I have been on some bad roads before, from the California Desert to the mountains of Bosnia and Georgia, and even on some rough backroads of Uganda and Zimbabwe. But as I attempted to maneuver my rented SUV up the narrow, winding mountain roads into the Albanian Alps with my seventy-year-old mother sitting in the passenger seat firmly gripping the door handle, I began to understand why the local name translates as the “Accursed Mountains.”
This was an impromptu birthday trip for my mother, originally a ten-day road trip through the Balkans. But while thumbing through a travel magazine at the airport, I happened to see a photo essay on the Accursed Mountains. This mountain range runs through Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro, not too far from my hometown of Sarajevo. I originally planned on meeting my mother in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and then leisurely making our way through Albania to Lake Ohrid in North Macedonia. But the Accursed Mountains fascinated me, and I was able to convince my mother to take this “slight detour,” (as I sold it to her).
Mountains have always called to me. My introduction to photography was shooting the epic mountain landscapes of the Pacific Northwest in the United States. I was born and raised in Sarajevo, Bosnia, and I relocated to the United States in the mid-nineties, after the bloody conflict devastated my homeland. For almost two decades I have been a professional photographer, which has taken me all over the world. So now, I found myself traveling up through Montenegro with my mother and crossing the border into Albania.
At first, we enjoyed a relaxing drive through the Albanian countryside, then the road began to climb into the mountains. Within a few hours, the pavement we were driving on deteriorated to a crumbling, rocky trail. It took about ninety minutes for us to get 10 Km (6 miles). We pulled over and debated about going back as both of us and the car were taking a beating. Another car came by, and they seemed to know the road well, claiming this bad stretch of road was just a little bit longer. We decided to take their word and continued on our journey. It was worth it.
The views were spectacular, with blue skies showing through the clouds which clung to the majestic Alps. The road wound down into a valley and the village of Theth, which was home to about 12 families who are cut off from the rest of the world by snow for half of the year. We found children playing volleyball by the ancient church, who spoke excellent English and steered us to a local restaurant. There, we sat outside in the sun with the mountains looming overhead and enjoyed a local dish of lemon soup and mixed vegetables. It is moments like this, finding these untouched landscapes, that make me realize how fortunate I am to be able to do what I do. There aren’t many places I’d come back to, as I enjoy discovering new destinations, but Theth and the Accursed Mountains is certainly one I would return to.