Rafting and Kayaking in Bovec, Slovenia
For real info about rafting please see Soca Rafting in Bovec
What can one say, when a friend calls him and suggests a long weekend of rafting in Slovenia? Well, "where is Slovenia?" was my reply.... Once I realised it wasn't too far from Vienna, I jumped on the occasion and decided that I could bring a few friends along and enjoy a sunny, warm and exciting road trip.
So, all 6 of us crammed into 2 cars with all our camping gear, swim suits and sunglasses, as the weather was supposed to be unseasonably warm and unusually sunny. The group's spirits were running high, as we left the city for the 5 hour trip. All was according to plan, the traffic was nonexistent, the shopping for a volleyball lasted a total of 5 minutes, as the stores were empty and the police were looking the other way as we sped by their radar traps, hanging out the windows, shouting obscenities and drinking beer in their faces. There was no stopping us, the asphalt was burning with the friction of our tires, the air stank of the overheating diesel engines (sorry environmentalists, gas is too expensive in Europe to buy the real thing) and the 4 rth cylinder of one of the cars flew through the hood, killing a bird in midair, said bird crashing down into the windshield of the car and piercing through the eye of the guy seated in the passenger seat , the beak tearing his brain as it exited out the back of the skull, the eye impaled and bloody on the tip of the bird's beak
Man, we hadn't been gone 4 hours, hadn't even left the country yet and already a casualty. We said good-bye to the car in proper fashion, everybody silently happy that one of our companions was also gone, 7 in a car was going to be tight enough. We bravely crushed ourselves inside the leftover car, and crossed the border into Italy. It is funny that when crossing a border, one always expect the scenery to be different from the other side, but this is food for your thoughts and we will not dwell on this. (Or is it only me being really dumb, even though I know that most borders are not geographical). Anyway, the scenery was not really different across those 100 meters (333 feet for you dumb americans) of no man's land. The streets were a bit narrower, more potholes, and the road itself, windy and uphill. Surprisingly, for this part of the journey, the car was not over crowded, most of the guys were outside pushing it to make sure that it could make it up the hill.
With lots of effort, blood, sweat and tears (thank St-Telemark, not the rock band) we managed to summit the Passo Del Predil (it roughly translates as:Pass of Predilection?), sweaty, stinky, breathless and wide eyed to find ourselves face to face with 2 military border guards armed to the teeth, a conniving grin on their toothless, cigarette dangling lips, unkempt, blood stained uniforms and vodka breath. Before one of them could open their mouths and utter any syllable, one of us was running away screaming that it wasn't him, that the others had forced him to do it and that he's not planning to come in the country anyway, as, disoriented by the effort, lack of oxygen and setting sun directly into his eyes, he sped across the border line into Slovenia. Three saccados of gunfire later, an apocalyptic vision of the blood red sun rays diffusing and refracting through the 27 bullets holes (3 saccados of 9 bullets each for our dumb american friends) our ex-friend was now sporting as (fleeting) fashion of the moment.
One of the border guards speaking a perfect, polite, pragmatic Ottawa english explained:" You need a stamp in your password before you cross the border, please come this way!". Once the formalities were over, he pointed down the road, going down from the pass, past our friend's rapidly decaying body and said:" Bovec, is 30 minutes down this road, have a safetrip, and enjoy your stay in Slovenia".
We quickly hopped in the car, wanting to be far as possible before our friendly border guard changed his mind about needing only a stamp to get through. In our haste, we drove over our deceased friend's head, smashing his skull all over the pavement, making it easier for the ravens to feed on his alcohol marinated brain. Our legs started to relax as the car wound its way down the gently sloping road, until the first turn where it steepened sharply and the driver uttered a small but very comprehensible "Shit the brakes" murmur. Thank god none of us heard it since the music was doing its best to pierce our tympanums and deafen us in the process. The driver made no attempts as to warn us again, so we were just enjoying the incredibly beautiful mountain landscape cutting into the midnight blue dusk sky. At one point one of us realised that we seemed to be accelerating at a constant rate , the curves taken at increasingly alarming speeds and that the driver was not holding the wheel and had his hands in front of his face in a stance very similar to the one used for the last rites prayer to St Telemark.
The Noticer, as we will call him for the short period of the rest of his life, St Telemark chew his soul out, quickly looked at the control panel of the dash board and rapidly figured out that the red light flashing "Brakes" meant that the brakes were going terribly wrong, quick thinking as he was, he decided action needed to be taken, no time to consult others, as every fraction of a second could mean the difference between life and death.
Well as I just mentioned, every fraction of second counted in the life and death cycle, if The Noticer would have taken a few more seconds to think instead of trying to slow down the car by jumping in front of it, there would be a few less drunken ravens on this side of the ocean, I will spare you the gruesome details of his last seconds on earth, and I don't think a death like his qualifies him for Valhalla, and move on....
Funnily enough, the friction caused by dragging The Noticer's body over a half kilometer, was enough to slow the car down and allow us to make the last curve, his skull splitting open providing the bump necessary to deflect the wheels of enough of an angle to allow the car, with a crisp, lengthy screech of the tires, worthy of any cheap american movie, to safely take the curve and escape out of the windy part unscathed. (The Noticer was dead, not injured, so we were unscathed allright......dammit).
By then, it was getting dark, we were getting thirsty, and there was only six of us left,so we decided it was time for a short drinking break. Speaking of oxymorons, I wonder why everybody always makes fun of my pronunciation of the word. Boxy and moron, how hard is that to pronounce, I'm sure it's easier than writing "pronouciation", dammit. And by the way, never say that word when close to an ox, as they seem to take it personnaly....Vallhalla was not open for that guy either, since stupidity does not qualify for entering. But this is not a common sense story, this is reality, so back to our little drinking break.
Of course a little drinking break being impossible, especially when in a tiny little village in the Slovenian Alps, with home made beer brewed with the local mountain spring water and the home grown hops, barley, a dash of freshly picked dried cherries and local chemical preservative agents, we had to order round after round of this subtle, yet powerful nectar, feeling confident that the designated driver would take us to our final destination safely. Only problem we realised after four of my companions passed out, and the only two left over had barely enough brains to comprehend that we had forgotten to designate a designated driver, rendering him totally useless, by the fact that we didn't know who was supposed to drive next. The friendly home grown Slovenian barkeeper offered to have us stay in his hotel, where we could sleep off the mead in more than enough time for our appointment with the others we were meeting.
After having locked the door of our hotel room, we noticed a television set, we turned it on, to find an episode of South Park beginning in slovenian......OK, in english with Slovenian subtitles. One of our group, thinking that South Park is immature, badly made, and stupid (all the reasons why we like it...) decided, with our full consent, to go and try to find some beers. We took advantage of him not being there to turn up the sounds and enjoy a bit of brainless humour. It was good fun, as the last time we had watched it, must have been almost 2 years ago, not having a television doesn't help to keep up with the tv schedules. After the show was over and we had run out of our won beers, we started wondering what had happened to our anti South Park friend. We opened the door, considered stepping outside, but strange, gurrutal growls, followed by strangely familiar, piercing, panicked screams had us close and lock the door faster than it was opened. We figured our friend would be fine....
The night was calm and quiet, and morning came, bright, sunny and unusually warm. Still no news of our colleague, I guess he really doesn't like south Park and decided to leave. We hopped into the car and drove off to finally arrive in Bovec, the rafting, skiing and mountainbiking capital of Slovenia. We met with our friends that were coming up from Croatia and who were supposed to have made the reservations with the rafting guides. Of course, there were no reservations made, but since it is low season, there was plenty of room nd they organised to fit us all into wetsuits and helmets, and sooner than we could learn how to say thanks in Slovenian, we were carrying a heavy raft down a steep, windy slope composed of loose rock and cactus. Not wearing any footwear was a bad idea for one of us who steped on a said cactus, and unfortunately screamed as he let go of his side of the raft. We all twisted, unbalanced by the sudden shift of weight, and the raft came down, bringing our hampered friend with it. The good thing was that the body absorbed the shock for the raft and no damage was done, the bad thing is that one nicely edged rock happened to be right where his head connected with the ground, which would only have caused a nice bruise, had the raft not finished the job gravity could not do, splitting open the skull and smearing the brain matter over the base of the raft. This last procedure cause the bottom of the raft to get more slippery and we had to run down the rest of the slope to catch up, just in time to jump in, with paddles, life vests and camera and start drifting down the gentle current.
We were missing a rafter, having left his body for the alligators in the course of our run after the raft, that meant less speed therefore a more dangerous session, explained our guide, but he seemed confident enough, saying that the 6 of us would have to paddle harder. The first part of the trip was nice and calm, our guide took the opportunity to explain the basics of rafting, and a bit of WWII history. (Did you know that dumb people were firing at each other from mountain tops for 2 month, over the river in order to get strategic control of nowhere........ We still had a bit of time before reaching the rapids themselves, and the weather was so nice and warm, the water soo green and inviting that a few of us jumped in. So quickly, in fact, that the guide did not have time to warn us about the Phirannas lurking beneath the surface.
We were missing another rafter, the odds were getting higher for the rapids, as we approached them with increasing increasingness, our speed suddenly more than doubling as we funneled down into the whitewater section, paddling as hard as our weak, unmuscular bodies would allow. Freezing water raced into our mouths, eyes, noses, ears and other unnamable orifices, the noise deafening us, the cold stiffening our bodies and the water rendering us blind. Being one of the expandable one, i was in the front as i saw this massive boulder directly in the path of our trajectory. I turned to mention it to our guide, thinking his eyes must be as full of water as ours, but all i saw, or can remember, was an evil, expecting, face splitting grin. I turned back just in time to see our raft hit the rock and be catapulted into the air, thinking, that i was either going to get impaled on the jagged top of our obstacle, or turn into dinner for a few frenzied pirhannas families.
As it turned out, neither happened and i just smacked my head (thank god for helmets) as i smashed into the side of the boulder, grabbing the first available edge to hold on for dear life. I started weighing my options as i lifted my body onto the rock into a more stable position, watching the raft and my colleages 360 back into position, then 180 around again and fit themselves nicely in the backwater and wait for me to jump back in. It had all been a trick nicely orchestrated by our guide. All i had to do now, was to jump the 25 meters into the freezing pirhanna infested waters and climb back into the raft. The guide assured me that the man eating fish were not strong enough to get into this part of the river, all i had to do was make sure i landed in the calm area so the current would drag me away onto more rocks and pointy tree trunks. I had no choice, so closed my eyes, prayed to St-Telemark to reserve me a spot in Valhalla, like my deceased colleagues, even though we weren't in the battlefield, pied in my wetsuit and jumped off.
Luck was with me that day as i heard a snapping sound coming from the breaking neck of one of my raftmates in the shock absorption process, and grabbing his paddle, mine had drifted away, as we headed off for some more excitement. The rest of the day was just as interesting, especially since the flow grew stronger and the rapids more powerful the lower we got downiver.
We finished the trip thirsty as a lost Bedouin in an unfamiliar desert, and ran to the supermarket before closing time. We only had enough money for beer and so decided to improvise for dinner. After consulting with our guide, turned supermarket cashier, there is an important shortage of workers in the region, we liked his idea of grilled Pirhannas, the body of our dead raftmate serving as bait. So out we set, a case of beer in one hand, a dead body in another, a climbing rope in another, a coat hanger in the last, and 2 of us set out to gather dinner and some firewood while the others were setting up camp.
The first problem was keeoing the beer cold. Easily solved as the river flows from glacier water and was barely above 8 degrees, perfect storage and drinking temperature for Slovenian beer we were told by others gathered at the shores. Not being top stupid one of us set the fishing gear downriver with a few pieces of our dead comrade dropped in the water to attract the unfriendly fish, while the other, upriver, could safely go and drop the beerin a quiet pool of clear water to keep it cool.
Our guide was right, and soon the deadly hunters had become helpless prey as we racked up quite a big catch in less time than it took us to drink our first 10 beers. Finding the area quite comfortable and not wanting to share the rest of the beer with the others, we hung around enjoying the scenery and other kayakers and canoers playing around in the now safe river as we seemed to have taken care of a lot of the mean eating beasts, the rest having figured out the trick and headed for a safer part of the river.
The sun, heat and beer crept up on us and we soon found ourselves dozing and enjoying the view. The green waters flowing, snowy mountain tops in the distance, pretty Italian and Slovenian girls riding the rapids all around, our case of beer floating away.....What??? ...the dreamlike stance we were in quickly faded as we saw the case drag by, upon closer inspection, dragged and pushed by a bunch of vengeful pirhannas towards the deeper end of the river. We were devastated as we looked helpless at our prized gift, slowly drifting down current, never to be seen again.......
Or so we thought until we saw this beautiful woman coming racing downriver with her kayak, and catching up to the evil beer-robbing, man-eating fish. She started struggling with the case, bringing it back upstream with herself, but getting quickly tired as she had to fight current and now crazed fish. We could see from the shore that her strength was rapidly dwindling as she dropped her paddle (thankfully not the case of beer) and again slowly edged downstream. The pirahnnas seemed to be in it for a deadly revenge as they attacked the flimsy embarkation, swinging it more each time they attacked, we helplessly knew that before long she and the beer would be party of an underwater party of immense proportions. Then my quick thinking partner jumped in, screaming at me to go upriver and throw the bloody remains of our deceased friend in the water.
1 million years of instinct could not be erased by the desire for beer and fresh female meat, as the creatures of the wet world raced abandoned all thoughts of alcohol and woman as they fought each other to be first at the corpse floating away. The rest is fairy tale stuff as my friend reached the girl, and together they swam back dragging the case back to shore. When they finally reached the sandy beach where I was stupidly standing, they brought the beer out, and finally had time to look at each other. Lightning struck and their eyes meet and she mumbled something in Slovenian, a shy and eager smile enlightening her face. When she realised her savior hadn't understood anything, she repeated in a perfect, polite, pragmatic Ottawa english:" Since i saved it, the beer is mine". I got hit in the stomach by nothing, we were going to lose our beer after all that excitement, all I wanted was a beer dammit....Once again my quick thinking friend came to the rescue and replied:" I saved you, so you and the beer are mine". The girls seemed happy at the reply as her river green eyes lit up and she jumped around the neck of the hero of the day and started kissing him. This was the sign for me to go and gather some wood and leave the new lovebirds alone for the next hour or so. (Don't ask me what they will be doing for an hour, i know that 2 minutes is enough). Being a precautious person, i took a few beers with me to pass the time.
The gathering took a while as there are a lot of people camping in this area and i had to take lots of risks to manage to have enough for a nice campfire/dinner pile. Only problem is that wood, even dry is quite heavy, and i had to take many rest breaks on the way back. On one of these breaks, i found a nice cave entrance and leaned against the wall, gently reflecting on the events of the day, thinking that, even though i like excitement, it was good that the day was coming to an end. Of course, just as i was having this last thought, i noticed a patch of hair on the wall opposite me at the cave's entrance, funny, i thought, why would there be hair stuck to a cave entrance. Upon closer inspection, it looked more like carpet than hair and then my brain started racking itself up as to how could a black piece of long carpet could end up here. Had people dragged a carpet into the cave to have a nice romantic evening?
I remembered the last time i was on a black long haired carpet by a fireplace with a beautiful young lady and a bottle of white wine, how the evening had been memorable, watching the starts through the window, the snow falling gently and laying a beautiful white blanket over the evergreens. something unpleasant kept tugging at the back of my brain though as i basked in the memories of my winter in Morocco, something annoying, like, to quote Suicidal Tendencies, "an itch on the brain that you can't scratch", yes, that's it I am confusing myself, as Morocco is a hot country and there could not have been any evergreens there. It must have been somewhere else. I had just opened another beer, when I realised what my brain was trying to tell me, the sound to the beer opening brought the painful memory of me scratching my butt on the bear's teeth as my companion and i ahd moved into an more comfortable position, that turned out to tear a hole in my butt and give me 6 stitches and ruin the more comfortable position thing and the evening. Damned bear rugs, they are romantic to a certain point, the "more comfortable point" shall we call it...then you move to the bedroom, a piece of advice from me to all of you. I remembered the tooth that had ripped through my tender flesh, covered in blood, I remembered imagining the growls of the bear, with blood on its teeth, wanting more and attacking me for the final excecution of what would turn out to be a nice desert. My memory is better than i thought, as i could quite clearly hear the imagined growls, coming from deep down in the past. Ah, youth, what a good time it was, a smile stretching across my face thinking of that night that added another scar to my ever growing collection.
The smile quickly faded as my ears were screaming at me that the growls were not imagined, but coming from a huge black bear rising on its hind legs, poised to strike. My already mumbling and overworked brain rapidly started a query in the memory database that is stored somewhere in the back of my skull and then retrieved the following information: "run". A split second was enough for me to know that running was wrong, but I also remembered that abandoning everything you have, because bears are not interested in us, will keep the bear happy as he scrounges through what is left behind. Only problem, I had beers in one hand and firewood in the other. Another sharp brain signal said: " bears live in the wood, they are obviously interested in the firewood", which is good, as I was not intending in leaving my beer behind.
I dropped the firewood and ran for my life. The bear, looked at the wood for 2 seconds and started after me. Now we all know that there is no way to outrun a bear, but try telling that to a tired, panicked, slightly inebriated young man.....As I saw him catching up to me, I really panicked and dropped one of the beers. The bear stopped and looked at it, I slowed down thinking I'm safe, he's going to drink it and by the time he's finished I'll be long gone....well, let me tell you that I have never seen a bear, or any human chug a beer so fast....especially sine the beast had to figure out how to open the said beer, it wasn't a twist off......But great strength and confidence helping, the beer was opened in less time than I could safely distance my new friend, and we won't mention anything about the speed at which the alcohol was consumed. I started running again, when a part of my brain screamed "Downhill moron!!". True, bears, due to their weird body shape cannot run efficiently downhill, their heavier lower body making them tumble over their heads as gravity takes it upon itself to show them.....I was saved as I pointed with the rest of my already weakened muscles downhill towards the river. With great noise and rage, the bear tumble past me and with a enormous flop landed in the river and started floating downstream. I stood on the shore panting a smile returning to my parched lips, and I opened a well deserved beer taking in a long, gentle, satisfying, quenching sip, which I spat out immediately as the bear started swimming powerfully towards me. Dammit, when do I get a break, bears swim better than humans....dammit......I was about to start running again, in desperation this time, since there was nowhere downhill to go anymore, when I saw a little fish, then another, then another approach my new alcoholic friend. I will not explain what happened next as the sharp toothed fish took less than 2 minutes to finish the bear, amidst roars of pain and a frenzy of splashing and trashing.
The pirahnnas had saved my life, I owed them one, so I took all the beers I had left, except for the one already opened and poured them in the river as a sign of thanks. Now the sight of drunk fish should be a funny sight, but I had had enough for one day, gathered some more wood and headed up the beach towards our campsite. I encountered my hero friend and his newly found love, slightly disturbing them as they seem to be very busy finishing what they had started as I had left. Iasked them if it had been only 2 minutes since I had left, and they smiling reply was: "No, 10 time 2 minutes...hehehe"
I left the happy couple to get back to their fun, and brought home the much needed wood and dinner. The evening was quiet, drinking, eating and generally being merry, watching the stars, listening to the forest noises and finally passing out on a nice bed of pine needles.
The next morning we ran to the supermarket, had breakfast, and prepared for our first ever kayaking lessons. The day was uneventful, as it is Sunday, and the pirahnnas and other wild animals take a well deserved day off. The only accident that days was me falling flat on my face as we headed up the path to "Conan's Piss" the immense local waterfall. Now on a normal day this trip would have been filled with excitement, but this was Sunday, and Slovenian wildlife respect the laws and do not work on Sundays, not even for beer.