By Carlos De Sousa
The Balkans has been home for half of our expedition; it is an incredible place to visit with amazing nature – wild animals, mountains, valleys, canyons and rivers straddling borders. Without a doubt, the Balkans makes a wonderful holiday destination and is a place waiting to be discovered by anyone who enjoys biking, hiking, kayaking, stand up paddle or just the pleasure of being in nature. I would recommend it to everyone and would love to come back to spend more time doing all of this.
We left Bulgaria and headed to Donji Milanovac in Serbia to paddle another marathon on the Danube River. Our experience in Bulgaria was great; with help from the current we managed to shave 10 minutes off our time, making Bulgaria our fastest marathon until now. With this in mind we went to Serbia hopeful that we could improve on our time once again; we would just have to paddle a little bit faster, or so we thought!
Donji Milanovic is a small town in the north of Serbia where there are no SUP clubs, so we contacted the local tourist office instead. We meet Tania who tried to help us as much as she could, calling her husband, who works on a tourist boat on the river. As always it is important to seek advice from the locals who know the water and the place. We asked him about distances, wind conditions and the best places to start and finish; things which are really simple but very important to know. We also needed to make sure that we arranged transport to collect us after the marathon and take us back 42 km to the start. Having been forced to hitch hike on our very first marathon, as none of the taxis in the small French village were available last minute, we did not want a repeat!
The Marathon day arrived, Sunday 3 September. With the taxi on stand by, we set off at 7:50 am. The water was fine, although from the outset we were paddling against the wind, which is never ideal. But once in the water we just went for it! We paddled for a few hours and from time to time, I commented to Carolyn that I had the impression that we were paddling up river. The wind was constant, the water was making tiny waves and when we stopped padding to take some photos of the plastic surrounding us, I noticed that my board was moving backwards. Was it just the strong wind blowing us back? We carried on paddling giving up any hope we may have had of breaking records!
We paddled for 7 hours and finally made it to the Iron Gates, through the majestic Canyon. We continued on to the Tabula Traiana, a Roman memorial plaque and the Decebalus rock sculpture, a 40m face of the last king of Dacia – a lot to see in the narrowest part of the Danube. A few speed boats creating waves and the wind on our chest made the journey a little unpleasant. As dusk approached we still had another 8km to go and we knew we would have to continue in the dark (not for the first time!) We finally arrived in Tekija, taking care to avoid getting caught in the fishing lines, after 10 hours and 45 minutes – almost a new record for the longest marathon!
The following day we met Tania and her husband and told them that it had been a really hard marathon and we had the impression that we were paddling up stream. Tania’s husband explained that the dam, which lies just after Tekija creates the effect of reversing the direction of the river. That explains why we were moving backwards… we should have started at the finish and paddled in the opposite direction! This was not the first time that we had experienced difficulties due to power stations. In Slovenia we saw how the dams prevent river traffic, including wildlife! Here too, I discovered that Beluga whales used to swim all the way into Serbia before the power station was built; nowadays the biggest fish found in the Danube is the catfish!