“Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick.” –The Hobbit

There’s a lot more Tolkien where that came from. Macedonia is bringing out my inner hobbit. (I know. You’re shocked.)

I had my first, hobbit-eque, mountain-climbing adventure yesterday. It all started with a few volunteers looking out the window.

Once a week, all the volunteers from each of our four training communities converge in Skopje for a day of meetings. Sometimes, these Hub Days (or more accurately, Hug Days), include sessions on medical knowledge, safety tips and cultural training. They always include a great lunch and a chance to catch up with friends living at other sites.

We take the bus to get there. Between Sveti Nikole and Losovo, the first stop we make en route, we saw a mountain.

It’s not a very big mountain. It’s about 850 meters tall (2,700 feet). It didn’t make the list on the mountains of Macedonia Wikipedia page, but we asked around and learned it was one of the mountains with a name. (Not all of them are named, my host dad told me.)

Богословец. (Pronounced: Bogoslavetz.)

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Yesterday, six trainees from Sveti and a group from Losovo met at the base of the mountain to start our adventure. We lucked out, connecting with a Losovo host father, who guided our adventure. Sandro is 70 years old, but he made scampering up the mountain, even after we left the trail, look easy.

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We traveled at different paces, with Sandro usually leading the way. I didn’t always understand what he was saying, but loved that he was always laughing as he said it. He stopped occasionally to let most of the group catch up before calling, “Ајде!” down the mountain at the stragglers. (Let’s go!)

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At first, we followed a dirt road that wound upward past a few farms, a tiny monastery (that reminded me of this) and an abandoned mining facility.

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Then Sandro took a right, straight up.

From that point, we zig-zagged through fields of tall, Sound of Music, grass. We cut through rows of evergreens that felt like a Christmas tree farm. We stepped over a few power lines, unsure of whether they still had life. We picked our way along a rocky cliff. I waited until there was a little distance between myself and the edge before taking in the view and picking out Sveti Nikole, several kilometers away. Finally we made the last push to where the highest peak leveled off.

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A few of us perched on a stone pillar on the top. (Sandro climbed up and down, laughing and leaping off each time.)

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Never have I ever felt more legit, than when Sandro handed me his binoculars.

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I wish I could bottle his energy, and spritz myself every morning.

To one side, (left photo) we could pick out villages and Sveti by pockets of rooftops. On the other side, (right photo) there was no sign of development as far as I could see.

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It was about a 5K trek, and it was tougher than I gave it credit for at the start.

As each wave of friends crested the final hill, we cheered and laughed, watching each new reaction to the view from the top.

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Guys, I live here. No big deal.

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I loved watching the tiny people walking single file in the distance. (My hobbit heart swelled.)

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See the two, tiny black dots, in the center? Those are two wonderful trainees, enjoying the last leg of the hike.

At the top, we embraced our new culture, snacking on freshly baked bread Sandro brought for all of us, a bottle of ракија (a homemade brandy Macedonia is known for, pronounced: rak-ee-ya) sent by a friend’s host dad and other goodies our host families sent along.

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My most Macedonian moment to date: homemade ракија in one hand, homemade bread in another.

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Sandro cracked each walnut between two rocks and then tossed it to the nearest trainee with a free hand.

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It was our first weekend without Peace Corps obligations, so we made the most of it, relaxing, swapping stories and savoring the best view we’ve had so far.

It won’t be our last mountain.

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Climb every mountain

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