Czech volunteers revitalize isolated northern Albanian mountain village

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 14, 2015 08:14

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  • “This place has its wild beauty and its inner peace as well. Life is very difficult here for the local people, they leave to cities and the village decays. If the basic infrastructure will not be renewed, everyone will leave. We are prepared to stop this process by implementing our projects,” Czech volunteers say

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czech uraTIRANA, Aug. 11 – A group of Czech volunteers fond of exploring northern Albania have teamed up to establish the Albanian Challenge not for profit association aimed at revitalizing the isolated Curraj i Eperm village in the northeastern region of Tropoja.

“We are young people, mostly students, who want to spend their spare time actively and try to achieve something rarely attempted before. We are neither a company, nor a humanitarian organization. To give our activities legal form we established the Association for the advancement of Curraj i Eperm valley. We don’t limit ourselves to people from the Czech Republic, we expect international participation on our projects,” they say.

In a video posted on their Albanian Challenge website, the Czech volunteers who are working to raise funds on building infrastructure in the depopulated Curraj i Eperm, describe the village as “separated from the world by a 40 km dam, by an impassible river gorge and by a 1600m-high mountain range.”

“It takes two days to get there but there is not a more beautiful place in Europe for adventurers and romantics,” says the Czech volunteers whose most immediate project is building a bridge destroyed by floods.

“This place has its wild beauty and its inner peace as well. Life is very difficult here for the local people, they leave to cities and the village decays. If the basic infrastructure will not be renewed, everyone will leave. We are prepared to stop this process by implementing our projects,” they say.

Building a tourist infrastructure in a valley amidst 2000-meter high mountain ranges and marking 130 kilometers of tourist trails in the mountains of North Albania –are only two of many particular plans within a project created by a group of young Czech volunteers, who are willing to lead their efforts towards opening up a forgotten part of the Albanian Alps as well as to save the declining, today almost uninhabited, village of Curraj i Epërm.

A group of students from Brno, Czech Republic went for an expedition into the North-Albanian mountains for the first time in July 2014. Their journey led them through the almost abandoned village of Curraj i Epërm, which has remained for many years merely, cut off from the outside world. Their contact with the village and surrounding area led to a fascination. Therefore, they decided to make the area more accessible to larger numbers of tourists and prevent the village’s decline. The base of volunteers and adventurers engaged in this project started to grow rapidly afterwards, with currently more than 100 people, working their best for the ambitious Albanian Challenge project.

The plans to help the village and its surroundings include marking the tourist trails (virtually non-existent until now) in a very demanding mountainous terrain, the creation of a tourist base,  the rehabilitation of the local church in Curraj i Epërm,  or enabling visitors and inhabitants alike to cross the village’s river without having to set foot in the water. The tourist trails marked in the surroundings of the village will create the most sophisticated network in all of Albania. Last but not least, it is also important to mention a unique network of caves and several kilometers long cave system in the area, that hasn’t been completely explored yet, and may very well serve as a major attraction of the zone, they say.

The volunteers are spending more than three weeks’ time in Albania this month. Their aim is to make the village of Curraj i Epërm a place worth returning to, not only for themselves, but also for other adventurous tourists from all over the world, saying that “it is immensely surprising, that a location of such natural and cultural beauty is still virtually unknown.”

Curraj i Eperm

Curraj Eperm is a village in the mountains of Northern Albania that suffers from massive depopulation because of the loss of hydroelectric power station and bridge. The village is very remote because of difficult mountainous terrain and the Komani Lake and people are leaving it. “We want to stop and reverse this process with the Albanian Challenge project. The best argument in our favor is that in the neighbouring valleys are located villages Theth and Valbona, which were in very similar situation a few years ago, but became sought-after destinations for tourists and local inhabitants gained a reason to stay.”

The number of inhabitants of Curraj Eperm has been declining so rapidly in the past few years that the village is on the brink of disappearing. The last few inhabitants have not been able to repair the basic infrastructure of the village. But without the basic infrastructure (dry-foot access, electricity) and the possibility to earn some money, even the last inhabitants will shortly leave.

“Most of the inhabitants already know about our plans and the reactions that we received were very positive and they are excited. The mayor of Curraj Eperm is very thrilled that we are helping his village and the Czech embassy in Tirana also expressed its support for Albanian Challenge,” representatives of the Association say.

Asked about the risk of the destination losing its charm because of mass tourism, volunteers say

“we’re not afraid that tourists would come in mass numbers. The basic filter is that who wants to get to Curraj Eperm must travel about 40 km by ferry and then hike for about a day through demanding mountain terrain not accessible by any vehicle. We presume that tourists in small numbers who will use services provided by locals (accommodation, food) can help the village survive.”

Support the project on albanianchallenge.cz

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 14, 2015 08:14