Only 10 hours of walking… up and over!?

 

Someone was singing: “In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight!”

The 18 pairs of itchy-feet woke up early at sunrise, the light pouring in from the path to Valbona. We all knew that the light was calling for hikers to get to the top of the guardian mountains, and to discover the secrets that the little ray of light was trying to reveal to us.

At 6 am we were all awake, and a few brave (crazy) ones went to the icy cold river to take a bath. After eating an awesome and yummy home-made breakfast and preparing the lunch (vegetarian sandwiches), the adventure started!! Hiking up the mountain, we met a lot of others hikers who were aiming to reach the same goal. Some of them were supported by pack horses, but we are stronger and we don’t need that extra help (huff, puff…sweat, sweat)! The trail led through the forests, where we could take a break in the shade. Reaching the saddle, the panorama view of Valbona valley below was unfolding in front of us. It was fascinating and breath-taking.

We wove down the serpentine curves and took a much needed break at the source of the Valbona River. The crystal clear water poured from the earth and we drank healthily from its bounty!  Green moss grew in great patches and the smaller streams combined at a waterfall that dropped into pool below.

After having the lunch, we continued the trip getting down to Valbona river valley. After 10 hours of walking (normally 6-8) we reached the river bed, and finally we saw the houses of Ragan. In fact the river had no water, but we hear from the locals that it has water only in autumn until the following spring. In 1 hour we were at Kole Gjoni’s guesthouse. There we learned how to put up the tarp tents, and we built our camp. Now is time for dinner: very Albanian dinner, with meat, byrek and a delicious chocolate cake. Now it’s fire time, let’s go to play guitar and harmonica and sing!!

WE ARE CREATING MEMORIES, LONG LASTING MEMORIES!

Goodnight to everybody from Lisa, Gent and Stasa!

Riverwalkers begin their walk!

Wow. The first hiking day is now behind us and it was simply amazing!

We spent the night before sleeping under the stars, because we needed to take down the tarps to pack them so we could get up as early as possible. In the early morning some of the team went for a cool swim in the lake, before most of us even got up. After the breakfast we had packed the last of our things we would need the following days. We all piled into 2 4×4 minibuses that brought us up into the mountains, from where we hiked out to a summit and then down into Teth. It was quite a hot day so we had to take a lot of stops for drinking. Along the way we saw two horned vipers and bear claw marks on the trees, “un”fortunately we did not meet a bear itself. We enjoyed the view on the top and took a break for a lunch. The nature was beautiful, but we lost the trail going downhill and thus it prolonged our hike for a couple of hours. The trail was quite dangerous and pretty steep at some points. Finally, we  found the trail and safely descended into Theth. To get to our housing in Theth at Pauvin Polia’s guesthouse, we had to cross the Shala River barefoot, where, a brave souls took a bath in the icy cold water. We arrived and were warmly welcomed at Bujtina Polia where we enjoyed a tasty dinner that the resort staff had prepared for us.

Now, its 5 minutes past 10 pm, and we are freezing outside writing this blog and we should really go to sleep, since a much tougher hike awaits us tomorrow.

Good night and happy trails by Team Mama!

Getting packed

IMG_9060Today, we prepared for our big walk in all aspects: workshops, meetings and packing.

The first night under the cozy tarp passed well and some early risers welcomed the sun with a refreshing swim in Lake Shkoder. In the meantime, the “kitchen team” was already sending out a wonderful coffee smell over the camp ground. After breakfast the “old” Riverwalkers (the ones that had participated the year(s) before) told us about the history of Riverwalk and what they’ve learned from it. To give an official start to the whole event, the water ceremony was introduced by Nathan: each of us brought a small bottle of water from our hometown rivers (or home town tabs..) and with stating a wish for ourselves and for the group we poured it into a central pot so that in the end we had a mix of different waters. In a small bottle it will give us company for all the walk!IMG_2828

To get ready for the coming adventure, we discussed how to pack a backpack, to adjust it and what to bring. Until lunch, we split in smaller groups for discussing the planned video or emergency situations (hopefully not!). A lovely siesta helped us get over the midday heat (33°C) and right after that we finally could take a group photo – next to the pier, not ON the pier. Two workshops were offerIMG_2823ed: group decision making and how to treat smaller emergency situations. The little accident from the day before helped us get a real picture of an actual emergency case.

Talking about emergency: the future of our two injured participants turned out to be much more concrete. Sadly and most disappointed we will have to say good bye to one of our members, which, for medical reasons, decided to quit the journey and to have further treatment back at home. We will wave off our beloved family member at five in the morning. Luckily, the second patient will stay with us (wohooo!), but stick to the van at least for the next 2 days.

Personal backpacks got packed and the van stuffed. The van is going to leave tonight, making it all the way to Valbona valley on 21st. The group will stay one more night in the camp “Lake Shkoder” and will head off in the early morning towards “Theth” via a shuttle. There, we are expecting our first real nature experience. Excited to tell you more about that!!!  Stay tuned!

The longest first day EVER!

20.7.2016 for 19.7.2016

Arrival

On the second day the Italian and Slovenian teams arrived at Podgorica in the wee early hours and took a van to Shkoder where the Austrian team was already expecting them. The arrival was emotional:  a new adventure was about to start. 🙂  First, we got to know each other of for those who had been on previous walks to see their companions again.  Before taking a much needed nap, some of us took a swim in the beatuiful Lake Shoder, and had a delicious self-prepared lunch by our ”chefs”.  Afterwards the Albanian team arrived, who had gone shopping for the last of the needed ingredients for the first few days, and the group was complete!

The meeting

The campground had a nice patch of grass under some trees that provided shade against scorching sun. We organized activities that helped us to get to know each other better: each presented themselves with via a personal object helping us to remember each other’s name. Just a few examples: a notebook with self-made drawings of breathtaking landscapes made during amazing journeys, a necklace, a guitar and….last but not least the “RAKI”, the traditional Albanian fruit brandy.

Next on our schedule was a guest lecturer Emirjeta, a member of the Albanian organisation INCA, explained the situation in Albania, focusing on hydropower plants. The hundreds of proposed projects are posing a threat that will cause unrepairable damage to rivers.  We each got our first look at the Riverwalk brochure and postcards that we are planning on distributing to people we meet on hiking. The goal is to make the locals and tourists aware of the importance of rivers for the future development of the region and of the consequences of the short term gain of using the rivers for hydropower. We are hoping to catch attention of the media.

Picture taking and the fall!

We wanted to make a group picture with our new Riverwalk t-shirts on. And the pier sticking out into the beautiful Shkoder lake seemed like the best spot. Unfortunately, we miss calculated the holding strength of the wooden pier and as we were squeezing together to make a perfect picture we heard the cracking noises of the wood. Before we were able to disperse, the pier gave way under out weight. Together we plummeted onto the ground below. We were in a state of shock, but as a true team we worked together to help the injured ones. It really showed our strength in coping up with barriers, handling the situation calmly. Sadly two of the group had to make a travel to a local hospital to be treated. The rest of us talked and shared our feelings and reactions about the event. Luckily there were no serious injuries, only bruises, scratches and a few badly sprained ankles.

Dinner

After a difficult afternoon, we shared a traditional Albanian dinner prepared by a mother of one of our Albanian team members. The food was really delicious!

Just before going for a well-deserved sleep, we discussed the last details of our trip.

It was a very long day…  More to come!

 

A journey begins…What a day!

It was a long drive to Albania!

The clock showed 6 AM at the WWF Office in Vienna – that’s when and where the journey began for Team Austria.  And we didn’t expect it to start off that challenging and exciting. So this is what happened. We headed to Graz to pick up our 6th Austrian participant and start our 18 hour ride to Albania. As we prepared to finally hit the road, she realized that she had forgotten her passport in a far, far away part of Austria: Tirol…but we were at least 6 hours away.

So, what now? Should we leave her or just see how far we would get?

We decided to risk it and soon afterwards had our first unsettling discussion with the boarder control between Slovenia and Croatia. We used all our charm (blonde power!) and persuasion and gladly were allowed to pass!

As you can imagine we were really nervous at the next border, but at this point the unbelievable part of the story begins. Although we were stopped at an additional 3 borders, where they even scanned our passports and looked through our trunk, they did not count the number of people in the car. Not once. So we passed, and passed and passed one border after another and actually arrived in Albania sometime around midnight. We cheered and congratulated each other that all of us made it that far, what honestly we hadn’t expected!

In the morning of the second day, after having an awesome night in very luxurious tent that had awaited us, we had a first look at the impressive landscape surrounding us and jumped into the Shkoder lake right away.

The long train ride down!

In the meantime the Italian team met in front of the Trieste station and started its 22 hours journey… in Italy we call trips like this “Viaggio della speranza”, “Hope trips”, and that´s exactly what we faced.

The Italian and Slovenian teams met in Ljubljana and headed straight to Belgrade, with a not so awesome train but a fast one! 😉 We visited the center of Belgrade and that´s where our reeeeal adventure begun! We spent half an hour to book our seats just to discover that they didn´t exist! It was hot, the train was crowded and really dirty; we should have stayed there for 10 hours, we actually spent 12 hours trying to sleep and survive while on the other wagon a rave party was going on…! The bartender threw bottles of beer out of the window (REALLY!!!), strange guys were smoking everywhere and all the while we were accompanied by traditional Serbian music…! We arrived at the border of Montenegro with two hours of delay, and fortunately were able to meet the guy that took us to amazing Albania! Now here we are, the “Hope trip” is finished and we´re excited to start Riverwalk!!!

-stay tuned for more on what’s to come on Riverwalk 2016: The wildest yet!

The countdown begins…thanks to so many RW supporters!

As we quickly enter the 1 week countdown when the first steps will be taken for Riverwalk 2016, it is just amazing to see how it’s all coming together!

Can you imagine how many people are involved in the planning and preparation of such a project?!  We’d like to take this moment to thank all those involved…from the beginning preparation to the last minute push!

A special thank you goes out to all our Albanian friends who are doing an amazing job helping make it happen!  Thanks to Emirjeta (& INCA), Catherine & Alfred (your amazing dedication and passion- when do you sleep?), Meivis (jumping in with organizing the Riverfest), Frank (supporting the project), Lauren (will there be an end to the to do list?), Genci (our tracker), Gent (our Shkoder man!), Ilir (and great photos), and Petrit (connecting us to your work). As well, we’d like to mention all the folks and places where we’ll stay who are supporting the project by offering a free or reduced price to stay when we’re passing through!  For example, the crew at Lake Shkoder Resort!

Thank you to the Riverwalk youth planning team! Without you guys, we’d be stuck in the mud!

From Austria, Martin (our fearless leader), Yvonne (video and photo guru), Judith (jumping in to help plan the program), Alexandra (our menu planner!), Beate (for making it happen after it looked “dead in the water”) and Andreas Z (thanks for working on the shirt design). Thanks to Merchzilla for the discount on printing the shirts! And to Verival for the Müsli, Honigwaffeln, and Maiswaffeln, yum!

From Slovenia, Neza and Staša (our power ladies), Tine (his great eye for style), and Mato (from WWF Adria, for your support) and from Italy, Mr. Massimiliano (we missed you on RW15, so super glad your back!), Margehrita (for creative input), Chiara (keeping it live on www.fb.com/RiverwalkEurope), and the WWF Trieste crew (Matteo and Sonia).

If I’ve forgotten anyone, I truly apologize and please let me know! 

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Riverwalk 2016…getting wild!

In just one month…

20 young people from Austria, Albania, Slovenia and Italy will be frantically trying to stuff the last of their personal items into their backpacks.  Questions like: “can I fit one more pair of underwear in?” and “where did I put my headlamp?” will fill their heads.  But the packing will come to an end and on July 18, they will set off in the same direction: northern Albania!  To embark on the wildest Riverwalk yet!

Getting prepared for the walk

This week, Emerijta (INCA), Catherine (TOKA) and I met first in Tirana and then in Valbona to continue preparing for the great adventure.  After meeting in the capital and conducting some guerilla marketing:

20160617_101216(it reads, “Hands off Valbona”), we headed north (ca. 5 hours) to Valbona.  A long, curvy series of highways, we cut across the country almost touching on the Kosovo border.

Finally, the massive mountains of Valbona Valley appeared in the distance.  Amazingly impressive, clouds partially hid the snow covered peaks which glistened in the sun and ushered us closer.

After passing through Bajram Curri, we crossed the crystal clear waters of the Valbona River, one of THE rivers that is threatened by hydropower development in the National Park.  Imagine how lovely it would be if this was contained in a pipe.

We then wove our way up the valley, the same valley that in a little more than a month we’ll be traversing by foot, up into the heart of the National Park, and the same valley that would be forever changed if the proposed hydro-projects are allowed.

During the journey, I heard about the issues swirling around these highly controversial proposed projects.  The majority of the locals are strongly against the construction of the dams, because it threatens their economic development in the means of tourism and way of life, while a few wealthy investors and the government’s Department of Energy stand to profit mightily from it.  WWF and a host of other NGOs and local citizens are doing all they can to put a hold on the “gold rush” of building hydropower up and down Albania (and the Balkans) until a proper assessment has been completed to identify the “No Go” areas and places where it makes sense.  Protests, campaigns and negotiations are all mounting to put pressure on the government to follow their OWN rules and conduct environmental impact assessments, involve the public and respect the rules of protected areas.

Getting down to business

Arriving at one of our future campsites in Rilindja, we took a walk around the area and then pulled out the maps, plans and worked out more of the details for the Riverwalk.

We met with many people who showed a great interest and support for the Riverwalk project and the protection of the National Park.  We even came up with the idea to have a RiverFest when we arrive here on July 27!  We hope to invite some musicians, school groups, other youth and offer various activities to get them in touch with the river and the issues!

 

Three pages of To Do’s!

The meetings wrapped up and with a very LONG to do list, and we headed south to Tirana.  Now, it’s just making the final preparations until the first day of Riverwalk arrives, and we connect the groups for a legendary adventure to discover and protect the last wild rivers in Europe!  Follow our steps here and on our facebook page:  www.fb.com/RiverwalkEurope

Until then, happy trails!

A big thanks!

At first it seemed like disaster had hit.

We received word that our EU Erasmus+ application was turned down.

Now, what to do? Would this be the end to Riverwalk 2016? Would the “wildest Riverwalk yet” come to a complete standstill?

WWF_logo_25mm_oben_shcr_weiss_ohneTitleLuckily, that was not the case!  WWF Adria and WWF Austria came to the rescue and have committed enough base funding to cover the most basic costs of the project!  To that end, we say “Thanks!”

This means, that we now move into the next phase of the project = making it a reality!

We’ve selected the participants and are collecting their photos and “Why walk?” statements for the website – found here.

We will move forward with confirming the route through the amazing Valbona and Theth National Parks!  The planning will continue of the program, camping sites, menu, and all the other components necessary to make it an unforgetable and powerful experience.

Stay tuned to follow us as we embarck on the wildest Riverwalk ever! 

Riverwalk 2016…the next steps!

The EU funding application has been submitted…and now we’re waiting on the answer which will hopefully be soon, and a positive response!

The application phase for participants has closed and the selection is being made right now. From a quick look at the list, we received over 50 applications! Unfortunately, we can only take a total of 20 people or 5 (1 coach + 4 participants) from each country. The selection process will be VERY difficult as there are so many interested and motivated people out there.

We will notify all the applicants after we hear back from the EU about the funding proposal.

Check back for our next posting!

Happy trails,
the Riverwalk team

~ RIVERWALK 2016 UPDATE ~

We are happy to announce that we are now taking applications for Riverwalk 2016*!!!

Where? Theth National Park, Valbonë Valley National Park, Albania

When? 17. July – 01. August 2016

Join 20 young adults (15-30 years old) from Austria, Albania, Italy and Slovenia as we discover and protect a spectacular river system in two national parks in northern Albania.

The goal of the project is to raise awareness for the importance of protecting free-flowing rivers and developing a personal relationship to this wild and wonderful region.

Please NOTE: each country has a limited number of spaces…5 people!

Registration deadline: 01.04.2016

Apply HERE!

* Important – The funding for this Erasmus+-Youth exchange is not yet secured, but we are optimistic that we can carry out this project.

Costs: In order to secure your place in the project, a participant fee of 50,00 EUR will be collected and must be paid within 3 weeks of being notified of your acceptance on the project team. This fee will help cover all costs (camping fees, meals, outdoor activities, etc.).

Contact: Nathan Spees (Nathan.spees@wwf.at)