Third day of trekking on Peaks of the Balkans, going from Çerem to Doberdöl. After a first stage to warm us up and a second tough stage to challenge us, we’re now ready to walk over another pass and discover more of the balkanese mountains and meadows. Then we’ll take a day off in Doberdöl, in this beautiful remote valley swept by the winds that has been described to us as a place of outstanding beauty…
Peaks of the Balkans – Step 3 – From Çerem to Doberdöl
When we open our guidebook on the table this morning in Çerem to study our itinerary of the day, it appears to us that today’s walk will be a lot more easy than the ascent of the Prosllopit pass that we’ve done yesterday. What a relief for our sore feet! As we set up on track, we begin by slowly walking up a large muddy 4WD road, overlooking the amazing landscape spotted with grazing goats and sheep. The mountain we walked over yesterday is standing majestically behind us. We take all our time to admire the Peaks of the Balkans. We do not hurry, our heavy feet are slowed by yesterday’s stage. After two hours, we enter a forest of beeches and conifers. Everything is entangled in mossy lichens. The track’s marking is quite good, we won’t get lost today. For once!
Blueberry buches are literally covering the forest floor! They first spray in a large kind of meadow and then infiltrate every corner of the woods, as far as the eye can see. What a pity that the bluberry season has not started yet! Soon, we’re up on Aljucit Pass where we have a quick lunch with the packed sandwiches prepared by Laura this morning. Then we start our way down the other side of the mountain through a larger misty forest. Silence wraps its scarves around us. Between the trees we can see massive clouds swirling around the peaks. The whole mountain feels damp and cottony. Then come the meadows and pastures, covered by short rich green grass. The livestock is very fond of it. There in the middle is the summer settlement of Balqin, surrounded by bleating sheep.
« Heeeey ! », someone calls us. A blond headed woman with a happy face carved with wrinkles digged by mountain air walks toward us. She waves at us and asks with a warm smile : « Coffee ? ». Oh yeah, why not. We can’t really refuse that kind of offer ! And after all, that is why we decided to hike on Peaks of the Balkans: meeting people ! We follow her, thiking that we’ll end up in one of these tiny mountain cafe-hut. But she takes us home, sitting us on wooden logs on the terrace with a view on the mountains and the pungent livestock smell in the air. Her husband do not last to join us. He has a leathery face, the kind you instantly know you can trust, his shepherd stick in his large rugged hand. They do not speak english, we don’t speak albanian. But they do want to chat! We love these moments when, without sharing a common language, we manage to exchange quite a lot of information, emotions and feelings of friendship. The magic of communication.
Their names are Çamila and Salè. They live here 5 months a year, and the other 7 months down in the valley. Their oldest son lives in Lyon, in France, but they never had the chance to visit him. They just finished to build a new guesthouse to host hikers from Peaks of the Balkans, with the hope that it will improve their daily lives. They warn us against the shepherds’ dogs, sometimes agressive and dangerous. They weight our backpacks. Then they want to know everything about us: where do we come from, where are we going? We show them a map of France and Normandie, then a map of Lyon where their son is living. Finally they don’t want to hear anything when we insist to pay for our coffees. We discreetly hide the equal of 2€ under one of the mugs. That’s how it works here. The albanian guides we met in Theth recommanded us to do this, « to help the local economy ».
– But, aren’t you afraid that this kind of behavior will change the natural hospitality and relations between hikers and locals ? If money begin to get involed, it will probably change things…
– Of course, it may change things. But today’s situation also doesn’t seem fair. We’ve got everything, and they have pretty much nothing. We cannot let them in « misery »! You should pay a fair price for what you receive, but do not give too much, that’s it.
Two more hours of steady climb bring us to Doberdöl, a small summer settlement built in the middle of nowhere along a tiny river rushing down the slope in short waterfalls. Horses, cows and sheep are grazing freely around the village where no fences are needed. It seems like we just reach a piece of heaven! The village is made of poorly-made scattered huts hosting sheperds and trekkers alike during the warm months of the year.
We stop at the Bashkimi Guesthouse where we are welcomed politely but maybe not as warmly as earlier on the track. The guesthouse is the largest in the village and the first that had been opened in Doberdöl when the Peaks of the Balkans trek was created. Therefore it is a common place for travellers to drop by and it appears to be fully booked nearly all summer, most of the time by large groups of hikers with their guides and less frequently by solo hikers. We meet again with Jan and Marcus, two young germans with whom we shared a meal yesterday evening in Çerem. As the Bashkimi Guesthouse is full once again, they found a place to stay in a small guesthouse further in the village. The owner, an old hearty shepherd wearing a heavy pair of plastic boots and an old dusty cap, is determined to make us try every kind of raki he brewed those last years. This balkanese shnapps is known to be very strong but the old shepherd is talented: his raki is also very good! It warms us up in no time. It is the balkanese natural remedy against the cold mountain wind rushing constantly through every holes in the walls.
We decide to take our first day off the next day. We have planned three spare days on the entire trip, feeling it would be sensible to keep them in case of bad weather or light injuries. But we feel they could as well be used to keep the good spirit up, rest our bodies and spend some time in the really charming places of the Peaks of the Balkans! Doberdöl is definitely one of this places. We’d like to discover more about it.
Apparently, we also needed the rest. We wake up fairly late ( well, ok, early afternoon… ) after a 14h sleep, feeling in a far better condition than we’ve been those last few days! We really need to get used to the daily moutain exercise! We leave for a stroll around the village, admiring the wonderful scenery. Soon we are invited by a couple of locals eager to have a chat with two strangers. We sit on the couch (or is it a bed?) next to the massive wood stove while the woman brews a pot of steaming turkish coffee. Their tiny house is filled with darkness. There are no windows, yet the wind blows in from every tiny holes in the walls and roof. Rough mattresses are laid on the floor against the wall, topped with enormous duvets of colourful fabric that remind us how rigorous the weather can be, even in summer. Comforting smells of livestock, warm hay, thick smoke, fresh milk and oven-hot bread mingle in the room. After the coffee ritual, we have to taste a bit of raki. No way to turn down the offer: our host has made it himself. He is waiting for our opinion! Isn’t it the best raki around? His wife take a warm home-made byrek from the wood stove and cut it in four. It is absolutely wonderful! A kind of lasagna from the Balkans, made from crusty layers of delicious puff pastry, mountain herbs and goat cheese. Then she brings us a big blue plastic bowl in where an enormous feta is floating. She just made it. « Delia« , she says. « Beeeeeh« , her husband adds. Fresh sheep cheese! This is amazing but how are we supposed to eat all that?
We leave our hosts one hour later, feeling quite tipsy thanks to the numerous shots of raki. This kind couple has given us a large bag full of byrek and feta cheese for our next few days in the mountains. We resume our walk around, laughing at the silly figures of the local rams. Their long dreadlocks and badly twisted horns give them a funny look! We climb up a slope to admire Doberdöl from above. This village truly appeals to us! A wonderful light hops playfully from one hill to another, creating a unique scenery.
The weather turns bad and cold. We get back to the Bashkimi Guesthouse and ask the owners if we can spend some time with them, near to their warm wood stove. Rudina, the mother, is already preparing diner for tonight: large byreks, warm breads and a heavy red bean soup. Enough to feed all the ravenous hikers that are expected to arrive soon. Enisa, the thirteen-years-old daughter, is the only member of the family who knows a bit of english. After a while and a lot of shared smiles, she shyly dares to ask us a few questions and answer ours. Bashkim, the father, who seemed at first very shy and not talkative, is now very curious to understand the conversation and asks his daughter to translate. As we show our interest to understand their lives, the whole family starts asking questions about us. Thanks to modern technology, we are able to exchange pictures of our families, of Albania, of France, talk about their son living in Europe, talk about life. Bashkim shows us pictures of him when he was young. He laughs: « I like your hair, Quentin. I had the same, you see! But I went to the army and I had to cut it all! And now I am bald… Bad luck! » Quentin smiles, gets closer to our host, unties his hair and put it over Bashkim’s head. « Now you’ve got long hair again! » Everybody is laughing while we take pictures so Bashkim can admire his new hairdo. It truly suits him well!
M. & Mme Shoes