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‘The police wave us off like outdated pals’: cross-border kayaking from Montenegro to Albania | Montenegro holidays



“Hello, over there in Albania!”, my kayaking information Gigo shouts throughout the water as he paddles alongside effortlessly. He doesn’t actually need to shout, as a result of though we’re in Montenegro, we’re just a few metres away from the Albanians. We’re on the Buna (Bunë) River, a 40km stretch of water which divides the nations and is so tranquil that each sound is amplified, from the dip of our paddles to the rousing tones of the Muslim name to prayer.

I’m on a six-day kayaking journey, following a 70km route that crisscrosses the border. Beginning in Lake Skadar (Liqeni i Shkodrës), which spans each nations and is the most important lake on the Balkan peninsula, at about 400sq km, our aquatic odyssey traces the Montenegrin facet of the lake, crosses to its Albanian shores after which follows the Buna all the way in which to the Adriatic. With a mixture of wild tenting, homestays and waterfront cabins, it’s the kick out of my city cocoon that I’ve lengthy craved.

The kayakers visit the monastery on Beška island
The kayakers go to the monastery on Beška island

Our expedition begins in Murići (Muriq), a small lakeside fishing village the place Montenegrin Gigo briefs us on approach and security. Albania’s snow-covered Accursed mountains, completely mirrored within the water, vie for our consideration. Some paddling expertise is important for this journey – I’m not a complete novice however am positively rusty; after a fast lesson, although, I really feel my confidence develop, regardless of being the oldest within the group (my fellow kayakers are a Montenegrin lady in her 20s and two British folks of their 40s).

We begin gently, quickly stopping off at Beška island, the place the one residents are 16 Serbian Orthodox nuns in a Fifteenth-century monastery. It’s fairly surreal to have reached an island that appears like a special world so shortly. After a tour and a few do-it-yourself pomegranate juice, we paddle off alongside the karst limestone shoreline, passing one other island monastery, this one house to monks. Over the following two days we keep in Montenegrin waters, kayaking between 4 and 5 hours a day, with common breaks.

Pelicans Skadar Lake national park
Pelicans in Skadar Lake nationwide park. {Photograph}: Sevaljevic/Getty Photographs

Plans to camp at Bobovište (Boboshti) on the shores of the lake that night time are scrapped because the wind picks up. Identified regionally as bura, this dry, chilly wind is one thing you don’t mess with on Lake Skadar, by all accounts. We head as a substitute to our homestay in Ckla (Skje) a day early and watch the water go from mirror to maelstrom from the protection of our picket home.

The subsequent day we retrace our steps within the assist minivan and kayak the part we’d missed. Whereas the wind whips up a number of white horses, it’s not sufficient for us to be unsafe. It sparks my very own emotional maelstrom, nonetheless, as I ponder if my age is holding me and the remainder of the group again. Gigo provides light encouragement. “This isn’t a race,” he says. “We’re all on our personal journey and taking it slowly is one of the best ways.”

meal on low table with lots of red fabrics
An Albanian unfold served by the Kovaçi household

That night we stick with the Kovaçi household, who run an ethnographic museum of their house in a tiny inland hamlet within the Ana e Malit area, half-hour’ drive from Ckla. Figuring out as Albanian Montenegrins, they lay on a feast of Albanian meals, served on a sofra or spherical desk at flooring stage. Platefuls of japrak (stuffed vine leaves), burek (filo pastry pie), slow-cooked beef and heaps of greens are naturally accompanied by glasses of rakia (fruit spirits).

Earlier than we set off to kayak throughout the border into Albania the following morning, two Montenegrin policemen come to the homestay to examine passports and signal us out of their nation. Undiscovered Balkans is the one journey firm in Montenegro to be doing a cross-border kayaking journey and the police look barely bemused, however by the point we hit the water, they wave us off like outdated pals.

woman in kayak on Lake Skadar
The creator on Lake Skadar

The tempered bura turns into our good friend at the moment, blowing gently into our backs and carrying us into Albanian waters. We drift alongside historic olive groves, watching pelicans collect on nesting islands and relishing the calm. I fall into a simple rhythm, relaxed now, appreciating the headspace that being out on the water can convey.

All through the journey, the juxtaposition of cultures is a characteristic of those borderlands. Placenames are in Montenegrin and Albanian, structure is influenced by Ottoman fashion and communism, and cultural heritage is multilayered and complicated. The approach to life is a shared one, nonetheless, the place subsistence farmers convey their goats all the way down to the lake shore to graze amongst historic olive groves, smallholdings are delineated by drystone partitions, aged girls are likely to their tomato and pepper vegetation, and males drive small herds of cattle alongside dusty lanes parallel to the river.

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