SERBIA: 30.07. - 16.08.2003

Route: Apatin, Novi Sad, Belgrad, Dobro, Kladovo

Distance: 620 km on the canoe (387.5 miles)

Preface: The TID (an international Canoe tour from Germany to Bulgaria, which we accompanied for 4 weeks), was really nice and worth the experience, which unfortunately does not allow us to say much about the people or countryside away from the Danube. The war has left its mark, but overall, the people are generally wealthy and we felt safe. Unfortunately, the Serbs have the bad habit of getting rid of all the plastic trash in the Danube!!! Secret hint: They have the tastiest peaches in the world!
When we finally arrived in Apatin in the evening, half of the town was already waiting at the quay wall to see us (the paddlers of the TID) set up our tents. This made us feel kind of funny, since in the weeks prior to this we always slept somewhere in the open nature and were only watched by maybe an owl. But we did not have to wait long for the next surprise. The tour price of 30 Euro for the 18 days in Yugoslavia did not just include the fee for the tour organization, overnight fee, but also a nightly dinner. Almost every community did not let themselves be deterred from inviting their guests to a dinner. Especially in a country like Yugoslavia, that is in the process of overcoming a war, this gesture (sacrifice) is not to underestimate. Partly, these little dinners turned into little festivals, including brass band, like in Bogojevo. Half the town was present and celebrated and danced.
Additionally the helpfulness of the TID paddlers was unbelievable. We didn’t even quite arrive in Mohacs yet, when they already organized a way to transport our bicycles. Thankfully we agreed to let them take the bikes on a trailer of the Yugoslavian accompanying vehicle for the first week. Even otherwise they stood behind us 100% with advice and help. Might that be with unloading of the boat or by sending us our second passports. Our previous fears, of not getting along in such a large travel group have proven unfounded. Even though everybody has to travel the same distance it is up to the individual how they spend their day. Idyllic sandbanks for resting and bathing are in abundance. Thanks to the nice and uncomplicated way of the TID-participants, even Nadine is starting to have fun canoeing. By now, she paddles in spite of a small blister on her little finger all day long without fussing :-))))))
200 km (125 miles) and 5 days later, we arrived in Novi Sad a tourist resort on the Danube. The beach of Novi Sad can definitely compete with several resorts on the coast of Spain or Italy (lots of Cafes at the riverfront with load music), the only difference is that you can swim in the sea but the messy water of the Danube, under a bridge that had been destroyed by the Americans in 1999.
We barely uploaded our travel journal entry online, when we must have overstrained the battery pack of the pocket PC and it ran out, including the back-up battery. Because a pocket PC only has one working storage it did not just erase some of our data, but also some of the software we need to upload the pictures into the internet. So we spent most of our day off searching for an Internet café with laptop in Belgrade. I needed a infra-red interface to reload the program. To Nadine’s joy we wandered through Belgrade most of the day, without success, because especially in Belgrade the Internet cafes are sparsely equipped. The rest of our day off we spent trying to get a head start on paddling. The next two day stages were set up with 50 km (31 miles) and 62 km (38.75 miles) without current. We finally left Belgrade at 7:20 pm. Not quite early if you think about that it gets pitch dark outside right around 8:30 pm, but first we had to load the bikes into the boat, which were back in our possession. Of course we paddled right into the night. Usually romantic, but if you don’t have a place to the stay the night yet, it is not quite as much fun. At about 9:30 pm we found one after all.
The next day we tried to keep our little head start. We were already in the backwater zone of the water plant Djerdap I and that fore most of the places to be able to spend the night became sparse. Quite swanky, we passed up the first few spots in hope of finding a better one. But since the shore consists mostly out of drowning forests, this proved to be harder than expected. After an hour of searching and a total of 50 km (32.25 miles) we finally found a level and dry spot on the shore. The catch was that in order to get to the shore, we had to fight our way through 20 meters (about 20 yards) of mud. Besides the fact that we got another mud bath, we also stayed in immediate vicinity of a Diggership, which was busy digging sand or gravel out of the Danube, way past midnight. Luckily this shortened our longest day stage from 62 km (38.75 miles) to 43 km (26.87 miles), because even like this it was exhausting enough on standing water in the blazing sun.
Happy but exhausted, we reached the harbor of Veliko Gardiste in the afternoon (the last paddlers arrived the campground at 9:30 pm).Here we almost became witnesses of a drowning accident. We were relaxing with a watermelon in the area of the boat decks and were watching the arriving paddlers and the local children taking a swim. In order to make space at the dock of the border patrol for an arriving ferry, a Georgian barge pulled out with full throttle. The water seethed and a few children managed get ashore. Suddenly there was uproar. Because of the strong current one of the girls was pulled underneath another cargo ship. Until the policeman that was walking by decided to react, the other children had caught the barges attention and climbed up onto the cargo ship. After a short while the girl emerged in-between two other cargo ships and was pulled to shore with a rope, which seemed to solve the problem for the policeman. Obviously the customs inspection of the ferry was more important than to check on the girl. He scared a few children away from the harbor and then he stumbled away. Not even the captain thought it was necessary to apologize to the girl. In these kind of accidents there is a risk of accidentally getting water into the lungs, which can collect in the tiny alveoli and cause suffocation hours later. In Germany, children will be kept for observation for 24 hrs in the hospital after such an accident. Nadine asked the Serbian tour guide to translate this for the girl, but even he seemed to think that everything was fine and OK, so that he didn’t help us. It may be that we are a little over organized in Germany, but in a case like this, an involved help can never be bad.
The community in Dobro thought of a special surprise. After dinner, a Serbian dance group performed. They assembled a stage on the local stadium just for this occasion. In contrary to Germany, it was not a quiet dance event of elderly married couples, but rather many young Girls and Men (up to the middle twenties), that enchanted us with their fiery dances. Besides the participants of the TID the entire population gathered to enjoy the performance. This is another example of the hospitality that the Serbs provide for their guests.
After we finished the longest day stage, we thought that it only could get better. Now, we only had to pass through the “Iron Gate”, the breakthrough of the Danube through the Kaparten (mountains in Bulgaria). The tricky part about this stage is that the strong falling winds can make these lake like widenings of the Danube quite interesting. The first day stage was unproblematic on the totally calm Danube. On the morning of the 2nd stage, we had a quite nice tailwind so that we build a improvised sail and sailed away with about 5 km (3.1 miles) an hour. Before we could reach the stage goal we had to cross the basin of Doni Milanovitsch. Here the Danube flows through a valley and is 2 km wide (1.25 miles) for a length of 8 km (5 miles). By now the tailwind was so strong that we couldn’t even think about sailing without capsizing. In the valley the wind disturbed the Danube so much that we did not just have to fight with the wind but also meter high waves. The waves would constantly come from behind us and I had the hardest time keeping the canoe on course. Our alloy folding canoe sailed the waves fairly well (we didn’t even have water on the top) but the wind susceptability made us a little nervous. As if we were on a Sunday afternoon tour, Nadine suddenly decided to take a few pictures. I was to busy with the wind and the boat to explain to her that this might not be the best moment for such experiments. Somehow it always amazes me how carefree Nadine approaches certain situations. To take out the camera was about the last thing on my mind, at that moment. Unfortunately, the pictures did not turn out because of the extreme shaking of the boat. Without capsizing we finally reached Doni Milanovitsch. Altogether 5 paddlers capsized that day, but except for some lost glasses, sandals, and a hole in a folding boat (not ours), there was no bigger damage. About ten paddlers saved themselves from the waves to the shore and were picked up by a small bus. The surf was so high that here and there the spray splashed up to 10 meters high over the quay wall.

The next day we had to fight with strong winds from the front in the “Iron gate”. Now and then, the wind was so strong that even with extreme effort we were only able to stay in the same spot (and by now we are pretty decent at paddling). In regards to the countryside, this part of the Danube is very attractive with it high cliffs on either bank. On the Rumanian side there even was a cave that we could paddle into.
After days and days of paddling on a standing Danube, we finally reached the sluice Djerdap I. With two sluice chambers, one can overcome a height difference of 45 meters (45 yards) in about 1.5 hrs. Totally exhausted we reached Kladovo. For some of the participants this was the end of their journey (they were picked up by a bus the next day), and for us it meant a day of rest. The same afternoon, we went on a search to find an Internet café to fix our pocket PC problem, but unfortunately Kladovo was too small for that. We decided to sent the pocket PC back to Germany with one of the participants (so that UFO can reload the program) and then have it returned to us in Silistra. One our way back from town we tried our lack in a little Computer store (Happy Computers). Without flinching their eyebrows they let us use their company laptop. I was even allowed to install the synchronization software on the computer. Quickly, I re-installed the program back onto the pocket PC. Now, I only needed the password. In Belgrade, I sent Ufo an SOS per e-mail (Ufo got the mail on his Cell-phone when he was in Hungary and he was so worried that he downloaded it immediately; sorry and thanks), so all I had to do is go into the Internet really quick. Just when I was about to open the mail, the computer recognized a virus and booted itself off. For the next 15 minutes, the guys from Happy Computer were busy to find and eliminate the virus. On the second try, I was able to open the e-mail and able to finish the installation of the photo software. What a relief! The next day, they even burned our pictures on CD for us. We were not even allowed to pay for all their help. As a “Present of Serbia” the manager/associate of the store handed us the CD. Thank you so much! (Sadly, I can’t open or work with the pictures that I took!???)

Zurück an unserem Zelt wartete bereits die nächste freudige Überraschung auf uns. Das Paket mit unseren Reisepässen samt Visa (Ukraine, Rußland, Georgien) war mit dem Bus der Heimreisenden angekommen. Es war ein Gefühl wie an Weihnachten, als wir voller Spannung das Paket öffneten. Gierig begutachteten wir den Inhalt (Pässe, Fahrradschloß, Bilder von Nadines Familie, Postkarten aus Limburg (Gastgeschenke), Luftballons (für Kinder), und eine Speicherkarte). Das Beste an der Speicherkarte ist aber nicht die Karte (hat uns übrigens Ufos Schwester Heike gesponsert; Danke!), sondern Ihr Inhalt: Zwei Aufnahmen von Peter Grüns neuen Liedern. Ich war aufgeregt und glücklich wie ein kleiner Schuljunge, als ich mir die Lieder zum ersten mal angehört habe. Auch Nadine wollte die Photos gar nicht mehr aus der Hand legen. Fast hätten wir vor lauter Begeisterung sogar das Abendessen verpasst.
After a relaxing day of rest, the real world got back to us. Waiting for us we had: two day stages of 50 km (31.25 miles) each, one sluice, and the Bulgarian border. About 15 km (9.4 miles) away from the finish of the first stage the winds were hitting us from the front again. About 6 km (3.75 miles) away from the finish, the wind got so strong that we were stuck in place. The bank consisted of a slanted concrete wall at this spot. To be able to move at all, we pushed and pulled the boat along the bank (Nickname: “Race-snail” and “Floating landfill” (everything is scattered around inside the boat)). As a drain pipe was in our way, we had to paddle around it and we drifted off far into the Danube. About 4 km (2.5 miles) away from the campground, we were busy trying to get around a docked ship, when we were rescued by a Swiss/Bulgarian team. The Swiss guy already had 3 Bulgarian foldable boats in tow, when he hooked us up also, without further ado.



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