When passion returns: From Canada to The Balkans

I seem to have a talent of organizing my schedule so I maintain a constant level of stress. Or maybe I simply have a talent of stressing out. Constant moving, hard work and FOMO-driven play time sometimes leave me feeling drained. Is this bad form of stress a natural consequence of leading a busy life, do I simply stress too much about things I need not to (and can I push a button to turn it off?), or have I pushed my agenda too far beyond what I really want and need in my life? The elusive answer seems to have become clearer after I found my ambitious plans fall apart and life brought me home to Slovenia for a longer period of time. No set plan or job, just time to rest and let myself go with the flow. The latter required learning to listen to me better and to resist an urge to panic.

Slovenia in the fall

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Oh Slovenia, there are so many memories and emotions that connect me to this land. The urge to panic because of unsure future quickly subsided to a simple joy of coming home. It is comforting to have this option and I feel grateful for it. It actually did feel like pressing a reset button that gave me time to think and relate to myself better. Sure, rivers are my passion and paddling my favorite home runs once again makes me happy. But my passion is also the land and so are the people. Kayaking a river isn’t a plain person to nature experience but it comes with a sentiment. Rivers come with a myth, a meaning constructed by its appearance, stories about it, history, and hence value they carry for the people connected to them. Experiencing a river, that has in the past provided entertainment and a learning ground again and again, truly arouses my emotions. That is what makes it priceless for me: All the rapids that made me challenge myself and improve my skills, all the experiences I have shared with my friends, and the beauty of one of a kind surroundings that made me value untouched nature so highly. It all connects into a story of immense personal value. For me, into a story of my personal growth and experiencing feelings of being alive and happy.

I have been following the Balkan Rivers Tour from the distant British Columbia. This project excited my interest and made me wish I was a part of it. It aims to protect Balkan rivers, their fragile ecosystems, and help local people who too often find their voices bare no weight in a “debate” about the future of their own living space. There seems to be a fire sale of rivers in the Balkans, with no real consideration of eco impact, local communities, local laws, or standards of EU, where a lot of investors come from. People behind the legal entities exploiting the loose transitioning countries’ law and order see these rivers as unused potential. Potential not only for producing power but more so to make money, that is money that no average local will ever see. Since I came back to Slovenia I have been fortunate enough to accompany the Balkan Rivers Tour’s mastermind Rok Rozman to Bosnia and Albania. I could see, with my own eyes, the projects in various stages of development and the pain of local communities that have their home land and rivers invaded by construction workers and machinery backed up by politics that they feel powerless fighting against.

Vjosa Valley in Albania

One of the biggest conservation actions in Europe is happening here. Vjosa is a last completely free flowing river in Europe (outside Russia). Unfortunately, that can’t be said for all of its tributaries anymore. We got introduced to the river, landscape and people living here by Rok Rozman. Read more about Vjosa and what is at stake here.

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I see a lot of skepticism and implications that activism against hydropower is an oil industry conspiracy. Rejection as a conspiracy is very dangerous as most people will not look past this point to search for arguments. Such rhetoric is what gives a lot of power to hydro benefiters, no matter their intentions. If you look deeper into the problem, you will discover how new hydro projects these days are often no more than a story of greed, corruption and no respect for nature and people’s rights. It is not OK that rivers are only seen as commodities, it is not OK that locals have almost no say in the matter and it is not OK that the law too often takes side with the money. It is also not OK that our descendants won’t get to experience the beauty of a free-flowing and healthy river in a way it was left for us.

Rok made an interesting point to me. He says that he is not there to defend their rivers instead of the locals. The strategy of the Balkan Rivers Tour is to let these people know that they are not alone in fighting for their cause, to let them know that it is a just cause and also to connect them with each other. Instead of being rejected as an outsider, often derogatorily seen as a nature lover that is against any form of “development”, someone who will always put nature before people, he can thus highlight all the specific concerns that are different for each project by amplifying voices of the people who get affected.

I like to look at this problem from my perspective as s kayaker. There are rivers that not many others but kayakers care about. Us kayakers often feel like the “recreation value” isn’t a big enough reason to stand against the interest of general public. It took me a lot of time to question this guilt that I carry as well. When asked why I fight for a certain river, I would often seek for other reasons than my own selfish one, to keep it good for kayaking. But even without knowing all the other issues about the problem, I am learning that my needs are a worthy reason to fight for them. I am guessing that if you aren’t a kayaker it is hard to imagine the great story each river provides for us. And even if you weigh advantages against disadvantages of diverting most of the flow of a river far away from the eyes and sentiments of general public, us kayaker have a right to fight for the value these sections might have for us – also because it isn’t only about us, it is also about the people coming after us. I wish for my kids to be able to experience these treasures of nature untouched.

I am passionate about the rivers. An idea of damming rivers like some of my favorites, the Učja in Slovenia or Callaghan Creek in BC anger me. I am going to fight for them to remain untouched. I am local in these areas and keeping these rivers free flowing has immense value for me. I have a right to be vocal about it and I have a right to be heard. And so does everyone else that finds personal value in keeping a certain river untouched! If people manage to extend their love and support for rivers beyond their local area, then even better. Showing support for each other makes us stronger. Thank you Rok and all Balkan Rivers Tour contributors for being passionate and reminding me of my passion. In the end, stress does not feel negative at all, as long as your mission is in line with your true self.

Balkan Rivers Tour needs help finishing their full-length film that will give voice to the many local communities in the Balkans and hopefully inspire more like minded people and projects around the globe. Check their website http://www.balkanriverstour.com/ for more information and donation. Anything helps, even just sharing the word.

In solidarity with Standing Rock!

Action for Unac and Una in Bosnia

It has been years since I’ve been to Bosnia. I was beyond stoked when I got an invitation to join an action in support of local communities fighting for their rivers to remain free flowing. Some of the proposed projects are beyond senseless with little or no regard, not only for natural but also for the cultural heritage of the area.

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Rutherford Creek in BC

This year was my fourth season in this area and the first time I got a chance to kayak this legendary river, formerly a must stop for kayakers. Most of the time it is almost dry due to a run-of-river project. It is unbelievable that they built a slalom course as a substitute for kayakers. How ironic, how sad.

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