A Stranded Joy, from Bajram Curri to Kosovo

Transport around and between the border of Albania and Kosovo is difficult. There are very limited public transport, nearly all of it is not properly scheduled, making it hard to plan. Even the freedom of your own vehicle can have complications with insurance. I got stranded twice in two days, once on a quick trip to Bajram Curri from Valbonë and in Kosovo after I left the region.

Heading into Bajram Curri

To get into north Albania we took a ferry through Lake Koman then a private vehicle/quasi-taxi to Valbonë. This trip involved passing through the regional centre of Bajram Curri. It is a very small town we had driven through it in under a minute and saw little of it. A few days the friends I hiked with were leaving Valbonë back the way we came and I was short of cash. As Bajram Curri is the only place with a bank (just one!) and nobody accept cards anywhere here, I decided to join for the ride into town. I said goodbye and walked to the bank. At that point there was little more to do.

bajramcurri-bank

The only bank in Bajram Curri

I had to wait a couple hours for the public bus to head back to Valbonë so looked around, although one hour alone, is too much time. The town is only a handful of streets filled with shops and cafe/restaurants. There is a theatre, mosque and a statue of the man the town was named after.

bajramcurri-mainstreet

Just about all transport in and out of this region uses

The vans or ‘ ‘ have only a loosely fixed schedule and it was not clear where it would depart from. I had been told several times the same spot however the time came and went and there was nothing. Taking a private vehicle would be very expensive (huge price gouging here). Eventually I asked a mini-bus at the location, in case they were what I was looking for. It was full of young adults from Tirana on an adventure tour. They said they were heading for Valbonë too and I was free to join them, they had a single seat left. The only condition however was they were going to ‘clean’ first. I wasn’t sure what that meant but joined them anyway.

After they took a few more group selfies we drove off. Under ten minutes into the half-hour drive we stopped. This is where we’d be cleaning, literally picking up rubbish from the environment. I was only figuring out what was happening as I went. I did not have to join but was happy to, although I had chosen poor footwear for it. We walked around the roadside before heading a couple hundred metres down to the river. This was toward the base of the Valbonë Valley and there was an abandoned watermill here, something you otherwise can’t see from the road! The water is crystal clear here like the rest of the region.

valbonavalley-pond

Afterward, back at the roadside we waited and waited. The equivalent of the deputy Mayor was coming. They spoke with him and wanted to stress the need to keep the place clean. I kept to myself for the most of it, although they all spoke English well I didn’t want to intrude. They did mention I helped and was thanked all round. The region is actually quite tidy, but like anywhere inhabited, rubbish can quickly collate. It’s something local governments need to remain vigilant about. Since the entire group came from the capital, Tirana, in the south, I noticed they felt that the regional area wasn’t doing enough in some respects. I’m not sure if it was a city/core vs. periphery but at times I felt there was a disconnect. It is not unusual of course for mostly rural areas and city populations to be world’s apart. So eventually, a few hours later, I arrived back to Valbonë. The ride was free, but I was hungry and exhausted.

Crossing to Kosovo

It was a slow start to leave Valbonë. The bus to Kosovo didn’t leave until 14:30 so I decided to pay for driver otherwise I’d be waking up super early and waiting some 6 hours in Bajram Curri again really wasn’t enticing. I left the accommodation and would get dropped off at the bus. The driver asked where I was going. At that stage I actually had not decided exactly, besides somewhere in Kosovo. The buses mostly went to Gjakova and Prizren in Kosovo, or to Tirana through the same route in Kosovo anyway. Originally I had considered the capital, but that would require another bus. Gjakova was closest but not much there. In the moment I figured Prizren, because it was easier to pronounce. I still had to wait over an hour before the bus departed.

All fairly simple, we headed toward the border crossing. I wasn’t sure what to expect exactly, Kosovo is only partially recognised both within Europe and internationally. Serbia still considers it part of its territory after the breakup of former Yugoslavia and the various independence of Balkan states. The border crossing was odd in that we didn’t really stop at the Albanian side and on the Kosovo side we did but the driver just handed over a list. Was I meant to be on this list? I am not sure, some other passengers had written their names on it and provided passports. But I hadn’t, nobody told me anything as usual. So once again I passed a border without a stamp nor being noticed. The road curls straight back around after the border.

The road bends all the way back around

The road bends all the way back around

The trip was going quicker than I expected as we flew through Gjakova. I realise you can’t judge much from seeing a town from a moving bus but I’m somewhat glad I did not choose to stay here, even for one night. The town centre was small and looked uninteresting. Most of the ride was open spaces.

kosovo-stranded-bridge

kosovo-gjakova-prizren-sign

We were closing in fast on Prizren, the ride was much quicker than expected. This all came shattering to a halt when we stopped and everyone looked at me. The driver insisting this was Prizren when it was clearly in the middle of nowhere. I had been left 7 km out of town and told to just get another bus the rest of the way. It was a small area on the side of the road with a supermarket and cafe/pizzeria. It seemed like a popular place to stop with many buses doing but waiting for their passengers… Otherwise it was near nothing at all.

I decided at least to get something to eat and figure out what to do. There was a constant stream of, I assume, high school students. Bus loads of them. Every bus looked like a charter however, nothing you could jump onto. I fortunately ate while it was quiet before the cafe was invaded by 200 students. I asked if they could ring a taxi for me, they said yes then I think they did not -_- I waited outside for quite some time well beyond the point of giving up. A radio taxi turned up at the supermarket. I gather the driver was not working as he was driving to Peja with his adult son who translated for us. I asked if they could take me into town, with an initial answer of no. When he finished shopping he fortunately changed his mind and with that I was out of this disaster.

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