As Pavlin and I pulled through the gate, we were met by Pavlin and Vlora’s daughter Era. She was so happy to see her Daddy she jumped on the step hanging on the side of the Cruiser. Bujtina Polia is a mountain hotel, stout and soaring. I was struck firstly by the activity around it. There are 4 dogs attached to it and they always present. After meeting Pavlin’s wonderful wife Vlora, I dragged my gear to my room. I tidied myself and went down to the main room. It serves as a the main dining hall, a meeting place, and the coffee outlet. Pavlin and I sat at a table on the patio and talked about the fishing, the mountains, and the tourism to this valley.
The mountains climb up from the valley floor on three sides. This valley has a defined “U-shape”, unlike Valbonne which were complete walls going up on both sides. Theth valley has a more defined glacial-finished profile. Our conversations were so varied and touched on some many things…mountain life. history, sustainability, gear, the change of the seasons, and fly fishing. I was anxious to see what the river offered in terms of access, and flow. In spite of everything that Pavlin was shouldered with he found the time to give me the attention that I needed. I am forever grateful to him. Just like Alfred at Riindra, Pavlin was very attentive to what his guests needed. There are very few men like this. The children would come and go as we talked, and Pavlin didn’t even miss one beat; he would answer their questions, and see to their needs – returning to our conversations as if we were not put out.
Vlora was no different, as her patience seemed a bottomless well. The children, Era – the oldest and a sweet near- preteen, followed by Tom, and the youngest Arian; were a delight. Also, as we talked, people stopped by to visit, it was a busy hub of action. We had a nice supper and I retired early. Saturday, 14th/May was my only full day. We had great breakfast and headed out to some of Pavlin’s best spots to fish. It is important to remember that the Theth River was no different than the Valbonne. Wherever you are in the village, you can hear the sound of the tempestuous waters rolling down the valley. I slept with my window open to fall asleep and to arise to the rhythmic count of the waters; not a 4/4 beat – more like some ancient Gheg folk ballad.
Saturday was an education in just-plain-fishing for me. Pavlin took me down a rocky track above the river, and as we descended to the valley floor we could see areas where the rush had slowed. We parked across a river channel from an inn and restaurant hidden entirely from everything. Here the Theth was fed by water emanating from a single source in a grotto-like gorge.
From this gorge/grotto the crystal clear water washed down to the Theth. There were two footbridges that spanned the channel to the hidden inn and cafe. Pavlin set a course down the banks and I tripped and skidded behind him, still sore from my mishap in Valbonne. It didn’t take long to find pools and low-rapid flats.
I noticed what looked like Mayflies, so I switched to a ragged Adams Wulff that I had in the only flybox I brought along. I found a nice poolwith some aerating riffle sending water into it. I kept putting on the edge to drift into swirling pool. I wasn’t rewarded with a flash, or any movement to make out. Pavlin was using a casting setup, much like Alfred earlier in the week. I retied a Chubby Chernobyl terrestial to see if I could get anything to come up. Both flies were the smallest in my box, #14/16 hooks…small. The harder I worked the more I realized the merciless Balkan sun was cooking my head. I decided to have a sit in the shade and watch Pavlin, and to eyeball the other pools to see if there was anything moving.
I marveled at the scenery, the intense color color of the sky… a dome of uncut lapis lazuli above me. In the shade the breeze cooled me. After quite some time of changing location, my hip pushed me to relent my search. Pavlin and I headed back to see his friends at the cafe near the grotto. In all honesty, I couldn’t figure how people walked on this carpet of rocks and talus, and as I bucked and skidded behind Pavlin, I tried to imagine a conquering army moving up this valley. Sheer madness.
We sat with Pavlin’s friends for a bit, cooled off, and headed back to Bujtina Polia. Still discussing how to bring fishermen in from the outside without turning this valley into “Disneyworld-with-rocks”..my words, not his. I have been to a few rivers in our Western US where it looks like a hallway of grade-schoolers between classes. Too many people in one place with intentions that are opposite to what this endeavor is meant to be. To the uninitiated, fly fishing seems like a chemistry class with the casting, and entomology involved. That might be a half-truth; what is the most important is the connectedness with your surroundings, the water, and of course – the fish. Trout can be the wiliest fish to cast for, and require you to be a bit “plugged-in”. The wilder the river, the least a chance to have a fish that is going to be a pushover. I believe that would be true here in Theth (and Valbon as well)
Later on Saturday the weather changed drastically, as it often does in the mountains. Rain came down in buckets, as we retreated from the bench outside of the bujtina to the main hall, Pavlin and I weren’t sure we would get one last shot as we had hoped. When fishing it is sometimes better to fish in the rain – most species become more active. The rain slowed down enough after a few hours for us to go out and try our luck. Again I was given a few polite nibbles. Pavlin was gifted with a beautiful Brook trout. I had to chuckle as we leap-frogged around each other, and he with a fish tail sticking out of his jacket pocket. We headed back to Bujtina Polia to help Vlora and crew set up for a large dinner crowd. Bouncing along in the Cruiser with the fish tail hopping nad bopping as it stuck out of his jacket…a memory that I will not give up anytime soon.
I sat with Kristina for dinner. She was lovely young lady from Hamburg, Germany travelling by herself. She reminded me of my own daughter in many ways. We had a great talk as we ate our way through a very generous dinner. I bid her a good night after coffee and dessert. I was completely done at that point, and looking over at Pavlin still serving the big group of Italians (I think), he made everything look effortless. Oh to be a younger man!
Kristina and I were seated together for breakfast, as the group took up all of the other tables, and why not? Our conversation was spirited and sunny like the morning we looked out at. We bid each other a safe trip after breakfast, replete with kisses on both cheeks,,,yeah, I’m so continental now! I headed to my room to finish packing as Pavlin and I would leave for Tirana as soon as we could. Our drive would take some time to Tirana. I felt honored and grateful that Pavlin would take a day away from his duties to drive me.
Back up and over the mountains we went, winding our way down and out of Theth to Shkoder and into the flatlands to Tirana. As we neared the capital the traffic increased in volume. In the 3 1/2 – 4 hour drive we spoke of many things, and I felt some inner calling to get in the mix here and do what I could to keep the Albanian Alps wild by introducing the world to them. Our conversation always returned to the same point; how to bring the world in on our terms. There are no easy answers, and to be involved in the growth here would be an opportunity I’d invite at this stage in my life. I have the utmost respect for Alfred and Pavlin fir doing what they do.
Pavlin drove me right to my hotel, and made sure I was all set; and the hardest part of ny trip arrived. I was in near tears at departing, we became “brothers-in-soul”…at least I felt that way, I won’t speak for Pavlin. I owe Elton, Alda, and Vilma my wieght in gold for arranging my trip. Albanian Trip is THE tour operator here in Albania, as far as I am concerned. I had a day to let the week behind me bounce around in my head as I would debrief Elton, and in turn, be debriefed. I will post again right away to bring you all up to speed on my past week here in Tirana. All I can say is that this town is electric.
I will, in turn, touch on the last few remaining ideas about fly fishing in Albania. I appreciate any and all of you who are following me on this odyssey…yes there have been many changes in fortune so far. I have many tough decisions to make upon my return to Bratislava. Until that time, I’m going to wring every last drop from this cloth wrapped around me here in Albania. Please take care of ourselves, and take care of each other. I will post again very soon. Thank you…many times over.