Balkan Rivers Tour 2 – Slovenia, Greece, Albania, Montenegro
Massive marble trout dart underneath the flotilla of creek boats as they drift through the emerald water of the Soča River in western Slovenia. The Balkan Rivers Tour 2 has just commenced, and mood on the water is an organic combination of paddling, partying and river conservation.
One by one, each boat drops into the playful boulder gardens of the upper Soča River, a free flowing section of whitewater that sees thousands of kayakers and rafters each year. The fast-paced whitewater of the wild upper Soča is a sharp contrast to trickle that escapes the confines of the Podselo dam, a two- day paddle downstream.
The goals of the Balkan Rivers Tours haven’t changed. Now it in its second year, the BRT is still all about raising awareness about the threat of hydroelectric development in the Balkans through regional, national and international media. Combining conservation, recreation, art, culture, food, and kayaking, BRT 2 is feeding the public debate against the creation of new hydro dams but also against the existing dams.
The Soča Source-to-Sea Action consisted of 90 kayakers in total, from Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, England, Hungary, Italy, Germany and Canada. The group attended two river-side concerts, a national press conference under the towering mountains the Triglav National Park and a round table discussion in the adventure sports town of Bovec, Slovenia. From whitewater to politics, food and music, BRT is a microcosm of the sustainable tourism the Soča supports and so many reasons why the Soča should run free.
Following the close of the Soča mission, a smaller, four-person team of BRT paddlers and photographers boarded a ferry from Italy to Greece where they explored the mountains and valleys of Dinaric Alps in Greece and Albania in search of adventure sports paradise where ski touring, fly fishing and whitewater kayaking can be done, sometimes all in one day.
Weaving up and down the mountain road in Greece, the team was astonished by the differences in the five rivers they paddled there. From the continuous boulder gardens of the Aoos River, to the waterfalls and springs along the edges of the Arachthos and Kalaritikos; even in low water, these rivers are each a classic in their own right, and any single river worth making the trek to paddle.
The beauty and quality of whitewater hidden deep in the canyons of Greece contrasted greatly to the reaches of river running alongside the road. Here,kilometer long sections of the Metsovitikos have been scraped and diverted for small, private hydropower.
Traveling into Albania, the fun-focused paddle took a sudden turn when the team drove into Valbona Valley National Park. It was a rude awakening of the changes that the illegal construction of proposed 12 hydropower plants has already caused. Just 11 months ago the valley was untouched. Today, roads cut scars across the mountainside; bulldozers clear cutting right to the edge of the water of the best section of class 5 kayaking. In just weeks, this pristine section of whitewater that would be world-renowned in any other part of Europe will be destroyed permanently. “The Valbona is what the Soca was before it was dammed,” says Rozman. With continuous class 5 paddling down the boulder strewn river, the Valbona hosts lush forests on one side and high Slovenian-like alpine peaks on the other. Foreign visitors to the region often remark that they had no idea that such an unspoiled, pristine place still existed in Europe.
After two nights on the edge of the Valbona listening to the blast of dynamite as construction continues without permission, the BRT team took to the road, heading for the snowy mountains of Montenegro in search of different source to sea: making ski turns in the mountains before paddling the rivers they feed.
The tour will wrap up with an paddling action on the Morača River, where all-are-welcome. The BRT team encourages whitewater paddlers to join for the 8-day source-to-sea descent of the Morača River, traversing Skadar Lake, and onto the Bojana River before meeting the blonde sand of the Adriatic Sea. Two days of festivities including concerts and DJs will wrap up the Tour. Check out the BRT Facebook Page and Wild Party for Wild Rivers for more info.
Join the crew in supporting free flowing rivers by putting a paddle in the water and help contribute to the movement of whitewater conservation.