When we wake we can barely see the lake, a heavy morning fog has settled over the water. We follow a trail up above the fog, over the edge of the lake and after less than a mile we are in Albania. There’s no official crossing, we’re just on a trail. The Via Dinarica route is strange, we cross from Montenegro into Albania for a few miles, then back into Montenegro for a bit, then back again into Albania. The trail in Albania becomes a road, and after about 7 or 8 miles we pass a cafe/guesthouse with a sprawling lawn scattered with tables surrounding a small treehouse. We stop for a coffee and to dry out our tents then continue on the asphalt road. After a few more miles we pass an official border crossing and get stopped first by the Albanian officials to register our exit, and then by the Montenegrin officials to stamp our passports for entry.
In a couple hours we reach a town called Gusinje near the Montenegro border. We’re completely out of food and have barely eaten today so the plan is to grab a bite here and stop at a market for a small resupply for the next day back into Albania. Little did we know that today is a Muslim holiday, Eid al-Adha, and everything is closed—all the markets and restaurants. We don’t know what to do, we literally have no food. We find a small cafe (that only serves drinks) that’s open and filled with men. We ask if there’s food anywhere, but no one seems to speak English and we’re having a hard time figuring out what they’re telling us. We gather that nothing in town is open, but there’s a restaurant about 10 km away that’s serving food. A younger guy who speaks English walks up and asks us if we need help. We explain our situation and he offers to drive us up to the restaurant. His name is Dumir and he explains that today is a Muslim holiday and everyone is celebrating and partying with friends and family. We ask him if it’ll be easy to get a ride back to town from the restaurant, and he says no, but offers to wait with us while we eat and will give us a ride back. We can’t believe how nice he is and that he’s willing to take time out of his holiday to help us. He drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes while we eat, and just when we think he can’t get any nicer he tells us he’s going to stop by his house when we get back to town and he’ll pack up some food for us to take on the trail. We are so utterly grateful, I want to cry and give him a hug!
We leave town in the afternoon with full bellies and more than enough food for the next day—homemade burek, apples, bread, pate, and candies. We pass groups of happy, tipsy people celebrating outside their homes, see a woman wearing a headscarf cutting up a sheep in her front yard, pass a wheelbarrow filled with a fresh sheep carcass, some innards scattered on the side of the road. Dumir had explained that it is customary today for families to sacrifice a sheep and give the meat to the poor. It’s so foreign to us, witnessing someone sitting casually in their yard, butchering an animal, but I feel so fortunate to experience such a drastically different culture from what I know.
As we leave the villages behind we cross back into Albania and into a national park. It’s less than 30 miles to the end of the trail, so we’ll most likely finish tomorrow. Based on our maps there’s a large lake about four miles ahead that seems like a perfect place to camp. Well, unfortunately, there’s no lake, it’s a meadow and has clearly been dry for years. We’re both thirsty and close to running out of water so we choose to keep hiking a few more miles to where there’s a fresh spring. We pass a shepherd chopping wood outside his shack in a beautiful valley. He yells some things about camping and gestures but we can’t figure out if he’s telling us to camp there or telling us we can’t. Either way he seems a tiny bit crazy and we want to keep hiking to put some distance between us and hopefully find a spot higher up with a great view. As we climb out of the valley and up the rocky pass we see a donkey next to the trail. It starts braying loudly at us as we pass and I can’t tell if the rope it’s tied to is stuck in the rocks accidentally or intentionally. I debate setting it free, but decide not to mess with it when I hear the crazy shepherd from the valley yelling and coming up the trail behind us. As we get higher up and near the top of the pass we look down at the trail below and see the man approaching the donkey. To our horror he begins violently throwing huge rocks at it and beating it over and over with a heavy piece of wood while he continues to yell. We have no idea what’s going on and we don’t want to find out, so we keep climbing until we’re over the pass and a decent distance away from whatever is happening down below. We end up finding a beautiful campsite and get set up just as the sun is going down, casting a magical pink glow on the rocky peaks.