Last month I took a short trip to Europe to see my buddy Shawn. After three years living in Budapest, Shawn’s finally moving on. But he wanted one last little European hurrah, so we planned a climbing trip.
But not to Spain or Italy or Greece or any of the other world-class Euro climbing destination. Nope. Shawn chose Bosnia.
I’ve been spending a lot of time in Europe recently; from big cities to the mountain ranges to tiny little villages in the middle of nowhere.
As an American, one of the most striking things I noticed in Europe was the importance of water. Rivers are the lifeblood of this continent. The major cities were built around them, which makes sense, as back in the day waterways were by far the quickest and most efficient method of moving people and goods around.
The European conquest of nature extends far beyond building cities though; almost every single major river on the continent has been dammed for hydroelectric power.
As an American, and one from the West, this fusion of civilization and nature always struck me in an odd way. In the U.S., we usually separate these things. Our nation was built on the back of railroad and automobile infrastructure, which means besides the Mississippi and a few other routes, rivers have largely been left alone. We prefer coal and oil over hydropower (not necessarily a good thing). We also enjoy a deep bond with our public lands.
In the US, our wilderness is untamed and unaltered as much as we can make it so.
For me, this respect for the land and the ecosystems is just as American as the right to own guns, or eat cheeseburgers, or whatever else foreigners associate with our nation. The first time I saw trees painted to mark trails in Hungary, I was horrified. The golden words in the American wilderness are Leave No Trace.
The Balkan Countries are a small, esoteric region of Southeastern Europe. Thanks to a series of nasty wars in the 1990s, this amalgamation of small, mostly post-communist countries is rarely visited. For many people, the region remains shrouded in mystery. I backpacked the Balkans in November 2016, and it remains one of the most fascinating regions I have visited so far.
The Balkans are a strange place. They have a unique flavor which you won’t find elsewhere in Europe. But they have a strange, tragic beauty which makes them intimately worth visiting. Check it out, past the jump: