Kayaking through unknown territory in the Balkans

July 21, 2015

Kayaking through unknown territory in the Balkans

When a friend told me that he was planning a kayak trip to Bosnia Herzegovina and Montenegro, I was instantly all fired up. It had long been a dream of mine to navigate the unknown rivers of this region. So I decided to be spontaneous and two weeks later we were on our way.

Our first river was the Ćeotina, which has its source in northern Montenegro near the city of Pljevlja and flows out into the Drina in Bosnia Herzegovina. Even though there was little information to be had on this river, it really appealed to us. Our attempt to reconnoitre the Ćeotina by car came to an abrupt end after only a few kilometres. We needed an off-road vehicle.

But we did not give up. We tried with all manner of gesticulations to communicate with the locals. In the end, we found a man and his son, who got their ancient cars going and drove us up the 30 km long gravel road to the put-in point.

Gravel roads, mines and snakes

Before we set off, they both warned us to beware of mines on the riverbank and snakes in the canyon. For the first few kilometres, the Ćeotina flows through a peaceful wooded valley that then narrows down into a gorge quite quickly. It is fantastic scenery with karst caves (subterranean limestone caves), bizarre rock tower formations and an abundance of wildlife. The snakes watched us from the trees and from the water with anything from mild curiosity to outright boredom.

In the last section of the gorge the rapids became steeper. Massive rock corridors led to a demanding boulder section before the valley opened up again and we drew up to the take-out point. Our two drivers were already waiting there for us with local Burek pastries and strong coffee.

Through Europe’s deepest gorge

Our second river was the Tara in Montenegro. It is one of the most beautiful rivers in Europe, with a long and deep gorge. The turquoise water and variety of flora and fauna made for an unforgettable journey. We made our way to the put-in point early in the morning. I enjoyed every single paddle stroke through this striking landscape: verdant karst springs, the imposing Đurđevića-Tara bridge and the partly overgrown cliff faces of the deep gorge captivated me instantly. After a short slalom course round some big boulders we were treated to green mountain slopes. Here and there a waterfall would empty its contents at the edge of the river and narrow passages kept us busy paddling as the water speeded up.

White water as a fitting send off

We spent the night on the shores of the Tara regaining our strength for the second section the following day. Although it was a shorter section it was more technically demanding with some difficult white water rapids to negotiate. A couple of hours later, with elongated arms, we finally reached the confluence of the Tara and the Piva, on the Montenegro-Bosnia border near the city of Hum. We pulled up in the afternoon, exhausted but elated.

We had covered 86 km by kayak and we are already excited at the prospect of coming back one day for more paddling adventures!

Susanne Spoelmink

Susanne Spoelmink

“It’s a brilliant feeling paddling along on the water and seeing the natural world from a different perspective.”

Born in Bonn, Germany, Susanne practically grew up in a kayak and has travelled half the world with her boat. Nowadays the former national canoe team member’s preferred activity is wild water canoeing.

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