Albania, The Epic Tour of Theth National Park”

Our first attempt to reach the park was full with obstacles. Our car was not equipped with good tires or enough clearance for such rough roads. Protruding boulders and potholes mark every few feet. We drove about as far as we could past a multitude of road building equipment. 

A stranger stopped to tell us we would not make it with our car. After traveling a little further, truth reveals reality. We came to a particularly bad stretch and made the decision to turn around. Bunny made a perfect 13 point turn around. The drop off was life-changing. Just as we were a quarter way into the turn, we had an audience of four full vehicles watching. Patience is not a virtue here in Albania. The choir remained silent, surprisingly. Our prayers were answered but I bet the audience wanted more excitement. 

After we chose not to go further on the tough road, the day still did not fall short on peril. A work dump truck slid off the edge as it gave way. The two workers said their prayers as the truck stopped. A group of trees stopped them, with their guardian angels looking down. This event turned their life into a new perspective. Their life-changing event turned the dump truck into a customized road ornament. 

Today, we had a private tour arranged with a driver and Range Rover with a full body massage thrown in. We are grateful for our change of plans, as the ride was cheaper than a message in America. 

The drive was full of beauty and and potholes. We past Beeches Trees and Pines. Wild weeds in full bloom and blackberries lined the roadside. Along the roads are signs of the last war. Round, turtle looking bunkers can be seen all over Albania. Walking down to a bunker to photograph it, a holdout from the war attacked my throat.  A bug grasped my throat and held on to the back. No amount of coughing could dislodge it. Water helped as the bug made a quick exit.

The abundant springs, streams and rivers flowed water so clear with a slight blue tinge. Waterfalls can be accessed with with hours of hiking. We missed seeing many waterfalls as flip flops do not make the best hiking shoes on rock rubbles. They call them goat trails, so this old goat sat down and would not budge. I was coaxed back into the Jeep with promises of another massage. 

We came to a point in the road that a tear out was needed, so we wait and wait. No worries, we are retired. We stop and a large bucket parks in front of us with inches to spare. Soon all the rigs are moved aside for our safe exit. Every time they do this, means it is time for another smoke and maybe another coffee break. The machinery performs a choreographed move to make way for passing traffic. Our driver works with these road crews so we get special privileges. A tap on the horn is a greeting.

“Albania 🇦🇱 ~Now, Plan B”

We are expreincing a few stops and starts, here in Boge. BUT, this is a living example how the journey is as important as the destination.

We checked out of our humble homestay “Gjelosh Gegaj” in Boge, fully intending to make it all the way to Theth National Park, and spend at least one night. From Boge, its normally around 2+ hours away. With the current condition of the road, it will, no doubt, take longer. As it was, before today, a bridge was under repair, or being built (not sure which) so the road was closed. We did not understand the whole entire road was being redone. It was way more than a bridge issue.

We only made it about half way, before turning around in the middle of the narrow rocky road, next to the cliff that dropped down like the Grand Canyon. Daryl got out and guided me, to make sure the wheels stayed on the gravel, as there was no shoulder. Four cars were backed up waiting on me. It was a bit nerve wracking. We know for a fact, two of those four cars would not make it to the park, without some damage to the underside, but kudos for anybody giving it a try!

This morning, just before we left, a young couple from Poland had stopped at the Kafe/Bar/Homestay. We enjoyed a conversation with them. They too, were heading to the park. We passed each other as we made our way up, as each of us stopped to get photos. We met them again as we headed back out, and they we going in. We wished them well and hoped they could make it. They did had a mini SUV vehicle with good tires, and a bit more road clearance.

As we left the village, we shared the road like usual
I’ve been watching this sheep dog in the area. He/she is very smart, and knows its job. Keep those sheep moving from one grassy spot to the next. It’s a simple tactic of follow the leader. It’s what sheep do well.

Much further up the road, construction is in full-swing and they are doing a great job, but the road is only passable with a four-wheel drive, or at least a mini SUV with a higher road clearance; good tires being a must. As we got closer to the heavy equipment on the roads, we could see the improvement of the route; up to their point. We came upon a third crew of workers with heavy equipment, and that was as far as we could go. The road was literally torn up with the equipment in the road, blocking traffic from moving. It was a little surprising hearing the locals honking their horns at the gigantic earth movers and their operators, to get outta the way! 😳 (this you would not see in America). In fact, in Americas, the narrow road would be closed to all public traffic, till completion, with this degree of road work going on; the closure would be for the safety of all. We are very familiar with the differences in these types of decisions being made, while in other countries; in these areas, and we find it quite interesting.

The size of the base rock (always needed for building up a solid road) got too large for small cars. We would loose the oil pan or pop tires for sure! As it was, heading back out, the second road crew we came back to had dug a ditch across the road we had crossed. It was no longer passable.The crew pointed to a construction road that went straight down and straight up with loose gravel. We had little choice, if we wanted to get back to the village. Luckily we made it with inches to spare between the equipment and parked rigs of the crew. I sunk into the loose rock and if I would have killed the engine, we would have sunk for sure. Whew!

In time, the road to Theth will be amazing. It may even get paved, but for now, it needs to get worse, before it will get better. And this being a more non-touristy time (due to the pandemic) it really is a perfect time for major road construction.

The Alps are so majestic, and we are determined to get all the way up to the National Park! We did not come all this way north, to quit, now. We are “off the beaten path” type of travels, so we believe if there is a will, there is a way! Before we left the homestay this morning, one of the daughters provided her contact information, just in case we got into a jam and needed assistance. How nice was that? Just another example of the hospitable Albanian people of the north!

After our beautiful drive, but failed attempt with the rental car (with not great tires to boot), we returned to the homestay, with a plan “B” in mind. I think the family of the homestay, fully expected us to return. We were welcomed back with smiles and delicious tea; picked fresh from the mountain.

Plan B

We are staying two more nights in beautiful Boge. In the morning at 7AM, we will get back on the road to Theth, but this time with a hired driver and 4×4 vehicle. We will go, up to a 12-hour day, and see as much as we can see; which will be a lot. With a driver (the owner of the homestay), we will have windows that work, and can focus on taking photos and nothing else, as we roll along. Plus, after we arrive we can relish in the Park’s splender.

These Alps are really speaking to both of us!

This is our bouquet of flowers for tea. A gift from the family of our stay

“Albania 🇦🇱 ~In Boge, a Funeral and Scenic Surroundings”

Since we learned the bridge to Theth National Park is closed for repair, and we have it on good authority it will be open tomorrow morning, we are spending a second night in this gorgeous setting. There is a gal who speaks a little English, here, and we are thankful she was able to tell us about the closure; saving us hours of driving. She has relatives who are working the repair job, so we feel confident we can go to the park, tomorrow, when she said it would re-open.

This morning, after a yummy nights sleep, I awoke to the sound of the nearby church bells. We so prefer this to the morning call to pray of the Muslim faith. I slowly and easily came to life, as I heard the roosters crowing, the chickens clucking as they laid their eggs. Somewhere nearby, I heard a donkey who was braying about something. Did you know that the bray of a donkey confuses and frightens wolfs and coyotes? This is the reason I had a donkey in my pastures, too. I had ducks and geese, which the coyotes loved to eat; especially the vulnerable babies. With a donkey around, my feathered friends were always safe. Perhaps with the wolves in the area, this is why the donkeys roam around, here. We also have seen several sheep dogs, guarding their flock, too. Anyway, After the church bells were silent, I could hear the jingle-jingle of the cow bells, once again.

While we were eating our delicious breakfast, I noticed a young man digging a grave, as an elder sat near him. Soon, we noticed many people walking up the road, dressed in funeral attire. At the outside table next to us, a group of elderly gents, dressed for the funeral, appeared to be toasting to the deceased one, and chatting it up. No English, but the oldest gent gestured and offered us a drink, so we could toast as well. We don’t drink, and I wasn’t sure how to decline his offer and not come across as disrespectful. I found the young gal; the one who cooks for us, who speaks some English, to be sure and translate to the man, why we declined, and that we so appreciated the gesture. When she did, everybody was all smiles again.

Earlier, for breakfast: Fresh cows milk, crumpet-like bread with local honey 🍯 to dip it in, and homemade feta cheese. We also had fried eggs
I had gone to the church and graveyard, before the funeral and walked around. The oldest marked grave I could find went back to the late 1800’s. In many places there were stones, which acted as markers, with no writing. These would be much older, without a doubt.
Many different sized stones marked old graves. This one had the addition of a wooden cross
I’m not sure, but this grave may be a crypt, above the ground. The birth of the woman was 1888, and she died in 1971
In some countries, a grave is dug by a family member, as a show of love and respect. I am not sure of the tradition, in Albania

I did not take photos of the group of attendees or of the funeral on this day, as there was no subtle way at this time. Eventually, the locals came in droves. For such a remote location, I was surprised. Obviously, the person who passed, was well loved and respected.

I can see the cemetery from our room, so I was able to listen to the graveside ceremony. Again, I wanted to go watch, but did not, out of respect. There was a speaker that I can only assume might have been a priest. No singing, and no crying. It was just very quiet, till the group of mourners went on their way.

Now, the funeral is over, and most people have left. Only a few remain to visit, and drink to their friend or loved one.

This photo I did take, of what looks like another group of mourners at the same gravesite, but seen the next days, later. I was inside a vehicle coming back from Theth
The history of Albania forms a part of the history of Europe. It remained under Ottoman control as part of the province of Rumelia, until 1912, when the first independent Albanian state was founded by an Albanian Declaration of Independence following a short occupation by the Kingdom of Serbia,
Dinner tonight; Pork and Bean Soup
Feta Cheese, and garden salad
Though Boge or Theth National Park do not show on maps, we are north of Shkoder, and just below Bajram Curri. Those of you who are following us, you may remember how we went into Kosovo, trying to get to the national park. As you can see, Bajram Currie is in Albania, but the road left Albania, went in to Kosovo and returned back to Albania to arrive at Bajram Curri. NOT confusing at all! 🤣