Through The Albanian Mountains



Dear Diary

After a princely breakfast, lots of warm hugs and well-intentioned gifts, such as homemade bread and two liters of raki, we set off. We boys want to go further south to visit the towns of Gjirokaster and the Roman ruins of Butrint. The girls would like to accompany us to the next town of Permët.

First we have to take the scree road back to the next bigger town, Scrapar, and from there take a path over the mountains that Rovena’s father is said to take sometimes. According to him, it takes two and a half hours from his farm to Permët. However, the Albanian calendar is often difficult to understand, because it takes us two hours to get back to Scrapar.

Rovena shows us the way in Scrapar, which first leads into the mountains. At the latest at a construction site for a bridge, which when we arrive is just a wobbly wooden construction, the talk is no longer of a “road” but only of “oh shit”. That first rickety wooden bridge was almost a four-lane highway compared to the next set of rotting beams, which takes us across a small river and to the first junction between two dirt roads.

At least we will be rewarded with another beautiful gorge to explore along the way.



Since Rovena unfortunately cannot read maps, our trust in her directions suffers. At least it is true that there is a “road” to Permët. We’re still just a little naïve in imagining this country as something fit for a regular car. Five hours later, mentally drained but happy, we were about to learn that lesson.

The chunks on the piste are now adventurously large. While it initially goes through the forest and undefinably deep mud holes, the path spirals more and more up the mountains above the tree line and I laugh grimly at the pebbles that used to be on the path.

Now the runway is full of debris that has landed on the road in various landslides. We also notice that we are trying to manage an off-road route with an incline in an overloaded small car without four-wheel drive.

Again and again I shoo my friends out of the car to take the empty car up a slope. Sometimes the boys and girls have to push too.

But that doesn’t dampen our spirits. On the contrary: the Mediterranean wasteland, in which lonely goatherds let their herds graze the sparse bushes while sipping their rakya in small sips and looking out over the vast valleys, is repeatedly shaken by a tiny white Dacia Stepway filled to bursting point, from whose open windows crazy foreigners yell “Jippie, yippee yeah…Krawall und Remmidemmi!”



I only drive in first gear now. After a few more curves, I notice an unusual noise under the car. A look under the car tells me that a long plastic underbody cover is scrubbing over the rubble.

The part can easily be clipped back onto a small hook, but one part is completely missing. I can’t say whether he was even at the car when we took it.

Of course, the stupid thing comes off again at the slightest resistance and plows the mountain below us.

The broken underbody with the defective tire pressure sensor joins the increasing deficits of our car.



In between we pass an old Toyota Landcruiser full of workers who Rovena asks for directions. When Rovena asks for directions, she usually engages in quite a long conversation, which of course we don’t understand a word of. If we then ask her for the answer, we get a “left” or “straight ahead” – and everyone who isn’t Rovena has to laugh in disbelief that she had to talk for fifteen minutes to get that answer.

The workers confirm that we’re on the wrong track and look at us rather pityingly.

After some time we reach a small wooden shed that offers a blue parking lot sign with a holding area and a refreshment that we all – including the car – urgently need. This is obviously the café of some dropouts.

A guest book is held under our noses, in which many tourists happily brag about their Land Rover Defenders, Toyota Landcruisers, Jeep Wranglers or other off-road tanks from their trip here. I curse them internally and wish them the next broken axis.

My hands are already shaking from the physical and mental exertion the route has required so far. But we did it, and I proudly enter that in the book: also a nice road for a small car, comfortable, also easy to do with our Stepway. The next guests will be amazed.

Of course, we also use the opportunities of our get-together to exchange our languages with each other. Above all, Gaby’s interpretation of a “Eichhörnchen” in “Eishirnchen” ensures that our friend meticulously asks this word again and again.



In general, the Albanians must be the bravest, who cover these routes here constantly and without off-road vehicles, but with their old C-Class, and don’t brag about it, but accept it. But what the family up here actually used to cope with the road could not be seen. On our map you can see that we were already halfway there.

The second half is still challenging but easier. It’s downhill and you just have to be careful not to slide and over the slope while swinging. It feels very unusual to suddenly have asphalt under your tires again at the end.

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