Albania: The North

Wasn't it simply new territory ahead? Yes and no. In 2009, my first time in Albania, I had passed through on the way to the not-my-cup-of tea resorts off the Montenegrin coast. I didn't know that back then. I explored enough to realise it, though, and I still have a lot to learn. We always do.
On my second time in Albania, in 2015, I had again passed through on my way to Bosnia.
A stop was required. I had read many bad things about the dangers of the area, yet I was determined to prove those writing without experiencing on their own wrong. Terribly wrong.
My theory is that the general vibe of a nation is given by what you actually encounter in your direct interactions, by the way in which a person smiles or frowns, by the helpfulness that you come across or not, by the true emotions that you note. If you feel it in your heart, you cannot go wrong.
So, here I was in Krujë, here I was finally having history-related discussions with the museum curator, here I was bowing to Skanderbeg. The clouds were rolling in, the southern air had become rougher, the visibility had decreased.
Velipojë, Albania
Andra and I on the horseshoe-shaped beach
Velipojë was the stop for the night. Empty, right before the season's start. Yet wild and authentic, with the sea roaring and the drops eager to fall. These horseshoe-shaped beaches have a charm of their own [Copacabana in Rio is the same]. And some tricky currents to fight. It's probably what draws windsurf and kitesurf enthusiasts here and what convinced me to return.
Velipojë, Albania
Quick dip at 6:30am
Especially because I missed my time in Shkoder, again! An early ferry across Komani Lake was the reason, this time around. Luckily, our extremely kind hosts had made calls and had booked us on it. We just had to get there, through the rain and the intense green, through the winding road and the surprising turns.
Komani Lake, Albania
On our way to the ferry
Happy endings, that is what I love [don't we all?]. This one's about cows transported in boats, a fjordish scenery that I never got to see throughout all of my travels, and that green that followed us relentlessly and seemed to be the norm up here: in the water, on the shore, in the gusts of winds that made my shalwars flicker.
Komani Lake, Albania
On Komani Lake...
There were also sadder parts: stories of sheep and lambs fallen into the water or a cow's body floating by. It's what you get with the package of remoteness and wilderness. 
Komani Lake, Albania
...with the low clouds...
You also get jokes from your friend, about where on earth were the people living?!... No houses could be seen, I'll make it clear.
Komani Lake, Albania
...and our kayaks!
After 2 and a half hours, we were rightly North. The surprise of the day was cutting its way through the mountains that were different, different from those in the South. There was also a heaviness in the air, but it was given this time by the roughness all-around. Piles of snow were here and there, in-between the abrupt greyish cliffs that demanded humbleness.
Valbona River, Albania
My River God
And so did the river: Valbonë. Bearing the same name as the place we were headed to. Incredibly light turquoise, clear, foamy, rocky, perfect. My River God. I had found it and my sight was unmistakably drawn to it every time we'd cross paths.
Valbona River, Albania
...on my to-do list!
Meals in Valbonë are rich and fresh and friendly. So is the way to Tropojë. When you buy beer and bread and you're given extra blood oranges as gifts in Bajram Curri. The land has the same reddish accents like the ones at a southern border crossing, with Macedonia. They resonate with my soul and they're in line with the lush hills. After an afternoon spent unwinding and an evening spent watching 'Taken' to definitely shake the beliefs of those who warned us not to go -well, us and the rest of the world-, we are sadly leaving the following morning. I know we'll be back.
Right now, though, Kosovo is waiting.

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