Since the moment I walked in the door at Green Visions- tucked away in an odd shade of pink apartment complex that was built before the 1984 Olympics (most specifically, as housing for the Olympic competitors and trainers) it has been a remarkable experience.
I have been surrounded by enthusiasm, immense knowledge, invitations, failed and not so failed attempts at cross-lingual jokes, hour long coffee dates, bumpy van rides, stunning panoramas, and many many stories. The guides and staff at this organization have combined life experiences that would give Spielberg a real run for his money.
Everyday outside my office – when I’m here- sits a fruit and vegetable stand, perched in the backseat of an old VW, with a lady selling the most appetizing of goodies. I resist the urge to buy it all, and she smiles at me as I pass by. Across the way is a coffee shop, a grocery store, and screaming children playing soccer in uneven rickety streets. The office itself is a small, bright space filled with enough information to travel the Balkans a thousand times over. The shelves and cases are stuffed with an eclectic combination of trail mix, bike helmets, camping gear galore, empty espresso cups, random collectables from travels, someone’s half assed collections of bottle caps, a not so hidden bottle of Rakia, and 3 chunky computers resting atop 3 clunky desks. The door is almost always open, despite the Propou and the newly installed air conditioning unit. Depending on who is in the office first, a mix of Jazz or Enrique Iglesias can be heard.
So far I have been on several of Green Visions trips- ranging from day trips to multiple country multiple night ones. Hiking, biking, eating, laughing, walking and sight seeing- professionals on all accounts. As local experts in the Balkan regions, Green Visions are frequently hired through a few bigger outside organizations to run trips. As a traveler who has never really been ‘into’ organized group trips, I will say that Green Visions runs the itinerary pretty damn flawlessly. There is crunch time and down time, just enough nuanced information to provide an insight into place and time, and never a drowning of information. Some meals have been arranged and reserved, taking the pressure off of ‘where to eat tonight’ and some remain open. Someone, somewhere, has clearly thought this out, and I think I know just the man.
One of the unexpected things I have so enjoyed about these leaders is the abundance of Naturalist knowledge among them. Most grew up more or less in the mountains, and can point out the subtlest of differences between two seemingly equal-looking white mushrooms, hunt for the freshest of raspberries, and know where to find fresh chamomile and herbs for the most flavorful cooking. This is their homeland. They are involved in Rakia making, chicken farming, sketching, underground punk music scenes, adventuring and once upon a time random jobs as sheep herders in Iceland. They have passion about this region, and it is clear from the moment their shoes hit the dirt that this, is heaven.
My role here at Green Visions has been primarily as a photographer. I have been on the road to take photos and promote not only the organization, but the newly emerging Via Dinarica trail. This epic trail spans 7 countries, across mountains and along coast lines, and is really the next big thing in outdoor extremism and perhaps a first of it’s kind in Europe. For the region, it is necessary and not to mention, totally badass. Tourism can bring immense amounts of money, and this kind of adventuring is really the image that is changing the conversation. Far too often people associate the Balkans, and Bosnia Herzegovina specifically, with a sort of gloomy war cloud- one that devastates populations and stagnates progress. Even my mom said when I first announced my trip here thought “Well is it safe?!”
To some extent the war here does linger, but it is not the story this crowd is dwelling on. There is so much more to tell- in the beauty of the mountains, in the depths of the canyons that rival that of the Grand Canyon, to the mystical aqua blues of glacier fed streams that puncture valleys and provide life to small farming towns, and to the people that have created new lives. Green Visions motto is “Giving Back”; a phrase the emphasizes unity, humility, intention and community. I think despite maybe not fitting a traditional ‘economics’ label, this organization and the experiences I have had here contribute far greater to a hands on study of economics than anything I could’ve asked for.
I suppose at the end of the day, I have Ann Petrila to thank for this. A sure sense of panic erupted in my gut when she first read the job description for Green Visions back some idle day in April when I was meeting about internship plans- so I conclude with the sincerest of thanks, and do believe a bottle of good red wine is in order.
Some photos of my coworkers and I on our adventures.
Me and my giant boys on our last night in Montenegro.
Setting up the best picnic lunch of all time on a winding road in Montenegro.
Coffee breaks and smiles.
When in doubt, follow the Sabinas.