Just outside brod village, Dragash Kosovo

You can walk here in just 5 minutes from the village of Brod

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Working for the United Nations and as a Travel Blogger/writer has its moments…sometimes they intersect in an amazing experience or opportunity that just leaves me wondering how I ever became so lucky. If anyone ever tells you a dream job does not exist, share this link with them and then get working on making it come true. In the run up to my new guide book release (The Mountains of Dragash, Kosovo: Hiking and Nature Tourism Guide) I led a group of 30 people into the Dragash back-country for a weekend of hiking, camping, and getting back to nature (ie getting very wet on the hike in and out). The trip was part of a larger effort to develop a nature tourism strategy for the isolated Municipality of Dragash, and to create a series of value chains to help locals benefit from increased tourism. The project is sponsored by the Finish Government, and is being implemented by the United Nations Development Programme.

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Group hike south of Brod on the way to Lake Shutman

Hiking in Dragash

Hire horses in Dragash Brod Kosovo

If you don't want to carry all your gear you can hire horses in the village of Brod

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We have been working on this hiking guide for about a year now and I have written about hiking in Dragash a number of times on Todd’s Wanderings as the work has progressed. Some of the hikes include:

Brod to Mount Cule

Brod to the Old Macedonian Smuggling Pass

Restelica to Brod

You will notice a pattern here as the picturesque village of Brod features heavily in my hikes. The beauty of this little village, tucked into a protective valley and wrapped lovingly in a series of crisp rivers, is undeniable. Add in the cultural traditions of the locals, numbering about 1,000, delicious cheese, succulent lamb and a dramatic landscape accessible just a few minutes from town and the tourism potential becomes clear.

camp site dragash brod kosovo

Our little camp site in a very large valley

The hike below is the same one that we arranged for the 30 person weekend. The text is the same as you’ll find in the soon to be published hiking guide, due out in July 2011. The Guide contains 12 of my favorite hikes and 3 mountain biking trails around Dragash Municipality, along with tourism information, easy to follow maps and local knowledge. Oh, did I mention it will be free both Electronically and for a limited time in Print? Yeah, I know, pretty amazing.

If you are looking for a more serviced experience feel free to contact me and I’ll can pass along your message to a contact person in the village. We organized horses to pack up our tents, and for food to be prepared for dinner and breakfast the next morning. This is just the beginning of  mountain tourism in Dragash and we are hoping to lay the foundation for sustainability where locals benefit monetarily, the environment benefits from conservation and tourists have a unique amazing experience.

BROD to LAKE SHUTMAN/ŠUTMAN

This is one of the best known hikes in the Brod region with a well worn path, and stunning views through the Brod Gorge and into the southern rolling alpine fields where Lake Shutman/Šutman lies. The lake is more of a pond and is shallow with a muddy bottom but beautiful nonetheless. These small lakes are called mountain eyes due to the resemblance of human eyes when viewed from the mountains above. This hike can also be combined with 2 other hikes in the region, Mt. Vraca or the 3 Peaks hike, which begin and end at Lake Shutman/Šutman. The lake also provides a nice place to camp for those wanting to explore more of the southern area of Dragash/Dragaš.

Dragash Hiking Map Brod to Lake Shutman

A larger map will be available soon

STARTING POINT/ ENDING POINT: Arxhena Hotel or Old Road near Brod

STARTING ELEVATION: 1384 meters

HIGHEST ELEVATION: 2120 m.

DISTANCE: 8.82 Km.

DURATION: 6-7 hours round-trip along the same path

DIFFICULTY: Easy. There are very few steep parts to this hike.

Hiking Route Description

You have two options where to start. You can either start directly from Arxhena Hotel and climb up the steep ski slope behind the hotel which meets the path further on; or you can start from the beginning of the main path along the Old Road closer to Brod which is longer but has a more gentle climb up into the mountains. If starting from the Old Road, follow the main dirt road out of Brod towards Arxhena Hotel with the river on your right hand side.

After the last house between the hotel and the village, just past the rusted skeleton of an old car on its side under a tree, the river passes under the road. As the river moves to the left side of the road you will see a small concrete water-tap structure on the right and the power lines begin to diverge from the road. Turn right here and follow the grass road uphill following the wooden electrical poles. This is the start of the Old Road to Macedonia that was never completed. Eventually the grass route will turn to a dirt and rock path. Follow this further into the valley until you are directly above Arxhena Hotel. It is here that the ski slope intersects with the main path.

Lake Shutman Brod Kosovo

I love a nice mountain lake. These post glacial lakes are often called mountain eyes as they look like eyes looking up into the sky when seen from the mountain tops above.

Continue following the well-travelled path south into the river gorge. Make sure you stay high up on the path and do not descend to the river and cross it. There is a path on the other side of the river but it is more difficult and does not lead directly to the lake. More than two thirds of the way to the lake you will see a beautiful waterfall where the river rushes out of a narrow rocky gap. The top of the waterfall has a nice area to rest and have a picnic. You can access this area by leaving the path behind after the waterfall turning left, crossing the river at its highest point and then walking back to the waterfall. See the map for further indications, as there is no dedicated path to the waterfall from this side of the river.

After passing the waterfall you will come to a point where the path becomes narrow and less clear. This is also where you will see a shepherd’s building which doubles as a sharr dog breeding hut. Stay away from the building, as sharr dogs are very protective, even if they are cute when they are young. Stay closer to the mountain on your right and you will eventually make out the path that leads out of this valley and up into the valley with small but beautiful Lake Shutman/Šutman.

What do you think? Would you visit Kosovo and Brod?

It’s hard to know what is on and off the beaten path these days. Most travelers get their information from the Internet (yes, including you right now) in a way that was never possible before with regular guidebooks. But with the proliferation of information is there still a beaten path? Or are we all beating down the grass as we wander freely here and there depending on the whims of a Google search?

Komani Lake Albania Ferry Trip

Yes, it really is this beautiful!

Whatever the answer is, for most people Albania as a country is off the beaten path and is just starting to open up to tourism. Travel to the northern mountain regions, where the fastest way to travel is by lake ferry, or by foot, and you can be pretty sure you are off the beaten path. I heard about the Komani Lake Ferry in Kosovo and decided to give it a try. It is by far one of the most beautiful, and gritty ferry rides I have experienced. In fact I’d even call it a classic boat journey that most people should experience at least once in their lives. The journey is not made easy for tourists as it caters to residents and traders traveling down to the coastal areas. But it will by far be the highlight of your trip to Albania. The bonus is that you can easily combine this with a hike in Northern Albania, or a trip to or from Kosovo. These are all places most people would consider off the beaten track, although to be honest there were plenty of tourists sitting ride beside my wife and I!

Komani Lake Albania Gourge

Riding the Ferry on Albania’s Komani Lake

Komani lake was Albania first major hydro electric project in 1970 and helped the country not only become a net exporter of energy, but also created an amazing winding system river system of turquoise waters, staggering cliffs, and remnants of a life cut out of a savage land where journeys are measured in days rather than hours. There are no cities or towns along the ride, only solitary houses

Komani Lake Ferry AlbaniaThe Komani Ferry is large enough to carry 50 cars, and scores more passengers. It travels only 2 times a day and leaves from the western side from the town of Komani (kind of near Shkodra) at 10 am and earlier from the eastern side from Bregluma (near the small town of Fierza) at 8 am. The ferry may depart or arrive half an hour earlier than suggested as the above schedule is not fixed!

Komani Lake Ferry

Um...psst...your tie is a bit short...

The timing means that it’s impossible to take the ferry south in the morning and then have time to explore and return on the same day. But the magic of the lake is the ride itself and can be combined with any number of other activities, from visiting the castle town of Shkodra, to hiking the remote mountain passed from Valbona to Thethi.

We drove 5 hours from Pristina on a Friday down to Shkodra on the new highway and in the morning took the ferry back towards Kosovo. Unless you have massive amounts of time, a car is a necessity on this trip due to the lack of public transportation and the remoteness of the ferry terminal itself. In fact, the last 20 km to the western ferry port took nearly 1-½ hours due the rugged road conditions. You will definitely want a 4-wheel drive vehicle for this trip.

Don’t miss the Komani Ferry!

Komani Lake Albania Waiting for the FerryStart the day early and arrive at least an 2 hours before the ferry is scheduled to depart if you are driving a car. The parking area on the western end is just past the damn and you need to travel through a hand carved tunnel to reach the small port area. There is not a lot of room to park here (they charge you for this too! but only 50 lek) so it’s best to get there early and have a coffee while you wait. There are a few small shops along the water. You can also buy drinks and snacks on the ferry, and it’s wonderful to watch the organized chaos surrounding the loading and unloading.

The ferry usually departs a little late as the last inches of space are negotiated to fit as many cars and buses on as possible. There are also smaller boats available for hire and many people use them to move into the mountains in the summer for the harvest. Life in the region is harsh, and money and resources are hard to come by. Many families will toil on their land for the 3 months to earn 20-50 Euros and stock up their food for the winter.

Albania beer and cows

Beer and Cows, this guy has the market covered!

The ferry ride itself lasts about 2 ½ hours and travels through stunningly remote areas, along steep cliffs and mountains that give the Accursed Mountains their name (an area so remote and harsh it could only have been created by the devil). This is one of those experiences that are slowly fading from our hyper connected and efficient world. It’s a place where trade and sweat still have a caloric value and you can feel the worth of your ticket (400 lek per person and 1200 lek per square meter of car…don’t worry they will calculate it for you). All in all I was very happy to experience the trip, and would recommend it to anyone with the time and spirit. Combine the trip with a more in depth travel to the Balkans and you’ll be sure to leave wondering what the hell CNN and BBC are going on about. The region and its people are lovely, and you’ll be hard pressed to find more genuine locals and landscapes.

Have you been to Albania? Would you go? Where did you go off the beaten track recently?

a collection of personal development books and courses

I feel like a better person already

Yay, the 72 Hour Sale is back and this time it jumps into the Personal Development arena. For me travel and working abroad has had a profound effect on my personal development, running the gambit from finances, to minimalism, to becoming a more self confident person. The only thing is hasn’t helped me with is my addiction to self improvement books…

These sales don’t come around often, and it’s a great chance to get a ton of books at a ridiculous discount. I own a couple of the titles included and now own the rest for what it cost me to buy 2 of them earlier.

This is the second 72 hour sale from the genius behind Man vs Debt, a super popular personal finance blog. The concept is simple, for 72 hours you can buy 22 Online Personal Development Courses and E-books for only $97 that would normally cost $1,087 if you bought them separately. Yup, 22 of the biggest names in online Personal Development are coming together to offer their guides and courses in one ridiculous package. I participated in the last 72 hour sale (along with 2,000 others) 7 months ago (yes they are rare!) when Internet Business Books and Courses were being offered. It was so much information that I’m still learning, and benefiting from them!

This time around the 72 hour team is serving up a courses and books on building a better lifestyle ranging from how to focus, to traveling without fear, to being awesome (yes, someone created a guide to this), to how to learn a second (or 5th) language quickly. For those who need help with sex, yes I said sex, there is something for you too!

Added Bonus

What’s better than becoming a better person? Answer: helping others in the process. $5 from each sale will be directly donated to support research and prevention of kidney disease through Team Juggernaut to raise funds for the Kidney Foundation.

The sale runs from Monday, June 20, at noon Eastern time to Thursday, June 23, at noon Eastern time. No sales will be made after that for any reason–when it’s done, it’s done.

Click here to buy the package

No hard sell here. I just wanted to give you the heads up that this deal is on. I bought mine today and will spend the next few months happily reading through everything. If you want to get the books you can find out more information here. If you want  a quick rundown of what they are offering see below. The bonus is that if you are running a website, once you buy the package you are also eligible to become an affiliate and earn a commission on any sale (yes, this is what I’m doing here too. Thank you if you decided to support Todd’s Wanderings).

Focus by Leo Babauta ($35)

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Yup, that’s a lot of information

There it is. 22 products worth $1,087 for only $97 if you Buy Now before June 23, at noon Eastern time.

Click here to purchase the package

*Now for the small print. If you buy the package then Todd’s Wanderings gets a cut of the sales and we get to keep the lights on for a little while longer and maybe even a beer to keep me cool during the Tokyo summer. Like everything else on this site I would never recommend it if I didn’t a) think it is a good deal or useful to you; b) bought and used it myself.

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