Balkan Odyssey Part 10: Lake Komani, Albania

Before I left the states, I was able to dig up only a little information about it, but I did learn that the ferry ride across Albania’s Lake Komani promised to be one of the most spectacular boat trips in the world.

Surprisingly, the remote lake, located high in the northern Albanian mountains, proved rather easy to get to. Every morning, minivans leave from just south of the Unknown Partisan statue in Tirana at the ungodly hour of 5:45 in the morning. Their destination is Bajram Curri, but they must take the ferry across Lake Komani in order to get there.

Early one morning, just as the sun was rising, I found myself climbing into one of these minivans. As the rest of Tirana was slowly waking up, we motored out of the city, through some rather rundown suburbs and into the countryside where only fields and bunkers greeted my eyes for the first couple of hours.

We eventually started to gain some altitude as the dirt road climbed into the mountains. Villages were scarce at this point, but occasionally I’d spy houses tucked into the fold of the hills, or random kids walking the family cows. The views improved, however, when we summited one hill and came upon a very long lake which we then spent the next hour driving high above on a narrow dirt road. There were no guard rails and plenty of steep cliffs to keep the journey exciting.

We arrived at the base of the Komani dam a little before 10 a.m. and turned off the engine. A line of cars were slowly making their way single file down a dirt road carved into the side of the mountain. Somewhere, high above us, the Komani ferry had just unloaded the caravan of automobiles.

As soon as the last car made its way down the hill and passed us, we joined another caravan heading up the same dirt road. The road was a long diagonal cut that spliced right up the side of the mountain until it disappeared into the mountain itself, just a few dozen yards from the edge of the dam and quite near its top as well.

The tunnel into which the road disappeared looked like something a couple of kids had dug, but on a grander scale. It had no lights or concrete support and was slightly flooded.

Emerging on the other side we found ourselves on a small concrete dock looking out over a great expanse of blue, green water. The ferry, which leaves every morning at 10 a.m. was busy loading up cars.

Here’s another shot from the ferry itself. You can see the tunnel we emerged from in the distance. Only the outside of it is covered in concrete. The dam itself is just to the left, out of shot.

Lake Komani is the result of the Drini River being dammed. The steep mountains and narrow valleys ensured that the new reservoir retained the narrow shape of a river rather than that of a wide lake.

The water color, as you can see is magnificent. It was mostly cloudy the day I took these shots and I can only imagine the colors that a clear, sunny day would have evoked.

A few scattered houses cling to the mountainside as residents eek out a living. It is a lonely, desolate existence. I saw only one boat on the water for nearly two hours until we got to the very end of the lake.

I was rather intrigued by the contrast of this little girl in bright red standing amongst the cars and a big nasty generator onboard the ferry.

The top of the ferry provides a wonderful viewing deck, but the wind whips around quite strongly and it is rather cold.

Veterans of the journey escape the brisk wind downstairs in the bar. It is full of smoke and grumpy men playing backgammon. This is not the place to hang out if you are making the journey for the first time.

Just before we docked, this strange boat came floating by. It looked odd at first and then I realized what it was. Some clever locals had taken a public bus and built a ship’s hull around it. This is the local waterbus service.

The entire ferry ride is just over two hours long. When the boat finally docked, I climbed back into the minivan and we drove for another half hour until we reached our final destination, the city of Bajram Curri.

Yesterday’s Post: Albanian Transport, Living to tell about It
Tomorrow’s Post: Valbona