Upon being tasked with choosing Acre’s annual charity challenge destination, I started to get excited about where the power of co-chairing the Acre Foundation (Acre’s charitable arm) could take us. Sunnier climates in France, Mallorca, or perhaps a trip to climb Mt Etna. I was quickly reminded by our CEO that our annual fundraiser was not a holiday, and I was back to the drawing board.
This got me thinking. One of the main reasons why I enjoy working for Acre is the likeminded team; we share a common passion and desire to improve societies, positively impact communities and the environments in which we live and work. As such, beyond the charity we’re supporting with fundraising, our challenge should positively impact and empower the communities we visit. This begs the question, where exists an exciting but incredibly tough challenge whereby our tourism will be welcomed by the communities that will host us?
“This was forbidden territory during the four decades after the second
world war, when the Communist dictator Enver Hoxha turned Albania into
Europe’s equivalent of North Korea. ”
MARTIN FLETCHER, JOURNALIST FOR THE FT
I’ve always had a soft spot for ex-Yugoslavian nations and would always advise a coastal trip to Croatia or Montenegro. Yet previous visits have been more sun, beer & beach focused, rather than a rural expedition – this isn’t a holiday after all. I was then introduced to the Albanian Alps, or its alternate name, ‘The Accursed Mountains’. With this evocative name firmly embedded into my mind, this spurred a great amount of intrigue. The Accursed Mountain range intertwines through Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo – In Albania and Kosovo you have two of the poorest European nations, ravaged by war and communism with tourism yet to reach the extent it has with nearby ex-Yugoslav neighbours. The impact therefore, of visiting the remotest part of these nations and contributing to a community welcoming tourism, can’t be underestimated. Things fell into place from there.
The experience is 2-fold however, by travelling to relatively untouched areas of Eastern Europe, with no electricity, next to no roads and generally very little infrastructure, we will be removing ourselves from the connected 21st century metropolis of London. By going back to basics and trekking from dusk till dawn, it started to feel like this challenge would be as much of an education for ourselves than anything else.
We’ll be travelling East to West, starting in the Albanian town of Valbone on 4th October. Three days of hiking ensues, with an average distance travelled per day of 18.5km and an average daily ascent of 1,393 meters. Each night we’ll be staying at a local guesthouse, sampling traditional food and ending our challenge in the small village of Gropa e Erenikut, with a short drive to the Kosovan town of Peja. So, after 3 days, 4240m in ascent and 12 (very tired) Acre staff members, we’ll have successfully completed The Accursed Mountains!
For those reading this blog who are new to Acre, as part of our Foundation, we host a charity challenge annually, raising money for our main charity partner. This will be the 6th year we have done such a challenge. Like last year, all money raised will go to Plastic Ocean’s UK, who do an incredible job in educating, advocating and researching innovative solutions to solve the plastic pollution epidemic.
This is the first of a 5-blog mini-series. Liam Goldsworthy (the Acre Foundation’s other co-chair) and I, will be addressing the history of the area, the plastic epidemic, celebrating Plastic Oceans UK and providing updates to how our training is going, so please tune in.
For now, I’d urge you (if you haven’t already) to view the documentary that inspired us all to do what we are doing. A Plastic Ocean reveals the devastating causes and consequences of plastic pollution: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zrn4-FfbXw
If you would like to donate, please go to our JustGiving page.