An adventure we will never forget

In our six months in Albania, we have travelled very little outside of Tirana. Apart from a short conference in Durres (the nearest port) with our colleagues and a two-day trip to Berat (2 hours away by bus), we have hardly moved outside of a very small radius of maybe 10 kilometres.

 

One of our American colleagues, Karis Gjoci invited us to join her and her family on a trip to Lurë, in the north of Albania. Her husband, Erjon is originally from this remote district. He trained himself to learn English from a book by candlelight as a teenager, leading to him becoming the best English speaker in Lurë, which in turn led him to act as a translator for the American Ambassador to Albania in the early part of this century. He also translated for David, a missionary from Britain. His contact with David led to him becoming a Christian and years later, the chance to go to the United States, where he trained to become a lecturer in economics, and where he met Karis.

 

Erjon wanted to take Karis on a hike to visit one of the famous lakes of Lurë, hidden high up in the mountains. Karis told us it would be worth coming along as the lake is extremely inaccessible and hardly seen by many people. We agreed to tag along with Erjon, Karis and their three children by driving in convoy using one of BMS’s vehicles that was not being used during the summer. Chris set about learning the niceties of Albanian roads not least the quaint traditions of driving on the right and having unusual methods of approaching and quitting junctions. We set off early one Tuesday morning and met up with the Gjocis about an hour outside of Tirana.

 

Up to that point, the roads had been fairly straightforward to navigate: the odd pothole and the odd manhole cover missing, but on the whole, tarmac that was smooth enough to make use of. Things started to change though, as we made our way further north. Our destination was about 50 miles away – and that 50 miles was to take us over three hours to cover. First, we encountered a stretch of badly tarmacked road where the surface was on different levels at times. More a case of driving up and down the surfaces rather than over the surface. Then the dirt track which did not allow us to leave second gear as we negotiated many, many potholes, random rocks and sheer-cliff edges, admittedly in the most staggeringly beautiful mountainous scenic landscapes.

 

We finally arrived at the home of Erjon’s relatives and were welcomed with meals and opportunities to soak up their warm hospitality. On the Wednesday, a party of five, Chris, Debbie, Karis, Erjon and their eldest daughter Zahide, set out to climb to the lake. The scenery was again phenomenal as Erjon explained how as a boy he had taken his sheep on this journey many times, to explore and swim in the lake. The three-hour climb was hard and steep, but so well worth it when suddenly, as we got to the top of a mountain, there incongruously, was this beautiful, untouched lake in the shadow of even taller mountains in the distance. We stayed there a couple of hours to soak up the atmosphere and a well-earned picnic before tackling the long descent.

 

Albania is a beautiful country and its people are so friendly and willing to share simple pleasures – an endless game of ball with the children, a plate of olives, a glass of Raki, a walk to taste the endless supply of mountain spring water, straight from the source.

 

We were so glad to have made this journey despite the amount of concentration required to negotiate the roads. Lurë is a secret which the world is largely unaware of. We are hopeful that Erjon will be able to help his homeland now that he has been elected as Commissioner of the Union – an organisation that links the many who have left Lurë in the diaspora that has happened in the past twenty years or so. We pray that he will be able to attract investment and that among other things, there may be a chance to do something to improve the roads.