With the Sopur in the Sails
We sailed from the confluence of the Piva and Tara and the Drina, and then all the way to the confluence of that river and the Sava. Seven unforgettable days, 343 kilometers. All that time, the warm Drina wind called sopur followed us, and has not left us since. Before the construction of the hydroelectric power plants on the Drina, that wind created problems to the rafters in the canyon, it used to make waves on the river, stop the sailing of boats. It greeted us reconcilably, hospitable and gentle, intoxicated us only with the scent of pine trees, remedied us from horrible images

Text and photo: Aleksandar Ramovš

The invitation of the Mountaineering and Rafting Club ”Skeledžija” from Ljubovija to sail down the Drina, along its whole 346 kilometers long course is something one simply does not refuse. The plan was to start from Šćepan Polje, the place where the Piva and the Tara make the Drina, all the way to the confluence of this river and the Sava. We were supposed to pass that path, that route drawn into the old map made by Dragutin J. Deroko already in 1937, in seven days.
The merry crew had six members, including the National Review reporter. We were told that the co-passengers never missed a single ”Drina Regatta” since its founding. Mića Trijić drove us to Šćepan Polje with his van and he was the only one to return down the Drina by road. We started from Ljubovija at seven in the morning, surprised by the fact that many people gathered to see us off. The local grill shop owner even printed special t-shirts for us, regretting for not being able to come with us due to work.
– And where are you headed, children? – asked us a charming old man.
– To pull the winding Drina straight (Serbian phrase meaning to do something in vain) – replied Milutin Samardžić jokingly. Everyone started laughing. The man crossed himself and left confused.
We alone could not believe how many things we had and how we managed to pack them all. Even all of us fit into the vehicle. We thought a single straw could not fit in any more. However, a bit later, on the mountain road through the woods and over heights, some girls hitched us. All seven of them fit into the van. When there is a will, there is a way. They are from Novi Sad, alpinists from the ”Železničar” club. When they heard where we were headed, they said they were sorry for not being able to come with us because of other arrangements. However, next year they will come for sure.
We left them in Drvengrad and continued towards the border with Republika Srpska. After a brief check of documents and paying a 30 Euro duty (we have no idea what for), we continued towards Goražde, where we left our boat engines earlier with Suad Čelja, president of the kayak club. We found there that our Montenegrin brothers charge taxes for each person for going down the Tara, therefore we decided, due to our principals, to change our plan. The driver left us in the ”Bastasi” camp, about 5 kilometers downstream from Šćepan Polje.
Rising the tents, pumping boats, evening meal, small party. Everything appropriate. We recognize our famous basketball player Željko Rebrača, also a fan of rafting. He saw our t-shirts and asked us where we were from and when we would start down the river. Mićo took off his shirt and gave it to him.
– But I have nothing to give you! – said Rebrača surprised.
– You don’t need to. Only a picture. Ok?
– Sure. Want me to stand up? – asked the famous pivot and rose, huge as a mountain.


We set off at dawn. The things are in the middle and we are sitting on the sides of the boat, with rows on standby. The water is dark green, fast, one can hear the roaring of the falls. The river here is 40 meters wide, about two and a half deep, and they say that the water flow is about 150 cubic meters of water per second. Whirlpools are all around us and we have to yell in order to hear each other.
– Left, a bit stronger, now straight, there is a rock in front of us! – yells Jovan Savić, our captain at this rafting. This is the third year in a row he is sailing down the whole stream. He was born on the Drina and knows its secrets.
We paddle fast, straighten, follow the captain’s commands. It is so for several kilometers until we reach the part with calmer water. But not for long. Soon we reach the whirlpools again, the water is boiling, everything is white. The wind also makes large waves.
– Straighten, just go straight! – yells Zoran Mihajlović excitedly, technical editor of the Belgrade daily Privredni Pregled, originating from Ljubovija. He is a big fan of rivers and rafting, and this is his second rafting down the Drina.
– Rock on the right, full left, full! – navigates Vlatko Mihailović, manager of the Ljubovija post office, completely wet from the water sprinkling from the bow.
After Bastas, the Drina flows to Foča (Srbinje). There the river Bistrica flows into it on the left and in the city the river Ćehotina on the right. From Foča to Ustikolina, the Drina flows straight to the north, and from there winds towards the northeast and flows to Goražde. It winds between mountains, and we pass about 70 kilometers of pure green beauty. The longest gorge is the Medjedja Gorge, near the confluence of the Drina and the Lim, between Goražde and Višegrad, 26 kilometers long and about 700 meters deep. One simply remains breathless before that beauty, those colors, that gift of nature. One becomes speechless, amazed and watches. Steep cliffs, caves, waterfalls, pines which rise from the rocks, places for which they say humans never set foot on. There, without any and anyone’s mediation, we realize that we don’t exaggerate when we say that there are only a few areas in Europe with such natural beauties as the Drina river basin.


We installed the engines in Goražde and are now moving much faster.
A little bit downstream, near Ustiprač, the river Prača flows into the Drina from the left, and a little bit lower, Janjina from the right. Somewhat further, below the village of Medjedja, the Lim flows in. Earlier, before the hydroelectric power plant ”Višegrad” was constructed, the Drina used to make its famous meanders and sharp turns here, all the way to Višegrad. After raising the big dam, some of the most beautiful canyon parts of the river were sunk. Now, unfortunately, in such a created lake, real dumps of plastic wrappings flow in. We use our camera to record the horrible scenes, testimonies of a true breakdown of humanity and culture. A sure way to make someone an educated dictator out of deepest conviction is to bring him here and show him this.
– People, for God’s sake, this is unbelievable! – we cried together, watching one another with disbelief, expecting to see in the eyes of our co-passenger that it is not true, that our own eyes are lying to us. – Take a picture and send it to minister Dulić so that he would see and do something! You cannot clean Serbia only in front of cameras: you take out two or three bags of dump from the Sava Lake, take pictures, have a few political points jingling in your pocket and goodbye! The whole government should come here for a vacation, to swim here, in accordance with European standards.
We can hardly paddle. For full 15 kilometers, we paddle through endless bunches of plastic bottles, jars, cans. Shackled with horror, we could hardly wait to pass through the dam in Višegrad and enter the much cleaner and more beautiful Perućac Lake.
The people from the river told us that there is a unique warm wind named sopur blowing at that lake, carrying the scent of pine trees from the nearby cliffs in the canyon. Before the construction of the Drina hydroelectric power plants, that wind created problems for rafters in the canyon, it used to make huge waves, stopped sailing. It greeted us reconcilably, hospitable and gentle, and intoxicated us only with the scent of pine trees, curing us from horrible images. A reliable sign that all the horrors are behind us is a growing number of fishermen at the banks; the Drina is rich in salmon and nase here.


Immediately beneath the famous Višegrad bridge, the Rzav flows into the Drina from the right side. There the Drina turns towards the northeast, makes two large turns, circles the mountain Tara and continues to the east, to under the Rača Monastery. From there, near Bajina Bašta and Rogačica, it again turns towards the north. In Rogačica, from the right side, it accepts the confluent with the same name.
We bought a wreath in Višegrad, visited the monument in Stari Brod and lit candles. Afterwards, we sailed silently towards Bajina Bašta for a long time.
The following morning, we waited for a higher water level, and continued to the north after two hours. Several sharp turns, the confluence of the Trešnjica, then Ljubovija, and the confluence of the Ljubovidja river on the 211th kilometer. The ethno village of Vrhpolje is a must see place. The readers of National Review and the edition ”Meet Serbia” know why.
After leaving Ljubovija, we continue towards the beautiful Zvornik Lake. After Banja Koviljača and Loznica, one enters the lower stream of the Drina. Semberija is on the left, Mačva on the right, the landscape and relief change, the character of the river changes. The up to then fast mountain river becomes a river of the plain, with many by-channels and islands. It adds a special charm to the green river. Its bed becomes wider, reaching 300 meters in certain places. The main course is somewhere completely lost and not easy to find. The unbelievable width of the confluence of the Drina and the Sava is 2,5 kilometers!
The potential of the Drina for attractive international tourism and active vacation is, as we have seen with our own eyes, very high. One of its advantages is also the interesting ethno heritage on its banks, mainly insufficiently explored, which attracts both Serbs and foreigners with its authenticity. Except by the dams, the water is, luckily, wildly beautiful, unpolluted, with endless forests in its surroundings. Hunting and rural tourism are only to be developed in the true sense of the world. Passionate lovers of the Drina speak with a bit of fear about the possibility to have another hydroelectric power plant built on it, ”Buk Bjela”. They fear such a dam would swallow the most beautiful whirlpools of this green beauty.
After arriving to the confluence in the late afternoon, we close the covers of our seven-day long adventure on the Drina. We schedule another meeting for next year in Šćepan Polje, again to make the winding Drina straight. We believe many of you will also join us then.


Below Višegrad, in Stari Brod, in the uninhabited part of the left bank of the lake, a monument was raised last year. It is humble, with a cross dominating a rectangular stone block. There are marble plates on all four sides with engraved text, and one of them shows the icon of 40 martyrs. We learned from the marble plate that 6.000 Serbian children, women and old men died here in World War II, refugees from Sarajevo, Han Pjesak, Pale… They fled before 10.000 Croatian Ustashas. The Italian soldiers would not let them cross the river over the bridge in Višegrad, so they moved down the Drina, towards a ferry in the village of Stari Brod. There, in Brod, the Ustasha punishment expedition found them and killed them all. Each one of them. It happened on the day of 40 Holy Martyrs on March 22, 1942. No one spoke about this terrible suffering for sixty years after that war, and then came new sufferings. The monument was raised only last year.


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