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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