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Hiking the Balkans

On my first roadtrip to the Balkans two years ago, I was entirely captivated by the region: wide hills and landscapes, high mountain ranges, wild rivers and long coastlines. There is hardly any landscape, that can't be found in the Balkans. Back then I focussed on Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Croatia, whereas I spent most of this years trip in Romanian and Albanian nature: in dark forests, on wide meadows, between bear pawprints, flocks of sheep and clear mountain lakes.

Hiking in Romania

Before leaving Făgăraș, Jana and I did two great hikes. On one day we hiked almost 20 km from Cincșor (Kleinschenk) on the ridge of a hill alongside the river Olt. For me, the soft green hills are inseparably linked with Romanian nature. On our way we found pawprints from bears, we passed plenty of sheep and shepherds. Apart from that it was quiet, sunny and warm.

Some shepherds invited us into their huts and gave us fermented sheep's milk. The fact that we couldn't speak Romanian except for "Buna" (= hello) didn't matter much to the men, so they kept on telling us something accompanied by wild gesticulations until we continued our hike.

We also drove - together with Marko, the other worker from Făgăraș - on the Transfăgărășan, a mountain pass that winds through the Carpathians. On the way up, we saw a small brown bear treating himself to the rubbish from a parking-bay-bin. The bear actually came quite close to the car with the window open, perhaps to get some food from us. Afterwards, we walked a good distance from Bâlea Lac to the waterfall below, again accompanied by bear tracks.

Peaks of the Balkans

Hiking in Montenegro

Plav, our first and only destination in Montenegro, is located on the Peaks of the Balkans, a 192 km long-distance hiking trail on the border of Montenegro, Albania and Kosovo. I had been planning to do this tour for a while and the whole trail would take 10 days, but we decided - amongst others because of the weather - to do day tours only: one in Montenegro and two in Albania.

On our first day in Plav we met Gerrit from the Netherlands, who has hiked the whole trail with friends and told us a lot about the route and its pitfalls. After late night skinny-dipping in the lake, we started hiking enthusiastically the next day. That, however, didn't quite go to plan:

"I navigated and we got lost. Badly. How should it be any different? A shepherd directed us to the right path, but we didn't find it and ended up crawling through the woods while clapping and making weird noises to scare away the bears whose excrements and paw prints we have found along the way. Following the little blue GPS dot on Google Maps, we finally reached the actual trail and Hrid Lake - our goal - after all." (Diary from 27.06.)

Hiking in Albania

Hiking the POB in Albania went much better. We started from Theth with large backpacks, sleeping bags and a tent, to hike the total distance of 12 km. We ascended about 1,000 metres in altitude to the summit and continued 700 metres of altitude descending to Rragam in the next valley, where we camped on the lawn of an old woman's property. There was no water, but we were allowed to use the toilets - after communicating by gesture - and she also cooked for us in the evening: vegetable soup and potato wedges, bread and fermented yoghurt. The latter we already know from Romania.

Due to the ascent, both on the way to Rragam and on the way back, this hike was quite demanding, but every metre was worth it for the unbelievable view, even if it has to be shared with quite a few other people during high season. On the other hand, a lot of people are a good guideline for navigation, avoiding hikers like us to get lost again.


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