Hiking and rafting the Soca

Trip Start Nov 15, 2005
Trip End Aug 15, 2008

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What a pain in the arse to get to! This was my first experience of the awful scheduling of the Slovenian (and later, Croatian) public transport.

After having been a diligent traveller for once, and actually checked departure times from Bled instead of rocking up to the train station and having to wait hours on end for the next departure my way, I got on the 8ish train to Most na Soci, the point at which you change train for bus to Bovec. Irritatingly, the journey involved going about twice as far as I had to, but I guess better that way than driving a road through the middle of the only national park in the country.
Arriving at just after 9 in the morning, I went to the bus station to find the next bus even heading in the right direction wasn't leaving until 2 in the afternoon. Nothing for 5 hours!!! How is it possible that a place can operate like this? I can't be the only one to have been stuck in this position, surely?? Worse, there is actually very little to see in Most na Soci, and it was hot enough that walking with my stupidly huge bag wasn't much of an option. So I think I have spent more time than anyone in the history of the country sitting and staring at the bus station in town. So much for being dilligent and making the most of my time! Upon my late afternoon arrival in Bovec, I was just able to get to the tourist office to secure myself a private room (no hostels) and get a little information on the area.

The rest of the evening was spent on a short (3 hour) walk on one of the well marked paths in the vicinity of the town. Can't say much in favour of the town itself, as it's really quite small, not much to see and the streets are small enough that the buildings obscure much of the surroundings. But I didn't come here to see the town, and within a minute of getting on a trail, the appeal of this place becomes clear. The town is beautifully surrounded by the temptingly close mountains of the Julian Alps looming overhead; perfect for a spot of hiking :)

As it turns out, this little annoyance worked in my favour. I had intended to get out and do a couple of reasonable length hikes around the Soca valley area of the Triglav national park, the first in Europe. The walk (the Soca Trail) I had thought of doing that first afternoon, I did the next day, and it took long enough that I would have had no chance of finishing it in half a day. So it sort of worked out well.

Setting off at 5.30 in the morning to avoid the worst of the heat, the initial stages of the hike leading to the Soča river were oddly appealing in the early morning light, especially the sharks' tooth peak of Svinjak and the early morning mist rising over the first river crossings.
After walking for a good 3km, I finally found the beginning of the Soča Trail, the old trading route along the riverside from near Bovec to the source of the river Soča. The valley along which I walked that day was just incredibly beautiful; surrounded by forested mountain peaks, the river is a magnificent light blue, and varies enormously along its length from a wide, gentle flow to violent rapids to a seething torrent plunging through narrow gorges, sides worn smooth by countless gallons eroding the rocks into sinuous curves. The stretch just after the Lepena Valley was particularly intoxicating. I think part of the reason the walk took so long was that around here, I was unable to stay on the prescribed path for long, as it was necessary to fight my way through the undergrowth once in a while to get a better view of the many narrow chutes, wide and calm pools and occasional waterfalls (amusingly known as slaps). I can totally understand why the pioneering explorer of this region, Dr Julius Kugy, felt the need to dedicate most of his life to discovering what it had to offer.

The path was incredibly easy to follow until the very last moment, when the signs just abandon you not 2km from the source. I think the path has been changed over the years, as I reached a part where the continuation of the trail was so overgrown that even I felt it was getting a bit much to follow. Backtracking to the last sign, I chose to follow the road instead and soon came across the new path, and a final 15 minute climb took me to the peaceful blue pool midway up a mountainside that seemed far too calm to possibly be the source of the river I had been following for the past 8 hours. I felt a distinct sense of peace and satisfaction upon reaching it, though. That is, until some Swiss guy felt the need to strip off and immerse himself in it. I had been drinking that water all along the walk!

Hitching back to Bovec for a well earned rest was easier than expected - the minute I stuck out my thumb, a car stopped. I spent the journey back talking to the blind man that had been taken out 'sightseeing' by his family, who had done a significant amount of travelling himself.

Feeling the need to do something silly and fun, I went rafting the next day. Loved every minute of it! Slightly different to my experience of rafting in New Zealand, quite apart from the setting of the Soča River beating River Valley hands down. For a start the 30 minute safety lecture experienced in NZ was conspicuous by its absence. In fact, my instruction (everyone else in the group was Croatian) lasted all of 2 minutes, and consisted of "when I say this, paddle like this; when I say this, paddle like this; when you fall out, put your legs up in front of you and try not to hit the rocks. Just follow the others!" Note "when" and not "if" - our guide did his utmost to throw everyone out of the boat as often as possible. This usually involved making us paddle as fast as possible, then ramming the raft into a large rock. Fun :) Fortunately, he took things a little more seriously when we hid the grade 3 and 4 rapids, despite his steering oar coming adrift at one point. A great morning, bargain for only 24 euros!

My last afternoon was spent on another short hike, from Bovec to the fortress at Kluze and back. This involved much scrambling up rock faces, but was worth it for the discovery of another (abandoned) fortress above the intended destination (which was nothing special, though the location was inevitably stunning), carved into the cliff face. I spent a little time exploring some of the old rooms, but there wasn't much there aside from the usual bottles and cans, so went back to pass out early in preparation for a long day of travel.

Busy couple of days, wasn't it?
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