Adventures, Guides, Inspiration, SUP

SUP Adventure on Komani Lake, Albania

Sometimes everything just comes together and a plan to do something routine turns into an opportunity to do something extraordinary…

Anybody who has seen images of Lake Koman would surely want to go there and since we were passing through Albania on our ‘Balk-Van’ Tour we had the perfect opportunity. It was a long, difficult drive along a road which became increasingly rugged the further we travelled but eventually The Dub made it to Koman which sits at the foot of the VauDejes dam.

After a long, rugged drive The Dub made it too Koman…

The huge Lake stretches 30 km eastward from Koman to the town of Fierza and was formed when the dam was built in the early 1970s, flooding the rugged Drini valley. The most popular tourist activity is to take a boat trip to Fierza through a series of deep, gorgeous, turquoise interconnected lakes between spectacular high mountains, but we wanted to explore without a motor. We had travelled with our SUPs, me on my preferred race board, Ellie on her touring SUP.

Looking at Google maps we came up with a straightforward plan; we’d base ourselves at Natura Camping and then launch our SUPs at the small harbour from where the boat trip companies operated. We wouldn’t be able to reach the more beautiful, remote parts of the lake but there didn’t seem to be an easy or cheap way to do this on our SUPs. In fact, it became increasingly obvious that even launching from the harbour was less than straightforward, with parking problems, a long tunnel and crowded water space to negotiate. But then I had an interesting conversation with Alphonse, a ferry operator crew member who proposed a more exciting option, if he could deliver on his promises…

And it was that conversation with Alphonse, in somewhat broken English, that led us to be sat on a ferry heading to Fierza with our SUPs wedged in the vehicle loading bay. We’d paid for a standard ticket but had anything but standard plans as the ferry began its winding journey down the lake. It was my understanding from the conversation that there was a stop off point in the middle of the lake from where we could disembark with our SUPs and head off for a paddle up the remote Lumi i Shales valley, away from the main ferry boat route. Apparently it had been done by kayak before but SUPs were something new to the ferry team.

As we travelled down the lake a sense of nervous anticipation grew. We could see that smaller boats occasionally stopped to let off some hardy locals scratching out a living on the valley slopes, but there was no sign of a harbour big enough for our ferry. The explanation hit us when the crew came to find us and the ferry started to slow – there was no ferry stop, the ferry was simply going to stop!

We quickly made our way to the stern of the ferry, fiddling with fins and leashes to prepare for launching. As a large number of curious passengers looked on, we dropped our boards over the side before clambering down a boarding ladder onto them and paddling away. As the ferry got back underway Alphonse pointed in the direction we should paddle and promised to return to pick us up at about 1415. Then, as the ferry steamed off down the lake, we were on our own…

A calm descended upon us, a plan formed and we began to paddle. It was a little alarming that we had a strong wind behind us as I’d never choose to do an outbound leg with a tailwind but the scenery was entrancing as we wound our way up the valley. Numerous waterfalls and coves lined the route, which itself narrowed the further we travelled until ultimately the still, dammed lake water became a flowing river and it was time for us to turn back…

We stopped for lunch at the only lakeside establishment we’d seen, which was set up to host the occasional small boat load of tourists, then began the more arduous journey back to our rendezvous. The now headwind was fierce and there was a point when we became concerned that we had lingered too long at lunch, but we made steady progress. And then the wind dropped, as quickly as if somebody had turned off a fan, and we could relax for the last couple of kilometres, exploring coves and waterfalls and even taking a little dip!

Some amazing rock features have formed, forming great little dipping pools…

We reached our collection point at 1400ish and began the slightly nervous wait for our promised ferry pick up. But we needn’t have worried because sure enough, at 1420ish the ferry came into view and as we paddled out it slowed for us to board. It wasn’t a graceful scramble back onto the ferry, but bodies and boards were dragged up onto the deck and high fives shared as the joy of pulling off our little adventure sank in…

Our Komani Lake paddle was one of the highlights of our whole trip, and it showed that if you have an open mind, chat freely with the locals and have a little faith that things will work out then wonderful adventures can be born…

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