By Carlos De Sousa
After we finished our marathon through the Iron Gates in Serbia, ready for our next challenge we made our way towards Bosnia stopping en route to visit an outdoor sports and environmental company called Green Bear. Located in the Tara National Park, Green Bear organise different outside activities with a strong commitment to protecting the environment. Interested in the work that they were doing, we decided to stop by to meet the founders, Abel and Miloje. We had a great evening with these ‘down to earth’ cousins, who have an excellent knowledge of the nature, local environmental concerns and who explained the great work they are doing with kids. We made a plan to paddle the next day- our first ‘fun’ paddle in Serbia (marathons are fun too but perhaps not so leisurely) and it is always a treat to go out with knowledgeable, local guides.
Miloje took us out on the River Drina, where the water is so clean that you can see right to the bottom. As well as the crystal water, adding magic to the scene, is a waterfall a few metres from the starting point. The River, Reka Godina, just 365m long, also known as ‘One Year River’ (you can guess where it got its name) falls into the Drina creating this beautiful waterfall, a must see if you visit Serbia! We continued down the river for 17km, enjoying the challenge of a few small white water rapids and astounded by the breath-taking beauty of the Balkans. However, just before the famous ‘House on the Rock’ at Bajina Basta, we noticed that the water quality suddenly changed to a murky brown, due to extensive extraction of the riverbed. It was disappointing to see another example of the negative impact of human activity on nature once again!
The next day the Green Bears took us on to the Zaovine Lake, another spectacular spot in the National Park. We were joined by a couple of friends who we had met the previous day in the bar and had a relaxing paddle while the Green Bears did a little fishing from their paddleboards. Another memorable experience, not to mention the great dinner we had after the paddling where the Green Bears persuaded us to paddle our 11th marathon from Bosnia through the Drina Canyon. The location would be spectacular – the only minor issue was that we would have to paddle 60km (not 42)!
The marathon ‘extra’ day arrived; we were up very early at 4:00am to drive over the border into Bosnia. We would paddle from the Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic Bridge in Bosnia, all the way through the Canyon and back into Serbia where once again the river straddles the border. It is a big challenge, as the Drina Canyon has no way out – once you are in you must paddle all the way to the power station in Bajina Basta, Serbia where you are finally able to exit. We owe a huge thank you to the Green Bear team who organised everything: I wish they had been with us for all our marathons, offering such amazing logistic support! At 6:50am we were all on the water, wrapped up in jumpers and jackets on that cold September morning. With great spirits and in stunning surroundings Abel, Miloje, Carolyn and I headed for the majestic canyon.
Once you enter the Canyon you enter an uninhabited area; that is apart from the wild goats, sheep, bears and birds! Nonetheless we saw an extraordinary amount of plastic; in fact it was one of the most polluted spots of our expedition. It was quite disturbing to hear the crunch of plastic as the sheep trampled over piles of it to get to the river to have a drink. This is an excellent demonstration of the way plastic travels through our waterways and shows that is does not necessarily come from those in the area where it is found. We must all take responsibility and take action.
This was by far our biggest challenge so far; the 60km took us 12 ½ hours (paddle time) and by the time we reached our destination (in the dark) we were exhausted, having stopped for only 1 hour in total. It was a pleasure to share the day with the Green Bears and it was certainly an unforgettable experience. A few days after our marathon, we traveled by car along the Drina River a few kilometres up from where we started our marathon. We saw what can only be referred to as a ‘dump’ and it explained why we saw such a horrifying amount of plastic – it is clear they need some help. Bosnia has become one of my favourite paddle destinations and we will definitely be returning, partly for the beauty and partly because they need support and education to help preserve that beauty.