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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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On the last morning of the trek we hiked up to a waterfall where we relaxed for a few hours before walking back among plum, walnut and cherry trees, past old stone houses, through cornfields and along a dried up riverbed. All of the houses in Thethi had amazing gardens full of sunflowers, pumpkins, cucumbers and peppers. Most of the houses had patios protected from the sun by a canopy of grapevines.

We celebrated our last night together with a feast of lamb, fresh produce and raki. Sitting around together under the stars in the fresh mountain air we made toasts and wished our hosts and their children good luck in their future. We promised that we would be back one day and that we would tell people at home to go visit their beautiful valley.

The trek was an unforgettable and rewarding experience. Being raised in Whistler, a place completely dependent on tourism, it was interesting for me to realize just how beneficial small-scale eco-tourism could be for this beautiful but struggling region. The people who inhabit this area are the kindest and most hospitable I’ve ever encountered, the mountains as spectacular as any I’ve ever seen.

I hope that the work on the Peace Park will encourage more people to visit the region and contribute to the livelihoods of the inhabitants. I hope that people will not see Kosovo and the Balkans as a news story from four years ago but will go and see for themselves the beauty that this region has to offer.

I would like to thank Antonia & Nigel Young and the Peace Studies Program, Colgate’s chapter of Phi Eta Sigma, the Center for Ethics and World Societies, and the Development Office for their support and generosity, without which this trip would not have been possible.

If anyone would like more information on the Balkan Peace Park project or about traveling and hiking in the region, please feel free to contact me at lmackenzie@mail.colgate.edu