WATER MOUNTAINS,

RESTING PELECANS AND ELEPHANT BEANS AT ONE WITH HUMAN NATURE

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Despite the fact that Prespes is encircled by a busy motorway, it remains an isolated place. There are two ways to get up here. Nevertheless, the most thrilling drive is taking the side road from Florina, which passes through alpine forests with sweeping mount views and an often bear-crossing sign.

 

The two freshwater high-altitude ponds (the most biologically rich and exotically diverse in Europe) are without a doubt the main landmark of the region. Additionally, these wetlands are shared between three countries, better known for conflict than cooperation: Greece, Albania and FYROM; even if you cannot legally cross each other’s borders by boat.

With their boggy valleys and reed beds, both lakes constitute the nucleus of a protected area in the Balkans and one of the most important habitats in Greece, acknowledged as the National Park of Prespa.

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A bit of history

Since the Balkan Wars in 1913, Small Prespa Lake has been largely Greece’s’, though the then-new state of Albania would later receive a tiny southwestern tip. Although small, this lake is lined with rustling reed-beds hosting numerous bird species, making great for bird watching; though not swimming.  Besides, Great Prespa Lake, which dates one million years back, has been continuously feeding the equally old (but much larger) neighboring Lake Ohrid to the northwest through underground springs.


During the 1970’s, no visitors were allowed to approach and navigate the area without special permission and without the escort of a soldier, as the Balkan borders were a very sensitive area. Since then, of course, things have changed to a great extent. Just to name a few, a trans-boundary protected marshland area has been recognized, side-stepping the complexities of the relationships between these countries at a political level, so that ultimately men and nature will be in perfect balance reinforcing each other for the future generations. Yet, this common effort isn’t always made to help implement environmental regulations, as each of the Macedonians pin the blame on each other in a litany of stereotypes.

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If you drive through Prespa Lakes amid summer, you will inevitably notice all over the place bean plants, as most of the people here make their living by growing and selling them. Harvest time typically falls between mid-August and early September. For the majority, the process is a family affair: All members pitch in to gather and clean the legumes and ready them for sale. Especially elephant beans are inextricably connected with the province, and thus growers make every effort to maintain their quality so as to safeguard a product that is a very important part of this land’s legacy.