Albania, secret,dark, cut-off to the world Albania. Once ruled by the wonderfully named King Zog who was replaced by communist tyrant Mr Hoxa. How anyone could replace the Zog is beyond me. I am and always will be a Zogist but with a large but; Norman Wisdom. Sir Norman, had the only foreign movies shown anywhere in Albania throughout Hoxa’s rule and to this day is still a cult hero and by default it makes Brits more than welcome. We looked forward to Albania more than anywhere else we have been and so far we are not disappointed.
After all the anxiety, fear and insurance problems we have endured in getting here we managed to enter Albania without even knowing it. No border guards, no stamp on the passport, no strip search, no falling over and shouting ‘Mr Grimsdale’. Nothing. We had no idea for about half an hour that we had entered the mysterious Albania. The only slight give away was the abundance of ancient Mercs, stolen or otherwise. We skirted around the city of Shkoder and followed the signs for Puke. With about 30 klicks to go we turned off for Koman. The next 20 Miles of road are some of the worst we have ever driven, it takes about 2 hours in a homie to complete. Two hours of avoiding holes the size of Mrs Merkel’s backside, avoiding free roaming pigs, cows and any other livestock you wish to mention, and recently ‘legalised’ cars bouncing along. But we made it.
Lake Koman 06/09 – 08/09/2106
The town of Koman is a dump. To be honest it is not even a town, it is just a dump. It is a huge Hydro Electricity Station and a quarry and a collection of unattractive concrete cubes and a hotel built under the supports of a bridge. We camped up in the grounds of the hotel for Five of your English Pounds. We sat down and had some beer at 40 pence a pint followed by a meal cooked by a very old person who had never cooked before for humans. To cut out the middle man we fed the culinary creation straight to the free-roaming animals. We have never seen such a rubbish place in all our travels, it made Morocco look sophisticated. But unlike Morocco it didn’t have tone deaf brits singing Peggy Sue nonstop. Bonus, we will take Koman any day, especially with the price of wine, beer, raki. Here are some snaps of our luxury retreat.
Under this bridge lies our hotel
Restaurant and water feature (not working)
Lake Koman Ferry
This is why we are here. Back in the 1970’s, in the days before hair gel and political correctness Mr Hoxa decided Albania needed electricity and therefore damned the Koman river. The side effect of this was it cut off all the villages in the valley. As the waters rose these people were now left with an intermittent ferry as there only means of transport in and out of the gorge. Not good for them but for the modern day tourist, nirvana. Here is a trip down a valley as good as anything in Norway for a fraction of the price. In addition, it is total mayhem and when you mix with some of the friendliest people you will ever come across you have a grand day out.
There are two car ferries a day that depart Lake Koman; a Heath-Robinson affair at 09:00 and a more substantial effort at 12:00. If you have a slidey-door-transit type Homie then you can risk the early ferry, anything longer, wait for the later one. As we were going to ride it as foot passengers we took the early, less substantial offering.
Nearly on time we left and headed on our three hour journey along the lake. It is spectacular. Cliffs soar a thousand metres on either side and the passage narrows down to 25m in places. You also get to see villages and settlements clinging to the steep valley sides, their animals and plants in a constant battle against gravity.
Koman Ferry Port
We would be the first ones to admit that driving this ferry for 7 hours every day will after a while become a tad boring and so we didn’t mind much when the captain and his mate opened up a tinny of local produce after a short while. 10 in the morning is usually too early for us, but we are not prudes, especially when they were sharing the garlic toasts.
One of the downsides to these sorts of trips is the Western Europeans who are there. They are not on the trip to engage with the people, to admire the landscape, to absorb anything. They are there purely to say we have been there at their next dreadful dinner party. Most never left the inside of the ship and just spent time writing about what to bore people with. Gosh, at least I make it up weeks after the event and not spoil the moment. I had to put up with some woman going on and on and on about their trip in to a village in a Land Rover. Every sentence contained the phrase we have a Land Rover. At that is the point; you have a Land Rover and not a Range Rover. Loser.
We finally get to our destination of Fireze. A town we thought where we could have a leisurely lunch, even get a sheep on a stick. But oh no. It had a lousy café where every man was crowded around a TV watching an old Norman Wisdom movie. Old habits. The other thing to note was the abundance of British registered cars. Remember, we are in a place that requires a two hour drive and a three hour ferry ride. So if you know the owner of this vehicle you may want to tell him we have found it.
Ferry Terminal Fireze
After getting rid of the ‘dreadfuls’ with their inferior 4WD’s the crew came and joined us for lunch. We had a softie, they didn’t. After 25 minutes it was time to leave. With a crew-bar restock completed we headed home.
A Previous Ferry
Our ferry is on the left
The only resemblance to any sort of terminal is the points either end. To get on or off at any other place en-route involves the people standing on the side of the lake and waving at which point the ferry rams the bank and drops the loading ramp for the people to hop-on hop-off.
After our first stop the new ‘aboards’ broke out the Raki and a sack of hazelnuts. Us being softies could not open the Hazels with our teeth but the crew were experts and a trickle became a flow of saliva flavoured nuts opened in the mouths of our crew. Slightly less bothersome was the unscrewing of a water bottle containing the home made fire-water.
Our captain and crew who are now in fun mode think it a good idea to let the purveyor of the home-made hooch to take control of the ship. And here he is.
He was also packing some heat
So for the next hour the raki, nuts and beer were freely passed around. Oh what merriment as us and the locals embraced Albanian transport life. But all good things. After our temporary captain left and our original captain now in need of a sleep it was down to Tracy and me to drive the ferry home. And so for the next hour we took it in turns to drive the car ferry Rozafa back while the crew had a well-earned rest asleep in the back
If this is Albania we love it. Mad, bad and crazy; but who cares. Where else do you get to drive a car ferry? Share everything with everybody? Make instant chums? Shame the dinner party freaks got off early and missed the total experience. We will leave you with some last pictures of the best boat journey in Europe. Fact.
I’m at the wheel
Love to all