Our trip was almost thwarted by the threat of rain. But by the end of the week, the forecast had cleared. I’m so glad we decided to go!
The hike to the waterfalls is a few kilometers. Along the way, we saw lots of beautiful wild flowers.
When we reached this stream, we knew we were getting closer …
And here’s the first waterfall!
After that, we hiked up to a second waterfall. The path was steep and rocky, and at several points, we had to climb, using rocks to propel ourselves upward. The journey was totally worth it! We reached a second waterfall, and pretty much had the place to ourselves. It was the perfect spot to stop and eat our picnic lunch.
Visiting Mirusha Waterfalls was one of the most relaxing, enjoyable times I have had in Kosovo.
Last week, in a post about Istog, Kosovo, I mentioned Albania’s Accursed Mountains. One of my blog readers (hi, Mindyandy!) asked about the name.
The Accursed Mountains (or Bjeshkët e Namuna in Shqip [Albanian]) got their name because of their massiveness and density. My friend Ingrid wrote this guest blog post about her adventures hiking in Albania.
“You could see the craggy peaks of the Albanian Alps in the distance. They looked imposing. Another name for them is the Accursed Mountains. This part of Albania is known for its rugged isolation, both of the environment and its native people, and until recently, few outsiders ventured there.” — Ingrid Lantz
Albania (well, all of the Balkans) has a varied history. A book that’s on my to-read list (I first saw it in a bookstore in Tirana, Albania) is Albania’s Mountain Queen.
Here’s a description from Amazon:
Young ladies in the Victorian and Edwardian eras were not expected to travel unaccompanied, and certainly not to the remote corners of Southeast Europe, then part of the crumbling Ottoman Empire. But Edith Durham was no ordinary lady. In 1900, at the age of 37, Durham set sail for the Balkans for the first time, a trip which changed the course of her life. Her experiences kindled a profound love of the region which saw her return frequently in the following decades. She became a confidante of the King of Montenegro, ran a hospital in Macedonia and, following the outbreak of the First Balkan War in 1912, became one of the world’s first female war correspondents. Her popularity in the region earned her the affectionate title ‘Queen of the Mountains’ and she is fondly remembered in Albania until this day. Marcus Tanner here tells the fascinating story of Durham’s relationship with the Balkans, painting a vivid portrait of a remarkable, if sometimes formidable, woman.
The book was nearly 30 Euro at the bookstore, so I didn’t buy it. But once I track down a (hopefully cheaper) copy and read it, I’ll post a review.
I hope this post answered your question, Mindyandy!
If anyone is interested to learn more about Albania, here are some links to previous blog posts I’ve written:
Hi, guys! My friend Ingrid has gone on some very cool hikes, and I asked if she would write about her experiences for this blog. Read on to learn about her recent hike in Valbonë, Albania. All of these beautiful pictures were taken by Ingrid. –April
Since I’m from a state known for its mountains, I’ve been longing to see and experience the mountains of Kosovo and beyond since I arrived. In my 4 months here, I’d yet to see much of the wild parts of Kosovo, so a trip to Valbonë National Park sounded great. Even though I live near Prizren, which is in the south of Kosovo and near the mountains or right up next to them, it’s often difficult for me to get to any hiking. As a Peace Corps volunteer we’re not allowed to drive, and shuttles or local hiking buddies can be difficult to find. This trip was a charter trip with a tourist company called Eurotrip to Northern Albania … and while that’s not technically Kosovo, it’s just two hours northwest and over the border in a country that shares a common language and heritage with Kosovo. In fact, Kosovars are so linked to Albania that most of the time they use the Albanian flag at celebrations and not the Kosovar flag.
Leaving from Prizren early in the morning we headed northwest towards the market town of Gjakovë. Just after the city, as we traveled directly west over the border. You could see the craggy peaks of the Albanian Alps in the distance. They looked imposing. Another name for them is the Accursed Mountains. This part of Albania is known for it’s rugged isolation, both of the environment and its native people, and until recently, few outsiders ventured there. Now it’s one of the gateways to the Peaks of the Balkans trail, where you can hire a guide traverse these pristine mountains through the countries of Kosovo, Albania and Montenegro.
As we wound our way up the narrow valley road that hugged the river between towering peaks, I gained abundant respect for the driver as he negotiated hairpin turns and one-lane bridges. Along the way fall colors erupted from trees sprinkled among the evergreens. We slowed often for cows and herds of shaggy longhaired goats. Most perplexing to me was the goatherder sporting a full suit but with a hobo bag on his back. Small villages dotted the landscape in the lower valley, hay stacked in formations that looked like giant beehives.
Our bus dropped us off literally at the end of the road into the park at Hotel Burimi I Valbones, a lovely and large hotel with a restaurant and most importantly, a bathroom! Which, of course, they graciously allowed all 60 or so of us to use. From the hotel the trail strikes out across a deep, wide glaciated valley. This part of the trail is along a very rocky blindingly white stony glacial moraine and goes for about 3 miles. Sturdy shoes with good soles are recommended. Even though it was October, the exposure and the rocky trail gave me a good feeling for what it would be like in the height of summer. It was hot. A backpacker couple told me later that the mountains don’t have much water and are extremely hot and dry in the summer. Even in October, they still carried water for overnight backpacking.
Along the valley are some abandoned old stone houses that looked interesting to explore. Towering peaks on both sides and ahead reminded me of the stony craggy peaks of California’s Sierra Nevada range. About 3 miles in we came upon a fully functional restaurant, bar and guesthouse. They served traditional Albanian food, salad, buke (bread), fried peppers, cheese and meats. This was at the end of the 4-wheel drive tourist road that some took instead of walking. The sweeping view from this restaurant allowed you to see for miles down the valley. Directly in front of the restaurant, across the valley, the mountain rose up like a great wall several thousand feet up. The granite tops looked white, and at first I thought it must be snow, but then I realized the rocks on top were streaked white.
After this restaurant the trail narrowed and was not accessible by vehicle. About a mile after there was another small café and as I passed by a woman was in the process of making flia, a very traditional Albanian dish that consists of multiple crepe-like layers brushed with cream, oil and flour. It looked like it would be ready on my way back. She smiled as I asked if I could take her picture.
After that, I followed the trail steadily upward through forest and deeper into the canyon. In a couple miles we began to climb steeply and then for the last 30 minutes we clambered over tree roots and stones to our final destination, a waterfall.
As we savored the cool spray, some ate and splashed in the water. One devout hiker laid out his prayer rug on a flat rock at the bottom of the falls and pointed downvalley – apparently the same direction as Mecca – and with a view that went for miles, began to pray.
School doesn’t start until Monday, so I’ve had free time this week and last (which has been really nice!). I’ve been settling in and getting to know a different part of Kosovo. There are a couple of K2 volunteers (Peace Corps Volunteers from the group before mine, who are in the middle of their service) who live in my general area. They have been really helpful in showing us newbies around.
I’ve mentioned that every night, my host mother and I take a hike. “Hiking” is one of the few English words my host mother says. After dinner, she’ll laugh at me when I ask, “Hiking?” I don’t know if she is amused by my enthusiasm, or if she knows the true meaning of the word hiking, and realizes that what we are doing doesn’t exactly qualify.
(I’M FROM THE MIDWEST. I REFER TO ANY NON-FLAT WALKING AS HIKING.*)
I wear hiking boots — and oftentimes, hiking pants — on our walks, for protection. This is good because the other night, after hiking, I found a tick on my leg. And this happened shortly after a training with our (awesome) Peace Corps doctor, who warned us of all the terrible afflictions we could suffer due to tick bites.
On Sunday, I went on a real hike with my site mates, Charlie and Sierra, in the village where we live.
And here’s a picture of our view. Overcast, but pretty, isn’t it?
After I got home from our hike, I took a nap on my bedroom floor. I guess my host mom walked in on me, which I wasn’t aware of until I woke up and she told me. She was laughing as she mimicked me sleeping on the floor, flat on my back, arms at my sides, and apparently, with my mouth gaping open. Serves me right for not locking my door! #hostfamilyproblems 🙂
*Lest you think I’m not an experienced hiker, I’ve hiked the Green Mountains in Vermont, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Olympic Peninsula, just to name a few places. So there!