I grew up camping and backpacking, so the idea of going into the wild with nothing but a pack of supplies and a tent doesn’t faze me. But taking my 3-year old daughter into the wild of Albania…I wasn’t sure how that would go. So, I did what I considered the “responsible” thing, which was to ease her into her first crazy, wild backpacking trip. We started by going to a proper campground on Lake Skadar with lots of people and even electricity hookups. You can read about that experience here. Isabel loved it so much that I let all caution fly to the wind and decided we’d go for some serious adventure.
Through some fellow travelers, I’d learned about this great place called Lake Koman in Albania. The lake was actually made as part of a hydroelectric project in the 1970s, back when Albania was under a crazy communist dictator named Enver Hoxha. There is a ferry boat which will take you through the winding waterways. Some parts are narrow and you are flanked on both sides by steep cliffs that get to about 1500 meters high (that’s 1640 yards for you Americans). The sight is compared to the fjords of Norway and the Bradt guidebook calls it “one of the world’s great boat trips.” Needless to say, I wanted to go there!
The ferry boat leaves at 9am and takes you to the base of spectacular mountains (where I planned to do further camping with Isabel). The boat journey takes about 2-3 hours.
I don’t know how to drive and thus obviously don’t have a car, so the only options for getting to Lake Komani for the boat ride were to 1)wake up insanely early and take a zillion buses to the lake or 2)hitchhike. I chose to hitchhike.
Here is where I should probably add that I LOVE hitchhiking and have been doing it since I was 18 or so. After having a child, I told myself that I should probably stop and start becoming more “responsible” and all that jazz. That thought didn’t last for long! For me, hitchhiking is one of the best ways to really and truly get to know a place. You meet all sorts of people whom you normally wouldn’t come into contact with. You don’t know where your ride is going, so you end up traveling from village to village, seeing cool things along the way. And sometimes you are stuck on the side of the road for hours (okay, I usually never wait more than 15 minutes for a ride) and get to relax and enjoy the view.
As much as I love hitchhiking, I had reservations about taking Isabel. After all, don’t they routinely teach children about “stranger danger” in American schools? I was encouraging her to do just the opposite and TRUST complete strangers! I realize that a lot of the issues I have with taking my daughter on adventures aren’t with me, but rather with what society tells me I should be doing. Taking your child into the woods is dangerous! Taking your child hitchhiking is irresponsible! Well, actually, these sorts of “dangerous” activities have taught her a lot of valuable life skills. And I’d rather her face some risk than live sheltered by a helicopter parent and never learning coping skills and resilience. But I digress.
I didn’t expect to make it to Lake Komani from where we were camping in Shkodra in just one day. My original plan was to get somewhere nearby and then camp in someone’s yard or a field or something. Then we could catch a bus in the morning. But we got lucky and this really nice couple picked us up in their van. They happened to be going to Komani just to check it out (the ferry had already departed for the day). So we went along. It is nice to be able to change your plans.
There was some small camping spot near the ferry start point, but it was really ugly. And we’d have to wake up super early to pack all of our stuff to catch the shuttle bus back to the ferry by 9am. An impossible task when you don’t have an alarm clock to wake you up (I blame the lack of an alarm, but I just really hate waking up early!). So I asked the people working at the ferry to translate for me into Albanian, “Can I sleep in your yard/property?”
When they figured out that our plan was to just find some nice spot and ask the owners if we could camp there for the night, the girl got on the phone and called Mario — the owner of the ferry. He said that we could stay on his property, but we’d have to wait until they got back from the ferry run. No problem. That meant we could play on the lake all day! We made friends with the people working there 🙂
I’d expected that the ferry would come back and we’d get in a car to go to Mario’s property. But no. The guys came back from the ferry run and told Isabel and me to get in a smaller boat. It turns out that these people LIVE ON THE LAKE AND TAKE BOATS TO THEIR HOMES. There is literally NO ROAD or any other way of getting to their home!!!
The boat ride was fun. They even let Isabel drive the boat.
We arrive in the dark and walk up some steps. I can’t see much then, except for a bunch of spiders scrambling on the path. I quickly set up the tent in their yard. Afterwards, they invite us in for dinner with the family. It was a crazy cool old home made out of stones. 300 years old! Seriously, this is something you can’t even dream up. The next day I actually got to scope out the property in daylight. We went swimming and played in the mud, and played with the dog and fed their goat. Again, they live on the lake! Since there is a sheer cliff behind the home, you literally can’t even hike away from their home. Boat is the only option. Here is the link to Mario’s ferry boat service and his guesthouse.
Here is where things get a bit weird and complicated. The ferry boat to the mountains was at 9am. I had thought that their home was on the way so the ferry boat could just pick us up. It turns out that their home was on some smaller tributary, so the ferry boat wouldn’t pass that way. If we spent the night again, we would have no way of getting to the ferry on time. So, after lunch, we hopped in a boat with a family on a private tour (which meant that we got a private boat tour and didn’t even have to pay for it!!!) and went back to the starting point. This left us with the problem of where to sleep again. I didn’t want to go to that terrible camping site (and wake up really early). So, when the ferry boat employees said that we could sleep on the boat, I gladly took them up on the offer.
I’m really proud of my daughter for not being frightened but rather excited by all of these adventures, even when plans changed completely. Being adventurous is not a fixed quality. It is something we learn. I know that this trip helped build up that quality in her.
The next day, we made it to the mountains. I will write about that trip in an upcoming post.