events that occured in Durres, it seemed like I was biding my time. Sure, the history of that area was great, but without some means of my own transport, I was a prisoner to the Sun and sand. From Tuesday afternoon, until Friday at 13:00 (1pm) when I parted with Alfred, my whole sense of self became re-oriented toward those mountains.

As we wound down to Fierze to meet the ferry at Lake Koman, Alfred and I talked of many things. I would like to turn around and come back here (and Theth) in July/August. I have plans to meet dear friends from the US elsewhere in Europa. I told Alfred how thankful and fortunate I felt for meeting him, and in turn having Alda and Elton take care of this trip. If I haven’t mentioned Albanian Trip, I will now. The story behind the origins and the end product of this trip is the result of the great work that Alda and Elton do at Albanian Trip. This happened because “god’s hand” is involved here. I was actually looking around to see how difficult it would be to go fly fishing here in Albania. I found Rilindja and was so impressed with its nearness to the Valbon (right across the road) and I emailed them to see what their rates were. I recieved an email from Elton, and we began a dialogue. Although it is named in my tags at the bottom of my blogs, google/search for Albanian Trip, let them know what you have in mind, and you will be taken care of very well. I’m going to end this paragraph with their accolades; They were chosen as a Conde’ Nast Travel Specialist for the 2nd year in a row. I am very fortunate to call Elton and Alda my friends. I will refer to them and their endeavor going forward.

It was with a heavy heart that I said farewell to Alfred…calling him “Albert” was running joke. The ferry was nearly full as we headed out of Fierze for the 4+ hour trek to Diga e Komanit. It was a liquid spectacle riddled with little side channels, and a sky framed by stone and greened inclines.

I sat in the shade and reflected on my short time in Dragobi and Valbona National Park. I went to see how this near-wild river could be fly fished, knowing full well that even nymphing was out of the question. Alfred and I tried going down after them in the roaring cataracts racing down the canyon. I tried to lay flys gently on top of them in the few pools we were graced with and only recieved a polite nibble in return. Alfred was “blessed” with 3 caught overall. Call it a “home team advantage”. The Valbon was not ready yet and Alfred was still determined to show me a good time. The unforgiving terrain wrenched my knee and did some “Balkan Voodoo” on my hip, but we did the best we could. I recalled the cool,crisp sheets in Hotel Rezidenca, and the breeze slipping through my window on the back of the muffled river roar…. and the coffee, always the coffee! I close my eyes and I see Maja Jezerce above me (top photo on this page), and the way the sunrise made the snow shimmer on the shoulder of the limestone redoubt.

Sitting in the shade of the upper deck, I tried to commit every vantage point to memory, and along with the sights, sounds, and smells to retain as much as possible. Here I was at the halfway point to this trip that Elton and Alda painstakingly put together, and so far it was nonpareil. I turned my attention to the watery rampart we were chugging through. I let my eyes linger on all of it. I watched as we motored past small fishing camps where the landscape allowed. Further down the sides would widen and spread out to reveal tilted fields with cows, sheep, goats, and a horse here and there. The grazing stock moved on the abrupt green carpet like humans walking a level surface.

We docked at Diga e Komanit and I met Kristian. A young Albanian with a quick smile and a can-do attitude, he was Pavlin’s driver. We began our trip down to Shkoder to meet Pavlin. At this point in my retelling I must reveal my attitude toward the road from the dock to Shkoder. It amounted to an over-wide goat path. There were potholes and gullies that would scare away the boldest Chicago drivers. Kristian held his frustration in and waited for his oppotuntities to pass. We descended, at times behind a gaggle of campers, and some very high-end Mercedes that had to creep in most places. The striking part of the roads in the highlands here in Albania is that they are just wide enough for their cars to pass slowly. I really enjoy the engaging talks I have with the young here. The young Albanians are excited about their future and happy to speak to someone fron the US; Kristian was no exception. Kristian’s English was very good; he would speak in halting rhythms only when he searched for the proper word or term. I asked if he had English in school, and he replied with a sly smile that he learned from watching “American movies”…especially action movies. That began a short row of he and I doing impressions of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Chuck Norris.

We rolled along out into the open valley toward Shkoder to meet Pavlin. Driving through little hamlets where the sway of time has left these people nearly untouched. The “ancient” is still here in the countrysides. This rock-ridden land slowy unfolds to the newer and more modern houses, and then we were in Shkoder. This is a bustling town on the shores of the largest lake in Southern Europe. Lake Shkodra ( or Shkoder in Albanian), and this city has a flavor entirely all of its own. Krisian navigated the crowded streets like a New York cab driver and swung around to park right in front of a man with with Ray Bans and the most imposing beard I have seen since David Brown from Rock Island Public House. Pavlin Polia was my host, and soon to be a kindred soul. We stopped at a patisserie to get some sweets to take to Bujtina Polia in Theth.

We swung by a place to drop Kristian, and of course, a short cup of coffee. Kristian was adept at coffee as well; he served Pavlin and I and pulled up a chair to join in our chat. Again, the pace of life here is on another plane. Pavlin and I got back in the 4-wheel drive Toyota cruiser and began the drive up to Theth Valley. We talked about everything on the spectrum. Stopping at a little market, I picked oranges the size of 12-inch softballs, and Pavlin took some yogurt and a few items. The climb up and over to Theth is not for the weak-hearted, especially with Pavlin at the wheel. We swung around hairpin curves, and through the stones that had tumbled, fallen, and came to rest right in the road. When I say “road”, I’m being very generous. This surface was paved as recently as 2 years (or so) ago, and it is verily wide enough for the European cars, let alone the mini-buses and campers that use it. Pavlin knows every turn, every meter, and I was never ill-at-ease.

We crested the mountain, with snow laying here and there, and stopped at a point to talk to a journalist that Pavlin knew. Here I must point out that we never just drove by people that he knew. There was always time to stop and chat…always. Pavlin is as affable as any man I have ever known. He carries himself with a quiet resolve, an behind what appears to a facade of strong bearing, he is as warm and inviting as they come. Now heading down the sharp incline into Theth Valley, I could see the town spread out along the Theth River. Nearing it, I was struck by its resemblance to the tiny mountain towns in Montana. As we wound through the village, there were so many waving, we bounced and careened to Bujtina Polia – Pavlin’s place. “Bujtina” means inn, or hotel.

I will end this post here in order to get a better photo of Bujtina Polia. For some reason my photos will not download to this site. I will have to ask Pavlin for a photo. I promise that rest of my journey will be as full of recollections as the past posts. I am in Tirana now and anxious to convey my experience here. I am always in deep appreciation for you that are reading and giving me feedback. I will post again very soon. Until then, please take of yourselves, and each other.

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