Two buddies and I bought a rowing boat in Hungary and spent 1.5 months rowing down the Danube from Budapest to the Black Sea (passing through Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Burlgaria, Romania and Ukraine), camping and enjoying life.
It was a sunny and quiet day, and I was motorbiking through Uganda, when I got an email from one of my best friends: Mark. The message was clear: The Danube trip that we had talked about 5 years before that day was ON, and I should be in Budapest by the end of July. “GAME ON”, I thought to myself, “let’s do this”. I was very excited, since the previous 10 day rowing trip we had done had been a lot of fun, and I couldn’t wait to see Mark again.
Apparently, Mark’s decision to finally do this trip had originated from a chilled evening conversation with a friend of his, Mozi (Tamas is his real name) . It had been his childhood dream to follow the almighty Danube, that went past his home-town city, and to find out where it leads to. And so it was, we were a crew of three chillsters on a quest to conquer the kingdom of the flowing water.
I flew to Budapest from Kenya on the 21st of July, and I met a very interesting girl on the plane who had a few businesses and was on her way to party in Ibiza. Her newest business was manufacturing and selling “I Love Fufu” condoms, and she gave me quite a few for “research purposes”.
Mark was supposed to pick me up at Arrivals in the airport, but he wasn’t there when I showed up. There were many young people, undoubtedly in a party mood due the festival season and water Olympics in Budapest. So I called him and turns out that he had gone to the wrong terminal. He came running and then we ran together to the road exiting the airport, where his girlfriend was waiting for us in the car with a cute and large white/beige dog inside, who I found out was called “Chilli”. This female situation was a surprise to me, and I was so happy for Mark!
A few chilling days later, after Mark collected his paycheck from working at movie sets, we decided that it was time to start the trip preparations. But… where to start? Well… How about starting with finding a boat to do the trip in? Mark had an old rowing boat, but it wasn’t in a very good state, and we would need to return it to Budapest anyway (that was supposed to be very costly and difficult). So we decided to buy a new one. Mark and Mozi found some used canoes for sale online, so we scheduled a visit with one of them and went to check it out.
The place was about 45 minutes away from the city, in a slow and quiet branch of the Danube. And the guy came to pick us up by motorboat from the other side of the river. We tried the canoe, and it didn’t give us a good impression. It didn’t feel very solid, wasn’t in a good condition, was too slow, it came without oars and was kind of pricey for what it really was. So we decided to give it a pass, and to spend the rest of the day chilling by the river, swimming and playing with Chilli.
On the way back to town, just before sunset, we decided to pass by Mark’s rowing club, where he stored his boat, just to see if there was any that we could buy. And we hit the jackpot: The guy in charge showed us to a rowing boat for sale, which was in very good condition, seemed very fast, and was very cheap (~200€). Mozi asked me about my opinion and I said that we would not find a better, easier and more convenient deal than this one, so we bought it.
Mozi was to be the owner on the contract, although we split the price equally. So that was it, what a successful day full of chilling, and accomplishing our goal. We were happy and celebrated. What was next? Making the boat look cool, feel awesome and being well equipped.
- Look cool: It is universally agreed upon that both the front and the rear of cool boats needs to be original, impressive and/or frightening. During our previous rowing trip 5 years beforehand, we had found a (goat?) skull that we had then attached to the front to give it a classic viking look. After the trip, Mark had hanged this skull on his wall, as a memory. And 5 years later, we took it off the wall and put it on our new boat. As for the rear, we went for the classic pirate flag, except that instead of the scary skull, we drew a big smiley with two smaller smileys on each eye of the large smiley. The other side of the flag, we left it white, just planning ahead of the sure-to-be situation in which we would have to use this “we surrender” flag, in case of other pirates, army intervention, or as a help sign for when the boat would break/sink. Notice that I wrote “when”, not “if”, because we were pretty much sure it would happen. We then attached the flag onto some old tent poles and drilled a hole in the read of the boat where the pole could get attached to.
- Feel awesome: Mozi is an incredibly skilled handyman and has a lot of experience working with wood. He took the oars, feet attachments and saddles/seats to his workshop and tuned them up. He came back the next day and we were very impressed: He had put some bicycle handlebar tape onto the oars to make them easier to grip, in addition to padding the saddles/seats and replacing the old leather straps with new synthetic ones. Trust me when I say with conviction that these advancements saved our hands, asses and feet.
- Being well equipped:
- Since “happiness is only real when shared” (Christopher McCandless – Into the Wild) (link), we had to buy a solar charger to charge our phones, camera, and most importantly, MP3 player (to spread the happiness with everyone who could hear us).
- Non digital fun: we brought a couple of games: Frisbee, cards and palas/rackets (link https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palas_(deporte) )(and we used the balls as the eyes of the skull, for easier access), and an inflatable mattress which turned out to be pretty useless.
- A machete for self protection, since we read that (seriously it’s no joke) there are pirates on the last stretch of the Danube. But we also used it cut prepare our camping and hammock grounds as well as to pretend that we were pirates, from time to time.
- Mark and Mozi both bought a large barrel to transport their stuff and to keep it dry. I was planning on traveling further after the trip so I just had a backpack and bought a few bin bags to put around it in case of rain, but I knew that at some point they’d get wet. Anyway, there wasn’t enough space on the boat for another large barrel, so we bought a medium one to store food items that should not get wet.
- Camping gear: I bought a cheap sleeping bag that didn’t take much space, if it would ge cold I’d just put on more clothes (I mistakenly thought). We also got some hammocks, gloves (for rowing), lights (both as torch and in case we’d row at night) etc.
Apart from that list, there was another important thing to take care of before the departure: We all three had to get laid. Because the trip was going to be very long and it since we were about to become sailors/seamen, we had to start acting as such. Mark had his romance going on, Mozi had sexy time with his neighbor, and I had a couple of successful Tinder dates. Having done what needed to be done, we went to try out our new boat.
We rowed for about 15 minutes, and I already had 2 large blisters on my hands. Also, the boat was taking in quite a bit of water, and I told the others that it wasn’t ok. Mark insisted that it was totally normal since the wood needs to soak and expand, but I knew that it was just too much water, as you’ll soon find out. We left the boat sink in the water for about an hour, to let it soak, and thinking back upon it, it must have looked really funny.
We also met and got invited to lunch by Mark’s grandfather, who despite being very old was a very very intelligent, funny and wise man who had lived a very interesting life. He brought with him a very old (I think over 100 years old) detailed map of the Danube, and we proceeded to take a look and brace ourselves for what was yet to come. He told us about a really scenic area just where both damns were located, the Iron Gates, and that his cousin was the Hungarian minister in charge of their construction to make the river navigable. I’m so happy we met Mark’s grandfather. Apart from him being a beautiful person, he offered us a historical perspective on the route we were about to conquer, and our enthusiasm grew even further.
Mozi had an interview with the father of one his friends, who was a captain on one of these big transport ships that cruise the Danube, and the gained a lot of valuable information for the trip that saved us a couple of times.
We had originally planned on leaving on the 1st August, but when the day came we still had to buy food, I had to receive a letter with my new credit card and Mark had to buy an analog camera. So we took care of that, and after buying (what seemed like) half of the supermarket, we left Mark’s apartment on the morning of the 2nd of August, famously known as Day 1.
It was hilarious. You should have seen us on the street, attempting to carry all our stuff. I was balancing about 9 large bottles of water, the food barrel, my own backpack, a new full of utensils and a few more bags. It was super heavy, and we somehow just managed to carry everything to the metro/tube, and then again walk from there about a kilometer or two until the rowing boat. We had to take many breaks and at some point Mark was like “fuck this shit” and instead of carrying his barrel, he kicked it with his feet so that it would roll forward. As for me, I was dropping and breaking water bottles here and there because the plastic holding them together had broken, and luckily Mozi was a bit stronger and was helping us all out.
We got to the boat, and found out that it’s compulsory to carry enough life jackets for everyone (we only had 2), when passing through damns. And we also thought that it would be a good idea to buy an extra set of oars. The guy from the rowing club sold us both the lifejacket and oars for about 50€, and we somehow managed to fit eveything onto the boat, which really surprised all of us as we thought there was no way that we’d manage.
And then it hit us, it was the start of an epic journey through the unknown, and off we were after taking a cool picture. Luckily for us, there were 2 large sponges on-board, because the boat kept filling up with water, at a pretty alarming rate, and one of us on the rowing seat had to empty it while the other one in the rowing seat held the balance with both oars on the water. The person in charge of the direction couldn’t do much, because it was a bit higher up and only felt water when the boat was very inundated.
We rowed for a few kilometers, through the calm river, until we reached central Budapest. At first it was like being in a dream, so beautiful, sunny, magic, and instead of watching the river from the bridge or island, we were on the water. But as we crossed the bridge and faced the Parliament, that’s where the trouble started, with plenty of boats, waves and a lot of wind that day. We realized that the waterline of our boat was pretty damn low, and the waves were much bigger than we had anticipated. None of us really knew if we’d make it past that day. And didn’t help that the boat kept on sucking in water. At some critical point, we had to stop or we were going to sink. And that’s when we had our first disagreement on-board.
I knew that we had to stop rowing and empty the boat of water or we’d sink. Mark and Mozi wanted to keep going until the next bridge, where they thought that there was a suitable place for stopping. Keep in mind that it’s pretty damn hard to stop ashore with a 8m long boat on a river with quite a bit of current, with the shores full of rocks and stuff sticking out. I insisted that one of us holds the balance while the others emptied the water and thank God we did, because the waves got larger a minute later and there wasn’t a suitable place to stop after the bridge, so we would have sank, Mark admitted to me later on. And in the process of emptying this water, Mozi found the culprit right behind me on the right hand side: A sizable hole.
A few kilometers downriver, we were already tired, the sun was way to strong and we had a hole to fix, so we stopped under a tree. Luckily, as the amazing artisan that he is, Mozi had packed some epoxi resin mixes that he could use in case of need, and he fixed the hole in a couple of minutes. Waiting for the resin to dry up, we chilled in the shadow and I had a siesta after some food. During this break, we also fixed the extra set of oars onto the outside of the boat (we had crammed them inside but we needed more space).
When everything got taken care of, we continued for a few more kilometers until we found a nice sandy beach, where we stopped to play palas/rackets and to have a nap. After waking up, I felt energetic (it was my second nap of the day VS their first one), so I pumped up the inflatable mattress and lied on it, and let the current take me down. In this part of the Danube the current was still very strong, and I enjoyed floating downriver for quite a few kilometers under the sunshine, until Mark and Mozi caught up with me on the rowing boat and picked me up.
The landscapes were amazing, and so damn peaceful.
We were loving it, and time flew by until the beautiful sunset arrived and we found a suitable camping ground, with loads of wood, pretty flat for the tent, and with a place to easily take the boat out. We had totally forgotten that sunset time is also mosquito attack time, but we got promptly reminded by quite a few of mosquitos, anxious to suck up our blood. I can’t sleep unless I’m clean, so after picking up some wood I jumped straight into the water, while Mozi was building and starting the fire.
It was so beautiful, just being there in the water, looking at all the nature around us, and it must have been a special day of the year, since the air was swarmed with some small long, thin and white flying insects that I had never seen in my life. Many of them were floating on the water, and it was quite a show. Luckily they didn’t bite, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sit here writing this. We set up the tent and since we didn’t have mosquito nets, Mark and Mozi decided to sleep in the tent. But it was too warm for me, so I stayed outside between the tent and the fire, admiring life and looking at the sky. Of course, I covered myself with mosquito repellent, but an hour or so after sunset most of the mosquitos go away anyway.
Halfway through the night, I woke up, and it was pretty damn scary: I heard so many small noises in the forest, and when it wasn’t that, I heard big fishes jumping out of the water very close to us. I tried sleeping again but every minute there was a new noise, and it had gotten cooler anyway, so I dived inside the tent and fell asleep pretty much instantly.
We woke up pretty late, when the sun was already high up in the sky and the tent was burning hot inside. The latter is the only reason why we got up, since our bodies were hurting like crazy from the previous day’s rowing. We had our breakfast and saw some fishermen nearby, packed everything and then left. On the water we talked about how warm it was in the tent and how we needed to buy some mosquito nets so that we could sleep on our hammocks outside, and Mozi had the good idea of calling his mother who lived in the next big city and asking her to buy 3 mosquito nets.
A while after we left, when the sun was damn strong, we saw an amazing beach in the shadow that we just couldn’t resist. We set up the 3 hammocks on the trees, and fell asleep, dead from the heat, sun, and perhaps more.
When we finally woke up, we kept going, and we could see Mozi’s hometown in the background, Dunaujvaros. Mozi was the captain, and he took this not so wide branch of the river that was a shortcut that would lead us to the city. But about a kilometer after the start, there were some shallow rapids under a bridge that didn’t seem navigable. Luckily, Mozi saw them and we managed to turn the boat around in the last second, merely 10 meters from the start of the rapids. After Mark inspected them by foot, we decided to turn around and go back to the main Danube, as we weren’t quite sure if the boat would manage to go past them and didn’t want to find out… And also, we couldn’t know if there would be other shallower rapids and then we’d be stuck without a way out.
Mozi was captain (that’s what we called the person in charge of the direction, sitting at the rear of the boat) and was feeling a bit dizzy. Back on the main river he almost went into some other shallower rapids. Fortunately, this time it was Mark who heard them and told Mozi to go more towards the middle of the river.
We turned to the right and rowed 300m into a little channel where Mozi’s mum was waiting for us. Mozi mum was so nice and not only did she give us the mosquito nets, she also gave us a lot of delicious and fresh plums inside an extra cooking pot, which we were to start using to prepare coffee and sauces. We also took refilled our water bottles in some nearby toilets.
We rowed some more, until we found a nice beach and we set up the three hammocks parallel to each other. I was dead, and went to sleep while Mozi and Mark cooked some veggies with beans. I woke up a while later, had dinner with them and went to bed (more precisely: to the hammock). Except for Mark, (for totally) unknown reasons he ended up sleeping (and waking up) on the floor.
I was still half dead. I just didn’t feel good and my head hurt. Perhaps it was due to an insolation, perhaps due to some smoke I’d inhaled. I had zero energy, but did mind-over-matter and got up, took a shit in the river and got ready, very slowly. We rowed for a while, changed captain on a beach, took a pee and continued. I felt very weak, but I knew that I just had to hold on without quitting and that eventually it would pass, pretty much like with everything in life except death.
We found a beach that seemed to be used by fishermen, since they had set up a carp to get shelter from the sun and in case of rain. Once again, we set up the hammocks, ate some cans and fell asleep, watching a bunch of other rowing boats and canoes pass by under the grilling sun, while we were comfortably hanging in the shadows of the trees.
We passed the 1550 km left sign, saw a few sport boats having a party and we stopped to have a very long break, where I fell asleep once more. We got woken up by this guy who arrived by kayak. He had a big French flag attached to it and started talking with us. While pulling his kayak out, he almost tipped it around. He seemed tired and lonely. He had a very strong French accent and I asked him if he was French, to which he answered, in a VERY strong French accent: “But how did you know!?”. I answered that the flag gave him away, and he looked relieved. We had a fun chat with him, during which he told us that he became sick because he had sex with a sick girl that he met on Tinder, while she was sleeping, and that she got upset with him because of this. Apparently, she had also made her whole family sick. And he seemed so surprised. Haha
Quentin was nice but we wanted to go further and didn’t want to get sick too, so we gave him some of our medicines and left. We (more like Mark and Massa, as I was pretty much dead from whatever it was) rowed and rowed a while until we found some shallow waters with the perfect tree for hammocks standing on a kind of beach. However, there were some huge horn bees flying around us and biting us from time to time (Perhaps because we stank and I was half dead). We took a refreshing swim, lit a fire, wrapped potatoes in aluminum and cooked them on the fire embers. They were delicious. And the moon was so beautiful.
We woke up early that day, not because we wanted to but because we realized that the trick in having a good and successful day was starting early, and not when the sun was at it’s peak and extremely strong. But of couse, we were half asleep, and not fully functional. Mozi was captain, and even though he was pulling on on string to direct the oar to one way, he actually wanted to go the other direction (without realizing it). There were some rapids ahead so we had to take a little detour in a smaller branch of the Danube. This mini detour wasn’t a big deal at all and we were all in a zombie mode.
A couple of hours later, when the sun got very strong, we found a quiet place to rest, on the side of the river on a mini island. Since I was still feeling weird, i put up my hammock and fell asleep for many hours. A few people with dogs came to visit the island during that time, and my friends talked with them, but I didn’t even have the strength to wake up and look.
Somehow, I managed to wake up in the early afternoon and we continued rowing for a couple of hours without any eventualities other than the fact that there were more and more flies and hornbees buzzing around us. We took it as a clue that we were getting smellier, and before sunset we stopped on a beach with a bit of mud to have a nice bath with soap (in the river, of course), put up the hammocks, and I even shaved. Since we didn’t have mirrors (I think Mark had one at the bottom of his barrel haha), Mark helped me with the last touches. Mozi was getting himself a name within our group as the gourmet chef, since he enjoyed cooking, also was more picky than us when it came to food, and most importantly, he was an amazing cook. That evening he cooked some tasty pasta and I went to sleep right after while Mark and Mozi unsuccessfully attempted to fish.
We got back to our old habits and woke up late. We were getting closer to Baja, a beautiful city that was connected to the Danube through a canal. We decided to row it upriver until central Baja, officially so that we could buy some food and refill water. Unofficially, so that we could look at the girls in bikini on the city beaches.
We parked the boat in some park by the center, Mozi stayed watching the boat (aka lying in the sun getting sun tan looking at the girls) while Mark and I went to the nearby market to buy fruits and dairy (there wasn’t much more food available). I walked back to the boat with all the food while Mark went to a supermarket to get some more stuff. On the way back I saw a fountain, to which I came back a couple of times to refill all our water bottles.
While we were packing a ready to go, this friendly bearded guy came over to give us an inflatable pillow that had fell and floated away from our boat without us realizing it. And it turned out that this guy was part of the rowing boat crew that passed us 2 days before while we were chilling on the hammocks. They also started rowing in Budapest and got there yesterday! They rowed 185km in 15h, while we were on our fifth day. We laughed about it, but we also felt a bit like little shits. But for us it wasn’t about the speed, but about the experience and the chilling (great excuse, right?)
We left Baja late, when the sun was very strong. It was the classic. Back on the main Danube, a police boat passed by a couple of times at full speed, obviously just having fun on the river. We decided to have a break in the shadow, and while parking the boat I dropped the pillow and it started flowing downriver at a pretty rapid pace. I wasn’t sure if i’d make it to the pillow on time because it was getting away very fast, and Mark just said fuck it and swam towards it. I felt like a total chicken so I started swimming behind Mark. We went down current a few hundred meters before he caught onto it, and then we walked all the way back in the mud, jumping over dead trees and trying not to walk onto sharp things such as roots or plant shoots. It was far, and when we got back Mozi was waiting for us with some beers. Also, the raw milk we had bought in the market was already getting bad, so Mark and I downed it while I read a book.
We rowed some more, and the wind picked up, which led to waves, which our low-sitting boat had trouble going through.
The current was really strong, and it felt like we were flying downriver. We saw some official-looking building in the background, and I suggested that we should go there and check it out in case it was the Hungarian border exit checkpoint. But we kept rowing until a little beach, where we stopped and saw this large wooden canoe with a homeless-looking 30-something German guy next to it pitching his tent.
We talked for a bit with him, and he (Tobias) turned out to be a really cool and funny guy. He had started his canoe trip in Germany, and had been on the water for a while already. During our conversation we found out that although he had started the trip asking people if he could fill his water bottles, after a week he got fed up of doing that and just started drinking the water from the Danube. Pretty hardcore, considering that it’s really not that clean. Crazy guy. He also told us that the building we had passed was indeed the mandatory exit checkpoint, which meant that we had to row back there. The trouble was, there was pretty damn strong current, in addition to the huge waves and the fact that there was a storm approaching.
So we started rowing upriver, with me as the captain. I attempted a cross of side, since the immigration checkpost was on the other side, but the current was too strong to allow it (since the building was on the exterior side of the curve), so we just went back (to the inside of the curve) and kept rowing upstream, advancing very, very slowly. With every wave, the boat took in more and more water, and we stopped the boat on the side wherever we could to empty it of water before attempting the cross to the other side.
After a lot of trouble, we finally reached our destination and the rain got very strong. Initially, I stayed near the boat under a small runway leading to the pier, while Mozi and Mark went to Customs. But after a while I started freezing my ass off, and the fact that it was sunset and there were lightnings and thunders didn’t help. So I went to the immigration building without even shoes/socks. I looked homeless but at least, without beard as I had shaved the previous night.
Apparently, the police officers should have checked the boat before putting a stamp on our boat papers, and in theory we had to row straight through the border until Serbia without stopping in Hungary again, but I guess due to the storm they just didn’t give a fuck and they didn’t even come to look at or examine the boat. Also, rowing 10km in a storm wasn’t very safe, so they said we could camp on Hungarian grounds.
Once everything was sorted, we had to get to shelter, because the storm was right on top of us, with big waves, lightnings and loads of rain.
We rowed back to the beach with the German guy and as we arrived the rain stopped for about 5 minutes, the time that it took us to set up our camp and get ready for bed. #Lucky. And I also remember that we turned upside down the rowing boat so that it wouldn’t get filled up with water during the night, and we then stored a few things under the boat, to free up space in the tent.
When the rain came back, there were also raging winds and we were really scared that the old tent would break since it was moving in every direction. Thank God it didn’t.
After the adrenaline of the previous day, we slept in and had a late start with a delicious breakfast. We still had to get some foreign currency so we stopped just before the start of Mohacs, the last city on the Hungarian side. Since Mark had explored Baja, Mozi and I walked along the waterfront until town, in order to change some money and to buy a few more things in the supermarket. I also used the WiFi of some bank to catch up with my other friends in that world that we call reality.
Back on the boat, it was very scenic and we were all in a cheerful mood, and made funny comments with different accents on the large boat cruises based on which country they were from.
After a while, we finally crossed the border, which was symbolized by a tiny Croatian flag on the right side (facing downriver), and a tiny Serbian one on the left, all surrounded by green nature and stillness. We then noticed a powerful police boat coming in our direction, with two middle aged policemen inside. After politely greeting us, they warned us not to stop in the Croatian side or any of the islands (since most of them belong to Croatia). He said that there is no water entry point to Croatia, so that if they would catch us there illegally, we would get deported. At first, we didn’t mind about this prohibition/limitation too much, since we would only pass by Croatia for about 100km. But later on we did, as you’ll find out. They also told us that the Serbian border check-in was further along.
To celebrate what seemed like a great accomplishment (our first border crossing), we stopped by a beautiful beach and we opened a Dragon Egg that we had been carrying for a while. Ok, it was a watermelon, not a real dragon egg, but it would probably look similar (green, red, round and large) and it sounds way cooler. And it was particularly deliciously refreshing, due to the hot and sunny day.
However, crossing the border not only involves exiting a border but also entering a new one. But it was hard to discern where exactly this border office would be. At some point we saw some Serbian flags and got closer to them, but there weren’t any signs or anyone else appart from a guy who seemed to be part of the crew from a transport ship. We asked him and he told us that we had to continue further…
So we kept rowing, and to our amazement and delight, we were once again completely surrounded by quiet nature, and there were quite a few fishermen scattered along the shores. Learning from our mistakes (stopping too late when the mosquito attack is already underway), we stopped on a nice beach and had a beautiful sunset in front of us from our hammocks, which we had all set up on the same tree.
We woke up early, in order to go to Apatin, the first town in the Serbian side. We parked in the the only dock at sight, and proceeded to disembark onto shore, from where we saw that there was a very clear sign that said that it was forbidden to walk and be where we had parked the boat. “No fucks given” was our attitude.
There was a bar right in front, and we saw German guy sitting there, having some tasty food and beer. He said he had had to pay 70€ for the import tax for his boat, and that he’d done it at the point where we had stopped and the guy had told us to continue. Oh well… We had a quick discussion about if we should try pay this import tax (by attempting to find a place to do so), or if we should take the gamble. We decided the gamble wasn’t worth the risk, especially since we had heard of people having a lot of problems for not having their paperwork in order.
We rowed a bit into a canal where we could see some official looking building, and we found a boat marina. We parked the boat and went to reception, and got greeted by a hot woman. At least so it seemed to us, a bunch of desperate guys who hadn’t seen any girl in about a week. Haha. She informed us of the procedure to import our boat into Serbia, gave us some papers, and we got started.
Her colleague was going to drive to town, so we tagged along in the car, got dropped off in front of a bank where we had to pay the import dues, did that and then went for a walk around town. We changed money, ate some tasty burek and some local foods. The city was in summer mode, and the architecture and setting reminded us of soviet times. To cool down, we entered a bar that was on the back of the Apatin beer fabric, but apparently it was closed and we got thrown out in a rather dismissive and impolite manner (but with a high five from the owner), perhaps due to our homeless looks. We walked back towards the marina to go visit the harbour captain, who signed some documents and then sent us on our way to the police station, further along the river. It was a nice walk, that took us through some pittoresque path, along an old train track parallel to the river.
We were told that the police station was behind a church, and damn it was beautiful. But the police station was a kind of run-down building with a homeless dog sleeping in front of the main door. Luckily it was harmless and after petting him we went in what looked like an old house but had a few curious-looking policemen inside. I guess they hadn’t seen many guys like us there… They checked and double checked our papers and the boat documentation, filled some forms and sent us on our way back to the marina.
On the way, we stopped by a bar by the river, had some beers (alcoholic this time for me) for hydration and celebration of our successful boat import, charged our phones and paid a small fee for the convenience back at the marina. While I filled up the water bottles, Mark and Mozi saw yet another hot girl working there, and when they told me about it I went upstairs to the office, officially to “sincerely thank them for helping us” and unofficially to check her out. hahahah She was cute.
That afternoon (and evening) we actually rowed a lot, energized by the alcoholic beverages full of electrolytes we had just ingested, and fueled by the adventurous feeling of being in a new land. We only had a short break on some cool looking spot, nearby a group of young scouts that were traveling by canoes.
We had a beautiful sunset, it was like a dream, with beautiful music and surrounded by nature…
But there were no beaches, and the whole shore was rocky. We kept going for a while, but it was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to get any better, so we stopped at the place with the fewest rocks and a bit of dirt, near some grass and a clearing where we could put the boat. Despite being very tired (beers!!), we did a great teamwork transporting stuff from the boat until the trees where we’d set up out hammocks. We also chose that particular place because there was quite a lot of dead wood there. However, we couldn’t make very tall fire because we would risk burning the low pine trees from which we were hanging. The worst part from this spot (apart from the mud) was that the water from the river was too dirty to shower, but I was fine since I had a bath earlier on.
The night passed quite fast, and as soon as we woke up we packed and left, because the place was well below our standards.
We rowed until we were hungry and when the sun was too strong to bear (at least, we pretended it was so). We chilled in amazing beach, picked up some wood and cooked spaghetti. I was on water-saving-mode, since we didn’t know how long it would have to last us, and I started boiling just enough water to cook our pasta. But Mark wasn’t in the same saving mode, and he was feeling nicotine withdrawal symptoms, so even though I didn’t want to, he put quite a bit more water in the cooking pot than what was already there. I was a bit annoyed, but didn’t say anything and just decided to leave so that he could cook however he wanted. However, before I left he fucked up and spilled half of the water on the floor XD hahahahahah. So I just went to my hammock and read.
A siesta later, we left again, until we found a super sandy island that was perfectly suited to be lazy and play frisbee and palas, an activity that took us about an hour to complete.
When we got rowing again, life was beautiful, and the rowing great, but it didn’t last long, since we got interrupted by what seemed like an awesome bar on a beach next to a volleyball court. We went there and ordered some beers, to quench our thirst and desire, and unsuccessfully started to chat to the girls next to us (Viktoria and her friend). No, we never got forgot her friend’s name because we all knew that Viktoria was the interesting prospect. Haha
After a couple of beers, the sun was setting, and we started rowing very fast to find a place to spend the night before complete darkness set in. From the distance, with Mark as captain, we spotted an idyllic beach on an island, right where the river split in two. At this point, it was pretty dark, and there were strange currents due to the split of the river. Most importantly perhaps, Mark was drunk. As such, Mark totally fucked up beach approach: he thought the slope of the land was much lower, and crashed with the boat in an almost frontal collision against the island and broke the skull at the front of the boat in half. We couldn’t manage to find the remains of the bottom half, so we reattached the upper part of the skull back to the boat. It was funny.
We ended up camping in that beautiful Island, and even found a (rusted without electricity) fridge (who brought it there!?) and a leftover grill. We used our extra rope to wrap it around a tree, since our hammock chords weren’t long enough. Mark, still drunk, was trying to cut with the machete some branches to make space for his hammock. He started joking about how fucked up it would be if by accident he cup Mozi’s hammock, which was already attached to the same tree. And suddenly, that’s actually what happened, he did a cut on Mozi’s rope. I laughed my ass off. It was time for Mark (and all of us) to go to bed. After a bath, we slept like babies.
That day, we left early. But about 20 seconds after we departed, I remembered that I forgot my sun glasses on the beach, so we went back. It was lucky that I remembered so fast, because the current became very strong and we would have had trouble going back a minute later. We weren’t the only ones to wake up, the wind too, started blowing pretty wildly, and with it came the big waves. While in this mess, we noticed a little fishing boat with a fisherman handling some huge fishes he’d caught. It was tempting to ask him for one but we kept trying to row. I write “trying” because one of the metal parts of Mozi’s oar got loose, and we didn’t have many tools to fix it. But no task is too large for Mozi, who managed to fix it on our next stop.
We urgently needed water, and there hadn’t been much going on by the Serbian side. And then we were caught up in a dylemma, as there was a Hotel with a bar on that side, with a few more buildings, where we could certainly fill up our water tanks and bottles. But we remembered that it was forbidden for us to stop in the Croatian side. Anyway, it was a kind of emergency, so we parked however we could on the rocks and proceeded to walk into the fancy terrace hotel bar during a sunny day, dressed up like complete homeless people. But the employees were very friendly and helped us top up on water, after which we left without problems.
A few kilometers ahead, we realized that we left Croatia, as both sides of the river had Serbian flags. There was a parked floating cargo container with a small beach behind it. I was dead, and took a short nap under the shadow a tree. Mozi gave Mark and me an extra chorizo he carried, because we didn’t have too much food. For those curious: We each had our own food and snacks, that we each paid and chose at the supermarket. And we also had some common food such as rice/pasta/potatoes with sauces and condiments that we would often cook together.
We rowed some more and had a short break on a small village beach where we met a sexy Serbian woman with a Sagittarius tattoo, and talked with her for a while. I also found a toy of a pink barbie on a horse while resting on that beach and compared it to the tattooed woman, and we all had some laughs (including her). Please keep in mind that at this point we were just 3 desperate guys salivating at the thought of women. For more detailed information, we were doing a “no masturbation” challenge, which we were all following at that point. However, it didn’t last long until the challenge came to an end, but that’s a different story hahahha.
We said bye-bye and carried on for a few more minutes, until we were hungry and stopped on a beach by the shadow which seemed perfect, on the right hand side of the river, far from roads and civilization. We cooked some rice with pesto sauce, and after napped on our hammocks, while getting bitten by a few mosquitoes. We were loving it, but still respected and watched with admiration a couple of guys kayaking past us, very motivated to make further mileage progress under the excruciating sun.
We got going after a splash, and the river opened up becoming much wider. We took a wrong shortcut and started hearing some water noise. We had arrived to a mini waterfall made up of some shallow rapid streams (which we obviously couldn’t cross on our rowing boat), so we went back and around the island to take the main river route.
Right after the turn to the left, we saw a nice bar overlooking the river, and decided to go there. We had a few beers, used up the internet and charged our devices. I saw a message from my ex-girlfriend that her sister had sent her with my photo on the newspaper. It was funny. When Mark paid the bill, he felt that he got slightly overcharged, but didn’t say anything. And indeed, so it seems as he paid 820 dinars for 6 beers, which comes up to 136.666667 dinars per beer, slightly suspect if you ask me hahahhaha.
It was sunset, and we still needed to find somewhere to camp. We rowed so fast it was ridiculous, kind of insane actually. Or perhaps that was all in our heads, happy from the alcohol. We searched for a beach, but there wasn’t much on the main river so we decided to take a small river arm to the right. At this point, it was already pretty dark, we were tipsy and we couldn’t find anywhere good, so we ended up in muddy swamp, filled with mosquitos, but where we managed to pull the boat out of the water, sliding it on the mud. It was probably the worst overnight location of the whole trip. The craziest part, though, came when we did a fire and started questioning all those weird thousands of little reflections all around us. We realized that we were completely surrounded by (tens of?) thousands of spiders, it was insane. But we still put up the hammocks and the mosquito nets and tried to sleep.
When we woke up, we realized that the water level had gone up by a bit, but luckily not enough to carry away the boat. The wind started blowing once more, and the waves were huge. The only way to continue was to row very close to the shore. But even then, it was a bit suicidal. The wind that blew upriver, in the opposite direction to the water stream, is called the Koshova, and is the worst, since it produces the largest waves. We tried to cross from one side of the river to another, where we would be more sheltered, but the boat got filled with water from the waves, and we were forced to do an emergency stop in a garden with jet skis, next to a bar, where we planned on drinking beer until we could restart our journey. It’s kind of funny for me to write about alcohol in this way, since I almost never drink, and much less, get drunk. But the strong sun and the soothing and invigorating effects of the beer were hard to negate, along with all the laughs we had later.
While we were unloading the boat to turn it upside down (in order to empty the water), a friendly and helpful woman came out from the house where we’d parked, and told us that we could take out the boat onto the grass, and that she could take us by car to city (turns out that we were in the suburbs of Novi Sad), so that we could explore and walk a bit around town, since they anyhow had to run some errands in the city. They gave us a little tour of Novi Sad’s city center and they explained to us that the clock at the other side of the Danube had the small clock hand for the minutes (and not hours as usual), and the large one for the hours, so that the people from the other far side could read the hour.
She dropped us off and we had a walk around and a drink in a street bar, from where we could look at all those summer skirts. After our drinks and food, the girl sitting on the table next to ours asked us if we wanted to finish her plate because she was full and didn’t like throwing away food. Neither did we, so we ate it and got talking to her. Her name was Nina Rosa and she was a really friendly girl, with whom we went walking around the city, and Mozi borderline fell in love with her hahahah.
We walked back to our meeting point for the ride back, where we also did some food shopping at a supermarket. Then, the friendly woman and her son drove us around and stopped at a local place where we bought loads of tasty bureks (a local pastry filled with cheese/spinach/meat etc) of different flavors, before heading back to their house.
We had an epic feast on the garden, and they gave us loads of other tasty foods such as cevapi (kinda like sausages), beers and watermelon. It was awesome. And there were 2 adorable kittens at my feet, cuddling and drinking milk from their mum. So cute.
And then the son’s friends came over and we had a really fun chat. They were all really cool guys, who played ice hockey. Soon after, the two neighbour-girls came by. I got talking to Milana, a beautiful and cute Serbian girl whose passion was dancing. She transmitted such peace and happiness, I loved her aura. We went for a walk alone, and sat down on a bench swing in her garden, in front of the pool. We talked about everything and nothing, and she was adorable. I felt like kissing her but I didn’t, since she was 17 and still at school, and it could have been very awkward, especially because her mum came a couple of times over (supposedly to bring me drinks and food 🙂 ). So cute and nice.
Anyway, we checked the weather forecast and saw that there was a storm on its way. The family told us we could stay to sleep there or camp in the garden. It was a Friday, and Milana had invited me to go with her to a beach party with latino music under a bridge. It sounded really tempting. But we also had a bit of a time pressure, since Mozi had a deadline to come back to Budapest, so we could not be too slow. I wanted to stay (for obvious reasons), and Mark too. But Mozi wanted to try to escape the storm and to row a few more kilometers, a decision that he regretted for (at least) the rest of the trip, as you’ll find out :P).
As we didn’t know what to do, we flipped a coin in the air to make the decision for us. Unfortunately, the coin told us to leave and try to escape the storm… Already then I knew that this was such a missed opportunity. It was the perfect set up, we had an awesome city, accommodation, friends, a beach party. But no, we left Hahaha. It got even worst when we passed by the bridge that Milana had told me about, as we saw loads of people on that beach and it seemed like an awesome bar. Back then, we missed being surrounded by people (particularly girls), since it got quite lonely on the Danube. And Mozi was starting to realize that he could have spent that evening with Nina…
While leaving Novi Sad, we saw another crowded beach, this time on the other side of the city, in the outskirts. We decided to stop to play palas (so much fun!), to throw around the frisbee and to have some beers. But the fun didn’t last long, firstly because there weren’t many girls of our age, secondly because we lost the frisbee as it sank into the water with a strong current and thirdly, we started seeing lightning bolts in the sunset sky and we needed to find a place to camp and find refuge for the night.
We got rowing and narrowly escaped the storm. In fact, we were kind of racing the storm as we could see it moving closer to us in the sky. We rowed as fast as we could for quite a few kilometers, with the additional challenge of trying to find a suitable camping spot in the darkness.
But it wasn’t all that bad, as we luckily found a small beach, set up camp and ate grilled sausages accompanied with cheese-stuffed-peppers we cooked. As we had evaded the storm, we didn’t even get any rain. AND we got to see a really beautiful sight: The RED moon rising in the horizon. It was truly beautiful.
We wanted to stay outside admiring the sky. However, the mosquitos were starting to become violent, so I decided to construct a kind of cage with a few sticks that I placed in the corners, and my mosquito net that I put on top. In that manner, I stayed outside for a while, contemplating the beauty of the universe and nature, and occasionally remembering our missed opportunity, without getting bothered by mosquitos. Mozi, however, had also attempted to build a much more advanced mosquito net construction than mine (4 sticks in the corners and a net), but somehow he fucked up and the mosquito cage had actually done the opposite of what was intended: It had trapped about 10 mosquitos that were constantly biting him hahahhhahahahah. So funny.
We woke up at 10am of a sunny and warm day, and “washed” my dirty clothes in the river with some soap washing powder we’d bought. In reality, the clothes still look dirty afterwards, but at least they don’t smell anymore haha. Once they were “clean” but still wet, I put them on, both to dry them as well as to cool me down in the heat. #2birds1stone
We had decided to replace the back oars, which we named “toy oars” since they were quite small, with the spare set of oars that we carried, as these were larger and would allow us to row faster. As we had a late start, we tried to catch up time by rowing at a decent pace, and we were pleasantly surprised as to how much faster we went with the new oars.
We were once again surrounded by beautiful agrarian landscapes. We passed under a huge bridge and a beautiful farm, with loads of animals by the shore. We went closer to them and stopped rowing to take an original pee. Original, because we were about to try a new technique. The double leaning technique, which consists on two of us leaning to opposite sides of the boat (to keep the equilibrium), while peeing to separate sides. It worked quite good actually, but this technique had a few shortcomings, such as the timing (the two rowers needed to want to go at the same time), equilibrium (it was pretty unstable), and awkwardness (hahahahaahha). We later replaced this by the “pee cup”, which we’d created from cutting a plastic bottle in half, and it was pretty easy to pass around, to use, and to clean. You are welcome for the info.
The kilometers were flying, we were so much faster. Every couple of minutes, a new kilometer sign would show up that gave testimony to our rapid advance. But even machines need fuel, so we stopped to have some food under by a tree’s shadow.
There was one thing that increasingly bothered us (me in particular): The slider seats for the rowers were really uncomfortable, even with the foam padding that Mozi had set up. It felt as if the seat kept sticking up my ass, and didn’t let my coxis sit peacefully. I analyzed the situation and concluded that there should be a hole under the coxis, and not under my balls, as it was the case. I took the knife and carved a small hole in the foam right under my coxis, to make it slightly better. It helped just a tiny bit, and I wondered about how the engineers who designer the boat could be so dumb as not not think of putting a whole under the coxis. Little did I/we know that in 24h we’d find the solution to all of our ass problems.
Back on the river, a big boat came from behind us going also downriver. Enthusiastic about our newly achieved speed, we took is as a challenge to keep up with it’s pace, and thus declared it an unilateral mini race with big boat, After 10 minutes, the waves started getting larger and water started coming into the boat. We realized there was another hole on the side.
We could see up up in the sky that there was a storm coming our way, and that its wind was creating too large waves for our boat, even though we did our best to be very close to the shore where the waves where shorter. However, every once in a while we had to rapidly change trajectory because there were trees or stones sticking out the shallow waters. We saw a place where we could camp, waiting for the storm to pass, and we went for it. We had to hurry up to set up everything, as the storm was almost on us, and the waves were pushing the boat around.
We took out the boat from the water and turned it upside down (so that in case it would rain it would not fill up, which could lead it to breaking), and then set up the tent between some trees, since the wind was really strong. Once everything was set up, I was a bit cold so I went into the tent to read my book while the others did a fire and cooked some potatoes.
It was actually perfect timing, because it started raining as soon as the food got ready, so we could eat in the tent and have some nice wind for ventilation. Our only concern was the Danube water level, as we were very close to the river. If it would go up like it had happened the other night, we’d be screwed.
After a while, the wind got really strong, and some tent attachement must have gotten loose. Since my friends had prepared the fire and cooked, I put on my rain clothes and went out to fix the outside of the tent. It was pouring with rain, but I was done within a minute or two. After that, we slept like babies.
The next day we passed through gypsy and what seemed to be zombie towns overlooking the river from the cliffs. There was almost no one but the few people we saw looked incredibly weird and suspicious. Also, there were quite a few building debris and rubbish.
We put on our waterproof clothes due to the light drizzle, and had a quick stop by what seemed like an old hotel. It was weird because the upper part of the construction was really nice, while the bottom part was totally ran down and falling to pieces.
Arriving to Belgrade, we had no clue what we should do with the boat so that we could explore the city for a few days, and no clue where we could find a rowing club. Mozi had a strong feeling that we would find a rowing boat house on the right side of the river, so we did a crossing to that side and rowed for about 5 more minutes until a big guy waved at us to get closer, from a floating platform. As we got near, we could see that he was right in front of a rowing club.
He turned out to be Vlad, the head coach of the national Serbian rowing team, and he worked in Galeb (“seagull” in Serbian) club. I will never forget one of the first things he told us as we arrived:
“your seats are backwards”.
Which meant that we had rowed about 600km with our seats backwards. No wonder my ass was hurting like crazy! One we turned those seats around, suddenly we had a hole under the coxis and it became so much more comfortable! We (especially me) felt so retarded. It was hilarious.
Vlad turned out to be a super cool, awesome, fun, helpful and friendly guy. He was huge because he also did some powerlifting, and I really enjoyed chatting with him about training. We also met the club manager, who was also super nice and offered us some shots and coffee to welcome us, while having a chat about our trip and the rowing. They allowed us to keep our boat and all our things in the club tunnel, to use the showers etc, everything for free. We are so incredibly grateful to them, they made our Belgrade stay unforgettable.
They also called a few hostels around to figure out which ones were still available, and the manager booked a cheap nearby hostel for us, while Vlad walked us to there. It was a nice and simple room with 3 beds (one large and 2 smaller ones). We did rock paper scissors to figure out who would sleep in the large bed and I won. 😛 We had a shower, and went to a nearby ancient tower overlooking Zemun (a beautiful old town that eventually got absorbed into Belgrade), that Vlad had recommended us. The views were nice.
We kept walking around and passed some nice old streets, a cemetery with Cyrillic letters, a bar inside a train, and also a few fruit trees from which we ate some figs and apricots.
We were starting to get really hungry, and decided to make out way back to the river, where we’d seen a few restaurants. I found a shortcut stairway there on Maps.me, an offline maps application, and soon after we got to the shore and found a cheap restaurant by the water. We ordered some fried fish, beer, cabbage, a fish stew and some plum brandy for dessert. We were tipsy.
When we finished, we rushed back to the rowing club to meet Mlad (akka Furke), who was a friend of Vlad and a PhD in wood processing at the university. A small part of the wood on the boat was rotten, and we didn’t know what to do with it. Also, we wanted to fix the hole we’d recently discovered, and to check up on a new crack on the ground that had formed. We ran back and got there at 7pm sharp, ready to repair the boat, and to do some small fixes. Mlad suggested that we scoop out the roten part and that we fill it (and the hole) up with the epoxy mix which he brought, so that is what they did. Mlad started the work and Mozi finished it. They were a great team. Meanwhile, Mark and I were chatting with Vlad.
We asked Mlad how much we should pay him and he said: “nothing, just buy us a beer” 😀 Soooooooo nice!!!!! Once the boat was fixed, we let the epoxy to dry we went back to the bar where we’d had had food. We drank some more beer and a friend of Vlad and Mlad joined us. They told us some fun stories and adventures they’d done in the Danube, along with some detours we could take through side canals. We ended up getting two rounds of beer.
We said goodbye no our newly met friends, and as we were super hungry we went for a walk to a nearby bakery that was still open, where we devoured a few bureks and paninis.