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Monday, 20 July 2015

Osumi, friendship, and off-roading: rafting in Albania (I)



Back I was, into one of the few countries trapped inside my traveller’s heart. Excitement was plummeting, yet I could not envisage the depths and beauty of our adventure to follow. Not yet.
There is an urban legend adhered to by all water/whitewater addicts – it deals with the River God and with the search for it. A search for your perfect river that could take you across continents, fighting your limits, exploring foam and colours. As far as water is concerned, I’m voting for turquoise!
We’d already gotten close and into the mood of it all singing in the car on our way to the start point, with Zamo – the President of the Albanian Rafting Federation and the owner of Albania Rafting Group – having already made us feel at home, right from the first stop registered because Andra was feeling a bit hungry.
Courtesy of Albania Rafting Group
The heat was pounding, but curiosity was stronger. Another stop followed, where we could look down at the river from the highest viewing point: Osumi was flowing silently – turquoise, narrow, perfect! I couldn’t get enough, really! By the time we reached our departure point, I was very-very eager to get into the water – and it was not only to escape the dizzying heat. Hmmm, Andra and Iulia were eager, too, I could feel that, Marcel would accompany us by kayak.
The water level was low and they were about to close the season – we were actually about to close it –, as Zamo explained. I was also happy because I had discovered that our skipper, charming and joyful Rati, and I were born on the same day! This was a sign and I took it as such.
We started to paddle and to enjoy the shade, with Rati explaining the parts of the river that could become tricky when the water level was high. [I’ve seen pictures with that turquoise colour gone in times of heavy rains; in exchange, well, you’ve got some pretty huge waves, with grade 2 (as witnessed by us) turning quickly into grade 4+/5.] In a way, it is very clear why: the canyon takes you down on a very narrow path and all that water must fit in there and literally carve its way down.
Courtesy of Albania Rafting Group
The low-level ride allowed for a better look around – and marvel we did! High steep whitish rocks framing the azure dream, with birds flying freely amongst the vegetation ushering its way into the picture. For a moment, I thought of Rio Azul in Mexico and my mind could only list South/Central American waterways to hold as much lushness as Osumi. A true wonder! ...completed by the glorious waterfalls under which I felt simply happy. A highly-ranked candidate as the River God, huh?
Courtesy of Albania Rafting Group
As we exited the canyon, I felt the urge to go back, to ride it again, to sense it yet another time! Leaving it behind and heading into the mountains enhanced that feeling. At first. The spectacular views that followed made my first trip into the Albanian mountains, back in 2009, fade, as I kept repeating ‘Your country is extraordinary; I have travelled far and wide but this... this leaves me breathless!’ to Zamo. As night caught us by surprise still high on the mountain roads, tiredness started to show. However, when we reached Përmet, we wanted to hang out some more and have dinner. With our friends. It was special, with nut marmalade, ice cream, and the most memorable sweets of our trip filling the table and marking the end of the most beautiful day of our trip.
Albanian hospitality, friendship, and beauty filled our hearts and souls! Forever.    

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