So today Gasi and I were going to go on a hike in the Armenian Alps. Gasi told me it would an easy hike, but I wasn’t so sure. I figured it would be a pretty steep incline up and I was right. The Quku hike is supposed to be the easiest hike in the area. And while the hike actually wasn’t that tough, what made it rather challenging is the trails are not well maintained and full, and I mean full, of rocks so by the end of the hike, my feet and knees were pretty sore.
Anyway, I woke pretty early thanks to the local roosters and took a walk around the grounds. I should have saved my strengh. But no matter, I was ready to go when Gasi and I left the lovely little guest house we were staying in around 10:00 a.m. We walked through the bush and hills near the guest house to the main road. We then walked two kilometers into Valbones. Now walking by the side of the road anywhere in Albania is challenging because quite frankly no one in this country knows how to drive. In fact, it wasn’t until the lat 1990s before anyone in this country actually had a car thanks to communism. But walking by the side of the road in Valbones was particularly risky because the road was full of curves so you never knew when a car was coming. I did the safe thing and literally hugged the shoulder of the road as I walked.
And as we walked uphill towards Valbones, I could not stop looking at the mountains around me (which was probably not a smart thing given the car situation). Anyway, the views were spectactuar. We periodically passed a little waterfall spilling out from the rocky hillside, and we even saw an old mill that had been in use right up until 2005.
Now as we passed the mill, a tourist van pulled over to the side of the road and who should get out but …. those horrible girls from the ferry ride. And of course they were not hiking (God forbid they should actually get some exercise). Nope they simply jumped out of the van, snapped a picture of the old mill, jabbering the whole time, and then turned and hopped back in the van. I should have taken a picture, but rest assured the picture of those knuckleheads would not have done them justice.
So once we reached Valbones, the plan was to cut across the dry Valbones riverbed (it is nearing the end of the dry season so there are lots of dry patches). We passed a goat herder and his goats taking a drink from a small trickle of the river and then started walking across the rocky riverbed. Now this part was pretty tough on the ankles and knees. Unfortunately, Gasi is a twenty something and does not apparently understand that some of us have a bit of wear and tear on our joints. Before I knew it, Gasi was hundred yards or so in front of me. Eventually he stopped to wait for me, but it irritated me that he wasn’t simply slowing down to walk with me. This turned out to be a pattern for the day.
Anyway, once we crossed the riverbed, we started the climb up the hillside. The very rocky path took us through thickets of trees and then back out into the blazing sunshine. In some spots the trail took us straight up and in other spots, the trail meandered up the hillside. Periodically, we would stop for a drink of water and a rest.
The views as we climbed were simply magnificent and I frequently stopped to take a picture (OK and to also take a breather). It was incredibly hot and had I known how hot the day was going to be, I would have suggested we start much earlier. So while the hike up left me slightly breathless, it was the heat that was particularly challenging.
After about an hour and a half of hiking, we came to a clearing where I spotted a cemetery. Huh? Apparently there are two families that live in the area and use a logging road to access their homes. We soon reached the two homes and stopped by one of the homes for a beer. Seriously. Apparently both families cater to hikers so we were welcomed with a beer.
I have no idea the name of the family, but the young man who gave us the beer (and clearly spoke no English beyond hello) was working his tail off. The family was apparently building a guest house for hikers and the young guy appeared to be helping construct the building. The guy never stopped moving the entire time we were there.
Now the family’s original business was farming and there were roosters, chickens, pigeons and at least one cow that I could see. There was a large garden, including rows of corn, and an outside oven enclosed in a little house. And with the smoke streaming out of the chimney, it was clear something was cooking in the oven. I also noticed a huge round bag hanging beside the doorway to the oven house with what appeared to be homemade cheese. Gasi confirmed what I suspected and seemed surprised that I thought it was a pretty cool thing to see. I had to explain that where I come from, we don’t see cheese hanging from the side of peoples houses. We buy our cheese at the market.
Anyway we sat and enjoyed the very, very good Tirana beer (lager) with the chickens clucking and pigeons cooing around us and took in the magnificent views.
Once we finished our beverages, we left some money for the beer and wandered back towards the path. We then found a little clearing and sat and had a picnic lunch of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, cheese, sausage, bread and an apple. A perfect on the go lunch while sitting and admiring the incredible scenery.
After some discussion, Gasi and I decided to take the logging road back down. I thought it would allow me to see a different part of the hillside and might be less rocky. Uh … BiG MISTAKE. The hike down on the logging road was far, far, more rocky than the climb up. In fact, the logging road was nothing but rocks.
Sadly, we were well into the hike before I realized my mistake. And while the hike down was much faster, it was pretty rough on my feet and knees. And once we reached the bottom of the logging road, we had to walk back across the dry riverbed to the road. More pain for my little tootsies. And of course through it all, Gasi was miles ahead of me. I might as well have been hiking by myself. It was clear Gasi was bored out of his mind. At one point as we walked along the road I could see him using the water bottle tied to his backpack as if it were a soccer ball bouncing it back and forth with this feet. Gesh.
Now I get that Albanian tourism is in its infancy, but if you want tourists to spread the word, you have to actually accompany the tourists you are guiding. And don’t get me wrong, Gasi is a nice young guy and a decent tour guide, but the operative word is “young”. He has a lot to learn about guiding tourists so I will try not to judge him too harshly. I will give him marks for trying.
Anyway, we reached the other side of the riverbed and retraced our steps back 2 kilometers down the road and then through the hillside and brush to the guesthouse. I could not wait to jump in the shower to clean off and put my feet up. We had been gone just over five hours and I was ready to just relax.