Sunday, October 12, 2008


Accursed Peaks in Albania
Fall foliage in the Shari Mountian wilderness
Mountain house in Restilica
Village of Restilica
Cows walking through downtown Restilica

Frozen pond

Looking out a sheep herders hut

My first night
Bivied out under a rock overhang
The valley I hiked up out of from Brod
Alpine Lake about 8km up from Brod

I was in desperate need of some mountainization (I'm not sure if I made this word up or if it really exists but nevertheless I like it). So this past weekend I escaped off to Prizren, an old Ottoman city in the south of Kosovo surrounded by the Shari Mountains of Macedonia and the Accursed Mountains of Albania. I didn't spend too much time in Prizren because i know that Tracy wants to see the city and figured we could explore it together. Also, I've had about as much of city-life as I can handle. Although I realize every city has its own identity, its own culture, its own pulse; to me they still seem very similar in what debilitating way, their chaos.

Once I peiced together a ride to Dragash Valley from a local named Gezim who I'm not sure understood what I was going to do in the mountains but knew he was going to get paid for taking me the 30km up the dirt roads into the mountains. Once in Dragash I realized I wanted to get further up into the mountains. Basically, I want to get as far out as possible and into the most wild area I could explore. I was told by a student of mine to check out the village of Brod which is a small village of less than 300 which sits as the last sign of civilization before you hit the Great wilderness of the Shari Mountain Range and Accursed peaks. After having a machiato and a cigarette with Gezim (He was so excited to meet an American that he bascially forced me to sit down at the only cafe in Brod to show me around to the locals-or at least that's how it seemed to me).

After Gezim left I was on my own to figure out where and what I was going to do. I had all I needed to survive for 2 nights and next 3 days on my back. There is something magical about stripping life down to the basics in which you carry only what you need on yourself. Exploring amazing places (and yourself) by foot have always been a great cleansing agent for me, as well as a great source of inspiration. So, I hiked out of Brod onto a horse trail into a great valley with a small mountain river in the middle and huge steep rocky mountains on both sides. As I climbed in elevation I began to realize that i was truly heading to an area that rarely ever gets visited. This place was wild. Trails disappeared with the exception of a few sheep trail and gave way to an open mountain landscape that appeared to go on infinitely.
Over the next 2 days I found what i was looking for; a sense of peace. As I continued to explore the mountains by foot I was presented with the crux, do I retrace my steps and go back the way I came (remember there were no trails) or do I continue in my present direction and try to create a huge loop and hope that i make it back to Brod. Well, of course I decided on the second, knowing very well that I was rolling the dice and very likely might not be back for work on Tuesday. Around mid day on my second day, I saw a small village in the same direction as Brod. I figured it must be Brod and that I would make my way down towards the village.

A few more hours of cross country travel brought me to the village which I immediatley realized was not Brod. Damn, I thought to myself. I really don't want to reverse my steps back to Brod, this will take another 2 days. This small village was only 10km or so from Brod as far as the crow flies but because of the rugged terrain the only road to Brod was over 50km away. After finding one local who could speak a little English I realized that cross-countrying it over the next few mountains would not be a good idea because of the wild Shar dogs. I wanted adventure but I wasn't looking for that kind of adventure. So my only option was to begin walking out of the village and hope that someone driving in the same direction would give me a ride back towards Dragash, or even better, Prizren. I realized that i might be walking a longs way because I could count the number of cars I saw on one hand.

Luckily, within ten minutes i was picked up by a local guy who was making his way back to Dragash. He didn't have enough gas so he coasted in neutral most of the way back to his home. During the ride, he explained how he owns a lmarket in Dragash but because most of the village's poor economy he barely makes enough money to survive. He told me how he hopes to get a visa to Italy, Austria, or Slovenia in order to work and make enough money to help support his family. He explained that the visas were expensive and that coming up with the 2000 Euros for a 6 month visa to Italy was virtually impossible. Knowing that this guy and his family are virtually stuck in the life that they were born into made me realize how lucky I am to be American. Sure all the freedoms we are granted, all the modern niceties we have are great, but what I cherish above all as an American are the opportunities we have. The more I travel, the more I realize how lucky we are to be able to live the life we want.

After giving my local driver a couple of Euros for his service, i easily found another ride to Prizren with a local from Dragash. We exchanged stories about Kosovo, our families, and my experience in the mountains. He spoke really good English and was a treat to be able to communicate easily. I showed him pictures on my camera from my trip in the mountains, pictures of Tracy, and pictures from Slovenia. He fipped through the images studying them while whipping down switchbacks to Prizren.

An hour later I was back in Prizren. I figured if i hurried i just might catch the bus back to Pristina giving me my Monday to take care of choirs I've been neglecting. Back into the jungle I thought as i popped in my earplugs on my ipod, began listening to DJ Shadow, and tried to catch some shut-eye on the bus.


Shelly said...

Scuba Sam just told me about your blog and your travels! How excting! Congrats on the wedding, we NEED to catch up.

Shelly said...

Oops, i guess I have to leave my email or something since I don't do the blogging.

P.S. I still love you :) Shelly B.