Saturday I went on an adventure sponsored by the Belgrade Foreign Visitors Club. A wonderful organization run by one of my favorite people in Belgrade, Philomena, a lovely and very genuine lady who brings much happiness to the expatriate community in Belgrade through her tireless work organizing cool stuff for us to do and making life a little better for all of us.
This time Philomena out did herself with an excursion to go “Canyoning” in the mountains southwest of Belgrade about an hour and a half west of Valjevo. I wasn’t sure exactly what “Canyoning” was but it sounded interesting so I signed up for the trip. My curiosity peaked when I received an email last week asking for my height and weight so I could be fitted for a wetsuit.
I got up at 5:30 Saturday morning and took a taxi to the Sava Centar parking lot where I met a five other Americans and Philomena and we caught the chartered bus at 7:00 for the three-hour drive to the Canyoning site. Along the way we picked up several more people and had a group of 11 plus our two guides from the “Wild Serbia” tour company.
After a stop in Valjevo for breakfast (by the way there is a bakery right off the pedestrian street there that makes a great Burek), we left the highway for the long, winding and very picturesque drive through the mountains of west-central Serbia. Our driver took us as far as he could before the road got really bad, then we loaded our gear into a Lada 4×4 and walked the next mile or so to a small farm near the canyon. Once we got there we received our gear: A wetsuit, a rappelling harness, a helmet and rope. The guides decided we’d go in two groups an hour apart. I was in group two with – coincidentally – all the other Americans.
The hike to our starting point was about mile downhill, during which we picked delicious wild blackberries, plums and pears to eat along the way. This part of Serbia is quite picturesque with tall mountains and rugged cliffs,varied vegetation and small farms and villages. We came to a little creek running through a small valley, after walking along the creek a short while we came to the top of a water fall I estimated about 40 feet high. As it turned out from this point on we would be rappelling down cliffs, through waterfalls, and swimming through deep mountain pools to work our way down about 1,500 feet in altitude to the bottom of a beautiful little canyon.
This was cool. I had rappelled in the past but the mother and her 14 and 15-year-old kids that were with us had not; however the guide was wonderful, his English was very good and his instructions clear, everyone did great and had a great time. We spent about three hours going through the canyon, hiking, swimming in the cool mountain spring, checking out numerous caves and rappelling down cliffs up to 70 feet high. It was good times.
The only downside was that after canyoning we had to hike a couple of miles back up the mountain to the farm-house where our hosts had prepared a most excellent traditional Serbian meal with farm fresh food including two types of pork, stuffed peppers, homemade cheese, Kajmak, tomatoes, fresh breads, homemade juices and of course locally made Rakija. The people here are just so darn genuinely nice.
As is usual on these trips we stayed longer than planned and it was after midnight when we got back to Belgrade. Philomena lives close to me so the guides basically dropped us off at our respective doors. What great day! If someone had tried to tell me when I came to the Balkans (now nearly three years ago) I’d be Canyoning and Scuba diving I wouldn’t have believed it. Serbia is truly an (mostly) undiscovered gem, a diamond in the rough. I see things beginning to change here, I hope the change isn’t too fast or dramatic; I like my rough around the edges, gritty city with its graffiti, bad streets, coffee shops, inexpensive restaurants and women that still dress up to go shopping.
A quick word about Wild Serbia.
I have been on several trips with these guys now and I recommend them highly. They always work hard to make sure everyone has a good time, they are friendly and knowledgeable and they plan great trips. If you are in Belgrade and want to get out-of-town and do something completely different for a day or two these guys can hook you up. For hiking, canyoning, kayaking, caving and pretty much anything else outdoors they are the go to guys and their prices are reasonable.
**Sadly due to the “wetsuit” warning I left my camera at the farm and don’t have photos of this adventure. One or two of the others were braver than I and did get some pictures they promised to share. When I get those I will post a few to this article.
- Not a Vegetarian? Good! This is Serbia – Belgrade, Serbia (travelpod.com)
- Belgraders – Tourists in Their Own Town, Literally (belgraded.com)