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Monday, 5 August 2013

Bihać and Una



So, there I was, in Kulen Vakuf… incredibly close to the incredible Una. That I had missed her was clearly an understatement. Arriving late in the night with my friends had not given us the chance to see her, but hear her we did and fell asleep to her endless murmur.
We had 2 days planned on Una: rafting (Štrbački Buk – Lohovo) and double (sit-on-top) kayaking. As we hit the day off with an amazing breakfast by Una River, we felt that nothing could stand between our plans and us. That is, until the clouds started gathering at the horizon. We still got into our wetsuits as fast as we could, got into the van, and were on our way to the start line when it started pouring down on us. We had two choices: go on with our plans for the day in the rain (but only paddle to get to the finish line without actually enjoying the river, as Dejan – our skipper wisely told us –) or attempt the route the second day and skip kayaking. Mmm… we went for b).
We decided to spend that rainy and really cool day (this was a first during my trips to Bosnia!) in Bihać and its surroundings, so we immediately set off. We walked through the centre of the city, went shopping for ajvar, Preminger (my favourite beer), and some special Bosnian handmade clothes, and then had lunch at ‘River Una’ Restaurant, beautifully set by the river, with the wild duck in sight at all times. I actually realised that it was my fourth time in Bihać, yet I had never been to Cazin, so we drove there and went up the winding road to Stari Grad (the Old Town, dating back to the 14th century). We continued by car (on our way back to Bihać) to Ostrozać Castle, dating back to the 16th century. The structure looked imposing, dark, and moody in the rain and mist, probably the perfect weather conditions to perceive it like that. We went in (we were the only visitors and I was surprised to find the castle gate open, because one usually has to ring for the curator to come and show the travellers around). The courtyard was full of strange but expressive statues and we walked around them for minutes trying to understand their message. And then, as I climbed up the castle’s walls, an astonishing view revealed itself to me: I was stunned – it seemed like all of Bosnia had been captured in only one shot. I looked down to the twenty-metre precipice below and the high grass growing underneath the castle walls looked so inviting, that it made me want to jump.
Our evening pleasantly ended in the company of some very dear friends – Sanjin, Dzana and their daughter Farah – we hadn’t seen in three years and then with a late but very tasty dinner at our accommodation. Was the sun going to shine on us the following day?

Getting ready to hit the water

It did! Early wake up, breakfast by Una, and we were at our starting point before we knew it – this time in the newly-established Una National Park. Our day on the river started with the usual training before hitting the big waterfalls at the start of the route. As we approached Štrbački Buk, we got out of our raft and walked/climbed for some minutes on the right bank, waiting for our boat and our skipper to join us after the 18-metre waterfall. We knew what we had in store: a 4-metre waterfall and some tricky smaller waterfalls cascading down to another section whose usual rocks we couldn’t see, because the water level was very high. In fact, I didn’t remember to have seen Una that foamy and rich. Ever.
Training
With the more difficult part of the river behind us, I knew that we had some time to relax, observe the underwater plants, the wild duck, the shine of river – no longer turquoise, but green (I suspect the rain to have been responsible for that) –, and the reflection of the sky and of the forests. Still, the water was powerful and we needed to focus and to paddle. [I admit that my paddling on the first section of Una seemed more difficult than paddling on Vrbas, but I soon found my rhythm.]
The AMAZING Una...
I always have high expectations and those of that day were probably higher because Karlo (our first skipper and very dear friend) wasn’t the one steering the boat that day. And I was wondering if going down Una was going to be the same without him. :) Well, I didn’t quite feel at ease during the first half an hour, because I always need to feel connected to the people I’m surrounded by in order for me to be fully functional. I perceived Asko – our skipper – as the more reserved type, but my friend Andra’s jokes and carefree talks during the mild sections of the river got to unwind everyone’s spirit (especially mine) and we truly had a blast. I remember one bit of our talks that day, which would become one of our trip’s mottos.
So, Asko, how do you feel about friendships between men and women? Andra smiled and confidently added, as if trying to explain the reasons behind the question. It’s one of Olivia’s favourite subjects.
Yes, they’re possible, Asko replied in a very serious tone and then paused. It depends for how long.
Laughter followed and it accompanied us until the finish line, with Iulia and Andra canyoning for a bit, with Marcel and I controlling the boat on our own, and even with doing a bit of steering at the end of our route – which I enjoyed very much, although it looks easier than it actually is and you need a good team to help you paddle through –.
The route ended with the two waterfalls we remembered so well, after passing a very dangerous section of the river – especially for kayakers –, where one gets sucked into an underwater tunnel and cannot get out because the water pressure is too high and there isn’t enough space for a kayak and a kayaker to come out on the other side. We had sadly found out that morning that a German kayaker had died in that same spot in May 2013, which made us remember that extreme sports must be approached with utmost care, at all times.
We felt victorious and happy and the late lunch that followed was precisely what we needed before starting our journey to Sarajevo. By having one last look at Una before hugging Dair – our friend and host – goodbye, I realised that no matter how beautiful the following rivers of my life were going to be, first love never dies.   

When in Bihać,

Visit Fethiya Mosque, dating back to at least 1266. You will be surprised to learn and see that the building was originally the Gothic-style Church of St. Anthony, but was converted to a mosque after the city finally fell to the Ottomans in 1592. Its name derives from the Arabic word for 'victory'. However, several features of the church were left intact, including the high arching main entrance and the intricate rose-shaped window directly above it.

Climb into the Captain’s Tower. It is one of the oldest structures in the city and it played a central role in Bihać’s founding mythology. Legend has it that back when the town was a little more than a fortified outpost of the Hungarian Empire, the tower saved the life of no other than King Bela IV himself, who took refuge there while being pursued by a band of nefarious Tatar horsemen. The king was so grateful that he declared Bihać a free city on February 26th 1260. This was the first time that the city was officially mentioned in the annals of history and it is still celebrated each year as Bihać City Day. Opening hours: 9:00am-4:00pm (Mon-Fri); 9:00am-2:00pm (Sat); Sun: closed

When in Kulen Vakuf,

Climb to Ostrovica Fortress, first mentioned in 1407 but probably dating back to the 10th century. The view will fascinate you.

2 comments:

  1. Hello there, I was googling around the net, searching for the name of the lake we stopped after rafting. I'm planning to visit it again but I can't recall the lake's name. So I noticed ur post. you might remember meeting Arab people from Kuwait two girls and father. you might be a great help for me if you know the name of the lake I'm planning to visit Bihac very soon.

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  2. Hi! You might be referring to Plitvice Lakes, http://www.np-plitvicka-jezera.hr/. They're right across the border, in Croatia. Does that ring a bell?

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