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.”
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