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5000 km around Balkan

Fedja Marušič, Slovenian kayaker, participant of Olympic games in Atlanta and Sidney was always fascinated, how two places where he lived and paddled - Solkan, his home town and Ljubljana, where he studied and lived during the last years are only 100 km apart, but to connect them through the water way it is more than 5000 km long journey. This longtime dream finally came true. I was talking to Fedja just after the Slalom World Cup in Tacen where he helped to organize the event.

It was something I always wanted to do, something just for me. Somehow this year everything just fitted together and I decided to take the trip. Matjaž Svetek made a prototype of a new seayak, that is faster and has a character of a wildwater boat and we believed it should be perfect for the journey. With its 16 kg and 5,5 m it can carry 25 extra kilograms of luggage, that was enough for the trip. I had some clothes with me, sleeping bag, mattress a camera and some other equipment. You don’t really need a lot on a trip like that. But later, when I got some sponsors for the trip I decided to write a blog and share my trip with everybody.

 

- So how did you manage everything, it was quite a long trip - after all you covered around 5000 kilometers in 91 days, that’s a bit more than 50 km per day.

Yes, it was my plan to do it in around 100 days. The first part of the trip was really nice. Paddling down the rivers, first Ljubljanica, then Sava and after Belgrade Danube. I had some company till Belgrade, but from there I was on my own. It went quite fast - those first days. I left Ljubljana just after some rain and especially Sava was quite high so I covered the distance to Belgrade in 11 days. From there I was alone, the river become wide. I did around 3-4 hours of paddling in the morning, I went out to eat something and then another 3-4 hours of paddling in the afternoon. I felt great, really strong and fast. Later when I came to the Black sea, the conditions changed. There were some ugly days on the river, cold and windy, but the very rough sea was something I wasn’t really prepared for. The waves are different, they can be huge and with a fast and not really stable boat you have to work all the time. You can’t take time to rest. It would be better to have some more stable boat for that conditions.

- Then he thinks for a moment like reliving the hard weather...

But that Sandiline seayak jacket, I have to say, is really good. Anyway, I did some sea kayaking before, mostly short trips around Adriatic islands. But ocean like Black sea in April was much different. It was really hard to go in and out of the water in those waves. Once I made 2 km in one hour in strong headwind. After talking to some locals I decided it’s better to wait for some nicer weather and I took the bus to Istanbul. I spent four days there, took some rest from kayaking and then came back to move on. I found out later that it was a good thing to relax before the Bosphorus. The traffic there is very dense, with a lot of boats just rushing from European part to Asian and back. The waves were in all directions and I had to sprint several times not to get knocked over by a boat or a ferry.

- But there is some traffic also on the river - especially Danube has quite a lot of ships that carry goods as far as Germany?

Of course, but with a kayak you’re about as fast as those ships. I had the chance to hitchhike a ship, or better said, to surf the wave behind one only once in the whole trip. Since the speed is about the same you’re usually alone. Sometimes you’re at the river bank, taking lunch and hearing a ship going down the river and all you can do is that you say to yourself: “Ups, there went my ride.” And it might be that the season is not really for those boats now. When I came to the Iron Gate, a gorge on the border between Serbia and Romania, they opened the locks just for me. I was alone in between the gates, dropping twice for ten meters, holding for a platform that was designed for the big ships. I was holding it with just my fingers and my arm stretched. The wind was very strong, making big waves also inside the lock. Not the most delightful thing I ever did, I can say.

I didn’t have a plan to paddle the Danube delta to the sea. But on the other hand Romanian authorities didn’t let me through the artificial channel to Costanza so I had to hitchhike a river ship. A Hungarian captain allowed me on board and traveling with his ship was a nice experience. There must be a local pilot on board but he is more or less only excuse for the tax ships have to pay for travelling through channel.

- Ah, the authorities. Are they the same everywhere? I believe you had to inform all the local authorities in advance that you’re coming. Did you have any trouble?

Actually none. And I didn’t inform anybody in advance. OK, when they spotted me, I told them what am I doing and they didn’t really know what to do with me. They haven’t stamped my passport once during the whole journey. But I had to fill out a number of papers as all the ships. So I had some funny loughs, filling out the fields like - name of the ship, - name of captain, - number of personnel, weight in tons and so on. I think that they don’t have any record I was in Turkey. I believe that also in Albania they don’t know about me. Although the shoreline in Albania is something you must see. Specially south part it’s still unspoilt. No civilisation, you take your pick at all the beaches spread your sleeping net between two trees and enjoy the sunset. That was the most spectacular thing I found myself looking back at the trip - the calmness of the sunsets weather on the river or on the sea - the calm water, almost like a mirror, the orange sun, the lights, the sounds. And the people I met were just great. Hospitable and friendly. You can always find nice people to talk to and share stories. Sometimes for couple of hours or just for a minute before you move on. It was more a voyage. Anyway, when I crossed a border to Montenegro and Joco and Aleš came from Slovenia also the mood changed. Especially in Greece I was quite lonely, the weather was bad, I had some hard times. I also had to take a ferry there a part of the way. But later, in the Adriatic, it was again a delight. OK, the last 1000 kilometers is almost like just a step away, especially with colleagues.

- So you took the last part of the trip with your friends.

Everybody was invited to join me on the trip. I got a good reply in the beginning and at the end of my journey. It is hard to find people to spend their holidays by taking a plane go couple of thousand kilometers away to paddle for week or two and come back. But it could be done - two boats, only the people change. Well it might be another project.

- It sounds interesting. Now, when you came home, how do you feel? I know you like the paddling and that we’ll meet you near the river.

I was surprised the welcome my friends prepared for me in Solkan, when I arrived. I really didn’t expect it. But now, after some busy days in Tacen it doesn’t feel like I was away. I’d love to take the trip again, maybe later, when I’ll have all the time in the world and I’ll take it a bit easier. Just to enjoy. This time I did it quite fast, especially in the first part. Maybe I was too impatient. I relaxed in the second part and took it a bit calmer. I wasn’t in such a rush and enjoyed it a lot. I’d love to go on a trip to Belgrade again - if you catch some high water you can surely do it in seven days. And there are many other rivers around I would like to paddle. Next time maybe 350 km of Kolpa river in company of some friends. But there’s one thing I’m sure for the next time - or I’ll take it without any publicity just for myself or I’ll make it fully professionally - do a documentary and show my world to the people.

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