BOSNIA: Making waves, not war
A decade after the end of the devastating war, many Bosnians now get a rush of adrenalin rafting down their country's meandering rivers, which are yet to be discovered by foreign tourists. A large territory is still contaminated with mines, with some of them carried by melting snow into the rivers.
"Rafting in Bosnia has become a very popular sport in the past three or four years," Aleksandar Pastir, the head of the Kanjon rafting club, told AFP.
"In such a small country we have many top-grade rivers suitable for rafting, kayaking, canoeing. I do not think that any country has such white water potential," he added.
Over hours spent navigating slowly through inland waterways, intercepted by numerous cascades and rapids surrounded by high cliffs and unspoiled nature, people can forget their everyday problems.
"I think that this river is spectacular," Morten Bertelsen, a Dane, said. "We are trying to build wild water artificially in Denmark, we don't have rivers like this," he said.
The Vrbas river in northern Bosnia is only one of numerous rivers suitable for rafting. Also popular is the Neretva in the south, Una in the north-west and the Tara river in south-eastern Bosnia, where rafters transport people on ancient floats of logs tied together.
Safety a concern
The recent European rafting championship held in Krupa na Vrbasu was seen as a chance to promote Bosnian rivers and attract foreign tourists, but travel agencies warn that it could be a difficult task.
"It is too bad that you have not developed tourism here, for you have a huge potential. I think that the main reason why tourists do not come is concern for their safety," one of the Slovenian participants in the championship, Blaz Staric, said.
"In order to have the European championship organised here we had big problems proving that Bosnia is today a perfectly safe European country," Pastir, who was also the championship's leading organiser, continued.
"The Vrbas river is first league. I regret now that I have not come earlier. Bosnia should promote this for tourism. These natural beauties should be used," another rafter from neighbouring Croatia, Josip Jularic, added.
Memories of war
"The foreign tourists' question number one, before coming here, is safety in Bosnia. They still have in mind pictures of mutilated bodies and the horrors that Bosnia went through the (1992-95) war," travel agent Dijana Bukara said.
"Tourist agencies are really trying hard to persuade them that the war ended 10 years ago and that the situation is OK now and that Bosnia has much to offer, especially mountains and rivers."
"Foreigners who live in Bosnia enjoy rafting, but foreign tourists are still rare," she added.
"I am sure that after judges concluded that the organisation of the European championship was great, we should not have any more obstacles to attract foreign tourists to start coming to Bosnia, and I can guarantee that we have a lot to offer," Aleksandar Pastir concluded.
But internet sites are still full of warnings that make tourists avoid the Balkan country. One of them reads: "When in Bosnia, be sure to stay on asphalt or clearly used paths unless you are accompanied by a competent guide who knows the area. Do not enter empty houses or other ruins as they may be mined too."
It is estimated that some 2000 square kilometres, or more than four percent of the entire Bosnian territory, are still contaminated with mines, with some of them carried by melting snow into the rivers.
Von: 29 August 2005, http://travel.iafrica.com, by Tanja Subotic