Rafting on the Soca River

Adventure

We were dominated and dwarfed by the terrain, squeezing through a colossal, forested valley

“Okay, to the back! Everyone to the back! Quick!”

I felt a flutter of nervous excitement upon hearing these orders. Things were clearly about to get serious. I didn’t know why we all had to get to the back, but you don’t question these things now, do you?

Until this point, white-water rafting down Slovenia’s Soca River in the Trenta Valley had been one of the more sedate things to do in Slovenia. Tranquil almost. Not that I was bothered. To the contrary, I was secretly delighted at the lack of action, because it meant the chances of getting wet were dramatically reduced.

To expand, this is not a river you would want to bathe in. Don’t be fooled by its inviting appearance – crystalline turquoise water cascading over smooth, pearly pebbles – as I was, because it will be to your detriment. Before setting out, I thought I’d demonstrate the boundless limits of my masculinity to my fellow travelling companions – Dave, an old friend and writer from the UK, and Ivo, Rok and Ivana, from MyDestination.com/Slovenia, who were taking us on an adventure packed tour of their country. So I waded in at our departure point to get: “…acclimatised and that.” They looked doubtful, but watched with interest.

Trenta ValleyTrenta ValleyThe teamThe teamThe adventure begins...The adventure begins......but no adventure can start before a safety talk!...but no adventure can start before a safety talk!

Earth-shattering regret arrived as my toes connected with the water – the temperature of which I later discovered was lingering at a horrifying 9 °C – but by now it was too late, for I was in one of those awful situations in which males tend to find themselves, where pride takes precedence over basic common sense. Quietly whimpering, I stepped in up to my thighs, then clumsily retreated. I had expected it to be a bit nippy, but what I found was frankly distressing.

This was soon forgotten, however, as we floated off downstream, clutching our paddles with one hand and waving madly to Ivo – who was in charge of filming our escapades – with the other, perched on the sides of the raft, our feet hooked under a mesh of cordage for stability. I had bagged a front seat, as had Dave, while Rok and Ivana held up the rear, and behind them, at the very back in the middle, our instructor. He was a demure chap, short, stocky and tanned, and he had these big brown eyes that at first glance were impenetrable, but on closer inspection harboured just the faintest glint of mischief.

He would call out orders from time to time – “Paddle backwards!” “Paddle forwards!” – but mostly the raft took care of itself, leaving us to stare in wonder at our magnificent surrounds.

Just an hour before we had been standing on Vršic Mountain Pass (the highest in the country) surveying this scene in its entirety, from a bird’s-eye view, but now we were buried within it, dominated and dwarfed by the terrain, squeezing through a colossal, forested valley, blissfully clueless as to what was round the next bend in the river.

“So are there bears in Slovenia?” Dave asked at one point, turning round to face the three locals.

“Sure,” said Ivana, with expert nonchalance. “We have brown bear in Slovenia.”

“Right,” said Dave. “Good to know.” We exchanged looks. This was turning into a bit of an adventure.

After some time the order came to shift to the back. “Everyone to the back! Quick!”

The shift in weight caused the front of the raft to rise high out the water, which would obviously aid our buoyancy during the impending battle against the ferocious rapids, I thought.

Negotiating some fierce swellNegotiating some fierce swellSoca RiverSoca RiverTrenta ValleyTrenta ValleyNegotiating some more fierce swellNegotiating some more fierce swell

But there were no rapids. Just a large boulder sloping out the water and, troublingly, we were making a beeline for it. Even now, faced with the screamingly obvious, I was oblivious to how this might culminate. But culminate it did, with the raft sliding up the boulder, simultaneously flinging the five of us backwards and headfirst into the icy river.

It felt like I’d got into bed with the Grim Reaper. I popped up under the overturned inflatable, alone in the muted light, and experienced a fleeting feeling of claustrophobic dread, before exploding my way back out into open air to be met with three bewildered people and one supremely satisfied instructor. Rok was spluttering, Dave’s mouth was opening and closing like a fish and Ivana had that open-mouthed, frozen in time look that girls affect when you empty a bucket of water on their head.

In retrospect, it was hilarious.

From here, things became decidedly more choppy, and the real white-water rafting began. We fought our way through raging torrents and swirling whirlpools, we crashed over boulders and skimmed backwards down waterfalls, and we spun in circles, holding on for dear life. It was a lot of fun.

Towards the end we pulled up at a bank, where a fresh mountain stream was joining the river, and were urged by our instructor to hop out and have a drink. I made sure to position myself ever so slightly above stream to Dave, waited for him to start slurping the water, and then informed him I was in the process of relieving my bladder through my wetsuit. I was lying, of course, but it was worth it to see the look on his face.

After some more frantic paddling, the home straight was in site, and so too was Ivo, perched atop a rock complete with camera and tripod. And then the instructor said something which struck cold fear into my heart.

“From here you can swim, if you like.”

Ivana, a female and as such blessed with a lack of incessant need to prove her toughness, smiled and said: “Not on your life,” or something to that effect, while Rok, Dave and I eyed each other, knowing what had to be done. In hindsight, I probably would have retained more dignity by staying in the raft, but as it was, I smiled meekly for the camera, clambered out into that magically coloured water, stood bolt upright in frozen shock (I swear it was getting colder each time), then fell over in the current and was swept downstream, shrieking and grasping at boulders in a most shameful manner.

Don’t be deterred by my extreme wimpiness; the Soca River is an enchanting and exhilarating place, and this fact obviously isn’t lost on the scores of thrill-seekers who flock from around the world each year to experience it in one way or another.

Soca RiverSoca RiverSoca RiverSoca RiverSoca RiverSoca River

This adventure was organised by Adrenaline-Check, which also offers wooden-tent-house accommodation and basic amenities  in their very own Eco Camp in the heart of the stunning Triglav National Park. The company caters for a vast array of water, land and air-based adventures, including rafting, kayaking, riverboarding, canyoning, rock climbing, biking, horse-riding and paragliding. Season: April – October.