Take a virtual tour of the Albanian coastline along the Northern Ionian Sea in a special celebration of Naum Prifti’s 89th birthday. This year the restrictions associated with the coronavirus prompted the idea of going on a trip down memory lane. A 25 year old journalist at the time, Naum Prifti, was excited to be assigned to write about Albania’s Ionian Sea Coast. It was his first visit there. More than 60 years later, his voyage relates as a virtual experience of driving through the Llogara Pass and relishing the charms of villages like Dukat, Palase, Dhermi, Vuno, Himare, Spile, Qeparo, Borsh, Lukove, Shengjin, Saranda, marveling at the rugged terrain, the mountains, the bays and coves, the orange and olive groves, the turquoise waters of Ionian Sea, and especially the uniqueness of its history and people.
Naum Prifti’s Travel Memoirs
As a young journalist, I was fully aware that I had only read about the marvelous riviera from Vlora to Saranda. So much so that when asked if I had visited, I avoided the embarrassment by muttering quickly: “The seacoast? Of course. Very beautiful.”
One feels even a bit sour when considering that tourists from around the world tour our riviera and write their impressions from the journey while some of my fellow journalists and I, who are locals, had not visited, or worse, read stories about the seacoast written by guests. Some lovely passages were printed about the lives of villagers and farming and about the incomparable natural panoramas of these parts.
A depiction was penned by the inspired and sympathetic hand of a master poet who left behind the dampness of his fog-wrapped country, and sailed by boat to a port in Spain. He then visited the entire delightful coast of the blue Mediterranean. Upon coming to our shores, his wondrous pen memorialized the unforgettable lines about Albania and Albanians. To read Byron’s pilgrimage of Childe Harold is to be enthralled by the desire to experience the breathtaking landscapes described in his poems.
As nature’s volcanic amphitheater,
Chimaera’s Alps extend from left to right:
Beneath, a living valley seems to stir;
Flocks play, trees wave, streams flow, the mountain-fir…..
At last I was assigned to go there. Aware that my report would not compare in capturing a description of the charms of our seacoast and its people, no matter how well-written my piece would be, I wondered anxiously if I would be capable of relating accurately all that I saw and felt about the natural beauty.
I do not travel by sedan, or taxi. Instead I ride a mail truck on its daily run from Vlora to Himara. The driver, a young man of pleasant looks and curly hair, warm cheerful eyes, may have seemed more sympathetic to me simply because he does not object to letting me ride up front with him.
We left Vlora close to noon time; yet it seemed even later, on account of the overcast sky and a light autumn rain. It was one of those bleak November days when you feel desolate even sitting at home. In the waiting room of a transportation agency, you feel more like a bear in an iron cage. Whenever I travel I take a book along to read when I stop in places where I don’t have any friends or relatives. But on that particular day, the book was not holding my attention and I could not help swearing a few times at its author.
The road from Vlora to the Llogara seems long and even dull save for the landscape strewn with year-round green shrubs that take away the general somber appearance of autumn in these parts.
Now we are about to drive uphill to Dukat. Before starting the climb, the driver stopped the truck to check the tires and tighten the bolts on them. I am conflicted between patting him on the back for being careful and feeling apprehensive that taking all that precaution meant that he feared something might go wrong. I must admit that the traveler would be way off the mark for thinking the drivers on this route are afraid! The narrow, dangerous country road to Llogara, would make most people dizzy walking on foot. To these hero drivers, like any job that gets to be commonplace, it doesn’t seem like much. And by now, they regard this as a run-of-the-mill route and, hold on to the wheel, as they hum or sing as if they had nothing to worry about.
The truck jolts riding over pebbles and potholes. Fiercely wailing winds that rush through the cabin and all around signal that we are getting closer to the Lloraga pass. The raging wind grows mightier causing the tarpaulin cover of the truck to swell like bellows, and Jako-the driver– almost casually steadies the wheel with one hand, and with the other reaches out the window to hold down a corner of the tarpaulin.
I ask myself to remember why the place is called Llogara. I have a notion that the word derives from a Greek word llagar that means clean, clear.
This notion is supported from some inhabitants of Himara, who tell me that several years ago a summer camp was put up here for tourists, just to admire the panoramic view and enjoy the fresh turquoise waters and crispy clean air.
“That place will either cure you or kill you,” they tell you. And they’re right, as far as I can tell.
The Fury of the wind intensifies the closer we get to the Llogara pass, where winds never cease year around. The dark pine trees that grow nearby are not coniferous, and nothing that shoots up high in the air would survive the winds, so they appear shriveled and stunted, as if a sword lopped their heads off.
The driver tells me with relish that in these parts many years ago a powerful blizzard blew off a donkey loaded with corn, along with its master, and dashed them against a rock some twenty meters away. Jako even pointed out the rock, as if he had personally witnessed those terrible moments.
The sky is overcast and bleak. Beneath clusters of rolling gray clouds, a few small, pitch black clouds similar to the smoke from a dynamite blast, fly away. Presently you look up and are surprised to see the gray clouds swell and turn menacingly black. At last, we reach the Llogara pass.
It appears as if all of a sudden a gigantic curtain goes up, revealing a marvelous scene. My heart throbbed with such rapture captivated by the beauty of my homeland. Such a miraculous view is beyond the capacity of man to imagine. Just picture yourself traveling along a long vexing road, going up a mountain with little to distract the eye, and then reaching a lofty pass where suddenly you discover a new world with an awe-inspiring presence.
Below your feet, some 900 to 1000 meters down the ravine, the sea stretches in all its majesty, and on the surface of the sea, beams of light like the one artists paint on icons to depict the holy spirit, come down from chinks in the clouds. It’s as if the light did not want to abandon the sea in the face of the approaching storm. Elsewhere the sea has taken on the color of the clouds and appears bleak, agitated, stern. From high up it appears like a plain full of cracks, but from a closeup look you realize the analogy does not hold up. The surface is alive, vibrant and noisy. Look closely, at the coastline, and you will see an ever moving bright line like liquid silver, that kisses the shore and then retreats as if embarrassed. But driven by passion, it comes back, and the sea with its silvery lips kisses again and again the sacred soil of the shore.
Along the entire coastline where the sea meets the land, a greenish blue line runs like an infinite band as a light border between land and the sea. Beyond that line the sea has a stern and angry look. The rays of the sun, the water surface like a mirror, and the sea all play in the threatening storm with the mocking pose of the powerful. Farther away a veil of mist, and the sea fuses with the gray clouds that let the rain down.
Read the rest of the Riviera travel memoirs in the March issue of Dielli