Services in 2019
So you’d like to go kayaking? We have a bunch of (10?) kayaks – thanks to the amazing guys at Lloyd Langford Expedition Training (UK, https://llet.co.uk/about-us/). More about that below. At the moment it’s hard to transport more than 4 at a time, max – we’re working on that. Also helmets, really good life vests, well – paddles obviously. We do NOT have “splash guards” yet (the skirt-thing that keeps the river out of your kayak), so for now, it’s only calm water paddling (no spinning, ducking, or white water stuff), which means we stay below Bajram Curri, mostly around Fierza and Gri. Hopefully we will get some soon.
We also (of course!) offer transport – from Bajram Curri to as many put-ins as you want to try, fish you out at the end, and then happily back to wherever you’re staying after you’re wet and tired. If you can’t get to Bajram Curri in the beginning, we can probably help you find a taxi? Although hitchhiking usually works pretty fast and is for sure cheaper.
Typical rates are 50€ per person for a half day (say 13:00 to 18:00 for example), for 2 people (so 100€ altogether if you are 2). We have no idea what gets charged elsewhere, but this covers normal transport rates here (40€ for 4 hours), equipment rental (25€ per person), and someone’s time to go with you (30€ for a half day is normal guiding rate). But if you can’t afford this, we’re open to negotiation – we’re just happy people want to get out onto the river, and explore more of Tropoja outside the National Park. Gorgeous as it is, Valbona is only a part of the paradise that is Tropoja, and a lot of the best part of the river for boating, swimming, fishing and otter-spotting (seriously) is actually below Bajram Curri.
For more than 2 people it starts to get a bit complicated as we might need two cars, but if you give us a little time we ought to be able to figure it out. Obviously then the transport part of the cost goes up.
We’re also really happy if you want to suggest anything else you want to try – and we can figure out fair rates for whatever (like if you only want to go for an hour or something – or if you want to rent them for a long time and kayak to Koman or something ambitious like that).
13:00 (ish?) Meet in Bajram Curri at the Tourism and Info Center of Journey to Valbona.
13:30 – 16:00 (or as long as you like really) Kayak! We have a couple of good places. If you just want to mess around we can do that. If you want us to put you in for a long stretch of river we can do that too (and pull you out at the end, of course).
16:00 Picnic? If you want. Stop and visit the super-cool and virtually unknown Kulla of Mic Sokollit in Bujan? Or just keep playing in the river. Once we’re out and about on the river, we aren’t in any hurry to go home again, don’t worry. Also, most of us never know what time it is anyhow. Well okay, ME.
17:00 (later?) We can drop of the kayaks and drive you back to Valbona if you want. Or take you out for a beer. See the previous point about being really happy for any excuse to stay out of the office.
As is explained below, this is all really new, and we are just learning ourselves how to use the kayaks and exploring the possibilities of the whole River.
We are NOT and do not claim to be: licensed, trained, or in any way actually qualified. That’s all coming in the following summers, as explained (once again) below.
We do however have all these nice boats, and need to earn some money to support the “Valbona River School” (yep, below!) so if you like to use them, it’s better than them sitting there doing nothing, we figure.
How It Started
Four or five years ago, the first kayakers visited the Valbona River. No one here had ever seen anything like it. The folks from Balkan River Defence (https://balkanriverdefence.org/about/) were some of the first, including Valbona in their First Balkan Rivers Tour in 2016. Around the same time, the “Chris-es” from Toros Outdoor (https://www.toros-outdoors.de/inhalte/) started bringing groups of kayakers. Turns out Valbona has the potential to be one of the great kayaking destinations of the Balkans and Europe, with great flow throughout the summer, and diverse enough stretches to satisfy all levels. Somewhere in there, over beers around campfires and through dreamy mid-winter emails, Vera Knook – who heads the “River Intellectuals” program (bringing conservation scientists together with river activists in creative new ways: https://balkanriverdefence.org/intellectuals/) – (I think it was her?) starting talking about creating a “kayaking school” in Valbona. Actually, to be fair, it’s such a good and obvious idea that I think it sort of sprang simultaneously into a lot of people’s heads.
Why the Valbona River School?
Basically, we have this beautiful river which the local people love and see as their source of life. Like 100s of other rivers across the Balkans, it’s threatened by ill-planned (to say the least. Psychopathic, if you ask most locals) hydropower developments. Kayaking provides one way of allowing local people to connect with the river in a new and powerful way, simultaneously creating completely new sources of sustainable economic income for the whole community. And of course, once people not only love their river and see it as both mystical but also economically crucial, they will have even more power to defend it. Just one small problem. We didn’t have any kayaks, or anyone here who would know how to use them if we did. Hm.
Enter Ross, Chris (another Chris!) and David from Lloyd Langford Expedition Training in the UK (https://llet.co.uk/about-us/). They heard a talk by Vera about Valbona, and decided (apparently driven by lifelong scouting experience which seems to turn people into insane do-gooders?) to get involved, doing all kinds of fund raising and corporate door-knocking without actually ever even having been here. And in May 2019 drove some likewise insane distance (3000 km?) to drop off 10 donated kayaks and a ton of gear. They then spent 24 hours cleaning the sheeps’ room at my (Catherine’s) house, stashed the stuff, and then drove home again. Wow.
So then we had all this stuff and . . . still no one who knew how to use it. Sigh.
Enter a whole bunch of other cool people – Quentin Boehm from Enselle (https://www.enselle.voyage) who took time off from riding 3 horses across the whole of Albania (more about them later) and Jordi Benning who came for an evening and stayed for 3 months, who sort of said “well let’s go play with them then” and took TOKA’s Liridon Mustafaj, who himself then turned into a Kayaking NUT and returned from BRD’s first “Students for Rivers Camp” (https://balkanriverdefence.org/news/src2019/) on the Soca River in July saying “We can’t wait. Let’s just get people onto the river.” So maybe twice a week (he’s out there again today as I’m writing this) he just takes the kayaks out and paddles around, inviting anyone who wants to try to climb in.
You have to imagine: In a place with 79% unemployment, and a country with not a single sporting goods store – even if you had money to spend there – to suddenly be able to paddle around on the river, getting the hang of it? This is amazing. Something magical is happening.
What’s the Plan?
Seems like in summer 2020 a couple of volunteers will come along, and we’ll have a proper program to start training Tropoja’s first generation of river kayakers who can then work as guides, become inspired river conservationists or just carry on having a whopping good time. But in the meantime (aka: 2019), we have all these kayaks, a couple of local enthusiasts, and one hell of a nice river. So come play!