The orange van, or furgon, was waiting on the northern side of Shkodër when I arrived, and only one other passenger seemed to be joining. I wondered whether the furgon would actually leave at 7am, and indeed, it did not; strangely enough, the other traveller and I were told to sit on the backseats even though we were the only passengers. The friendly driver then picked up other passengers who apparently had reserved the seats, a big plus was that we got a bunch of sweet grapes which we gratefully ate during our ride. We stopped on the way to Bogë, and I felt a little stupid for having gone out the evening before to buy food. Bogë is at the entrance of a valley; here, the asphalt stops and the going gets tough. Very though. The driver steered our furgon, which by now was stuffed with supplies for the mountain village, expertly over the rocky road, and I felt completely happy. As far as I was concerned, this trip could take forever; the morning light was filling the valley, and the higher we climbed, the more spectacular the views became. At several points, we passed crosses next to the road, and I imagined how perhaps they were erected because someone had made a steering error and ended up off the road. Fortunately, when we reached the mountain pass, which was really a narrow gap in the mountain range, the driver stopped, and we were allowed to go out to soak in the views and take our pictures. After the pass, the real ravines appeared to our right, we could see down for more than a hundred metres, offering even more spectacular views towards the mountain ranges. We passed a monument for Edith Durham who travelled here in the early 1900s, and entered the forest. It was especially interesting when cars were coming up: the road was too narrow to allow cars to pass, and we had to reverse uphill to one of the slightly wider spots to solve the problem. It was here that we discovered that the driver really knew his stuff. We stopped to take some delicious fresh mountain water, and went down to the valley floor where we stopped at one of the many guesthouses. Strangely enough, we had to pay more than Albanian passengers, even though we had had the worst seats, but the lady of the guesthouse confirmed that there is a local versus foreign busfare on this route.
We got our stuff together, left our bags behind, had the lady explain the possible hikes we could do around Theth, and before we knew it, we were off to a waterfall. We passed the elegant wooden village church first, with a small cemetery to its side, and from there, it was all hiking trails. For some reason, even though the trails seemed well marked, we somehow got confused by the map, and thought we should head higher up. We struggled up the hill in search of a shortcut to a trail we thought would be higher up, and when we had to do some more serious rockclimbing without any hint of a trail, we decided that we had better retrace our steps and continue on the same trail we had been before. In fact, when we turned the corner of the valley, we immediately spotted a waterfall ahead of us, and a short climb later, stood right at the small pool in which it ended. A fine place, where we could have stayed some time, but there were already some people around, and we still wanted to hit the Blue Eye pool on the other side of the valley, so we retraced the trail to Theth, crossed the Theth river, and were in search of a trail. But no matter how we searched, we did not find it; the only people we saw were a German couple who told us they had not seen any sign of a trail either, but that the entire circuit would be only 3 hours. We then concluded that we would do the circuit anti-clockwise, because we had enough time. The start basically involved hiking up the road we had driven down from earlier that day, with some shortcuts here and there, and while we were getting higher pretty fast, time was ticking away, and we started to wonder if this was really the best thing to do. We were going as fast as we could, sweating it out, and taking more water at the water fountain we had used that morning; when a furgon passed us, we showed the map to the driver, and asked him if he could drop us off at the trailhead. To our surprise, we drove almost all the way to the mountain pass again, and when we got off, we looked down into the valley where we could just see the Theth river in a distance. Normally, we would have jumped at the occasion, but this time, we were running out of time. Sunset was less than two hours away, and we did not know the terrain. Given that trails are not always clearly signposted, we doubted what to do. On the one hand, we did not want to back off, but on the other, reason was trying to convince us to give it up. We talked to some small boys at the roadside, who spoke Italian, and they seemed convinced the trail would not even take us to Theth at all. Then, suddenly, we stormed off the mountain, almost running at some parts, until we reached another viewpoint. Our heads were a little clearer now, and we realized that it was foolish to continue, probably having to sleep out under the trees. We climbed back to the road, and were lucky to find two men with an old Mercedes willing to take us down the 20km to Theth. According to one of them, there had been talk of a tunnel to Theth, but now it was decided to seal the entire road to Theth - wonder what impact that will have on the small community. The Mercedes had a flat tire, and seemed to have more problems, too; we frequently hit bick stones on the road, and the driver showed off by driving the poor machine right through the icy Theth river. Anyway, when we finally reached the village, we attacked dinner like hungry wolves, talked to some very smart young girls, and retreated to our tents for a healthy sleep in the cool mountain air.
The next morning, after an early hike around the village, we were adamant to reach the Blue Eye pool we had missed the day before, and we set off after a good breakfast of local honey, jam, bread, and the inevitable goat cheese. We now had clear directions, walked the road leading down the valley, and when a heavy-loaded truck passed us, got a ride on the narrow, extremely bad road. There is almost no traffic here, but when we did see a truck coming uphill, we wondered how that would be solved. Actually, the truck was waiting at the side, and we wondered whether our driver had called the one in the other truck just before. Anyway, it took a long time, going very slowly, to pass, and I admired our driver for his skills. When we reached the village of Nderlyse, we got off, and hiked to a rocky canyon spanned by a wooden bridge. We hiked up fast on the narrow but clearly visible trail, and when we saw a pool on our left, wondered if that was the one we were looking for. But since the trail continued with clear markers, we followed it; but when we realized after another 10 minutes that it was just going further up, we realized that we should have turned. This is an issue around Theth: sometimes, sights are clearly marked, even with fancy wooden signs, but then, they are not - confusing! When we had finally reached the spot, we were all sweaty and steamy, and since there was no one around anyway, it did not take much time before we stripped down naked and dove into the water that just looked irresistible. A few seconds after entering the water, the icy temperature creeped into our body, and it felt like needles were being inserted on all sides. Still, we got out, and in again, several times in a row, until we had had enough. What a marvelous place: the colour of the water is an incredible turquoise, the small waterfall adds fresh water constantly, and adding to that setting, we were surrounded by beautiful butterflies. We now finally felt immersed into nature - and thoroughly enjoyed it. While heading back to the Theth valley, we saw that the forest fires we had noticed before on a mountain on the other side of the valley, had gone worse, when we got closer, we could even hear the fire and see some of the flames. Very worrying, we thought, but none of the inhabitants seemed very concerned. We walked back all the way to Theth, went down to peek into a rocky canyon where the clear water of the Theth runs deep below. When we reached the village again, it was unfortunately time to move on; we boarded the same furgon that had taken us up to the trailhead the day before, and noticed that the driver was very capable of his job; a former policeman, he had been driving this road for ten years already. One final stop at the fountain, and we again enjoyed the fantastic mountain drive back to Bogë, and then to Shkodër. On the way, I said goodbye to my new friend who headed to Montenegro; I was off to a hearty dinner in the city, and felt very satisfied with the outing in the wild mountains of Theth.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Theth (Albania). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Theth.
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