By Carlos De Sousa
We arrived in Croatia to paddle our 6th marathon on the River Neretva. Our first plan and ideal was to start in Bosnia, 10km from the border with Croatia and finish in the Baćina lakes. That would have been precisely 42km but unfortunately after we crossed the border into Bosnia, the Croatian guards told us that we would not be allowed back into the country by river, only by car or bus, “No one shall pass!” he said, reminding me of an old English comedy film. So unable to use the river, we went back to the Croatian side and started our marathon in Metkovic. (We would paddle an extra loop in the Lakes to compensate for the missing 10km.)
With a friend helping us to prepare, we put the boards on the water and set off with the sun rising above the white-stone mountains. The water was crystal clear and we could see right down to the bottom of the riverbed; we noticed many bright, colourful objects floating by the edge of the river. As we paddled closer to the riverbank we could see that we were surrounded by plastic of all types, size and colour! Everything that you could possibly imagine: soft drink bottles, energy drink bottles, water bottles, beer bottles, plastic containers, ice cream pots, polystyrene, plastic bags, straws, whole bin bags of rubbish and even a sofa and TV! It looked as though we were in a landfill site. The quantity of plastic was shocking and clearly emphasised to us why we were doing our marathon expedition. There was far too much rubbish to begin picking it up so we decided we would have to come back to do a clean up (we are arranging this for September).
As we continued paddling, we could appreciate the beauty of the river; there are many spots for fishing – we saw guys fishing with friends or sitting quietly alone relaxing under the trees – all of them oblivious to the plastic floating around them. What I learnt from this was simple, without judging anyone… sometimes we just accept things as they are; we ignore the plastic that should not be in nature because it is already there and we have become used to it. Most of that plastic will probably end up in the sea! Witnessing that for more that 18km was not enjoyable but we carried on towards the bay passing through a small channel where thankfully there was less plastic. As we paddled into the bay a very strong wind blew into our faces pushing us back and forcing us onto our knees as the waves tried to knock us over. These were the most difficult conditions of all the marathons yet – we had to paddle fast and hard or we would go nowhere. With no time to think, it was a good opportunity to channel the anger and frustration from the shocking amount of plastic and just get across the bay.
Once on the other side, we passed through a tunnel and entered the Baćina Lakes, where Ivan from Croatia Paddle Surf was waiting for us. It was a joy to have a friend on the other side of the tunnel waving and smiling at us. Time for a rest while we waited for the wind to die down! We made ourselves comfortable in the Croatia Paddle Surf headquarters, where we ate lunch and regained our energy to prepare for the best part of the marathon – the Baćina Lakes. The seductive colour of the water invited us back to our boards telling us to get back to our task. We obeyed and continued on our mission, paddling around the biggest lake to the smallest one and passing through the secret passage into the third lake just before the sunset behind the mountains. Lit by a romantic, pink sky, we paddled back to base through glassy water that by now was a still mirror. We passed the fresh water spring joined by the ducks with their tiny, new ducklings, fish jumping, birds soaring and a few small snakes (not the poisonous ones!) Relieved by the absence of plastic we could once again enjoy the beauty of nature and feel the joy to be in the Baćina Lakes. Ending a marathon is special; the tiredness is forgotten for a while replaced by gratitude, joy, pleasure, harmony, hope and the feeling of a mission accomplished… until the next one! Croatia is amazing and the Baćina lakes are a paddler’s paradise – not to be missed.