The last full day…

”Today we woke up early and said our thanks and goodbyes to Gent’s relatives. Afterwards, we started our trip back to Lake Shkoder. Nate left with the WWF van (minus the spare tire, as someone must have needed it more than us!) to get to the car ferry, while we were supposed to walk for “only twenty minutes” to the point where the passenger ferry should come but then “someone” 🙂 thought that we were mistaken and we needed to also go to the other ferry location…so we began to walk.  It was not 20 minutes, but almost 2 hours!  So, we had to hitchhike. Fortunately, two Czechs (a large group of them is marking trails in the mountains) drove some of us and all of our gear to the ferry stop while a group of us were running along the road.

When we arrived there, we discovered that Mario Molla, the ferry driver, was waiting for us at the original ferry stop (the 20 minute hike one). And so… 

Keep calm and let Mario handle it. He came and picked us up! …thank goodness we didn’t have to walk back.

After two hours of beautiful sightseeing on the ferry, Mario stopped and let us swim in the lake. Once we arrived, we met Nate and 3 others hitchhikers who he’d met on the car ferry. We took a shuttle to Shkoder where we said the first farewell to a Riverwalker this day: to Genci (we love you, big mama, we hope to see you soon) and then we bought food for the long rides home.

In the evening we enjoyed pizza and a most beautiful sunset on the lake. Finally, all of us took a real shower…how fine! Now, finally cleaned, we are pretty ready for our last night under the stars (well… How we could be ready for this?).

Tomorrow, we have to wake up really early. And we have to be ready to let go a lot. To be ready to say goodbye, to split up again, and go home, by van, by train, by… (!)

BUT… always look at the bright side of life!

So, we all wish to keep the memories of the (now we can really say this) craziest and wildest Riverwalk ever. And to walk, again, together.

Natën e mirë

Riverwalk…Keep it going, keep it going

Love, Riverwalkers’

Saying goodbye to Valbone Valley

Our stay in Dragobia ended on the 29th with a quick clean up of the whole area where we had lived for more than three days on Fation´s farmland. In less than two hours, all our trash was collected, the tarp tents broken down, our dirty clothes washed and everything else stuffed into the WWF and two mini-vans that would take us over the mountains to Lekbibaj. After a few last thank yous and goodbyes, the Riverwalkers entered the minibuses to leave for an extremely curvy and bumpy mountain ¨road¨, which inspired the Slovenian sisters Stasa and Pia to sing a new song ¨the road is bumpy, don`t be grumpy, just smile smile smile.¨ One of the plus sides of this stomach-shaking ride was that we got an idea of how travelling must have been in a horse carriage, in earlier times.

So, we were very glad to finally depart the vehicles and walk a short but steep path up to the house and meadow of the Albanian participant Gent`s cousin. Refreshed by a quick rest and a swim in the nearby river, the tarps were quickly set up (as always mainly due to the hardest worker of the group, reliable Max) and the cooking group of the day started to prepare dinner for all of us. Yvonne, Ana, Stella and Ardit cooked a lovely supposed-to-be traditional Austrian meal for the group, which was planned as a Kartoffelgulasch, but actually turned out to be regular potato-vegetable soup, tasty nonetheless.

Before everyone could fall into a well-deserved sleep, the stress and organizational chaos of the past few days took its toll on Nate and he had to lie down with a stomach ache and allow his body some rest. Nate unfortunately was not the only patient of the day, also other Riverwalkers needed some peace and quiet, so everyone finally fell asleep, listening to the sounds of crickets and the river of Lekbibaj.

Last day of Riverfest!

Aaah what a morning, after the second night most of the 20 some Albanian participants felt much better because it was their second night of sleeping outside (and they were exhausted). After the breakfast we headed to the river where people could choose between 3 different workshops. Today, we had a wild animal (mainly, lynx) expert come to give a workshop but we could also choose between a wood carving workshop and a creative writing workshop,  both of these were offered by Riverwalkers.

Several of us spent a great time learning about the Balcanic Lynx from Dr. Alexander and had a very interesting discussion with him comparing the economic benefits of conservation of wildlife against an irreversible depletion of wildlife. His quote which stuck was, ¨if someone shoots a mother bear and sells the babies to a restaurant, he´ll get about 300 EUR per cub, but if we leave the bears where they are, tourists will pay much more than that each year to have the chance to see them in the wild.  So, we Albanians can choose… 1 person benefits or the wealth can be spread out.¨  Seems like a very important argumement.

During the creative workshop, participants made some great poems, stories and paintings as well as some nice stick carvings. After the workshops people went for a swim, and then we continued with another great lunch.

After lunch we had time to say goodbye to the Riverfest participants before their departure and everyone got to take a rock from a local river home with them.

Although it was sad to see the camp almost empty, we were also happy to finally have time for ourselves so we decided to have a solo walk after cleaning the campsite. Solo walk is time for everyone to get some time alone by the river, calm down and get closer to the nature. During the solo walk we got a suprise shower and it was quite an experience to see the river during the rain. As soon as the rain ended, a mysterious fog rolled in over the water and a warm breeze blew down the valley.

We quickly prepaired the dinner and continued with the last campfire before going to sleep.  T

he next day the Riverwalk will move on!

Preparing for the Riverfest after a mighty storm

20160727_150158What a night! Let’s just say we got rained on… okaz, it as a downpour, and it was really heavy! It lasted for a least 45 min and it really tested our tarp tents. They served their purpose really well. Just some of us got wet but still they managed through this crazy storm.

We had breakfast at a local’s house. They were to cook for the whole group of 50 for the entire Riverfest…and so they invited us into their place and prepared a delicious meal. That is Albanian hospitality!

Then we started to prepare us for the next 3 days here in Dragobia. The first Riverfest is about to start and we’re expecting 30 Albanian youth to come! We spent most of the day preparing for this event. We built several benches, field kitchen furniture, solar showers, and also set up tarp tents for our guests. We then discused our workshop programme. It is going to be awesome, and we are looking forward to having interesting workshops with the Albanian Riverfest participants.

20160727_150220Around 5 p.m. around 35 visitors arrived and an hour later we started with our programme. First, we did a few get-to-know activites and introduced the Riverwalk project through a theatrical presentation complete with a reenactment of the top highlights of the trip. Now, with our bellies full we are enjoying some guitar music and singing by the campfire.

The sky is very dark and cloudy, and we’re wondering if it will be another crazy night ….

Hey ho ! Good night !



Arrival into Dragobia…and the river crossing

Are you curious… thank you guys for keeping your fingers crossed – it didn’t rain although lightening was observed during the night by the outdoor sleepers! An early breakfast gave us the energy to leave Cerem already at 7 in the direction of Dragobi. Some thunder rumbles and rain drops gave us company during the first steps on the road down to the Valbona Valley. As we arrived at the bottom of the valley, the spirit of the Riverwalk showed us its face:   The river had to be crossed and the only available structure was a wooden bridge in really bad shape – again. A lot wiser from the previous experience the group decided to cross the river in the classical, good old way, which was the shallowest and least dangerous part of the Valbona River. Helping each other and working together, we reached the other side and the way towards Dragobi was free! 1 hour later, 19 backpacks + 19 exhausted riverwalkers were streched out on a picturesque pasture just next to the village Dragobi. It didn’t take us long to grab some food and have a refreshing lunch break down at the turquoise splish-splash-waves.

Back in the village we got to work to prepare for the coming 3 day long “Riverfest”: setting up tarps, building benches, tables and even toilets, as well as a camping kitchen corner.

After dinner, we sat around the newly built fire until the pitter patter of rain drops began… we all quickly ran to the tarps just in time as a massive rain storm began. Waves of rain poured down, lightening flashed across the sky and the echo of thunder competed with the sound of heavy rain on the tarps.  It lasted at least 45 min and some of us remained drier than others!  It was exciting to say the least.

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The hot walk up…to Cerem

Thanks to our super guides we started walking at 7.45! But the day actually started one hour earlier with a special breakfast!

While walking on the concrete roads of Kukaj, we stumbled across a local festival called alpine fest. At this event, tourists and local people had fun and we used the occasion to spread the word about our cause.

We left Kukaj and after a walk in the riverbed we started to hike the mountain, it was very hot! We had to stop many times to drink, but at the end we managed to find a nice shady place next to the river and a refreshing swim! Yvonne found a new friend in a butterfly that landed on her nose and followed her for a long time, and everybody got the opportunity to relax a little bit and get refreshed in the creek.

We left the river and headed to Cerem, our next destination. Our heroes prepared the tarp tents and we are all hoping it is not going to rain… fingers crossed!!!

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Easy hike to Kukaj…

Today, we started our hike up to Kukaj pretty late in the day as we had a cosy bonfire with music and storytelling the night before. Furthermore, we had to figure out the plan and the logistics for the next few days. Finally, we agreed that Nate would drive the van to Valbona while the others would hike up to the arranged Kukaj Family Guesthouse and then he’d hike up and we’d meet him there. From the dry riverbed of Valbona river we ascended quickly and reached the tiny mountain village (of 2-3 families) and guesthouse sooner than we had expected.

Constantly hard-working, the Riverwalkers went right into brainstorming ideas for possible workshops to offer our guests at the Riverfest in Dragobia. We are really looking forward to having a lot of fun with them!!!

After a well-deserved lunch break, we hiked up to a little creek flowing down from the surrounding mountains of Kukaj. Enthusiastic about finding a little pool to swim in – the first one after the icy cold Shala River – we were finally pursuing our biggest passion again. We found the pool that the owner of the guesthouse had described as well as a setup for a sweat lodge.  As soon as we arrived, people started jumping into the cool, mountain water while several paparazzis tried to get their best shots. Somehow the group got into the flow and started building amazing pieces of land art around the location…for others to enjoy in the future!

Unfortunately, this Riverwalk does not go without injuries and Gent fell while doing one of his stunt shows, the “flying bonanza!,” and had to go to “local hospital” to get his injuries attended to, but by now, he has already returned…stronger than before?! and he is looking forward to having dinner with us.

Stay tuned as the wildest Riverwalk ever continues…

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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!!


Goodnight to everybody from Lisa, Gent and Stasa!

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