ALBANIA/PARK SLOPE – Far away from the bustle of Brooklyn, in the Valbona River valley of Albania’s Accursed Mountains (otherwise known as the Albanian Alps which spans from Albania to Kosovo and Eastern Montenegro), you will find a little oasis where hikers and adventure tourists seek out rigorous hikes, clear blue rivers, and unparalleled natural beauty. Until fairly recently, Albania’s North Eastern region was almost impossible to visit. Poor roads and harsh weather made this area, populated by only a few thousand inhabitants, one of the more remote areas in the world.
Today, as you travel around this region, you hear of the “Amerikane” (American woman) who has devoted the last eight years to mapping out an extensive network of hiking trails, helped manage two guesthouses and a camping site, taught English at a local school, started a non-profit, Toka, and most recently challenged a private company’s plans to build a hydro-electric power plant (a project that will threaten the Valbona river and cause permanent damage to the region’s eco-system and future in eco-tourism).
Wherever you turn or hike you will see her impact. After a grueling four-hour uphill hike towards Maja e Gjarperit, we came upon a lone shepherd’s home in a clearing where some cows and sheep grazed. Children ranging in age from 9 to 19 welcomed and invited us in while they prepared a small feast. As the food cooked we chatted. They were thankful to all the guests from around the world and especially to the American who had put them on the map.
Some Brooklynites might know this American woman, Catherine Bohne, who is the former owner of Park Slope’s Community Bookstore. In 2009, she went on vacation to an area of the world that fascinated her, the Valbona River Valley. During her trip, like many foreigners who have visited Albania, she was bitten by the Albanian bug. Unlike most others, she decided to move there permanently to pursue a myriad of projects. Catherine chuckled as she recalled something author Gary Shteyngart said about entering psychoanalysis. “Without that, I’d probably have one book at most and be living in a hut in Albania somewhere.”
He doesn’t know what he is missing.
To learn more about Albania, and maybe even pay Catherine a visit, you can listen to my recent interview on The Amateur Traveler Podcast.