The undiscovered wilderness of the West Balkan

A little throwback now, to early April, when we crossed first Croatia and then Albania, north to south, to reach Greece. We spent a little time in Croatia; chasing (unsuccessfully at this time of year) a wakeboarding park, visiting the Plitvice National Park, the island of Pag and enjoying the warmer weather and some time along the coast.

As we soon discovered, Albania is a rather chaotic country; little stalls line the cities roadsides as cars, scooters, bikes, dogs and people battle for their space on the often non-marked roads – which were worse for wear in most cases – but it also held it’s own kind of beauty.

The buses run, along designated routes, but that is as much information as you can obtain. No-one knows what time they will turn up at each stop. As we drove, we saw countless people waiting along the sides of the road. You wouldn’t want to plan your day around these!

The combination of the three of us really wanting a shower and being a bit hesitant as to what a night camping on the streets of Tirana would hold, we decided on a campsite for the night. We chose right; it was a gorgeous, family run campsite with a farm attached. Mum and Dad ran the campsite, the two little girls caused trouble, Grandma cooked and looked after the house and the Grandfather was in charge of the chickens, hand crushing the grains to feed them each day, and taking the eggs to the market twice a week.
As we enjoyed our dinner, Rita (the lady who hosted us) brought some homemade raki (a spirit made from grape pomace popular in the Balkan countries) over to taste while she entertained us with the history of Albania and recommendations of some places we should see.

Before we departed in the morning, we asked him if we could buy some eggs off them. The grandfather gave us 14 to start with and just as we were pulling away, he came running over with another. Fresh is best! – still warm from the chicken, we tucked it away with the rest and called it our ‘golden egg’.

After Albania, we spent some time exploring Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, along with a short stint in Hungary, before entering Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. You can see more on these adventures if you look further down the ‘our travels’ tab on the home page.

In early June, as we neared the end of our stay in Romania, we discussed our plans to go into Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. We were both a little apprehensive as to how these countries would take some wild camping as they were both a little further off the ‘well travelled’ list. For this reason, along with needing more fresh water and neither of us having any clean clothes to wear, we decided on a camp site for the first night.

It turned out they didn’t have a washing machine, so we spent the first hour washing our clothes by hand. Only one of the staff spoke some English but all were very friendly – a bunch of jokers really. We spent the afternoon in the sun, reading and drinking. The bill for six 0.5L bottles of beer was €7.50.

The following day we drove East and up into the hills. We parked in a little spot on the side of the road, observing the traffic and waving to cars as they went past. In return we received waves, honks and just before sunset a visit from one of the local farmers. The following day we didn’t get very far, driving a mare 15km further into the wilderness, where the narrow tarmacked roads turned to gravel roads and the scarcity of traffic became even scarcer, to the point that a logging truck and a handful of beat up old VW’s was all we saw all day. When we reached a spot that was out of the way enough, we set up a fire and cooked a lamb leg, trying (rather unsuccessfully) to communicate with a few locals who stopped as they drove past.

Most of the Serbian towns are still very communist looking, a lot of them very run down with many many abandoned or derelict houses and buildings along the way. The mountains on the other hand seem unaffected by the whole communist era and are truly beautiful. Wild and unforgiving yet stunning and welcoming. It turned out relatively easy to find hidden, wild-camping spots along the way and for the spots that weren’t so hidden, people were friendly and hospitable.

The following day, as we had some left over lamb leg (and the bones) we decided to make a lamb and miso ramen. How we missed good Japanese food!

The last town, Mokra Gora, before we reached the Bosnian border was extremely cute and seemed to play host to many outdoor enthusiasts. Again, just another place we could have easily called home for a week.

On the other side of the border, we followed the Drina river for a while, before making a turn onto a side road that tucked us away from site altogether, right on the river bed. Again, the bitterly cold wind and rain drove us to shelter inside the van and eventually to fall asleep, thinking about how much rain had fallen and if we were at risk to the river flooding…

The following day was a slow drive towards Dubrovnik, taking in the wild scenery that Bosnia has to offer. We found another brilliant spot, just on the Bosnian side of the border, overlooking the Adriatic sea on the Croatian coast and another part of the Dinaric Alps, which run from Northwest Italy, down the Adriatic coast, to Albania.

Our time here was limited, but we both felt that these two countries were hugely undiscovered, both having so much to offer in the way of wilderness and adventure. Albeit lacking a little excitement in the food scenes, we both vowed to return here with more time to spend.

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