Albania evokes images of ancient blood feuds and Communist isolation, of which remnants of both remain. In the Accursed Mountains, settlements linger with one foot in another century. But a coalition of environmental and tourism organizations in Albania and Montenegro have joined forces to promote the Via Dinarica, a “mega-hiking” trail through the Western Balkans.
We hiked for three days across the Accursed Mountains of Albania placing our faith in Adenis, the 19-year old guide provided by Outdoor Albania, a local outfitter based in Tirana. Adenis had passable, if confident, English and the demeanor of older brother required to care for younger siblings. Our bags were carried by horses, led by Adenis’s father, a nearly toothless, leathered man of 40 who looked 60. Adenis hails from Valbona, one of the larger towns we we passed along the way.
We had reached our first stop, Theth, late at night after a lunch stop in Shkrodër and a long ride through nightfall over roads of boulders and mountain passes. Theth, a village dating back to around 1500 within the Thethi National Park, is reinventing itself as a backpacking center. The valley is wide enough for a scattered settlement but narrow enough to feel like a gorge framed by the jagged dolomite hills we would see for the next five days. Even the soil feels sparse and rocky. Except for a few wood frame timber chalets, the buildings are all grey stone with steep pitched roofs.
Public buildings include a church (“for the Catholic people” Ardemis, a Muslim, tells us), a 400 year old stone tower, a new tourist center and a school. Other farmsteads have been converted into guest houses. Adenis, his rosy round face lit up with each cigarette. attempted to recount the history of Thethi and this tower. But with his limited English, I gathered mostly…