We sail for 36 km until Vlada takes us in a little beach, partially flooded because of the high water level. Just the time to light a fire and a fisherman comes, curious about Clodia. He studies her, carefully, and pays some compliments.
Two minutes later, he comes back with sljivovica and four big fishes. We try to cook one of them over the fire: It tastes good but unfortunately falls into the sand. We try to clean it but it’s gone. Sadness, he died in vain. I don’t like wasting lives.
I’m trying to became vegetarian, still unsuccessfully. Too often my survival relies on what the river has to offer. But I’ll make it.
The night is cold, without a tent. My teeth are chattering: The temperature drops down to 3°C and my sleeping bag is best fit for a Tropical island than for cold Danube mornings.
At 7 o’clock we set sails, destination Backo at km 1319. Here, we’re at 1376: A long way to go. As always, the river is magnificent. Wide, free, with many islands and lots of animals, such as Herons and huge White Tail Eagles flying by exploiting the air current. We see fishermen with nets and rods: many of them are professionals.
With Vlada aboard, we go fast. He knows it all, telling me about beauty and pain, about his journey in Croatia and Bosnia, and the people that, at first, stare at him spitting to the ground but then they talk and the hearts open up.
A hate that’s been artificially built, Milosevic’s politics, the great Tito’s Yugoslavia and the nationalisms that have killed a multiethnic dream. But all these people are strong and rich, beautiful. They’ll survive to that pornocracy. Vlada knows it.
We get past the little village of Milutin Milankovic, an absolute genius: Mathematician, astronomer, geophysicist and climatologist. This town, with its nice church, is in Croatia but the majority of inhabitants is Serbian. Then, the pain to see Vukovar. I raise my oars with Vlada, in front of the monument remembering the over 2000 victims who died under the siege. Raising the oars is a Venetian tradition.
The Tower of Water has been bombed and it’s still there, monument to madness and to the death that has fallen upon these people. The water, they shoot even the water. I thought about the Danube that in those days was quietly flowing as always. Below water level the fishes swimmed, while over it the bridges sometimes were being bombed.
Then, toward km 1319, I show Vlada that Clodia can navigate against the wind and he’s happy. We find a little oxbow with fishermen, herons and a wonderful little restaurant in the golden light of sunset.
The Danube has carved a canyon that on the Croatian side is about 50 m high, while here gently slopes and it’s nearly unnoticeable. We have a beer and a few French fries over the world’s nicest wooden table.
We’re so happy and in harmony. Today, we’ve sailed for 57 km. I watch the painful dance of the fishermen, throwing and retrieving their nets more and more.
The next morning, I set off at 5,30. I navigate for 40 km, passing km 1296 that takes me once again fully in Serbia. In the morning, an happening that could have caused me to leave some body part around here.
I have to poo. Badly. I’m not doing it into the water, since bacteria in freshwater resist far more than on sea water (as I’ve learnt from Andrea Goltara that was my guest last year), so I look for a beach. The only ones are on the Croatian side. Total desert, I couldn’t stop but I really have too.
I look up and down: Nobody’s coming, so I stop and quickly jump into the trees, dig a little hole and download. The, I happily set off. After a few metres I spot a sign remembering the comics that I used to read when I was a kid: “Achtung minen!”
I immediately pale, thinking to every single step. I nearly laugh by fear, it seems irreal. I have read on the guides that, on Croatian side, many beaches are still mined, and they’re plastic mines very hard to find. They say that it’ll take up to 60 years to free the area. Vlada tells me that in Bosnia there’re millions of them and the clearance will take centuries. Unfortunately every year somebody gets injured, and the spare part for humans still don’t exist. Sad.
We sing together Dunave, Dunave. In Serbia there’re many canals, but for every lock they ask a 10 euro fee. Surely the best way to discourage fluvial tourism. In France, for 252 locks, Clodia paid 0 euro and Serena 30. For all other locks in the UK, Germany and Austria, 0 euro. All up, 344 locks from Wargrave to here. I hope this situation can change, since the local economy is weak and the unemployment rate is around 50%.
Thirsty, I reach km 1276. Here, there’re a beautiful restaurant and a strange tractor used to wash potatoes on the Danube. I stop among singing frogs, good sign, and I have a Soproni beer that washes away every bad thinking. Many people are smiling while the kids play. Everyone wants the same thing: Quietness and a good life. Once again, I feel at home. These people live on the river and the river lives with them.
Toward Novi Sad, we see too many walls. Unhautorised houses, boats in the parks. And hills, after many km of plain. Shortly, the rest of the company reaches me. They’re three boats, since Jacob and Paul’s kayak has joined the band. Vlada comes back aboard. Hot sun, windless.
Soon after, Vlada tells me to take the right, in the Dunavac, the little Danube. Nicola and Paul follow us aboard the kayak. On the entrance, we see a luxury Bayliner motorboat. Behind a window I spot two nice breasts, a gorgeous smile, blonde hair, a slim body.
A dream?? With the best smile ever she sit provocatively, asking: “Where’re you from?”. Is it a dream or an invitation? I don’t know. Vlada is stunned too and the only thing that he can say is: “You made our day”. A vision that, in fact, have given us a glimpse of eternal beauty.
Very soon, a fat man makes his appearance, looking menacing. We greet and take our way.
Was her a siren, a dream? And what about him? Vlada tells me that in Serbia only a mobster can own a motorboat like that. In the morning mines, now avoided bullets? I think about that guy chasing us with his 500 ph and the two of us going straight to the Walhalla, not the one after Regensburg.
The little Danube is another kind of dream. We sail it, very tired, talking about the siren that we have just seen. Nature takes us back to earth.
That’s wonderful! 6 km of water, flowers, animals and very few boats. Silence.
On the exit, we see the bridge of Novi Sad.
Today, we’ve covered 63 km. Entering Novi Sad marina, after river restaurants and singing people, we see many floating houses.
Vlada is at home here. We try to moor in the first marina and they ask 10 euro per boat. We politely refuse. In that of Vlada, called Dunavac, after a few workd Christian tells us that we can satay as long as we need, for free. Hvala! Wonderful people. And the marina is very nice, self built with passion.
Vlada’s generosity has just begun. We’re in six, with the two German boys, and Vlada invites us all in his house on the hills. He calls his sweet sister Helena, a doctor, who comes to pick us up.
A little convoy of happy hearts that are going to be nurtured of fondness, gentleness and wonderful food made by Mira, Vlada’s mum. Hic manebimus optime, Est Est Est. Keep going, we get taken back to Novi Sad. Thanks, hvala.
Novi is everything but Sad, to me.
But it hasn’t always been like that.
Good News: Earl, in Margate, UK, is getting better. But still long is his way. Hold on, my friend! A big hug and… Be water!