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Monday, May 3, 2010

To Delvine… By Foot!

Uuaaa? Oh bo bo! [shake or slap head]

That’s the reaction I’ve gotten all day after telling Albanian friends and colleagues that Chris, Greg, and I hiked up over the mountains all the way to Delvine. It’s quite a trek—5 hours uphill (stopping once for a pushim i vogel, or ‘little break’), 2.5 hours across the peaks (plus our 40 minute lunch break) toward the radio towers, and 3 daunting hours downhill (by this time my legs were wobbly and wanted to stop!).

Finally at the top, destination: radio towers

We set off around 7:30 from our house on Sunday morning, heading up into the neighborhood of Dunovat, which is actually above the castle. The houses blend quite nicely into shepherd shacks with animals running around, hard to tell quite where the city ends. We followed a trail into the forests, an abruptly steep slope (steeper than Gjiro’s city streets? Ironic, I know) until finally the forest ended and we found ourselves in a daisy covered field, our first clear glimpse of the valley below.

Don't we look so happy and strong before setting off?

We continued on this path, a narrow trail probably worn away by decades or even centuries of çoban (shepherds) leading their flocks of sheep and goats. I love coming across shepherds in the mountains, or even throughout the city streets and villages, especially the ones who still dawn the traditional heavy woolen black coat. Çoban are almost always thrilled to chat with us, a strange day indeed that a foreigner would know their language, their smiles from ear to ear revealing gummy mouths with a few remaining black stumps of teeth. However, we saw not a soul on today’s journey, and luckily no wolves either.

Stone piles help guide cobanat to the next peak

One of the toughest parts of the hike was up near the snow, not because it was cold but just the sheer endurance needed to continue up the 75 degree slant for so long, it seemed every peak we finally arrived at revealed another, larger hill to climb. Chris let off some steam by sliding down some snowy banks; when we get it uploaded to YouTube I'll post a link!

Snowy patches

Eventually, (finally!!) we reached the top, which leveled out onto a somewhat horizontal road, I’m told this was originally a military road but I doubt a vehicle could ever have really traversed it. The three of us stopped for a picnic and rest on a ‘tender’ strip of grass, along a peak overlooking both the Lunxhёria valley behind us and the Ionian coast in front, with the Greek island of Corfu visible in the distance. We ate and relaxed for a good 40 minutes, Greg and I not entirely too eager to move past the moment of triumph. But push on we did, mostly sticking to the road, always with the towers as our goal.

Picnic time!

Sleepy boys take a pushim

Some hours later we reached the road descending from the towers into the town of Delvinё below, full of switchbacks. Walking downhill after such an already long journey can be more difficult. My quads grew tired and shaky by the very end, after 3 hours and 20 minutes supporting my body against each step. We passed through some unexpectedly, amazingly picturesque villages, with lush green gumdrop mountains always present in the background. These weren’t the menacing, intimidating mountains we usually face (and that we just climbed), but fuzzy-looking friendly hills, just for decoration.

Lunxheria mountain range down on the left, Corfu (not pictured) to the right

Two good friends of ours live in Delvinё, Monica and Alexi. Only Alexi was in town that night, and our now-foursome went out for pizza together. The guys and I were pretty pooped, so after some cards and conversation at Alexi’s apartment, we caught the 9:30 bus heading back toward Gjiro, arriving at 11 pm and making one last uphill journey back to our homes before falling into a deep and lengthy slumber…


Carol Pucci said...

Love this, and love seeing pictures of all you...can't say I'm not glad I wasn't there...on the hike that is. But good for you. Great descriptions.

Fredi said...

wooow!! i cant belive it !!
u were just talking about my....
"To Gjiro ... By Foot" when i was just 11 years old. I did it in 6 hours and alone!
I wantet to watch the soccer game:

" LUFTETAR(gjiro) - BISTRICA(delvine)"
at the Gjiro`s stadium!
Thnx for writting about those things!