Alison, June 2017
We wake up at 6 am in our little tree fort, and I go down the ladder to go to the bathroom and check on the laundry. Most of our clothes are still damp, so I leave them to dry for a little while longer and head on to the bathroom. The farm is surprisingly quiet, and the early morning light makes everything look extra serene. Can you imagine waking up to this view everyday?
I must be the first person up because the puppy is SO excited to see me. He is in the dog house with his momma, but he comes racing across the field of greens right to me. It was seriously one of the cutest things I have ever seen. If only I had videotaped it! Then I could play it over and over again in slow motion whenever I wanted to feel warm and fuzzy inside. I spend some time petting the puppy but remember that we are on a time schedule, so it’s back to business.
I use the bathroom and head back up to the loft to pack up as best as we can for now. We get dressed for the day (in a new T-shirt and underwear!), and I have Matt take a look at my feet to help figure out what to do with the two huge blisters that have formed on my heels. Dr. Matteo decides to drain them. The one on my left heel is as big as a silver dollar, and the right one is nearly as bad. He lances them with his toe nail clippers and then presses all of the fluid out as I wince in pain. A couple of carefully placed patches of moleskin is the best we can do to protect them for now.
We throw our stuff into our bags and join Adriatik at our beautiful al fresco breakfast table. We are served the standard breakfast of petla, hard-boiled eggs, potatoes, jams, Turkish coffee and mountain tea, but its the dramatic scenery and the oh-too-cute puppy who steal the show on this glorious morning.
The puppy’s antics have everyone giggling. He is trying to negotiate the deep soil troughs in the family garden. Field conquered, he pounces on anyone who dares walk by. When noone walks by, he tries to climb over logs and fence lines that are just a bit too high for him. It’s too funny. We finally tear ourselves away from the scene to grab our still damp laundry and finish packing up.
The trail out of Dobërdol takes us across the stream that runs through the middle of the village and then straight up toward Three Borders Peak. This is a mountain that doesn’t look too steep from afar, but as soon as we start hiking we realize that looks can often be deceiving. We have some tough work cut out for us.
There is no real trail here, but this area is heavily used by the shepherds who live here for four months every summer, and the sheep tracks that have been carved out over time serve as nice footsteps to help us negotiate the steep mountainside.
About half an hour after taking off, we cross paths with a shepherd and his flock of about 200 sheep that are making their way down the valley. There is one small lamb in the flock and his cute black face proves irresistible to Adriatik who asks the shepherd if he can hold it. The shepherd agrees, and the next thing we know we are holding this adorable little lamb!
Even though he is only two weeks old, the little lamb is already growing horns. His wool is so soft, and the shepherd tells us it will be ready to be cut in about two weeks time. Those sheep sure do grow up fast!
We learn that the shepherd lives in a bigger village several hours away during the rest of the year. We ask him which place he prefers, and he gestures to the mountains around him and conveys the notion that it’s a no brainer—no translation needed on that one.
We bid our farewells and continue up the mountainside until we finally reach a narrow dirt trail with switchbacks taking us up to the ridge line. At the top, there is a patch of white daisies, and they make a spectacular foreground subject for the mountains that radiate around us in all directions. Wow!
From there, we follow a nice, flat trail on the other side of the ridge that contours the mountainside, delivering a non-stop parade of jaw-dropping views as we round bend after bend.
It is late June, and we are loving how lush and green everything looks. Hiking on these trails in the heart of the Balkans—a place that so few people have yet to discover—is such a pleasure. We count our blessings that we are here.
Eventually we come to a trail junction where the Italian couple we met yesterday is taking a break. We join them, and Adriatik enjoys the opportunity to chat in his native language with his fellow guide for a short while. Within minutes, the three Germans we met on Day 2 appear from over a ridge, and it’s a mini hiker party in the grass.
Before long, the Germans head off toward Milisevicz on the official Peaks of the Balkans trail, and that is our cue to go. We are taking an alternate today and head in the opposite direction up a steep trail to the summit of Three Borders Peak where the borders of Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo all come together.
At the top, we find the stone foundation of an old Yugoslavian military barrack and a log book where we sign our names to memorialize the achievement of getting there. For the rest of the day we will be hiking in Kosovo.
Adriatik suggests that we go off-trail for this next section as it will allow us to arrive at a better vantage point of the alpine lake we will come to. This involves walking along a ridgeline and then skirting the mountainside on a steep slope that makes our feet hurt and legs tire after only a few minutes. This is definitely not helping my blister situation, but the extra effort and pain are all worth it when we finally arrive.
We are hungry, so we head down the steep slope on the opposite side of the ridge to find a good spot on the lake’s shore to eat our lunch. At the near end of the lake, the water is bright blue and crystal clear, and there are tons of salamander/tadpole type creatures swimming around near the surface. Adriatik swears that he has never seen them here before, so we have a little fun pretending that we have discovered a new species of amphibian in Albania. We’ll be famous!
We head to the far end of the lake and take our boots off near the shore to have the standard tomato, cheese and cucumber sandwich lunch. We sit with our feet in the water, which feels fabulous. Within minutes, we are covered with non-biting fly-like bugs that seem to be using us as a new perch. Shooing them off is a losing battle, so eventually we give up and try to enjoy our lunch as best we can.
When Matt pulls his feet out of the water, I notice that he has a small leech on his heel. Luckily, it hasn’t managed to attach itself to his thick heel skin yet, and he simply flicks it back into the water. Leeches give me the heebie jeebies, so its back into the boots, on with the packs, and away we go for our post-lunch amble.
The trail contours the mountains again at a gentle downhill grade through pretty alpine meadows filled with purple petunias and bright yellow flowers that make quite a striking combination. Clouds begin to roll adding a dream-like quality to the stunning scenery.
It takes us about an hour or so to reach Heart Lake. As its name suggests, the lake is shaped like a giant heart which is better appreciated as we make our way up the steep, rocky ascent towards Mt. Gjeravica, Kosovo’s tallest peak at 2656 meters. It is starting to get late in the day, and it feels like we have to expend twice the energy just to keep our legs moving.
When we finally make it to the pass, we drop our big bags and pack our new super light Sea to Summit backpacks with just our cameras, some water and a warm layer or two and head up to the top of Mt. Gjeravica. The peak has been enshrouded in clouds all day, but just as we start heading up, the summit appears behind a bright patch of blue sky. We suddenly find a little pep in our step and make a big push to reach the top before the weather changes yet again.
The trail to the top takes about 40 minutes and is super easy until the very end when the wide grassy approach suddenly changes to a narrow rocky trail with a few exposed sections. None of it is too bad, but we are too slow to beat the clouds that have returned to obscure the view.
Nonetheless, we celebrate reaching the top by posing for a few photos at the summit marker while Adriatik runs around collecting crazy amounts of discarded food wrappers, empty cans and water bottles. He uses the Balkan Natural Adventures flag that we have posed with on a few occasions to haul his collection out, and he can barely make it all fit. We were already impressed with our young guide’s love of nature, but this makes us appreciate him all the more. What a good guy!
We head down from the summit, and, for the first time I can ever remember, we get through the technical, rocky section quicker than I think we will. Just as we reach the grassy meadows, the skies open up again, and now we see the summit behind us against a bright blue backdrop. We are tempted to turn around and go back, but we still have over 5 kilometers to go before we reach Bjeshka e Belegut, the village where a car is already waiting to take us onto Pejë tonight.
We retrace our steps back to the pass and then take a trail down the back side past a series of beautiful lakes. Now the sky has truly opened up, and everything is bathed in beautiful golden light, which makes it really hard to make good progress.
A little further ahead, Adriatik has me walk out onto a trailside cliff. He and Matt walk farther down the trail to take some photos of me on my impressive perch with a vast valley spread out behind me. We have only been walking in Kosovo for a few hours now, but the scenery is already knocking our socks off!
From there, we walk in earnest to the village as quickly as possible, but it still takes us about two hours to reach our car. Adriatik tells us that he told Noli (our “handler” from Balkan Natural Adventures) not to send the car before 6 or 7 at the earliest, but, when we arrive, we find that the young driver and his friend have been waiting there for us since 2:30. We know it’s all part of the job, but we feel terrible that they have been waiting so long on our account. I guess Noli didn’t believe how slow we are!
They are polite and try not to show their irritation. Adriatik talks their ears off as we negotiate the crazy, bumpy dirt roads out of the village. Our driver looks like he can’t be more than 12 years old, but he handles the rough roads like a boss. Even so, we breathe a sigh of relief when we finally reach the pavement.
Outside of Pejë, we pass through Adriatik’s village, where he leaves us. We thank him for guiding us through the mountains for these past five days and wish him the best as he hops out of the car and heads on his way. We will have a new guide for the rest of our trek that we will meet up with the day after tomorrow in Reka e Alleges.
We get dropped off about half an hour later at Villa Tygany, an apartment-style hotel in a quiet, residential neighborhood a few minutes away from downtown. We barely have time to drop our bags and use the bathroom before Noli knocks at our door. He is eager to hear about our experience so far. It is almost 10 pm, and Matt mentions that we have not had dinner yet, so Noli offers to take us to town for a late meal.
Downtown Pejë is quite lively for a Tuesday night, and there are lots of fashionably dressed young people walking about. We stop at a cozy, little spot with a nice brick patio and order an ice cold beer and some pizza. Noli tries his best to be interested in our trip, but he is constantly distracted by an endless string of texts and telephone calls. It is clear that he has a lot to manage and is stressed out.
A few minutes into our meal, Marigona, our guide for the Via Ferrata tomorrow, arrives to meet us. We iron out all the details of what time we will go where and where we will store our bags for our day in Pejë. She is super sweet and assures us both that she is the perfect guide for people like us who have no experience on the “iron way.”
They both look dead tired, and we excuse them from the dinner table by offering to take a cab back to our apartment. They jump at the opportunity, and we are happy to enjoy a few minutes in Pejë on our own before heading home for a few hours of sleep before Marigona will be back to pick us up in the morning.
Start: Dobërdol, Albania
End: Bjeshka e Belegut, Kosovo
Distance: 18 km
Date on Trail: June 27, 2017