Balkan Rivers Tour 2 in 2017 was a continuation of the success and energy of the inaugural tour. Realising that we can’t be effective across the entire Balkan Peninsula, we decided to narrow the focus on protection 2 stunning rivers – the Soča in Slovenia and the Morača in Montenegro – and to support nature conservation through sustainable tourism and expose the outdoor recreation potential of the lesser known Dinaric Alps that run all across the Balkans.
This tour started at the top of the Slovenian Julian Alps, on the mountains where the water of the Soča River originates. The team skied down to the source, where that snowmelt water pours out of a cave, and then put on the water with kayaks to spend 4 long days paddling 138 km to the Adriatic Sea in Italy.
This tour was all about contrasts; from its source to the town of Tolmin, the Soča is almost intact, with no dams or weirs blocking its current. This stretch is known worldwide as kayaking and fly fishing paradise, which is reflected in local tourism economy. The lower part of the Soča, downstream of Tolmin and all the way to its estuary on the Adriatic Sea, the Soča is chopped up by 7 big dams; 3 in Slovenia and 4 in Italy. Dams create a combination of stinky reservoirs upstream and dry riverbeds downstream. There was no river-related tourism or special biodiversity to be seen there. Kayakers and the media were forced to experience the dead part of the Soča and it was interesting to see how this affected everybody’s mood.
Parallel to the Adriatic Sea all along the Balkan Peninsula runs the ridge of the Dinaric Alps mountains. Less known than their northern relative, these mountains still possess secluded areas full of magic, stunning vistas and incredible ski touring, hiking and fly fishing. Our crew decided to explore these valleys, rivers and mountain tops, and present some of them to the international outdoor community with the intention of helping drive the movement for its conservation and assist small local outfitters to have work as well as become hubs for protection.
The Morača River is a Montenegrin jewel, often overshadowed by the more famous Tara River. We pointed our cameras and put our kayaks on her, as she was in danger of a chain of up to 13 dams planned to be built on it. The Morača River has a special flow in every aspect; it has incredible canyons and whitewater of all difficulties, it is home to two endemic trout species and it flows straight through Montenegro’s capital Podgorica into the biggest and most biologically rich lake in southern Europe, Skadar Lake.
So, we had more than enough reasons to go there and spend 8 full on days and 200 kilometers of paddling the whole Morača River and then across Skadar Lake onto the Bojana River all the way to the Adriatic Sea. A great international team of kayakers gathered for the challenge and we did our best to explore this exceptional waterway, document its rarities, organise round tables and press conferences all with the intention of kickstarting a broad movement to halt the unnecessary and extremely destructive dam plans.