No Unlucky No. 13 for us! In fact magically lucky, yet again, on the weather front.
Friday: Lunchtime train to Newport. Rendezvous with Dave, then west to Steffi’s for a stroll in Canaston Woods followed by G&Ts, curries and port…. uh oh. Then on to Newgale and the caravan in the company of Phil and Lesley.
Insurance companies threaten to stop coverage in Nepal after AFP report and Gov’t investigation found rampant insurance fraud by some Nepali helicopter companies, guides, hospitals https://t.co/wEvqCDKAVV
Here’s the original story, by Annabel Symington, AFP’s Nepal Bureau Chief:
Tourists hiking in Nepal’s Himalayan mountains are being pressured unnecessary helicopter rescues by brokers who are profiting from the insurance payouts.
After months of work, my investigation for @AFP is out. https://t.co/skHrKpHDH8
I spent 9 months investigating insurance fraud in Nepal. The govt wraps up its investigation in 6 weeks. But have they done enough to stop global travel insurers from pulling out? My latest on the scam for @AFPhttps://t.co/bb5YKB68oU
Search and Rescue in Nepal will now have oversight by a committee but still conducted by guides, funded by insurance companies when applicable. Centralized SAR by Nepal Police idea scrapped. https://t.co/igbwtf4vL4
All of which brings back memories of our enforced helicopter ride from unlovely Lukla to KTM back in 2011 which marred the end of the otherwise wonderful Three High Passes to Everest trek. A different scam, but still a scam involving trekking tourists and helicopters.
Well, we survived Northern Albania’s Accursed Mountains, although lingering – and unexpected for us – snow patches made life a little ‘exciting’ at times.
We walked through wonderful wildflower meadows – buttercups and daisies, vetch and valerian, orchids and lilies, gentians and geraniums, campion and columbine and many, many more. Beautiful both to see, and to smell as we strolled through patches of sage and mint, chamomile and marjoram. Wild strawberries lined the path in places, and butterflies and moths fluttered by.
Undulating forests full of ancient beech and oak, lime and chestnut, rowan and pine, provided cover for us from the sun, and protection for giant snails and one spooked salamander.
Our days also featured crystal clear mountain streams, freezing cold turquoise pools, river crossings, waterfalls and gorges; and a three hour cruise up Lake Koman, a reservoir in one of the Drin River’s many gorges, to reach the Albanian Highlands.
Cold water, shade and cool breezes were always welcome as it was hot and sticky most days, with a regular afternoon downpour around 2-3pm. Bledi, our excellent local guide, and Max, our Wild Frontiers group leader ensured early starts to avoid the rain, and the heat. They also took great care of us on those trickier sections of the trail, and numerous river crossings – most were plank bridges, but not all.
Walks ranged from a 7km stroll around the cultural sights, waterfalls and waterways of Thethi to the 1300 m ascent up to the Qafa e Thorës / Thore Pass.
Alpine chalet-style guesthouses in Valbonë and Thethi provided comfy beds and en suite bathrooms. Our last night’s accommodation at the aptly named Hotel Panorama in Krujë came with this super view of the old town, bazaar and castle.
Tomato, cucumber and feta cheese were staple foods for breakfast and lunch, together with boiled eggs, local bread and jams, and occasionally honey and tasty fried pancakes. To drink, gallons of water, thimblefuls of Turkish coffee and glasses of mountain tea during the day, beer and wine available with dinners which ranged from myriad mezzes to four course meals.
Best treat of the trip – afternoon tea at Bledi’s parent’s place, complete with jugs of mountain tea and scrumptious orange and walnut cake made by his aunt. Although cold beers and crisps on the balcony of our Hotel Panorama room in Krujë came a very close second.
All in all, a great way to spend a week (cheap too!), and I’ve added Albania to my list of places to return to (soon).
Two Skanderbeg snippets I learned from Karen Murdarasi’s article were that he was born, in 1405, in Krujë – where we spend out our last night, and that he
“…left his homeland at the age of nine for Adrianople (Edirne, in modern Turkey), where he was converted to Islam from Christianity and given a new name: Alexander, or in Turkish, Iskander. He was trained in the art of war and granted the title bey (lord or chieftain) and so the warrior ‘Skanderbeg’ came into being.”
Looking for books to read about Albania has led me down a couple of interweb rabbit holes. Join me in exploring the lives and works of:
Robert Elsie (1950- 2017): writer, translator, interpreter and specialist in Albanian studies.
His marvellous website – http://www.elsie.de/ – houses a wealth of material relating to Albanian art, history, language, literature and photography, which led me to….
Edith Durham (1863 – 1944): an English artist and anthropologist, who travelled and worked in Albania between 1900 and 1914; Nicknamed the Queen of the Highland Peoples by the Albanians of the Northern Alps.
A magic weekend in Pembrokeshire with a trip to Skomer for the long awaited Project Puffin!
The usual: Hazel, Charles and I met at Paddington at 3pm. Paddington to Newport by train. Newport to Steffi’s with Dave – and Gwyneth. LARGE G&Ts courtesy of Maurice and curries à la Steffi at Mayhem, then on to Newgale for a night in the caravan.
An early start (7am) to allow time for coffee and croissants before Dave drove us over to Martin’s Haven, arriving there at 9.30am and getting tickets for the 10am ferry to Skomer, the first of the day.
A gloomy, grey morning. Our main hope was to avoid rain.
A smooth crossing, with puffins skimming low over the water to join the rafts that floated just off the Skomer coastline. We had a great briefing from one of the wardens at the top of the steps up from the jetty at North Haven, and then we were free to explore until our 3pm return to the mainland. The volunteer wardens have a job getting people up the steps – not because they are tricky, but because there are puffins and razorbills almost within reach all the way up, and certainly within camera range….
We decided to follow the coastal footpath clockwise around Skomer – and within our first half hour on the island the morning started to brighten. We spent the rest of the day there in glorious sunshine, getting hundreds of photos of puffins, mainly at High Cliff and The Wick (including the Lonely White Puffin), and seals up at Garland Stone.
We picnicked at Old Farm, and returned for our 3pm boat back to the mainland via the ruins of the Iron Age house that nestle below the rocks of the South Plateau, the High Cliff puffins and the megalith at Harold Stone.
Excellent tea / coffee / cake at the Clock House Cafe in Marloes, and an afternoon pint at the Druidstone Inn, soaking up the sun and the view out over St Brides Bay. Fabulous.
An evening of wine, crisps, veggie spag bol, bread and cheese back at the caravan.
A superb day.
Rain. Lots of rain. So no walk on the beach or in the woods back at Steffi’s.
Instead, a brief sojourn in Haverfordwest to tour the Aisles of Lidl and the Aisles of Aldi, then back to Mayhem for one of Maurice’s Marvellous Sunday lunches: pulled beef, a giant yorkshire pudding (veggie toad in the hole for me), gravy, creamed leeks, roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, broccoli, green beans, peas and broad beans. With cherry bakewell tart and ice cream to follow.
Not surprisingly we three in the back seat snoozed for most of the drive back to Newport….
Home around 8.45pm after a slow journey back to London with GWR.