Just as I was beginning to think I'd seen everything and that there was nothing left to surprise or impress me, a new day come, with a new adventure bringing new thrilling moments along. And such was the valley of river Neretva, thrilling.
Lots of little kids came to see us off from Mali Ston. They preferred being there, waving goodbye to the funny man, than being sat at school. They didn't understand much about our Welcome project, but found my Garmin GPS device most amusing. However, when they realized you can „write“ with it, the whole thing became that much more fun for them. And now our Welcome is enriched with a crooked „O“ and a very questionable „M“.
The channel of Mali Ston is only a few hundred meters wide, so I wanted to cross it in some other way, rather than in a kayak. When I asked if there was some sort of a small vessel around I could borrow, Fani and the teachers just looked at each others. A few minutes on I was heading on towards the opposite shore in quite an ugly looking, squeaky pedal boat. Pedaling slowly, I couldn't help myself but think of the last modern adventurers, our Czech tourists, who each year, to our rescue team's surprise, get into some serious trouble with pedal boats, lilos and similar. This crossing was in their honor.
After the pedalo I switched to a proper bike to Metkovic. I passed Neretva valley several times before, but by car and I always thought it beautiful and exotic with its numerous canals and unusual wetlands with rugged hills rising up from the fields.
In Neum we met with Renato Baja, president of the „Dangube“ association from Bijeli Vir, who got in touch with us a few days ago wanting to join us on our trip around Neretva. To have such a host as Bajo is priceless. This man knows every nook and cranny of this green valley, and since he is the president of an association which looks after preserving tradition, he is just teeming with all sorts of unusual and interesting information on this region.
And so I've discovered a fairly neglected old road built during Napoleon's reign and took a ride to the border crossing Vukov klanac; had some refreshing water from hidden sources and passed through some very sweet looking villages. Bajo invited us for lunch at his house in Bijeli Vir, which overlooks a nearby lake, surrounding mountains and the Neretva valley. It's a wonderful and seriously wondrous place. After lunch Renato took us to Metkovic and handed us over to our next host. Marko Marusic, president of Udruga lađara Neretve boatmen's association and a great lover and connoisseur of the history of this region. He couldn’t let us off without seeing walls of the ancient roman Narona, apart from Solun, the biggest roman city in this area, as well as the new and very interesting Archaeological museum in Vid. This museum is special for the fact it wasn't built to hold exhibits but is completely dedicated to Narona and built on the site and of the remains of a Roman temple Augusteum.
After this little digression followed hard work - rowing in Neretva. The project of reviving the tradition and preservation of these traditional vessels from Neretva is a wonderful example of sustainable heritage management. Before organizing the first Neretva regatta, one could find only a few such old river boats in the valley, and all in pretty bad shape. Today there are about 150 of them, and this marathon has become a prestigious event for the entire region. Thanks to Marko and the crew from Krvavac II and young men from Gusar Komin, I have experienced a unique privilege of rowing in a real boat from Neretva with other Marathon participants. The start at the bridge in Metkovic was quite surprising for many reasons. For one I was surprised to find out that a ship of such an unusual rounded hull can be so fast. There was an uncomfortable surprise as well, when I found out the paddle I took in my hand was a whole lot heavier than my kayaking one, accompanied by an unusually fast rowing rhythm. On the whole, after 700 kilometers and only 10 minutes of rowing I got really bad blisters on my hands. It took us a little bit over an hour to get to Opuzen where I got on a boat with the young crew of Kominski Gusari pirates. My host is their coach, celebrated canoe rider from Belisce and world champion, Ivan Sabjan. His presence in Neretva valley speaks volumes on seriousness of the preparations for the boat Marathon. By changing sides for rowing I’ve earned myself double the amount of hand blisters, but the experience was worth it. When you will be watching this on TV in August, remember that this unique event is important for tradition preservation but is also an extremely difficult, arduous and demanding sporting challenge.
An end of an unforgettable day brought us at the estuary of the river Neretva, the port Ploce, where we are starting on tomorrow’s demanding route to Korcula, via St. Ilija.