Let me set the scene for you. 5 blonde Girls. 8 Serbian Men. A Raft. Overnight at a campsite straight out of a horror movie. And a jeep ride from hell.
The story begins back in Croatia. We needed to stay out of the Schengen visa area (if you’re unfamiliar it covers most European countries and means you can only be in there for max 90 days) so we thought hey, why not Montenegro? What do you do in Montenegro? Go white Water Rafting of course! What you’d never heard of that? Yeah me neither. It turned out to be quite an experience.
We opted for the 3 day tour, which ended up being only 2 actual days of rafting since the whole first day was spent driving there. A driver, Joe, picked us up from our Dubrovnik accommodation and drove us 4hrs to the rafting place. He was this massive beast of a man, who looked like he was straight out of a movie playing a bodyguard for the President of something rolling up in an old school Jeep. 6 foot 5, very large build, shaven bald head and sunglasses and didn’t speak a word of English. But Joe was a gentle giant and hilarious as he tried to communicate with us in Serbian. If we asked a question he’d whip out his Nokia flip phone from his Adidas bum bag to call his boss to translate, it was great.
After stopping off for a beer in Bosnia at the largest man made pool I’ve ever seen we arrived at the white water rafting headquarters in time for dinner of mystery meat goulash (actually really yum) before calling it a night to rest up for what was sure to be 2 hectic days of white water rafting.
The next morning we met our guide and were keen to get rafting. Turns out we had another couple hour drive to get to the start, but it was really amazing getting to drive through the Montenegrin country side scattered with old wooden farms and free roaming cattle amongst some stunning mountain scenery. It felt like we had stepped back in time.
very slightly hair raising drive along narrow roads, going very fast around blind corners with sheer cliffs on the otherside and absolutely no safety features in a jeep that two of us had to sit in the boot we finally arrived at the stunningly blue river of the Tara River Canyon. The UNESCO listed Tara River Canyon is one of the most naturally beautiful places I have ever seen. With almost sheer cliffs, scatters of trees and amazingly blue snow-melt water it unlike anything else. Its the 2nd largest canyon in the world just behind the Grand Canyon in the USA. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon and what I loved about the Tara River canyon was that it was completely different, I mean for one it wasn’t in the dessert but also it was a much more narrow sheer canyon which felt much more severe.
Now when you picture white water rafting in the 2nd largest canyon in the world you imagine some big rapids, lots of holding on for dear life just trying to staying in the boat right? Wrong, it was more like paddling for 65km (6 hours each day!). We started off not really paddling just chilling waiting for the rapids until we asked our guide if we should be paddling or not and he’s like its up to you, you’re the engine, I steer. We’re like ok well we’ll just keep chilling maybe paddle a bit until he casually mentions we may want to paddle if we want to get the before dark! It was a looong day. 65km of paddling is a really long way. We were dying by the end. I think we were also driving our guide a little mad constantly asking how much further. But in our defense I’m not exaggerating when I say we had to paddle the whole way, the river was barely flowing most of the time. It was not quite what we imagined. On the plus side we had plenty of time to take in (and capture) the absolutely breathtaking nature we were flowing through.
Finally we arrived at our accomodation for the night. Straight up I’d felt like I’d stepped into a scene from a horror movie. Now I’m not a prissy ‘ew I am NOT staying there’ type of girls but this place was seriously creepy. It was like an old school camp building straight out of the 70s that looked like it had been reclaimed after being abandoned for years. It was in the middle of nowhere and had no electricity to this old Serbian man with gnarly teeth would emerg from the shadows when you went to walk to your room and would shine a dim torch down the creaky hallway to help you see where you were going, but it barely did anything and once in your room there was minimal light coming though the window. I also felt a little creeped out that it was just us 5 girls and now 8 Serbian men (especially after our guide told us all the guides had competed to be the ones to take us, flattering I guess). Luckily another group arrived so I felt much better. We had a delicious dinner made for us by our drivers cousin of fresh caught whole fish, Bass I think, potatoes, traditional homemade cheese, the most powerful cured meat, potatoes and more. Then there was the Rhaki, pretty much Serbia’s moonshine. We were all poured a shot and very much encourgaed to drink it as it is not polite to leave it. It was the strongest, most potent acohol I’ve ever encountered and only a drop touched my tongue (the rest we sutbly managed to tip out). After 3 fish each and many ‘pretend’ shots later we managed to escape to our rooms and collapse ready for a another day of paddling.
The next day was cold and rainy and unfortunately we didn’t have rain jackets, so we wore plastic garbage bags. We looked hilarious, our guide couldn’t stop laughing he said we looked like we were wearing giant condoms, but hey they were warm and we had 6 hours of paddling ahead of us! And another long day it was. This time there were a couple of medium rapids at best but we enjoyed them for all they were worth. We finally made it to the end and were more than ready to get the hell out of that raft! Our guide though, he was a trooper, as we left he was like “ah so you girls more like umm… shopping and things yeah?”. Poor guy. But really we’re not uptight princesses or anything. I think anyone would have been like us, we signed up for white water rafting, not 65kms of endless paddling!
The scariest part of the trip was not the rapids but the 2 hour drive to our next destination with our driver who had been up the entire night drinking rakia. We literally had to sing, buy him redbulls (and insist he drink them) and legit poke him to keep him from closing his eyes and us making it there alive.
All in all it was quite and experience and I feel lucky to have been able to seem somewhere so stunningly beautiful and remote. I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about the whole thing. On the one hand I loved it and it was amazing went well, but on the other I feel like we were lucky and things could really have gone the other way. But they didn’t and it sure made for some great ‘this one time in Montenegro…’ stories so we’ll call it a win!