Thursday 31 July 2014

Peaks Of The Balkans: Albania, Montenegro & Kosovo - Day 6

Day 6 - Vusanje to Thethi via the Peja Pass

12.00 miles / Total Ascent 1000m / Total Descent 1500m

After a quiet day yesterday, a more demanding one beckoned this morning: from Vusanje in southern Montenegro, over the mountains via the Peja Pass, and down into the Thethi valley - a trek of some 8 hours plus stops.

Early morning over Lake Plav

Our driver arrived on time this morning, and soon we had loaded up and set off for Vusanje in the Ropojana Valley, the starting point of our trek. On the way, we saw a Hoopoe to add to our slowly increasing tally of birdlife - this striking, colourful bird a symbol, we hoped, of superb weather developing. Sadly this was not to be: from a 50/50 start with some promise, the weather in fact deteriorated into a wet, gloomy day with limited views - a shame for such a significant day's trekking.

Blue Eye #1 (Montenegro)

Our first port of call was a spring pool marked as Oko (Eye) on the map. It looks inviting - and is, in a way - but it is freezing cold, so makes a better spot for collecting chilled drinking water than for swimming. Bottles filled, we made our way back to the trail.

Show us a sign, a glimpse of the future ...

This sign may not look much, but it is the reason we are here. We visited this same spot last July during our Montenegro & Kosovo trip, and seeing it had quite an effect on us both. I wrote at the time:

"To be honest, seeing the name Theth on the signpost proved a rather emotional moment. Realising we were less than a day’s trek away from where we had spent a fantastic time just two summers' ago exerted an almost magnetic pull ..."

There and then, it seems, we made a vow that one day we would come back to complete the walk and make the link. Now, barely a year later, that day had come, although at the time we had no idea it would be so soon, if at all. And, coincidentally, we would be arriving in Thethi on 11th July - the exact same date we arrived there the first time three years ago. Coincidences, connections, compulsions: I'm a firm believer that if things are meant to happen, they will.

Waiting for the mules

Another thing I believe is that things are far more easily said than done, and there was work still to do if we were to make Thethi by the end of the day. Hard work, as it turned out, as the muleteers we were supposed to be meeting were not in evidence, so the for the first three-quarters of an hour we flogged up the road in deteriorating conditions with both day packs and full luggage while Endrit sped ahead to try to find them.

Mule and muleteer

In the end, it simply came down to a misunderstanding about exactly where our rendezvous would take place - an easy enough discrepancy under the circumstances. Soon, though, we were all united, the mules were loaded, and we were on our way once more.

Mule train

Unfortunately, the rain had set in in earnest, and mist prevented us from seeing the impressive summits that line the sides of the valley. Still, we got "atmospheric" in a big way, as well as wet, and somewhere round here we passed the toppled border post that signalled our return to Albanian territory.

Looking back from near the top of the pass, mountains hidden in mist 

Once off the track, the trail rises in a series of steps: sharp climb, followed by flatter area, followed by sharp climb. During a brief drier spell, we stopped for lunch, then carried on. As we approached the pass the climb steepened, the ground became rockier, and soon we could look back over our route so far and at the mist obscuring the mountain tops.

Rocky mountain way

The next half an hour was spent following a convoluted route through bumps and hollows of shattered rock, and marked a change between the relatively easy-going paths so far and the stonier ones to come. Eventually, though, we came to the flat corridor that marks the top of the pass at around 1700m.

Peja Pass - 3 years ago we reached this point from Thethi on a boiling hot day

We knew from before that the descent to Thethi was steep, rocky and festooned with loose stones. Last time we were here, though, it was incredibly hot - 40C was recorded in Shkodra in the shade that day - so today's visit was markedly different, being probably about 15C.

Views into the Thethi valley from the top half of the descent

We set off down the path into the Thethi valley. Normally, this would offer amazing views of the valley and the surrounding peaks: today, though, the sight was more akin to that of a wet November Tuesday in England.

Views into the Thethi valley from the bottom half of the decent

We did eventually descend below the cloud, although the drizzle continued - as can be gleaned from the rain-smeared photo above. The mules were less bothered by the lack of views, but didn't like the relentlessly steep, loose path - one lost a shoe - so we were all quite relieved to reach the relative safety of more level ground in the valley bottom.

Arriving into Thethi

It was good to be within sight of our destination as we plodged the last mile or so into the village. We were to be staying two nights in Thethi, so at least there was a chance to dry out wet clothes and get warm and comfortable.

We were intrigued as to where we might be staying in the village, given the relatively few options encountered last time. Somewhat to our surprise, we found it was the same place as last time. Very much to our surprise, we found it was now three times the size and much smarter than before (when it was a much simpler breeze-block-and-corrugated-iron-roof affair). It just goes to show how tourism is affecting even the most remote places.

Our accommodation in Thethi

The same guesthouse 3 years ago

The rooms were nice (we shared 3 to a room) with en suite bathrooms, and we were able to scrub up and dry out. We were also treated to a great dinner - grilled lamb, salads, bread, coleslaw, and watermelon for afters - and beers, too!

For some reason, we were all early to bed.


  1. Well that sounded a contrasting day from your last visit Jules. And love the two guest house pics ;)

    1. In retrospect I think the contrast was probably the most memorable facet of the time in Thethi. Not that we didn't enjoy the walking - we did - but big changes in a short time were really evident.

    2. The comparison picture gets right to the point, Prek is still working to enlarge the house that can host 50 people already.
      Time doesn't stand still, next time I add a current picture for reference.

    3. I hope all works out for Prek - it's a good base from which to explore the valley. Any newer pictures of the further expanded house would be great to see!