Today's Tribe Story comes from Sarah and Matthes, serial adventurers based in Berlin who have shared with us their latest tale of their rafting excursion down the Danube.
Massive thanks to Sarah and Matthes for sharing their story, pictures and inspiring advice!
Who: Sarah and Matthes
What do they do: Freelancers (translation and event concepts/digital start-up), but going on adventures whenever they can
Living in: Berlin
Say YES Adventure: Rafting the Danube
Over the course of two summers, we built a raft and travelled down the Danube from Germany to Hungary, a journey of nearly 900km passing through three European capitals. I can’t tell you exactly where Matthes got the idea for this adventure, but I know that it got mentioned several times over the years as we planned various other trips until 2014 when we decided to look into it further. To put it briefly, this research led to us deciding that rafting the Danube was “too expensive” and “too complicated” so we ended up buying a pedalo and pedalling from Prague to Berlin instead. You know, because that’s the obvious alternative.
The next year, we decided to say YES to the raft again and went about planning with more determination. There were lots of times when I wanted to say “no” to the adventure and pick something easier – it was too expensive, we didn’t know how to build a raft, we couldn’t find a suitable motor, there was too much bureaucracy involved to get permits, there was too much equipment we would have to buy, it was too much for just two people to plan by themselves, we needed other teammates to join us but no one wanted to commit – in short, there seemed to be endless reasons why it was “too difficult” and why it “would never work”.
But we kept saying YES.
We applied for permits, we bought maps, we found equipment, we transported 5.5 metre-long inflatable tubes in our tiny Smart car, we made multiple trips to the DIY store, we cajoled friends and strangers into joining us and finally it all seemed to come together.
The first year we travelled from Regensburg to Vienna on the 2m x 5m raft that we (somehow) built. We had originally hoped to make it all the way to Budapest in the two weeks we had given ourselves, but we soon learnt that building a raft is no easy task and repair days, motor problems and a fair bit of sightseeing meant that progress was slower than originally hoped. Nevertheless, it was still an incredible adventure with more than our fair share of highs and lows not to mention cruising through luscious valleys and sun-drenched vineyards, camping beside the river every night, exploring towns and villages along the way and getting swept away by the slower pace of life along the river.
We reached Vienna without any plan of how to wrap up the journey, but needing to catch a train back to Berlin two days later. After asking several rowing and canoe clubs, we eventually found a marina that kindly allowed us to dismantle the raft and store it there. Problem solved!
A year passed and we felt we had some unfinished business with the raft so we wanted to continue the journey. Some more planning, updating of licences and more cajoling of friends and strangers on the internet to put a team together was all that was needed. Before we knew it, we were packing our bags again and heading back to the Danube.
The second leg of the trip, from Vienna to Paks in central Hungary felt considerably more relaxed than the first year. Not only were we armed with the knowledge from last year that had enabled us to build a better, stronger raft, but our outboard motor (a.k.a. Gandalf) caused us fewer problems and the lower traffic volume meant that we could spend long periods just floating along in glorious silence. There were still some worries such as whether or not we would be allowed through the final lock in Gabcikovo and what the internet strangers we’d accepted to the adventure would be like, but somehow everything always seemed to work out in our favour. Or maybe it was just our optimistic attitude that made it feel like everything was working out?
For me, the biggest highlight of the whole trip was passing through Budapest on the raft. It’s a city that a) I love and b) has a gorgeous waterfront and this was an image that had been in my head ever since we started talking about building a raft. To finally cruise past the beautiful Parliament building and underneath those famous bridges really felt like we had achieved what we set out to do and I just had a big silly grin plastered across my face the whole time.
The greatest challenge was being so dependent on other people – we needed team members and anywhere we stopped we had to rely on strangers to help us out. Having to ask others for help can be quite intimidating and it certainly put me outside of my comfort zone (I can be kind of shy and awkward), but time and again we were rewarded with generosity and help from people we’d only just met. Starting at the campsite in Kehlheim where we borrowed ALL their tools to build the raft, there were then people who towed us when the motor failed, who carried the raft in and out of the water, who let us use their rowing clubs/WiFi/electricity/jetties/storage rooms/fork lift trucks, who helped fix the raft after the motor tore the back panel off and took a dive into the water, who gave us directions, recommended guide books or let us camp on their ground – I am so grateful to all of you! The good thing about the raft is that it’s pretty eye-catching anyway, thus making a good conversation starter wherever we were. This dream could never have come true without the help of so many kind people who said YES to us along the way.
There are three things I would say to people who want to go on a similar kind of adventure (whether that means building your own form of transport, travelling down a river or organising a group trip):
- Be positive. With so many unknown factors (different people, weather, raft-building skills, river conditions etc.) you need to be able to adapt and handle whatever situation you may find yourself in and the best way to do this is with a “can do” attitude. There is always a solution!
- Know some basic DIY skills, take safety and regulations seriously (they’re there for a reason), but don’t let them get in the way of your fun.
- Go for it! You can make it happen!
If you want to know more about building the raft or travelling in this area, you can check out our blog or just send me a message! Incidentally, our raft is for sale and perfectly positioned to continue a journey down the Danube through Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania!
As for our next adventure, we don’t know yet! We’ll be participating in a hot air balloon festival in Egypt in December, but haven’t planned anything beyond that. After all these river escapades it’s quite likely to be a) land-based and b) minimalistic. Suggestions on a postcard please!