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  • Jerome Kocher

42. Peaks of the Balkans

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

Last November I planned on hiking 90 miles over ten days in the Albanian Alps. I started walking up to a hundred miles a month to build capacity. But by May I realized that walking on level ground was not the same as up and down a mountain pass. My legs and knees suggested that it would be safer to take day hikes from different destinations in the Alps.

So today I’m staying at guesthouse Polia in Theth, the gateway to the Albanian Alps. The owner, Pavlin Polia, said his family goes back generations even centuries in this valley. Before the current road up from coast, this village would have been more isolated, especially in the cold of winter. It has a Catholic Church and “kullas” or traditional stone buildings. But all that is changing,

Pavlin was one of those who were instrumental in creating a trekking circuit of 120 miles called Peaks of the Balkans. In 1994, three years after the fall of communism in Albania there emerged the idea to build a Peace Park Project in the northern Albanian Alps. Also called the Dinaric Alps, Albania shares them with Montenegro and Kosovo. Inspired by an English woman and then eventually executed by a German non-governmental agency, this trekking trail was groomed from existing paths and roads to weave itself through mountain villages and shepherd huts. Besides connecting three countries it helped the villages economically by providing home stays and hostels to the trekkers. It then became an international magnet for hikers to experience the beauty of the Balkans’ nature as well as its people.

Peaks of the Balkans has become the nature lover’s equivalent to the Camino de Santiago. So instead of a religious pilgrimage to a cathedral, it’s a hiking trek through the temple of nature. But similar to the Camino it has also become an international magnet for those seeking some quiet time to seek sanctuary within themselves while performing the physical discipline of walking lang distances.

Yesterday my friend Dennis and I hiked to the Theth waterfall cascading down the sheer rock of the valley into a pool below. And today was a longer six to seven mile trek to the other side of the valley to the Blue Eye. It’s so named because it’s a deep pool of blue crystal clear water created from the snow melt above. We did go in downstream for a brief time. Hiking all that way, plus up an elevation made a plunge mandatory. The purity of the water was only matched by its freezing shock to the body.

Today the guesthouse Polia has become a meeting place for hikers from all over the world, but mostly Western Europe. The people we’ve personally met on the trail have come from Denmark, Belgium. England, Ireland, France, Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Norway, Spain, Italy, Argentina and of course Albania. Today there was a group of four young Israelis. I asked if they were celebrating their completion of mandatory military service in Israel. Their reply, “No, we’re enjoying our last time before our service starts.”

Everyone comes for different reasons, but the initial idea as a global peace offering is fulfilled.

When hiking the Peaks of the Balkans and meeting fellow travelers you cannot help but

find common purpose and a sense of humanity with others, above and beyond all the separation we feel in our daily lives back home.

It is a modern day pilgrimage.

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BlueFlame NoenDragon
BlueFlame NoenDragon
Jul 15, 2023

As soon as I came back from my

day's work shift....I read the most beautiful and infinitely inspiring journal! I would be so blessed to be in these mountains with my future husband. I couldn't believe my eyes! This is a land of heaven for me and him! I cannot wait for our future days to come to travel together. And with hard work deserve a vacation! :)

This did put a very big smile on me! I always loved your stories and experience because it makes me feel like I am there with you too! In a world of pure imagination but, with peace in my heart, my soul blessed, full of happiness,and love, and my body being healthy!…

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