A few weeks ago a group of Peace Corps friends and I traveled again to the north of Albania to visit “The Accursed Mountains” (aka, the Albanian Alps) for some rest, relaxation and great conversation. Our last trip — to the mountain village of Theth — while fun, was so full of adventure and unexpected twists and turns (literally) that it wasn’t particularly relaxing. This time we took what some consider to be “one of the great boat trips of the world*” and had a delightfully uneventful weekend on Komani Lake and the Shala River.
*Bradt Travel Guides, which focus on “unusual and unexpected” destinations, are big fans of Lake Koman.
Lake Koman is an artificial lake that was created when Albania’s longest river, the Drin, was dammed in three places to allow for the creation of a series of hydroelectric stations. These power stations (one at Koman, one upriver at Fierza and one downriver at Vau i Dejes) were built in the 1970s and ’80s and still provide the majority of Albania’s electricity.
Thanks to towering limestone cliffs and narrow passes, Komani — while officially a lake — feels more like a river. The map below shows the location of Koman Power Station and its lake-cum-river (below the dropped pin). The pin itself shows the location of the guest house where we stayed the night, on an off-shoot of the lake called the Shala River. Theth, the location of our earlier trip, and its winding mountain road, are near the top-center of the map.
In this next set of pictures, check out the cave in the last picture.
Our trip was via a small tour boat, but ferries and “bus boats” also run on the river, a necessity for the people whose homes became reachable only by water when the valley was flooded by the building of the dam. These homes are few and far between but we passed several of them, with terraced farms, hay stacks and bee hives. The largest of the photos below, which shows a farm dwarfed by 4,000-to-5,000 foot mountains, provides a sense of the jaw-dropping scale of the landscape.
Most of the people on the boat were on a day trip that took them to a farm on the Shala River for lunch and several hours of swimming. Our group disembarked at the same spot but then reloaded into a motorized skiff for the remainder of our trip to Blini Park, a family-run guest house farther up the river. As we cruised along, the channel narrowed, the vegetation became more lush and the rock formations less majestic but more interesting. Over the course of the 20-minute ride, the water grew shallower and progressively clearer until it was no longer clear blue or clear green but completely colorless and it became impossible to gauge its depth.
Blini Park is run by two brothers, Pjeter and Paulin, and their families. They built the isolated guesthouse — located at a narrow, shallow bend in the river — themselves and opened it just a few months ago. The accommodations are more like a hostel than an inn/hotel (three-to-five people per room, one shared bathroom, no shower) but include meals (including fresh-caught grilled fish, homemade wine and even shot glasses of chestnut honey), great views of the mountains and all the swimming in icy mountain water you can handle. For me, the highlights of the 24-hour visit were the great conversations with fellow Peace Corps volunteers Deb, Barb, Alison and Ron; the color of the sky behind the mountains as the sun went down; and swimming against — and then floating on — the current of the stunningly crystalline river.