After a not-so-restful day off in Theth, Albania, I was ready to move on to the village of Valbona. I begged Mentor (my guide) to start early to avoid as much of the heat as possible (it was in the 90s nearly every day), so we departed our Theth guesthouse just after 7:00 a.m. instead of 8:00 a.m. as we had on other days. The initial walk out of Theth was retracing our path into the village from two days earlier, a wide gravel road that sloped just slightly uphill.It wasn’t long before we turned and starting heading up a more steep set of switchbacks through the woods. The morning was breezy and the trees blocked any sun, so the hike was quite comfortable.

Coming out of the woods, I had a showdown with a cow who insisted on blocking my way:

After sneaking past the stubborn cow (he refused to budge!), I was pleasantly surprised by my next discovery: a small bar-café! There, we found the Austrian couple we met as we arrived in Theth and a Kosovar couple who had joined them. Against my better judgment (because it would make me have to pee!), I enjoyed an ice cold Pepsi as we rested a bit. There was also a small outhouse with possibly the nicest squat toilet I’ve ever seen – the only one we came across anywhere on the trail!

By mid-morning we reached the Valbona Pass, the highest point of the day’s hike. We got there a lot faster than I expected – a sign of how easy the hike was compared to the previous few days!

The descent toward Valbona was nowhere near as challenging as those into Babino Polje or Theth and it wasn’t long before we reached the village of Rragam, from where the rest of the way was basically flat, albeit over an uneven rocky road. Once again, I was on the lookout for a bush to pee behind, but the fact that we were running into a good number of hikers in both directions made it tricky (the route between Theth and Valbona is popular for day-hikers).

I also randomly had this vision of getting bit in the butt by a snake as I squatted to pee and just a few minutes later, Mentor suddenly whispered to me to take out my camera as he pointed toward a snake just a few feet away from the path. It was a viper – an extremely poisonous snake! I stopped where I was and quickly zoomed in with my camera to get a shot of it before hurrying on along. And then was a lot more careful about where I looked to stop and pee!

Eventually, the Austrians and Kosovars (who had stopped at another bar-café along the way) caught up with us and we walked the last hour into Valbona together. It was nice to have company for a change! And when I arrived at the guesthouse in Valbona, I learned I would have even more company – I would be sharing a room with a couple from Switzerland! Actually, the man was from Switzerland and the woman was American but had lived in Switzerland almost her entire life. They were about my parents’ age and quite nice, but it still felt a little odd to be sharing a room. Especially because the door to the ensuite bathroom was a bit see-through!

Arriving in Valbona is also when I started to feel sick. I had really enjoyed the day’s hike and didn’t feel too tired when I initially got to our guesthouse, but after I settled in, I laid down for a nap and ended up sleeping for a solid three hours, only waking up to put on a long-sleeved shirt because I was cold even though it was about 90 degrees outside! When I headed to dinner, absolutely nothing appealed to me besides the cold Coke – my appetite was just gone. I figured I was dehydrated, so I tried to just keep drinking as much water as possible, but it didn’t seem to help. And as a spoiler for my next post, I would only feel worse the next day…

Total distance hiked: 13.9 kilometers (about 8.6 miles)

Total hours hiked: 7

Total ascent: 1069 meters; Total descent: 792 meters

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