Theth, Albania: Roads? Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads


Next stop: Theth. I’ll just assume that you are going to ask why. Well, there wasn’t a lot of information in the Lonely Planet guidebook, but it was mentioned and it sounded tranquil and beautiful. After spending a couple of weeks in cities, we both needed a good dose of Mother Nature.

This is the sort of scenery promised if you venture to Theth

I started doing homework on transportation a few days before our reservation in Theth. It was only 75km away from Shkoder. How difficult could it be? Google Maps suggested 3hrs by car. That can’t be right. The terms four-wheel drive and hair-raising kept coming up in the searches. There were no buses but supposedly furgons. One forum post gave a location in Shkoder where the furgons could be found. Sounds like a rough ride. Should I let Pat know?

“Is there an ATM near the guesthouse in Theth?” asked Pat. A fair enough question. I Googled a little more and came up empty on ATMs. Hmmm, I wonder if there are any grocery stores. Nope. I took a look at the satellite image. “I think we should hit the ATM before we leave Shkoder,” I told Pat, “…and provision.” That’s when I got The Look.

As Pat mentioned in his last post, finding transportation in Albania is a bit of an art form. We went to the roundabout mentioned in the forum post and found a bunch of minibuses (a.k.a. furgons). We didn’t see ‘Theth’ in any of the windshields so we asked one of the drivers. He pointed across the roundabout at a blue Land Rover. “Theth,” he said.

We weren’t trying to steal this vehicle, we just wanted a ride.

We cautiously crossed the busy street and peered into the front window of the Land Rover. No sign. No driver. Someone, sounding a bit agitated, started barking at us from the nearest coffee shop. Maybe he thought we were going to hijack his car. Maybe this wasn’t the vehicle the other guy pointed us toward.

We explained that we wanted to go to Theth the next day, preferably in the morning. He shook his head and stalked off to the butcher shop. Gee, I hope he isn’t fetching a cleaver. A young man returned with the barking man and he asked us in English what we needed. We told him, and it was agreed, the barking man would drive us to Theth the next morning.

A short while out of Shkoder our driver pointed across the water and said, “Montenegro.” Conversation was pretty minimal. In fact, that was probably the extent of it. It is quite possible that his English was less extensive than our Albanian.

Eventually we turned right, toward the mountains. Ok, here we go. Let the hair-raising begin. The road narrowed, but it was paved and in good shape. We continued and started to climb into the mountains. Beautiful. We stopped at a coffee place with an amazing view for a pit-stop and, of course, coffee. They do love their coffee in Albania.

Back into the Land Rover and up, up, up. I started thinking that my Lonely Planet needed some updating. It was written five years ago and the most basic Yugo could handle this road. That was about the exact same instant that we summited and the pavement disappeared. Holy. Crap. They call this a road? The road was a thin ledge of dirt, mud, and potholes clinging to the side of a cliff like a cat to a window screen over a tub full of water. And, it was a looooooong way down.

Pat was in the front on the ‘scenic overlook’ side of the vehicle. He started migrating toward the driver. I think that amused the driver, judging by the wry smile on his face, so he drove a little closer to the edge. Well, it seemed that way anyhow. At the climax of the scary part, the driver stopped the vehicle and got out. I jumped out too and followed. Pat was trapped in the passenger seat. If he opened his door, it would have hung above the abyss.

After a few photos of absolutely breath-taking scenery we hopped back into the Land Rover and started bouncing our way down into the valley. I really do mean bounce. Our bags were doing a jig above my head on the roof. They did a doh-si-doh or two. I swear. I thought for sure they were going to break the bungee cord, leap off the roof, and sink to the bottom of a pothole never to be seen again. Maybe that would be a good thing for subsequent vehicles, but we’d be running around naked on laundry day.

Downtown Theth

We crossed the bridge into Theth and pulled up in front of our guesthouse. With trembling limbs we thanked our driver and grabbed our bags. The scenery all around was amazing. The mountains rose from the valley floor nearly vertically. Patches of snow were still visible on the rocky tops. The valley was lush and green, and filled with pastures, orchards, and gardens.

The curator at the museum

We walked into town. There was no real center of town as far as we could tell. There were narrow lanes between large tracts, each with a guesthouse, many of which were under construction. Apparently Theth was expecting a boom in tourism. I can certainly see why, but I can’t see people willingly subjecting themselves to the road to Theth for a weekend getaway.

We passed an old man in the lane. He mumbled something at us and pointed farther down the lane. We smiled, nodded, and said “faleminderit” in our best Albanian. In a few minutes we saw a sign: Museum. Ah, that’s what he said. We followed the arrow, took a slight wrong turn, then an old women, probably his wife, came bounding across a field with such alacrity that we couldn’t help but follow as she motioned us toward her museum.

The museum was little more than an abandoned building with a few everyday items scattered about. The old woman’s eagerness to show us each item and describe it in detail was incredible to watch, but indecipherable to us. We looked at each other after a lengthy explanation about some belts and shrugged. That resulted in a second recital of the importance of the belts. This time we smiled and nodded. We must have been convincing because we moved on to the butter churn. Smile. Nod. Loom. Smile. Nod. Tea set… There are only two rooms, a few items, and one trap door, the barest of ethnographic museums, but not to be missed just the same.

The four days flew by. Our guesthouse, Bujtina Berishta, was wonderful with great food, amazing views, and the family that ran it treated us as their own. Each day we hiked in a different direction soaking up the peacefulness and marveling at the scenery. We had the roads and trails almost entirely to ourselves. There were other hikers, but far more sheep, goats, and cows. The tranquility was only disturbed by the nagging dread of the return trip back over the pass.

The mud-slick, pothole-strewn, eroding ledge of a road was friend and foe. For us it was friend because it kept the visitors to a minimum and foe because it was scary and dangerous. For the locals it is friend because eventually it will be improved and tourists will flock to the area to fill up the newly built guesthouses. And, for that exact same reason, I feel the road will be their foe too.

Hike, Drink, Live, Laugh

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