Feature - The long trek to peace 

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

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We began the trek in the Rugova Valley in Kosovo, the section that Ellen and I had been responsible for organizing. A small group of trekkers went on an overnight hike and summited the peak of the second highest mountain in Kosovo. The rest of us went on local day hikes to the places that Ellen and I had tested out earlier.

On the third day we took time out in one of the local villages to dedicate a newly rebuilt house to peace. The house belonged to one of the members of the environmental NGO we had been working with. His house had been destroyed in the war and his family had fled to Montenegro through the same valley we were hiking.

We moved on to Montenegro by bus because the border crossing we had hoped to be able to use was closed indefinitely. Our guide for this section of the trek had organized a stop for lunch in the village of some of his friends. In the company of what seemed like the entire village, we enjoyed fresh milk, yogurt and cheeses, vegetables straight from the garden, honey from the beehives and homemade pastries.

Following lunch our guide told us about life during the war. He told us about the destroyed houses and the massacre of six young boys from the village. He took us to see a house still covered with bullet holes. It was impossible to believe what he was telling us had taken place in such a beautiful, tranquil village.

On one eventful day in Montenegro a few trekkers had gone ahead to make arrangements in the next town on the itinerary, Plav, only to find that the hotel some of us were supposed to be staying in was now inhabited by Bosnian refugees. They eventually found another hotel where half of the group stayed the night. The other half went on to a hut at the foot of the spectacular Accursed Mountains. These steep, rocky mountains separate Montenegro from northern Albania. We didn’t know until we arrived there that the hut was about 100 metres away from a Serb/Montenegrin army checkpoint. The Albanians in the group were uncomfortable being so close to the soldiers at the checkpoint and decided to stay back at the hotel. We didn’t have any trouble with the soldiers, who we later learned were to be replaced with local police in a matter of days.

We spent the following day hiking around at the foot of these beautiful mountains. As we walked higher up in the valley we found ourselves in fragrant fields full of wild mint, ginger and strawberries. When we walked back through the same valley later in the day we met a few locals who were putting up signs indicating trailheads. Things were slowly but surly becoming more tourist-friendly in this valley.

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