Saturday, May 4, 2013

The seven (four) (frozen) lakes of Lura

One of thee places in Albania that I always wanted to get to but had never had the chance to visit was Lura National Park. This park is in the Diber (Peshkopi) region, and is supposed to be one of the most beautiful parts of the country, but is very remote. I had heard that the road up was really bad and also that some of the park had been damaged by illegal logging and fires in recent years. Over the two years I lived in Peshkopi, I was always kept my ears open for chances to go to Lura and asked people I knew every once in a while how to get there. Pretty much I was told that you needed to have a 4-wheel drive car. For this trip, my dad and I talked about trying to get up there, but in fact, I didn't think we would have much chance unless we rented a car in Tirana. Renting a 4x4 is not impossible, just expensive and we eventually decided we didn't want to spend the money. When we got to Peshkopi I started asking around about how to get to both Lura and to Korab, our other planned destination. I hadn't heard much yet, when on our first full day in town we had lunch with my good friend Ermal (pastor of the church and also all around great guy) and Sarah, an American living in town and working with the church. When I told him that we were planning on going up to Korab on Sunday and (a bit jokingly) did he want to come with us? He responded that he would love to, but he had made plans to go somewhere else on Monday . . . Yep, you guessed it, Lura. It turns out that Sarah's parents were coming for a visit and that they all, along with the American family that Sarah is living with here were all going up to Lura together in two 4x4s.
Our whole group in Fushe Lura

Two things: first, wow there are a lot of Americans in Peshkopi now; second, did they have space for two more? The two turned out to be three when Joe decided he would join us as well. So we had 13 total: 11 Americans and 2 Albanians squeezed into two 4x4s holding 6-7 each on the worst road I've ever been on, and that's saying a lot. Luckily, the road did not twist and turn too much, it just had the worst surface I've ever been on. My perception may have been colored a bit by my location: in the way back seat in one of the cars bouncing around with Joe and our knees up to our chests. After four hours (for 50km) we finally arrived in the village of Fushe Lura (Lura field) located in the valley below the park. We had a quick lunch and then headed the mountain. If it is even possible, the road got worse. We went from a pitted and rocky dirt path to just rocks. At a certain point, we decided that the cars could not go any farther without damage so we got out and walked. As we went higher, the road was increasingly a river of melted snow and we took off our shoes to walk across several rushing streams. Even higher, we found the unmelted snow. At this point some of our party decided to turn around and some of us pressed on. Luckily, it was actually pretty warm and so other
A little snow can't stop us!
than having wet feet, we were not too cold. After about an hour of walking on the snow, we finally arrived at the first set of lakes. The
lakes were beautiful and frozen. Unfortunately they weren't frozen enough to walk out on (we tested by throwing some rocks, they went right through the soft ice). Knowing that the sun was going down and that we didn't want to walk down in the dark, we quickly took some pictures and headed down. We were only able to see four of the seven lakes as the other three were probably another hour (at least) walking through the snow and our wet feet would not have handled that well.
Me and my dad at Liqeni i madhe (the big lake)

Things learned on this trip: when they say the road is bad, believe them (whoever they are . . . ), April is too early to go to Lura, Lura
will not be a major tourist destination until the road is fixed . . . or helicopter travel becomes common in Albania.

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