Doing good things takes lots of time and effort, much more than I thought before; this is why it took so long for my first AT blog to appear. Anyhow, I honestly believe it is well worth...
This spring we got engaged into something I wished for since I can remember. Bringing together all we have; knowledge of biology, limnology, paddling, photography, videography and the so important bit of being a rebel.
The thing I am talking about outlines everything that means so much to us kayakers and the ones in love with Nature. It consist of saying no to the insatiable appetite of the ones with money and no conscious, having a well prepared battle plan, enthusiastic people that spend most of their time outside the office (inside only when fighting for the things that are outside), taking care of the most amazing rivers in Europe and an honest belief that we can make it. It is called Save the Blue Heart of Europe and it is a campaign that now stands firmly in place with idea of stopping unbelievable dam craze in the Balkans, the South Western part of Europe where Yugoslavia once stood.
With Leeway collective we became an ambassador of the campaign in early April and right after our fist meetings we decided to go to action with the most pristine river in the whole Europe, the only river that has no dams on her way from mountains to the sea. She is the river that flows from the Pindus Mountains of Greece all the way to the Ionian Sea in Albania. From canyons in Greece to alluvial plains in Albania she changes not only her character but also her name, from Aoos to Vjosa. With 270 km of wild river this is something we have a duty and right to protect as now she is in danger of being stopped with 33 dams...
Back to the start and to decision to experience this amazing river first handed and to present her beauty to the world... Words soon led to actions and in the middle of May we were already on our way to Greece and Albania.
River surprised us with amazing scenery at the source part and unfortunately with a huge dam that established a big reservoir just before small streams come together to form Aoos.
Anyhow this brutal intrusion is not affecting the river that much and we were soon able to find a put in with a good flow. Paddling in Greece was amazing; canyons were so deep and remote that it was hard to realize that we are in Europe. Second canyon was amazing and so was its whitewater - very technical and tight with numerous siphons and sieves.
It took us quite long to get to the Albanian border, but more because of fishing than because of scouting. The main idea of expedition was to connect communities that are most connected to rivers for the first time; kayakers, fishermen and scientists. Since I am a biologist, kayaker and fisherman this was not that hard and bringing scientists from Balkan Trout Restoration Group to the story proved to be a wonderful idea. It was hard to catch and take tissue samples of trout in the deepest of canyons but at the end it was well worth the effort.
Once we reached the flats at the Albanian border the river completely changed her looks. She was now getting bigger with every new tributary and alluvial flats were becoming vast. We passed by first bigger settlements and met some really friendly locals that even invited us to their humble place to have a party there! An amazing experience that made the River even more alive in our eyes.
Our journey soon brought us to the sad part - the most amazing tributary that is now stopped behind a dam at the top of the 3 km long box canyon. Paddling trough it just enforced our decision to fight against this unnecessary aggression over rivers!
We experienced the unpleasant side of locals, dam construction workers, at the biggest dam construction site in Kalivach. We disobeyed their commands and paddled past the dam site just to show this to the world. This is what we are fighting against in the first place!
From then on paddling was relaxed and the river was slow flowing all the way to the sea. The last leg was anyhow quite interesting as we reached the estuary in pitch dark and got lost on the sea. Luckily we were able to call our media part of the crew who lit the fire on the beach so we could find our way back to them and this way finish our astounding relation with this River.
Jeff Johnson once wrote, "If you love a place you have a duty to protect it". We can not agree more, this is why we started to work on the project of showing this to the world the day after we came home. Now, after the premiere and the official release of the documentary it is time for you to see what the wildlife and people down there still have.
Please visit our webpage to see the photo story with text that describes the river and the 30-minutes long documentary that shows the river from the eyes of a kayaker.
The campaign is doing great on Vjosa and idea of having this river protected by a National Park is now more alive than ever. Correspondence with Albanian Prime-Minister is established and there are more meetings to be held in near future. Anyhow the River will need your help too. Follow our social media and get notified when actions will take place.
Lets prove that even in these days we are able to step together and make a difference where everybody says we can't! Together we will save amazing rivers we still have and bring the ones with dams back to life!
Please consider visiting the biggest event for rivers in Europe this year; Balkan Rivers Days in Belgrade from Sep. 25-27th. Register for the event, get connected with Leeway collective fb page and get some of the travel costs covered for you! It is time to show that kayakers are the ones that don't just give up but fight even when the going gets tough!
See you on the Wild and Free River,
Photos by Anze Osterman