Monday, October 15, 2012

holidays 2012 - day 10: nature at its best: tara canyon

after a good night's sleep we wake up to picture-book blue skies and fabulous views from our window. we spend an hour or so writing postcards, chatting with other guests and enjoying the sunshine as well as jelena's coffee/tea/breakfast.

bright september morning in the mountains

then it's off to my first ever rafting tour (heinz's second) - and one in such spectacular setting, too: the tara canyon, which the tara river has formed over many hundreds of years. and it's not just any canyon - it is the deepest in all of europe, about 1300 m deep at its peak. that's a mere 200 m less than the grand canyon.

we are picked up in town - a small group of an israeli father & son, an american mother & daughter, heinz & me - and driven to some place near the impressive tara bridge, where we are served schnaps (supposedly to calm the nerves) and plums fresh off the trees, where we meet a crazy little dog named after barack obama, and - more importantly - where we change into wetsuits, boots, life vests, and hard hats. we end up looking like particularly bright chanterelles!

rafting team h & m

we're off to splavište, where the six of us are told where to sit and are briefly instructed by our tour guide, whose english is very basic. cameras go into waterproof bags, which are attached to life vests. feet slip into foot straps, oars are gripped, and then we're off.

gorgeous tara canyon

the river at this time of year is anything but wild. in fact, prior to recent rains, it was so shallow they nearly couldn't take the rafts to water! we have to use our oars frequently, otherwise we'd be floating downriver so slowly we'd never get to our destination in a day. the word of the day is most definitely "everybody" - tour guide commanding the crew to paddle. :) there are some rapids, but they are barely a challenge. it's a very different story in april or may, when the river swells with snowmelt water. several times along the way, the guide points out the water level this past spring, there are marks here and there - and they are impressive, several metres above our heads! so the tara might be tame at the moment, but it is still very beautiful: the colour keeps changing, depending on the play of sunlight and clouds, on the surroundings (bushes, trees, rocks), on the depth: bluish to almost black, bright green to an almost unreal turquoise, emerald to transparent. but it's crystal clear and it's rather on the chilly side. i'm actually quite happy the river is not quite so wild, because it's perfect for a first attempt at rafting, and there is more time to lean back and enjoy the scenery, to take photos.

black beach, massive rocks, stunning water

unfortunately, the sun is only out at the beginning. clouds begin to move in, the fluffier white variety at first, but eventually grey ones, and i occasionally wonder whether they are bringing rain.

we flow downstream past fairly untouched forest, past a few waterfalls, past black miniature beaches, past rocks in the strangest shapes. it's so hard to find the right words, describing the beauty of the tara canyon is definitely not easy. i love the fact that it is so quiet around us, that we are all happily observing little birds flitting across the surface of the clear water, that we are taking in the gorgeous surroundings without the need to constantly comment on it. the walls of the canyon rise ever higher, and i think we all marvel at the ability of plants to take hold in the most amazing and unlikely places.

we stop for about 20 minutes to get off and take a look at one of the bigger waterfalls. such things are rare here in this karst landscape, where water usually disappears in caves and cavities the moment it reaches the ground.

and then we approach the bridge, this miraculous construction (about 360 m long, with a largest span of about 116 m, approx 170 m above the river) ...

spanning a canyon

... with its sad history: it was first built between 1937 and 1940, shortly before the italian and german troupes invaded the area. the partisans demanded the bridge be destroyed - and asked lazar jauković, the young engineer who had designed and overseen the construction of the bridge, to blow up "his" bridge! he blasted away the longest span, but did this so cleverly that the rest of the bridge remained intact. however, shortly thereafter he was captured by the invaders and shot on the bridge. in 1946 the tara bridge was completed once again - thanks to jauković's diligence a rather easy task, too. we're all adequately awestruck as our raft silently makes its way under the bridge far, far above:

tara most - connecting rocks

we stop for drinks/coffee soon and say goodbye to the americans, who are only doing the half-day tour. the sun's out again, it's actually hot! how refreshing the tara waters are!

the raft

here, a friend of the guide's joins us for the rest of the day. pretty soon we have a lunch break on a tiny little beach, where we munch our massive pršut and cheese sandwiches in companionable silence. on we go then, once again passing bizarre rocks (e.g. one that looks like to bear heads touching noses), sunken or half-sunken trees, untouched forest, playful birds.

half-buried giant lobster?

eddies and ripples carry us along. rapids make us work together. sometimes there is total silence, even the guide's friend shuts up for a while. there's this one quiet spot where we just drift for a while, nobody even whispers, nobody actually moves much. it's just the sounds of the water itself, little bird noises, a little wind. such moments have become so rare in our world, in our hectic lives.

palpable silence

unfortunately it's completely overcast now, and i am actually a little cold for the last hour or so. but i certainly don't regret doing the full-day tour. there's so much beauty there, and this is the only way to see it. approaching our final destination, there's mist gathering just above the surface of the dark green water. one expects elves and faeries to come out to play any moment!

mist on the water

hours after taking to the water, we reach radovan luka camp. even after being on solid ground for a while, i feel as if i were walking on wavelets! i must say it's good to get out of the wetsuit and into dry clothes now. what we don't know at that point, of course, is that the greatest adventure of the day still lies before us: the drive out of this remote wilderness, over an hour in an old VW bus on something that only vaguely resembles a road (a gravelly, rocky track washed out from recent rain). clearly, the driver is enjoying himself, while some of the passengers are probably fervently praying to whatever gods are in residence in the neighbourhoood.

there is a photo stop along the way, gorgeous views of the nearby serbian mountains. we are back in žabljak around 5.30, tired, happy, and full of beautiful impressions to take home with us.

after dinner - once more at "luna" - we head back to our guesthouse. mina, the owner, has arrived and greets us like long lost friends. we stay and chat with his 16 year old son novica, and exchange rafting stories with other travellers. and we're pretty sure we'll fall asleep mumbling "everybody!" and trying to paddle ourselves deeper and deeper into sleep.

photos of day 10

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