We stayed in Golubac for seven days. They’ve been days of wind and beauty. Golubac is a little paradise.
Small town, about 2.000 people, and the Danube that spreads wide to shape a 7 by 10 km lake. This is the result of the building of Derdap lock, also called Portile de Fier, Eiser Tor, Porte di Ferro. In english “Iron Gates”. Once the river here was really tough: Rocks, strong current and fear. But not anymore.
When you lock a gorge, the water rises, so the 32 metres of extra water created this lake. It’s not good for the ecosystem, however it bears some positive aspects, such as the generation of energy and a much nicer navigation attracting sailors.
Here we meet some extraordinary ones, as the 5 kids from the Serbian national team Optimist class, probably the simplest and smarter sailboat in history. Thos guys make me feel a dummy. For three times I try to pass the bottleneck under the castle, where the Koshava wind gets as strong as 30 knot (about 60 km/h) making short, steep waves: Just the ones that Clodia has to worry about.
I could get through but I rather not take the risk. Also because ahead the gorges are no joke and the wind would still keep contrary. The kids head there for training, exactly where I don’t dare go. It’s true that their fiberglass Optimist are virtually unbreakable and their coach, aboard a dinghy, can take them off any trouble, but I feel useless all the same.
I’m sorry also because I try twice, since the Rumanian Minister for Environment and other journalists are waiting for me on the other side, even moving 20 km to make things easier. But I can’t make it.
I get some comfort in a small, pretty restaurant where I meet Goran, who speaks english and is very nice. He also gives me a Zippo. I chat a while with him about life and I’m happy. The wind fades in the evening but comes back at night.
The beauty of Golubac, to me, is in the absence of tourism, which doesn’t make the locals very happy since they feel like missing opportunities. This territory offers eveything but sea, desert and glaciers. In Golubac, as usual, I meet many interesting people such as Dragan, who films Clodia with true passion and uncommon sensibility. He works for the city hall but he’s also a freelance videomaker and photographer.
Every morning, at 7 o’clock, I see him coming to film some more detail. For three times he follows me in my tries to get past the fort, that’s quite nice, sentinel to the gorges. The road runs under the rocks and often the trucks hit them.
One nice day, windy for a change, I see a kayak with two people aboard approaching. I welcome them: It’s Thomas and Elly, young, Germany and Kazakhstan.
They’re performing a journey called Driftaway, that’s including: Descent of the Danube, trekking in Indonesia and cycling across the two islands of New Zealand. I immediately see two talents and share much of what they feel and do. We’ll stay a few days together and I’ll try to have them as travel companions in future projects.
I walk, write, talk, rest, photograph, sail with Leon, mess around with Dragan. Active and costructive messing around. Projects, questions, acquiring information. I try not to waste these precious days. I’d love to come here to write my book. Silence. I need silence. There’s too much noise in the world. Here in Golubac people speak softly and I like it.
By talking with people I realise that they love to tell. Sometimes I try to put myself in their shoes. Should I had someone coming from London by rowing, I’d blast him with questions. Not here, they tell me about their life, about quietness and boredom. In the end, I’m realising that what I’m doing doesn’t really care to most people. On one hand, I’m humiliated since I’m putting all my best in this endeavour, however I’m even more happy because I can listen to the many things that people tell me without any need to ask. And I learn.
The days go day but the Koshava doesn’t seem like fading. Then, the day comes. Everything seem perfect but near the fortress things are different. Maybe even worse than before.
A wave gets inside Clodia and I worry about the mast. Thomas and Elly can easily pass since their kayak doesn’t have any vertical parts, and the waves are still manoeuvrable for them. Not for Clodia: Not too high, max 1 metre, but very hard and steep.
Just to give you an idea of how the river can be dangerous, captain Florian tells us about a 3.000 tons and 110 mt lenght barge that, in the midst of a thunderstorm, has been split in half by a three-metres wave and has sunk with all its crew. I get back to my protected harbour.
But in the evening the wind seems to offer me a truce, so I try again. I pass under the fortress sailing very close-hauled. Impressive. Then, the wing keeps coming and going. It’s a glorious sunset, we’re in the gorges. A stone universe and a savage environment.
The current gets stronger. After 10 km it’s already dark and we find a beach where we rest for the night along with gnats, wind and waves. The last one, at 4 o’clock, gets inside clodia so I decide to set off with my butt wet. It’s cold, the wind slows me down so I decide to remove the masts. Thanks god the current helps me, but if I stop rowing I’m pulled back by the wind.
After three hours the wind calms down and the gorges open up in a triumph of green and rocks. At 9 the Koshava comes back strong. i find shelter on the banks where the wind is weaker and keep going slow.
I spot a pontoon, asking to a fisherman, nice face, if I can rest for a while. He welcomes me, his name’s Vlatko. He’s on vacation in a beautiful holiday housebelonging to an institute. I have an hour of peace, with green tea and biscuits.
The wind seems to have gone, so I get aboard. I pass a very tough curve, where you can still see the ruins of a fortress built by Tiberius, and the gorges looks even wilder with passages under cliffs of over 100 metres. What a dive. And, down below, stil the roman road.
There are impressive whirlwinds, in some points the depth of the river is 90 metres. The river, here, can be scary. It’s allright for me.
I suffer for the headwind but keep going. Then, close to the 1.000 km to the Black Sea, I face a wild bowline with hits that make Clodia wobble.
I stop and get aside Serena, that’s having a hard day too perfectly driven by captain Leon, that’s a river dog already. We cheer for the 1.000 km milestone vith a slibovitza.
Let’s go, still close hauled, over a steep river. We see a boat from Serbian police following us. I’m waited by Milanovac but the last 10 km are under a strong sun and just in the other Danube temple of sailing (the other one is Golubac), the wind suddenly disappears. In the end I can just exploit the last gusts. The marina of Donji Milanovac is quite nice but not protected, I’ll wobble all night.
I’m worn out, after 57 km against the wind, with whilrlwinds and currents leading straight to the rocks. Now, paying a little attention, I shouldn’t find any more danger. I think to what the navigation had to be before the building of the Iron Gates. Hell!
The Romans digged a 3 km canal to avoid the 26 km/h current and the rocks during flooding. In Milanovac a coastguard, hugs and kisses us, happy. We don’t have to pay anything. Beautiful here, looks like Norway but it’s 40° of temperature.
Guess who pops up in the morning? Thomas and Elly. Just after getting off the tent I see thair kayak. They’ve waited for me.
Today we set off for the Kazan gorges, once the terror of the Danube. I meet Alexander and Marjia in the headquarter of the Derdap Natural Park. Great tales of beauty, large natural park in one of the world’s most stunning landscapes. I’ll be back.
In Lepenski Vir you can see the Europe’s oldest human settlement. It dates back to 8.000 B.C. but they’ve found evidences from 20.000 B.C. too. The sculpture of the fish woman tells a lot about the bound between these ancient civilities and the river.
We get moving around noon. What a beauty, the cliffs rise steeo, up to 800 mt, and 90 mt below me. In the lake of Mali Kazan we set our camp in front of the bearded statue of Decebal, Dacian king defeated by Traianus, and next to a crazy orthod0x church. Thomas cooks the palacinke over the fire, while Elly stuffs them. Wonderful.
At 5 let’s go for the first of the two locks. Still great scenery. We homage the people dead for the Traianus road, under the Tabula Traiana corroded by the fires of the fishermen who used to fry fishes under the low-reliefs.
Iron gate 1: Fear of leon but everything goes well. Too much wind now, so I row with Elly while Thomas jumps aboard Serena with Anna and Leon. No time to wait, alone in this pool 310 mt long. We passo the two huge chambers, for a total of 32 mt gap, in about 1 hour. Elly and Thomas are great, he even makes me a wallet out of a milk carton. Super dobro.
We get to Kladovo under a hot sun. From the old fort we can hear Balkan melodies coming. Not even the time to moor and we see a guy with big spectacles waving his arms and offering two dockings for free.
It’s Miletin, former ice hockey star and very well known person. Crazy as a horse but generous like just mads can be. He immediately drives us to the frontier police to sort out our little big problem: We’re 7 days late on the allowed period of stay in Serbia.
He scares the hell out of the guys aboard his brand new 4×4 Volvo (that he drives like it was a tank, with no care about obstacles), crossing fileds at full speed, with full volume music in the background…
Looks like a scene from Black cat White cat by Kusturica. But I enjoy it and, after a balkan lunch, take a couple of drinks in an afternoon night club, following the crazy habits of Miletin. Tears ansd heart, at full speed: Impossible to tell, but true as mad.
In the evening Miletin takes us to his golden lakes, littel villages where the guest is sacred. I remember my childhood. Spritzer (spritz) true, not that cheap beverage, served in Venice at high price, that’s so famous worldwide. Spritz is water and wine, a simple yet honest drink. And true people. Dust and Danube. Women with veil and lizards. I could sit on the side of the street, on a straw chair with a worn pillow, just about forever.
As always, somebody from the city breaks the spell, so we have to go looking for the 11 millionaires kicking a ball. With the money of poor people. Miletin is now drunk but doesn’t show, he holds well. As Piedmontese, I’m prepared to take any quantity of alcohol, to hold with dignity and sobriety.
Driving at 160 km/h on doggy roads seems to be the standard over here, so I’m not even frightened anymore. Should we die, it would be a great money saving anyway. In Kladovo, at the Natura restaurant of a polyglot friend of Miletin, we watch a football game. Don’t ask me which one, but I eat so well that even football seems likeable. Everything looks wonderful.
What I think about these days? That on the river you can find anything, and the river are made by water but people along the river drink everything but water. And that seas are made of rivers.
Miletin: A hvala big as your heart.
My shoes, by walking over water, already have a few holes.
Be water my friends.