Once in a while you have an experience whilst travelling that just hits all the right notes, a perfect day in the most amazing place, something you never even knew about before setting off, and yet it becomes an absolute highlight. During our amazing 11 days in Albania we saw so many sides to this interesting and fascinating country. The crazy cities, the stunning landscape and the simplicity of rural life. We fell in love with it several times over, the people, the culture, the mountains and the breathtaking scenery! Heading to Skhoder we had heard rumours of a ferry ride that was rivalled only by the Scandinavian Fjords, but few had any ideas what we were even talking about, but we set off with hope of an unforgettable adventure across Lake Komani!
Making it even happen:
We pretty much only came to Shkoder for this ferry ride and had to real idea of how to make it happen either. Now don’t get me wrong, Shkoder is a beautiful city that we enjoyed very much (the castle view is especially stunning) but really, this was number one on the agenda and if truth be told it took us a few days to make sure it was even going to happen!
We ended up staying in a really strange but some how fancy hotel by a stroke of partial luck and part stubbornness. We had booking into what turned out to be a pretty dire hostel, no internet, lockers kicked in, dirty laundry strewn across our dorm and a party atmosphere…we just walked out and in forsaking our deposit began to search for an alternative. With a hostel in mind a little walk away we were grabbed from the street by a lovely local lady who offered us a studio apartment for the same cost as a hostel dorm…We love hostels but we weren’t going to turn that one down!!
So this caused a little bit of an issue! As bloody lovely as the hostel was; air conditioning, fast internet, huge comfortable beds, ensuite and even our own little kitchen! The staff could barely speak a word of English between them! They were absolutely lovely though, we ended up sat in their cabin for almost an hour on google translate trying to figure out how to get there, where to wash our clothes and that we needed to visit an ATM in order to pay!!
So after almost accidentally booking a 70 Euro taxi to the ferry depot we decided to head to one of the (other) nearby hostels and see if they knew anything. Luckily the owner knew what we wanted to do and managed to rope a few others staying in the hostel into doing it. He picked up the phone, muttered in Albania for what seemed like an eternity, and viola, the bus would be stopping for us outside the hostel at 6.00am!
Getting to the ferry!
The bus ride to the ferry terminal is an experience in itself. The transport in Albania is chaotic at best and routes that on the map look like they might only take a short period of time can last for hours. We had to trundle through some of the most amazing and yet isolated landscapes I have ever seen.
We passed many of the bunkers that this country is known for, through tiny villages where locals farm by hand, dropping children off at one of the smallest and most remote schools I have ever seen right in the mountainside, dodging sheep, goats and cows as they wandered on to the road. Out here it feels as though you are in another world, far from the high tech modern one we are used to and one in which life is much more simple. We breeze passed horses and carts, old women with head scarves walking for miles with only a scythe over their shoulders!
The ride seemed to take forever, along tiny roads clinging to the side of the ever growing mountain range. The higher and higher we went the more the roads seemed to crumble and locals reverted to horseback rather than motorised transport. We had dropped so many off and picked so many more up in the tiniest of villages along the way that time was ticking on and on.
Our ferry ride as at 9am, having been picked up late at 6.30am and waited for what felt like an eternity at the “bus station” (it’s just a round about the buses cram around!) we were a little worried we would miss what we went to all this effort for! Albanian’s seem to run on an alternative time scale to the rest of the world, an hour means at least an hour and a half and no method of transport seems to have a timetable! So I guess the ferry would probably be late anyway I figured!
The unforgettable ride across Lake Komani
So, as you can imagine we did make the connection! The drivers of the mini buses and the ferries wait for each other, makes sense I guess! So there we were, sat on the top of a tiny car ferry with all of 8 other people…ready to take the trip of a lifetime!
There were a handful of other travellers including the two others we had travelled with from the hostel and the remaining passengers were all locals. To them it seemed rather strange that we would travel all this way, wake up early and take a long and uncomfortable bus journey just to get on this ferry and then go back again! They seemed a little amused by our being there but nonetheless I could sense a bit of pride there too!
As the journey began the long and winding lake was quite tame. I wondered if it was all it was cracked up to be in reality, or if we had been conned into taking a long winded ferry into the middle of nowhere for average views! Well, I needn’t have worried!
As we rounded the corner of the first bend the whole mountain range opened up to us. The stunning turquoise waters of Komani were still as glass as we slowly ploughed our way through them. The further on we got the higher the mountains that surrounded up became and the more impressive this lost world seemed.
The nature of the reservoir, being a man made lake as a result of the huge hydro-dam construction. The shape of it is not something you see everyday. Instead of being a wide open lake, the flooding of this impressive valley left behind a narrow snake like body of water, at times more often resembling a river in a huge canyon.
As the lake is so narrow it means that around every bend the view changes and develops, it is hard to take your eyes of the moving scene in front of you. The gorge at one point becomes almost so closed in that you wonder if the ferry will make it through the opening. The mountains towering over you in such a way that it looks for certain like a dead end, but at the same time the beauty of what falls before you is almost inexplicable.
Then there are times when the lake widens slightly, the mountains mellow and you begin to see signs of life. Tiny villages dotted around the banks of the water, an island floating in the centre as if by magic and little boats parked up in what feels like one of the most remote locations in the world. Whose boat it is and where they are, you’ll never know! At one point a local hitched a ride on the back of us before breaking off down another arm of lake Komani, the mystery of this place just continues and continues.
The locals on board seemed to be enjoying their bottled Rakia a little more than the breathtaking views they had become accustomed to. We were offered a tipple but after trying this homemade moonshine in several other Balkan countries I kindly refused, paint stripper and myself don’t seem to be agreeable! But hey, the old man laid on the floor laughing seemed to be enjoying it!
3 hours seemed to literally sail by, on the other side of the shore in Komani there wasn’t much to see. Some made their way to Valbona for the equally beautiful hike across the mountains but for us the ferry was enough of an adventure! After an overpriced cold can of Coke we headed back across the lake Komani. Another 3 hours of serenity before the chaos of Albania took us back in. This time we put the cameras away and just laid back in the sun and watched this beautiful and often unseen world drift by!
How you can do the Komani ferry too
For a pretty well off the beaten track adventure it is surprisingly easy when you know where to go.
Firstly you have to get the bus to Fierze from Skhoder. There are 2 ways you can do this:
Catch the bus around 6-6:30am from the bus turn around near Hotel Rozafa
Get your hostel to ring the bus drivers and they will pick you up outside your accommodation, if you aren’t at a hostel that will do that or you are couchsurfing, you can always ask another hostel. Just tell them you are staying with a friend and not an other hostel or hotel!!
Furgons (the minibuses) will be waiting at either end of the ferry ride to take you either back to Shkoder or on to Valbona at the other end!
Next you catch the Komani ferry!
The first ferry leaves at 9am and arrives at 12pm
The return ferry leaves at around 1pm and gets back at 4pm
In case you miss these there are others dotted about, I am not sure on the times but there seemed to be other ferries and also private boats you would hitchhike off for maybe a small fee.
Each part of the journey costs 5 Euros.
So the bus is 5 Euros, the ferry is 5 Euros, for a return all together it will cost you 20 Euros for a full day of unforgettable adventure!