Camping & Rafting on the Tara-Drina River, Bosnia and Herzegovina | August, 2017
In attempts to create goals and structure around our year in motion, it had crossed my mind that perhaps I should read 2 books about each country we would visit before arriving, a combination of historical fiction and non-fiction. I am not a fast reader and I knew that this was likely unrealistic–especially at the rate we were moving through Europe–but it did lead to a few good reads along the way. While in Berlin, I did some research of books to read about the Balkans, and giving the amount of time we would have in the car thought an audio book would be a nice way to cut up the drive, learn about the history and culture of where we're headed, and have thoughtful conversations about these places. History has never been a strong suit of mine, while it is something Dan devours, so it can be challenging to have conversations about it as my knowledge is much more elementary and I have a hard time grasping and articulating my thoughts around the complexity of political, historical and religious conflicts and events. We settled on Where the West Ends by Michael Totten for an overview of the history of the Balkans. This, in conjunction with our many walking tours and conversations has widened my understanding of the region, although I must say there is no one view, and without truly delving in, it is difficult to really grasp the complex history and politics of the region. The book was wonderful, thought provoking and very entertaining. Trotten did an excellent job laying out the basics of Balkan history while engaging us in his adventures and humorous tales.
From Belgrade we were headed to southern Bosnia and Herzegovina to a rafting center along the Drina-Tara River. When we decided to rent a car for a month, I desperately wanted to buy camping gear and camp along the way. Dan was less thrilled by that idea since the temperature in most places we’d be visiting was hovering in the mid 90s and he is not a fan of the heat. That, along with the cost of buying gear, and the higher than expected cost of campsites, we decided to forgo the camping plan. I was a little crushed and was determined to get some type of “camping” in and found a camp along the Drina River that provided small cabins and day trips of rafting, canyoning, and hiking. If you are interested, we. stayed at Tara Rafting and really enjoyed it.
The drive from Belgrade should have taken about 6 hours, but turned into 9 when there was a large gravel spill in the middle of the road on a pass approaching the border crossing from Serbia to Bosnia. The crew at the spill didn’t speak English and it was impossible to tell if it would be cleaned up in hours or days. They just pointed towards the way we had come and so we turned around. We attempted to follow a car with local plates up some narrow and winding back roads to get around the spill without completely back tracking and finding a new route to an alternative border crossing, but that too was unsuccessful. So, we headed back and then south to an alternative crossing. The roads from Belgrade to Bosnia were well paved, but single lane so the drive was slow. Tired, frustrated and hungry we pulled off at a roadside diner of sorts for a quick meal. We were clearly on a path less traveled by foreigners, and no English was spoken where we stopped. The menu also happened to be in Cyrillic, and the only thing I recognized was goulash (which must have been on enough menus we had looked at for the text to look familiar) and of course it was sold out. Without knowing what we ordered, we ended up with a delicious soup, one of the best meals we had on the road trip.
Once crossing into Bosnia the roads narrowed more as we ascended along the Drina, and the last 18 kilometers or so were single lane roads with substantial drop offs on a combination of gravel and paved sections. The locals drive quickly on these roads, making corners and narrow stretches a bit frightening. To add to this, there were herds of sheep and random cows around many corners. We had successfully left the cities!
Our 3 days at the rafting camp were much needed. It was the first time we didn’t have to think about anything. It’s amazing how much it takes out of you to plan each move, meal, and decision when jumping from place to place, so it was refreshing to have our meals, accommodation and activities taken care of for 3 days in a row. After hopping from city to city for over a month, the open air and nature was incredible. On our first full day there we had breakfast - a heap of fried eggs, more cured meat than anyone could or should consume and fried bread - and suited up in wetsuits, booties, and helmets to raft down the river. We were paired with a few Italians and a father and daughter from London. We piled into a van and followed the caravan up the river, into Montenegro where the rafting would begin. The drive was more nerve racking than the rafting. The river was pretty low and slow, so aside from a few small rapids we just floated along, having to row at times to make any progress. The water was incredible, I don’t think I have ever seen a river so clear. You could see to the bottom at all times, and shades of blue, green and turquoise changed with the varying depths. Although we were told we would get an English speaking guide, our big burly Serbian only knew enough to to say “go go,” “stop,” and “back” - enough to get us down the river.
The following day we signed up for a full day of hiking. When I booked the accommodation and activities it was though a few unclear emails, so we didn’t really know what to expect when arriving and just went with the flow. Initially a full day of hiking and being in a jeep to get to the hiking spots felt like more than we wanted to do, but we are glad we went along. Dan and I piled into the back of an old Range Rover and were seated with our guide for the day who spoke English well and was full of “dad jokes” and puns. We drove up to the Sutjeska National Park and hiked into Montenegro across the highest peak in the country, Maglic, to the heart shaped lake, Trnovacko Jezero. The day was beautiful and clear on our hike in, and as we left thunder started to echo in the valleys, but we got back to the jeeps before the downpour. The mountains were incredible and felt similar to something I’d imagine along the PTC, remote and raw.