January 29, 2008

A Mile High

Sometimes it's just being in the right place at the right time. Sitting in the teacher's room one afternoon last week, I happened to overhear the gym teacher say something about hiking (luckily, it's one of the verbs we know). After I raised an eyebrow inquisitively, he explained that the local mountaineering club was organizing a hike up to one of the peaks that surrounds the town. He pointed to a nearby flyer posted on the wall and said something like, "Haven't you seen these up around the school?" Well, yeah, I had. But considering that the literal translation of the flyer's title was "Everyone to the Snow," you'll forgive me if I didn't instinctively recognize it for what it was.

The hike's destination was an 1,800-meter (5,580 feet) peak south of town and the outing wound up being approximately 12 miles round trip. Though the temperature sat firmly in the 30's when the hike began at 7am, by mid-morning the sun was shining brightly and it was soon pushing 50 degrees. The group--about 40 strong--was made up mostly of teenagers, who the hiking club apparently targets for these activities.

As we rose above the town, the scenery and views were fabulous and by the time we were within a mile of our destination we were trudging through the white stuff. Everyone to the snow! Near the peak was a small complex comprised of sleeping quarters, a kitchen, several bathrooms, and a really nice playground. Apparently this spot is quite the destination year-round and can be used by hikers as a stopping off point on their way to the highest peak in the region, which was still another six or seven miles further on.

Like most American hikers, Jillian and I came with our efficiency mindset: like Julius Caesar, we proclaimed "Veni, vidi, vici," or perhaps more accurately, "We climbed, we saw, we ate lunch. Can we go now?" But we should have figured that Macedonians would hike like they live, with extended breaks for food and drink. As the students carried on with snowball fights, makeshift skiing, and generally teenage behavior, the adults gathered on the picnic tables for what seemed like several courses of coffee, tea, wine, various meat products, and bakery goods. While Jillian and I accepted their generous offerings (all we could counter with were some crackers), we really were beginning to wonder how long we would be staying up there...

Three and half hours later the descent began and by late afternoon we were home, quite exhausted and quite happy to have made this connection. There will be another expedition in February and it sounds as if the club goes out on a regular basis during the summer, including some overnights.

Meanwhile, back down here at our normal elevation (which happens to be around 2,300 feet), school has started up again and Jillian and I are starting to get busy. We both have begun our English Clubs, which gives us a chance to offer extra English instruction to those students who want it. Even better, perhaps, it exposes these students to a different type of instruction. Thus far, they have responded very positively to the games and activities and there has been a lot of interest. Just today, Jillian received the sign-up sheet from the 5th graders...54 kids! Looks like she's going to need to add a few more sessions.

And to those of you not on Skype...why not!? It should be noted that Grandpa Kimes was the first to jump on and others have followed. The calls are extremely clear and FREE. So get out there and buy that $10 computer microphone and give us a ring, we'd love to hear from you. Everyone to the Skype!

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