We leave from Zemun under a heavy sun. Thunderstorms are on their way, the air is sticking humid. We’ve set off late because we have waited, in vain, for some journalists who were supposed to come to the club.
I row without any trouble up to Grocka, where the gods suggest me to find a good place to hide. Through the floating vegetation, I see signs of a passage. I can’t find any better than a narrow hole, leading me in a dream canal, 4 metres wide and fully covered by plants.
Seems like “Heart of Darkness”.
I moor next to two trees while thousands of mosquitos attack me. I try to escape in the river, but a strong gust tells me that the rumble is beginning. Just the time to set up the tent and the rainstorm begins. I’m so tired that I get asleep nevertheless.
In the morning, the water steams and the sunlight gives it a golden shine.
When I set sails it’s 5,30. After a few km I see a Marina: A guy aboard a boat, nice face and long beard, invites me to stop by. We have a coffee aboard Clodia and a slibobiza in the Club. We’re guest of the glorious Brodarski Klub Metalac in Smederevo.
Tito used to say that sailing was a sport for capitalists, but for the BKM he made an excepiton. Maybe because of the metal industries.
Pele (not Pelè) is 49, long blond hair, white beard. A Viking. He’s lived an intense life, light and shadow, and he’s rich inside. We immediately become friends. A life in a day.
Jole (I don’t know the correct writing) is the owner of the restaurant, and a strong sailing instructor. He knows, understands and appreciates Pele.
We sail together aboard Clodia and they love her. Despite a weak wind we manage to sail upstream.
The next stop is Smederevo, overlooked by a spectacular medieval fortress: But I’m not here for it. This place tells me about how the Danube really could be. A paradise for sailors who wants to flee from the Mediterranean snobbery, to discover a truly mean world, by using the boat to learn and to teach with way more fun.
We have an alcoholic day, and two television channels come for an interview: One of them was here by chance. But nothing happens by chance on our journey. Or maybe everything?
I sleep on a floating house, incredibly messy, with candles only. However, to me this is a moving palace. Thanks Pele. In the morning the pontoon is missing but “Nema problema”, we manage to land anyway.
Just the time to set off and another thunderstorm falls upon us. I take shelter in a lateral canal, how suggested by my friends from Zemun. Then, another enchantment, Ivanovo. From one of the floating houses a voice tells me something and I respond: “Doberdan Londona Istanbul… Nema motor…”.
I get invited: Andrija offers me a dinner and a beer under a porch, then comes a journalist and we keep drinking together, just friends. In the meantime, it’s raining cats and dogs.
It’s the dawn of a new day when I have breakfast in an abusive restaurant, reminding a little of the Mississippi’s swamps. Nero, a rather suspicious customer, offers me a home made slibovitza. He’s a tough guy, who’s seen and done many things. Maybe bad ones too, who knows, but I feel a likeness. Without many words we understand each other. Other people come along, staring at me, but I’m accepted.
Joska takes me to his father Joza, who’s a farmer. He speaks a good Italian, he’s smart and nice. Along with his son, he works on 100 hectares of land. He gives me some bacon (slanina), hot sausage (kubasiza) and cucumber, all hand made. His wife Veronica speaks Italian, Bulgarian and Rumanian: This is a territory of emigration, you can find up to 11 nationalities.
I go to the city hall for an interview. Everybody is nice and cheers up. Joska comes with a bag full of wonderful food that will come very handy. I bust in tears when I have to leave. Once again, a generosity that fills my heart and… my stomach. I’m thinking to move here, among the “bad” Serbs. I gladly let the “good” Italians to you.
Time to go: I’m sure some other madman is waiting for me on the way to Derdap’s gorges. I know it.
I sail headwind and, after a while, spot a kayak behind me. It’s Andy, who comes from Ingolstadt. He’s 24 and is quite moved by the beauty of the Danube. I offer him a meal, then he comes aboard and the wind starts to blow. Close to Ram, one of the most dangerous spots because of the Koshava (a SE wind that can blow up to 120 km/h), I take a lateral canal.
I see a fisherman and I greet him. He anwers in Italian: “Buonasera, mi chiamo Libero”. Is it a dream? He tells me to follow him and the dream becomes reality.
I enter a narrow passage under the trees, to find myself in a lake surrounded by a few nice houses, well built without much money. The water is clear. Fishes and frogs. Libero’s wife doesn’t like the river, dut he does. We immediately celebrate. Wild porks on the roads, slibo and pivo, fish, eggs, leek and cucumber salad, tomatoes. Under a rain that doesn’t seem to wet. Then I help Libero/Slobodan to set up his nets, before sleeping a bit and restart. I’m speechless but I have to use the few words left to tell you about a life that’s a journey made of a thousand lives, made by a thousand travels.
I can’t forget about Ram and its incredible castle, about the entrance of the bigger and most beautiful gorges of Europe, about Romania that’s already waiting on the other side, about Golubac where I’m moored in the marina of a gas station. The music of the nearby restaurant comes from all around the world and it’s wonderful.
Here, the Danube is 5 km wide. A paradise for sailing, it’s always windy. And the castle, another one, is spectacular. The gorges begin here, it might be hard to navigate.
Live a dream and make sure to be awake.
See you soon