That time we sailed the Koman ferry full of people and got invited to an exclusive crew party.
When? October 2017
With whom? Martin
Like all travellers, Google is my best friend when planning a rough route while I’m away, though you really can’t beat word of mouth either and when the two are in agreement, it’s normally worth doing. This is what happened in Northern Albania on our little journey with the Koman Ferry. I’ve mentioned it before in other posts (here and here) though I felt it worth a special mention this week as we had somewhat of a unique experience once aboard.
We woke in a quaint little Airbnb farm house call the Aste Guesthouse just outside Tropoje, a remote village in northern Albania. The hosts didn’t speak a word of English and our Shqip needed some work, so they called upon a small child of about 9 years old to translate! In the morning, we were absolutely spoilt with easily the best breakfast of the trip (also one of the cheapest)! The freshly baked bread was still warm from the oven and was served with homemade cheese and butter, accompanied by jugs of orange juice made from the orange tree in the courtyard. Eggs from the chickens that ran around out back, laid that very morning and fruit that had been hand picked from the fruit trees. We devoured the food and were extremely grateful to our hosts once we were finished.
The previous evening had been spent munching on crisps and playing cards in what passed for the local village bar where we were introduced to what the owner/barman/guy we paid/guy we made friends with, told us with a warming smile what was a delicacy, a huge pile of 20 or so raw, skinned, chestnuts. I don’t think I can possibly describe how unpleasant these things are but with our new friend looking on we pretended to enjoy them while secretly trying to eat them without actually tasting them, a skill we’ve yet to master. Quickly these became something of a forfeit in one of our card games and Martin ended up having to eat 3 or 4 in a row while struggling not to run outside and throw everything up in a hedge row, much to my amusement to keep them down! It was very amusing, although he didn’t think so.
We had a short journey in the car down to the Fierza Ferry Terminal as we were headed West towards Shkoder. Needless to say, we were both excited as we had heard such good things, and our anticipation resulted in us getting there a couple of hours early. This turned out to be no bad thing as we explored the valleys either side and sat looking down on beautiful views of the river in the sun, munching on chocolate and snacks, (we always have a good supply of chocolate and snacks in the car for these moments) before finally heading down to the ferry.
When travelling there are always periods of waiting, whether for a bus, train, or in our case ferry, so Martin and I have come up with a fun little game to pass the time where we pick a spot on the ground ahead and throw stones to see who can get the closest. Martin is usually the better aim, whereas I haphazardly throw in the general vicinity of the target, yet I always win. Don’t mention this to him, he gets very upset about it. So we played this, had a couple beers, and skipped stones until it was time to climb aboard and set sail for Koman!
There are two companies working the ferry route; a fast and a slow ferry. Both take cars, cost the same and follow the same breath-taking route along the river. It’s called a “fast ferry” but it still takes several hours so there really isn’t any reason not to take it. You find all sorts on the ferry: other travellers, families, commuters. We even had a group of lads travelling from the villages to Shkoder for a night out! They were all wearing their best going out clothes and in high spirits. Martin and I immediately ran up to the top deck and got seats at the front for the best views. Our bag was crammed full of beers so we cracked a few open and just drank in our surroundings. We couldn’t take our eyes off the rolling hills, cliff faces and little inlets. The sun had that mesmerising little glimmer on the water surface and it was nothing short of beautiful. We took our pictures, did our poses and snapped up a few selfies before settling down to listen to the Albanian music (a mix of everything from Dance, trance, Ed Sheeren, cheesy pop and rock) and watch the shoreline pass us by in complete bliss.
Once our own modest beer supply had run dry we took full advantage of an on-board shop selling all the essentials of life like water, crisps and beer. It was on one of Martin’s little trips downstairs to get us a couple beers when I noticed he had been gone for a longer than usual. Turning around I saw him running up the stairs with a big grin plastered over his face and I knew instantly he was up to something. He rushed over to me saying “Koren, I’ve been chatting with the Captain and he’s going to let us drive the ferry! Come on!” and with that we ran downstairs straight to the bridge and in our not quite drunk but certainly merry state took control of the Koman Ferry!
It. Was. Awesome. The wheel was heavy and turning was counter intuitive but we got to wear the captain’s hat and steer the ferry around the meandering river for over an hour. The crew were so much fun and were all coming in to chat and hang out with us. They seemed to be quite happy not to have to do anything and let the crazy British travellers do all the work. Now not only were we cruising along on a beautiful river we were actually driving the ferry, laughing with the Albanian crew and somehow getting ourselves invited to their end of trip Friday night party when we got to the other end!
We were running out of time on our trip and were therefore hemming and hawing about going to the party. If we stayed the night and slept on the boat here as the crew were suggesting then we would have to skip Shkoder. The crew could tell that we were unsure so in one final sales pitch one of them went into the cupboard to pull out a 20 kilo sack of chestnuts. Decision made.
The views from the ferry were stunning!
Info: If you don’t want/have a car then you can do the trip on the Koman ferry through most hostels from Shkoder, which has its own airport. They can organise transport to take you to Theth for one night, then you can hike up the walk we did talked about in this blog post, then down to the ferry to finish the loop back to Shkoder. Once in Shkoder there’s plenty to do from climbing the surrounding mountains, cycling around the imaginatively named Lake Shkoder, or you could do what we did and sneak across some dodgy beaches across the border into Montenegro. We stayed at The Wanderers Hostel, which is amazing location and has a bar on site! Beers are less than a euro. Flights into FYROM were much cheaper than into Albania every time we checked, so check out nearby airports before you fly!
Product of the week: On a road trip we used the car to charge a lot of our items (phones, cameras, battery packs) so this Anker four port USB car charger was invaluable! Lots of juice for all of our electronics.
Tip of the week: Our game might sound lame but it passes the time and I always win (much to Martin’s frustration) so I like it. My tip is to come up with some sort of game that passes the time. Travelling is not always doing the awesome things you see on everyone’s Instagram; there’s usually a lot of waiting around for you to get from A to B.