Rafting in Bosnia: A Landscape of Incomparable Splendor
By Cindy-Lou Dale
En route to Mostar from Sarajevo, driving through a dizzying canyon, my guide, Sasha, decided to stop off at Konjic, a small town on the way. There was a man there, she claimed, I needed to meet.
My trip to Bosnia was purely an academic one – a meeting with a history professor at Mostar University, so arranged that I could savor a few days in the country which had once been beaten to within an inch of her life in a recent civil war.
“Samir Krivi?,” Sasha explained, “is a physical training instructor by profession, but he also owns a whitewater rafting company.”
I recall thinking how civilized it all was – a cooked breakfast served on a wooden deck, shaded from the baking sun by canvas covers, followed by a general rule guide to rafting. Later we all piled into an assortment of 4×4’s and pootled off, following the river some 19 miles (30km) upstream.
A Stab of Despair
A panic-induced protest stuttered to a start when Samir handed me a wet-suit and helmet. In hindsight I think because I mentioned that I had done a bit of canoeing in Malawi, he assumed some measure of competence on my part.
I fixed him with the most respectful grovelling look I believe I have ever mustered and enquired if he expected us to be getting wet. He smiled broadly, indicating that I should look into the canyon.
I felt a stab of despair when I peered over the edge; several hundred feet below was a deeply carved gorge with a foaming froth of fast moving white water. A small, uncontrolled squeak escaped me.
“Now,” Samir announced, “we raft.”
And so it was that I began my unintended first-ever whitewater adventure, when I gingerly stepped into a rubber raft containing several other wide-eyed innocents, all looking a little owlish. I showed them my teeth and sat down, securing my feet under the ropes.
Then, with a startled cry, and a near backward summersault, we took off with a velocity seldom seen outside a Road Runner cartoon. Shrieking hysterically, we surfed through huge rapids and deep troughs as if on an Exocet missile.
I was quietly certain we would all die this day, all except Samir of course, who evidently feared nothing. Following what felt like a small eternity, but in reality was but a few minutes, the waking nightmare was over and we were in calm waters.
Despite myself I became rather excited at the prospect of the next set of rapids and uttered a cry of pleasure when Samir pointed them out.
Dazzling the Senses
The Neretva is 140 miles (225km) in length, of which 126 miles 203km is in Herzegovina and 14 miles 22km in Croatia.
The upper stream of the Neretva contains water of Class A purity and is ranked as containing the coldest water in the world with temperatures as low as seven or eight degrees Celsius (44-46° F) in the summer months.
Later, when we entered the calmer waters, I began to look around and see truly astounding sights; like the plump mountains suddenly and infinitely splashed with every sharp shade that nature could bestow, offset against white canyon walls and turquoise coloured waters, under a vast summer sky; a contrast that truly dazzles the senses.
We rafted for several hours, passing through a landscape of incomparable splendor and ended the trip where we had breakfasted earlier in the day.
“Bosnia is more than a rugged country,” Samir explained. “It’s a way of life which demands extreme outdoor sports. Some sportsmen paraglide off the top of Viso?ica and over the canyon of Rakitnica; others prefer to mountain bike across the Prenj plateau – Bosnia’s version of the Himalayas.”
He took a long pull at his pint and grew thoughtful. “The locals, though, favour rafting on the crystal-clear rapids of our world renowned Rivers Neretva, Una and Tara.”
Soon Sasha and I resumed our journey to Mostar where we spent the night in a charming not-touched-since-the-60s type of hotel.
Our fellow diners were possibly the most fearsome looking folk I had seen since a recent family reunion. They looked as if they had just come in from killing large animals in the woods, perhaps with their teeth.
The dining room was hung with wallpaper which was doing its best to flee dampness; which is what I did immediately upon finishing my meal.
I awoke the next morning to a world bathed in that predawn light that seems to come from nowhere.
An Amiable Giant
We struck off before breakfast in a north-easterly direction towards Foca and the River Tara. We grouped with a few other thrill seekers at the local offices of Encijan Rafting, where Milan Supic-Sherpas loaded us into his 4×4 and proceeded further to Vranovina.
En route Sherpas used every four-wheel drive feature his vehicle possessed, driving on a steep and narrow mountain track, often needing to make three point turns on sliding gravel.
We arrived at Encijan’s camp to a lavish buffet lunch set out beneath a covered wooden deck, overlooking a raging mass of turquoise water.
Sherpas, an amiable giant, with a handsome peasant look about him, explained that the River Tara was coined the jewel of Europe.
“This,” he said, waving a hand in the general direction of the wild, foaming river, “rises from the mountain ranges in the northern part of Montenegro and flows 87 miles (140km) until meeting with the Piva River where it forms the River Drina, one of the longest and largest rivers in the Balkans.”
“And that,” he said, indicating the forest surrounding us, “is one of the last three remaining jungles in Europe with many trees more than 500 years old.”
Crisp Spring Excellence
It was one of those splendid days, the world full of crisp spring excellence, with the heavens so fresh and sparkling that you felt as if you could ping it with a finger, as you would a polished champagne glass.
This is about as raw as nature gets, I thought, making myself comfortable in the raft. I watched the powerful flow of the Tara rush by, as she has done for eons, hollowing out a soft limestone surface, creating sculptured gorges and chasms, and forging an 51-mile (82-km) long canyon, the deepest in the world, and second in length only to the Colorado’s Grand Canyon.
A Rude Awakening
I downed a Fanta then unzipped my wet-suit, tying the arms loosely around my waist. I readjusted my bikini top and relaxed somewhat, basking in the sun as we gently paddled down the River Tara.
Rafting on the Tara.
I awoke to sharp jolt and a rafter’s paddle beating my forearm instead of the water. We were in white waters rivalling none that I had yet seen. The raft tilted dangerously and for some inexplicable reason, whilst grasping at an evasive sky-hook and falling into a slow backward summersault, I recalled a bottle of wine I had forgotten in my deepfreeze back home.
It took a moment before the coldness registered but when it did I paddled furiously for the surface, which was fast receding. Despite my vigorous attempts I continued to sink. Water had filled my wet-suit, and the arms, which I had earlier tied around my waist, now embraced my knees.
Waiting for Death’s Sweet Kiss
This was not at all how I had imagined my life would end. None of my family or friends would believe it either as I, after all, only required a color TV and coffee-making facilities for a bit of excitement. Would they understand, I wondered, that I’d had enough of being the cupcake and also wanted a bit of that swagger that comes from doing insane things.
White water on the Tara.
I waited patiently for death’s sweet kiss but instead slowly rose to the surface where I was unceremoniously plucked out of the water and man-handled into the raft.
I gasped and spluttered, frothing little nose rings of Fanta. Sherpas looked at me the way you might look at a road accident victim, then picked up my life-jacket from the floor of the raft and threw it at my feet.
“Do you not remember the safety rules we discussed?” Sherpas demanded. I nodded sheepishly, unable to speak, and put my life jacket back on again.
By the time we reached base camp I was almost calm. Following another feast, campfire talk focused on a brown bear which lived on the opposite bank.
“The mountains are full of perils,” a fellow rafter announced. “Snakes, nests of spiders, bears and even a scattering of small antelope, all lethally deranged by parasitic worms that burrow into their brains.”
“Nonsense,” said Sherpas, tossing his black tresses out of his face, reminiscent of the rather fetching Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.
“If Drak’s around, there is nothing dangerous out there.”
Drak was a mountain-man, Sherpas claimed, who lived nearby, and who had no concept of plumbing or how it worked, nor electricity.
“A few years ago,” Sherpas said, “I visited Drak’s hut. I noticed an Ikea-type kitchen clock leaning up against a wall, still in its Styrofoam and plastic wrapping. I enquired if Drak needed batteries to get the clock working.”
Sherpas chuckled at the recollection, then continued, “Drak claimed it had not worked since the day he bought it and he did not want to waste any more money on it.”
“What caused him to become like that?” a fellow first-timer asked.
No family was untouched.
We all quietly reflected on this for a moment. Then someone volunteered:
“Massive amounts of home brewed liquor and generations of unbiblical sex, is probably what bred Drak.”
I quietly observed the mannerisms of the hardened adrenaline-junkie extreme sportsmen around the campfire, then asked Sherpas about the war.
He grew thoughtful then took a long drag from his cigarette and told how no family was left untouched. He recounted, with difficulty, his own losses, occasionally averting his moist eyes. He took a moment to recompose himself and used that time to light another cigarette.
“We were fearless fools and certain we were indestructible. I lost most of my friends, and many members of my family.”
“But,” he added, “there’s a constant feeling that nature is reaching out to heal the wounds caused by human wrong-doings.” He contemplated his statement for a moment, then added. “Bosnia is both irretrievably scarred and infinitely capable of renewing herself.”
Falls on the Vrbas River.
On the flight home an over accessorized fur-coated lady sat beside me. Her sighs of discontent were clearly intended to encourage a conversation, so I ignored her. Clearly she could bear this no longer and despite herself enquired after the blue black bruises on my arm.
“That looks awfully painful,” she exclaimed. “What on earth happened to you, dear child?”
“Nothing serious,” I said, “just some bloke that beat me up and then tried to drown me because I took my top off.”
Neretva River: Rafting Europe
Phone +387 61 817209, +387 61 264996
Owner: Samir Krivić
Morning mist on the Una River.
Pricing: £35 per person per day which includes breakfast, a day’s rafting, transport to departure point, lunch al fresco, dinner and drinks on return, taxes, insurance and all equipment. No accommodation is provided.
For a minimum number of six people, the rafting prices ranges from £17 for a 3-hour rafting trip to £52 for a 3-day trip. These prices include a qualified rafting guide/navigator, wetsuits, equipment, tax, and insurance.
Encijan offer 2-bed bungalows from £5 pppn; 5- and 6-bed bungalows at £3.50 pppn – overall maximum capacity of 100 guests.
The Una River.
No food is included in this price but kitchen is available for guests to use. Additional costs: breakfast – £3.50, lunch £5,50, dinner £5, drink range in price from £0.35 to £1.
The 2005 European Whitewater Rafting Championship was held on the Vrbas. Klub Kanjon is 11km south of Banjaluka.
For a minimum number of six people, the rafting prices ranges from £7 for a 1-hour rafting trip to £18 for a 3-hour trip. These prices include a qualified rafting guide/navigator, wetsuits, and equipment.
The Kanjon Klub in Banjaluka.
Klub Kanjon offer 2-room tents, sleeping up to four for £3.50 pppn – overall maximum capacity of 500 guests. There is a Motel 100m down the road from Klub Kanjon at £20 pppn, including breakfast.
Breakfast –£3.50, lunch £5,50, dinner £5,50.
The Una is in the western part of Bosnia, bordering Croatia, some 5km upstream from Bihać, and set is set on a long stretch of the riverfront.
Pricing: For a minimum number of six people, the rafting prices ranges from £10 to £27 pppd, and covers rafting routes whose durations range between 90-minutes and five hours. These prices include a qualified rafting guide/navigator, wetsuits, equipment, tax, and insurance.
Una-Kiro offer two fully equipped, self catering, guest houses (total 14 beds) at £9 pppn, including breakfast on the river bank, and one villa (five double-bedrooms en suite) at £17 pppn, including breakfast. There is also a large tent in the camping site with beds at £4 pppn. Lunch and dinner is charged extra at £10 pppd.