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Canoeing - Definitely not Kayaking - on the Danube

By Dragan Gmizic 26 October 2009

Spend some time unwinding from the hassles of everyday life with only the river, the natural world and the rhythmic splashing of paddles for company. I am not a great fan of the river, I have never been in a canoe, and I did not have great expectations from this excursion. So to say I was not in the best of moods when we approached the splav on the banks of the Danube, would be understatement.

It was a small wooden hut, atop a floating platform, perhaps between 15 and 20 square metres in size. Functionality and safety took precedence over luxury.

Our leader was Aleksandar Ciric, a long-time paddler and nature lover. Together with his associates he is working hard to promote canoeing and the natural beauties of the Danube (www.dunavskirafting.com).

Aleksandar Ciric organises one-day or two-day excursions. A group of up to 14 people gathers in Novi Sad and goes from there to the splav, from which the trip begins. Aleksander claims that paddling in a canoe among the many islands is the best way to get to know one of the biggest European waterways.

Unlike in many countries along the Danube, organised canoeing trips like these are rare in Serbia. The majority of our group, like me, had never canoed before. This brightened my mood a little – at least I wouldn't be the only one looking silly.

We were advised – do not be afraid of the river, but do not expose yourselves to excessive risks. "The first and basic rule is that the river must be respected!" says Ciric.

The second rule - a kayak and canoe are not the same!

The Kayak, we were told, has a covered deck and is usually navigated by one person, whereas a canoe can be occupied by several people. The paddle used for kayaking is double-bladed (one paddle on each end of the pole) and a canoe has a single-bladed paddle, and one paddles only on one side. Just remember the films or comics about Eskimos and North-American Indians: Eskimos use a kayak, and Indians a canoe! Once we had absorbed this stern lecture, it was time to depart.

We had chosen a short trip, setting off from Novi Sad and travelling upstream on the Danube for about ten kilometres.

Another rule – a canoe is usually occupied by two persons.

"A canoe is stable and safe enough to take children. The person sitting at the bow must be lighter than the one at the stern. The person sitting behind has the more difficult task of not only adjusting the rhythm of his paddling to the person in front, but also steering of the canoe," we were told by our hosts.

For the inexperienced, paddling is a problem only for the first couple of minutes. Then it quickly becomes routine and you are soon admiring the view. I started to enjoy myself.

This river's greatest beauty is undoubtedly hidden among its islands and inlets. Rare animals, large colonies of birds, forests and the green colour of the water are in stark contrast to the usual image of the Danube we get used to, while looking at it from the banks as it passes though the city.

Every now and again you can see the bottom, the acquatic plants and large shells. There are places where, if you stay quiet and still for long enough, big fish come inquisitively up to the canoe.

Although I thought I knew the area around Novi Sad, I was taken completely aback when we saw a small settlement of a dozen houses. These old and modest wooden houses are used by fisherman to rest or hide from sudden storms during summer months. The terraces of these houses are covered in fishing nets creating an idyllic sight in one of the numerous river inlets we encountered while canoeing.

"When I launched this programme, my wish was to offer visitors a combination of recreation and enjoyment in this beautiful landscape. I want to promote kayaking and canoeing in Serbia, but also promote the natural beauty of the Danube. Autumn is the perfect season for this combination," says organiser Aleksandar Ciric.

I confess my mood had lightened when we returned. A few quiet hours, some none too strenuous paddling, some splendid scenery and some good company, had chased the demons away.

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