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Monday, 22 July 2013

Banja Luka and Vrbas River



I admit that I was a bit worried when I found out about the 2013 ICF Wildwater Canoeing World Cup Final taking place during the exact time we were supposed to be in Banja Luka. I was worried that it could affect our entire trip’s schedule and prevent us from rafting down Vrbas River, an experience I was so keen to explore… Luckily, it was clearly meant to be and I’ll tell you in a minute why.
Entering Bosnia and Herzegovina close to sunset after a stopover in Belgrade and a couple of hours on the Croatian motorway was bliss for me because I had clearly missed it too much. Night was creeping in as we found ourselves closer and closer to Banja Luka. In spite of my aggravating cold, I still managed to keep my senses as acute as possible and enjoy the city.
My friends and I were very tired, but decided to go and get some beers after checking in at our hostel. The heat was still poignant and Banja Luka’s centre was swarming with people in hip and trendy outfits. Was this triggered by a usual Saturday night or by the Fresh Wave Fest 2013 under way in Republika Srpska’s administrative capital? I was left wondering. Well, we were there for the river and for the related adrenaline, so it was an early night after the refreshing Nektar beers we had on our room’s terrace.
2013 ICF Wildwater Canoeing World Cup Final
The cool air of that Sunday morning was a blessing after a night spent with our room’s door open. After picking up some delicious pastry, we decided to try our luck and get to the 2013 ICF Wildwater Canoeing World Cup Final to see the individuals and teams in action [we had been warned that we might not be allowed to go by car and that we might have to walk a lot to get to the section of the river the competition was held on, but I was prepared to do that]. I had always dreamt of watching such a competition and – like all my wishes this year – it became a reality. Sooner than we knew it, we had our parking permit and I was climbing the rocks framing the river together with my girls.
Vrbas River looked greenish, foamy, and a bit scary in my opinion. I was watching the athletes struggle with certain rapids, trying to find the best line and get the best times, I was feeling lucky to be there and at the same time wondering if struggling was what we were about to do in our raft, on the river. And then I received the SMS from Ognjen [who helped us a lot in organising the Vrbas rafting episode!] and I knew that our day was getting even better, because our rafting adventure was still on, in the afternoon, after the award ceremony of the Canoeing World Cup Final.
We returned to Banja Luka, but our search for stores to shop and some traditional (late) lunch took us back to ‘Orthodox’ Motel [it was Sunday!], which gave us another chance to be close to the river, while enjoying the delicious food. We met Ognjen there at 3:30p.m. and Goran, who was going to be our skipper, arrived there soon. After deciding on the longer and more demanding route (Bijeli buk – Karanovac), we were off.
With Goran, Iulia, and Andra after the finish line :)
As we got into the water and passed some white foamy rapids and some high waves, Goran told us that we could relax, because the most difficult part of our route was now behind us. :) We continued to paddle and to watch the banks of the river with the green and wild views unfold before our eyes; we talked and talked with Goran, which turned our rafting experience into an extremely fun and informative one. We got to understand water better, we got to understand Vrbas better, its type of rocks, its underwater soil, and the rapids it formed. The traditional beer break followed and – by the time we reached the section we had watched during the Canoeing World Cup Final – we felt very relaxed and confident. Not only did we make it safe and sound through those tricky rapids, but we also got to try out several traverses and managed to really function as a team, which boosted our level of confidence. It was one complete rafting experience, including a section considered by some as the best sprint section in the world.
We would have liked to stay a bit longer, but it was already night, the rain started pouring down on us and we were on to another adventure in another place of magical Bosnia. We’ll definitely be back!

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