Feature - The long trek to peace 

A Whistler student is part of an international effort to establish a Balkans Peace Park

Page 6 of 9

Though the environmental picture in and around urban areas in Kosovo is quite bleak, the more remote mountain areas are much better off. Kosovo is home to some of the last pristine alpine wilderness in Europe. One of the perks of organizing for the trek was testing out a number of hikes with our local friend, Fatos. These trips were absolutely stunning. On one of the hikes we walked through the woods for a few hours, eating wild strawberries along the way, before coming out into a clearing full of wildflowers. We followed a small mountain stream up to a beautiful glacier lake and then walked a little further to another lake full of blue dragonflies and lazy red-bellied salamanders.

On another hike we again sat in a huge field of wildflowers, sharing the experience with the one family who spent their summers in this high alpine pasture, grazing their sheep and cattle. Minutes after we arrived on the ridge near their home the local family sat us down on a mattress on the hilltop and brought out some fresh milk for us to drink. Not wanting to offend our hosts, my lactose-intolerant friend and I reluctantly sifted out the chunks.

The father of the small family joined us when we continued our hike to a viewpoint above his village. The view was incredible; in one direction we could see almost half way across the flat plain of Kosovo, in the other direction the mountains of Kosovo and Montenegro faded into the distance. The father who accompanied us had never, in his 40 years of living in the area, done the two-hour hike to the top of this ridge. He was so excited when he got there that he took out his cell phone and used up all of his credit calling his relatives in New York. He even handed the phone over to me to say hello to his brother.

The trek finally begins

After spending the first six weeks in Kosovo getting the details sorted out, the trek began. Over 30 people between the ages of 19 and 67 came from the U.S., Canada, the UK, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Kosovo and Albania to participate. We were an eclectic group of students and retirees, teachers and Fullbright Fellows, guidebook writers and NGO workers.

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