Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chakor Pass

Traveling in a camper van we were somewhat self sufficient within our vehicle. Our routine, to this point, had been to pull to the side of the road one night to eat dinner and sleep, not unusual at that time when traveling in Europe. Then, in order to clean up and resupply ourselves, stay in a campground the next night. Sleeping, 2 adults, 1 teenager (me) and 2 tween girls in the van was cramped but doable as our family runs a little on the small side. I top out today at 5 foot 5.

Chakor Pass, we soon discovered, was a 2 lane gravel roadway that twisted and turned through some of the most visually stunning and rugged territory I have ever encountered. The narrow roadway hugged the edges of mountains that on one side rose straight up and on the oppisite side led straight down., Once you commited to the pass you had to follow it thorugh to the end. There were no turnoffs or any way to turn back.

At times the road skirted the border with Albania. Albania, at the time, was the most politically and socially isolated European state. Where the borders met, signs had been erected depicting a camera in a red circle with a slash through it indicating that picture taking was not allowed at these points. I found myself wondering who would stop to take a pictrue of the mountainside or modest farmhouse just across the border. Given the narrowness of the road how would they manage to do that and, with this in mind, who felt these signs were necessary considering the effort that must have been excerted carting them up there and installing them.

Small villages were nestled in the valleys between the mountains. Each so isolated from the next the the architecture and dress varied slightly from one to the other. Electrical power seemed nonexistent. The local people traveled between the villages using goat carts. The area was largely muslim. Women sat along the back edge of the carts, feet dangling as they bounced along. Being in the company of women, their veils were down as they chatted and gossiped with one another. However, when a car approached, they would pull up their veils and avert their faces.

The other mode of travel was by bus. We soon discerned that, if you encountered one, it was your responsiblity, not the buses, to back up to a point where the bus could pass you. This occsiaonlly left you inches away from the precipitous drop at the edge of the roadway.

As late afternnoon approched, it became apparent that this would be a night we would be locking all the doors and sleeping in the car. The challenge became finding a place big enough to pull over. We came upon a meadow alongside the road with enough room to accomadate the van and stopped for the night. The night became inky black. The only illumination was provided by the moon and the multitude of stars visible though the crisp, clean, clear air of these high mountains.

The following morning my mother rose early, as was her custom on this trip, and explored the area where we had stopped. She returned to the car and roused us telling me and my sisters to put on our shoes and follow her. She led us to a small stream and had us wash our hands and faces in it to experience the icy cold snow fed water. We returned to the car, refreshed by the cool water of the stream and resumed our travel through the pass.

Late that afternoon we arrived in Pec. We watched the local people, the men in long colorful tunics and the momen in vibriant traditional harem pants, going about their daily business as we strolled through the city.

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