Lazar: Not far from the village of Kovilj, on the right bank of the river Danube, there is a huge swamp known as the Kovilj bog or Arkanj. It’s an unimaginable labyrinth of little rivers, lakes, groves, estuaries, islands, morasses, a world of reeds, frogs and wildfowl. The detailed map of this labyrinth is a family heritage (Kovilj bog, a map drawn by Đuragić Đorđe – Đugara with the villagers of Kovilj) and names such as Matora Ada (Old river island), Mrtvailovo (Deadbog), Greda divljih svinja (Wild boars spar) or Bara Venecija (Venice morass) have long since dragged me to sit in a yawl (made of dry cedar-tree, with a box-tree foremast) and explore at least a tiny part of this Vojvodinian Amazon…
Iva: And it wasn’t too difficult to talk me into it :)
Lazar: We started hitchhiking around 10 am, arriving in Kovilj before 11.
Iva: Before we rolled our trousers, rolled up our sleeves and jumped into the yawl, we rummaged a bit around the village. We stopped by every mulberry and sore-cherry tree to smear our faces (every few steps, that is), and I even climbed a tree to reach the rippest berry. And then we headed to the swamp.
Lazar: First we dropped by a tavern on the swamp’s bank, to have a glass of water and visit the waiters who once literally saved my life. It was about a year ago, Acketa and I bursted into the restaurant in pitch dark, frozen, desperate, wet and muddy to the bone, there was no electricity in the village and the storm was raging outside bending trees to the ground. I asked the friendly waiter if he remembered any of it, and he put down the glass he was cleaning back on the table, gave me a significant look and just said: The Night.
Iva: I’m not sure if it was a consequence of that, or some other night, but, there at the entrance of the bog laid a lot of poplar-tree trunks dissrooted and half-sank in the sludge. We jumped over them in search for Uncle Bata who was one of the people in charge of the little boats fishermen here often let (a daily fishing permit costs 200, the annual 1000 dinars). We stumbled upon his rival in the business of renting the yawls, Uncle Brasha, in his fisherman’s boots, who was holding a bucket, taking the water out of the yawls tied on the bank. He convinced us that the fact they are filled with water does not mean they’re not floatable, gave us the one with the smallest pond in the middle of it, equipped us with oars and turned us adrift for an unlimited period of time…
Lazar: And off we went. Fish in the water, people on the bank and storks in the sky watched in stark amazement how the boat zig-zags, spins, goes straight through thorny shrubs and occasionally, in a split of a second, misses a tree. Well, not always.
When we finally managed to get the control of the vessel, we randomly chose direction (according to the abovementioned map – down the Dunavac, across the Wild Geese Meadow, in the direction of Beekeepers Spar) and we sat to our oars. Maneuvering between the trees and looking for passes in the brushwood, we tried to memorize where we went through, because the bog is really huge and there’s nothing easier then to get lost in there. Our company were the clouds of mosquitoes and dragon-flies who were almost always with us, and the frog choir took care of the live music.
Strong will made up for the lack of technique...
Iva: For an absolute beginner, it wasn’t naive at all. First of all because I sat, unaware of that, on that particular side of the boat where pushing the slippery wooden oar through a water full of water lilies and floating branches was incomparably harder then from the other side :) With all that heat and tiredness, the 2m deep water mass that was all around lured us over and over again, so in the end I put an ultimatum that we have to take a plunge. When we drove the yawl into the calm and clean waters near an oak tree, we cast anchor trying for 10 minutes to fit the yawl between three trees and chain it around the forth one (in which we eventually succeeded), and then threw ourselves into the perfectly warm pond water.
Lazar: Splashing in a lukewarm swamp is rather pleasant - until you start thinking about what sort of creatures dwell underneath. And while Iva freely splashed and swam between the trees, water lilies, lianas and hanging roots, I was expecting any minute to suddenly be grabbed by foot and dragged to the bottom of the swamp by some gigantic octopus in its noble wish to feed its little octokids. Anyhow, we managed through all that bathing and successfully performed a complicated attempt of clambering back into the yawl. After a little discussion over whose fault it was that we didn’t bring a towel, we headed back to the road.
Iva:The way back was easy, now that we were already a well-tuned team. I could even turn around and slowly take a good look of all the flora and fauna without the constant alarming feeling that we will for sure capsize and flop into the water all with the priceless borrowed camera in hand.
Lazar: There is a book I loved dearly in my childhood : it was called The Okefinoki Swamp. It was about a boy who lived at the edge of an endless swamp. The book has long been missing, but a mystical respect of the inhospitable water world still remains.
Iva: My lost childhood book was called Waterlors (Vodoplovci), the story is set in Vojvodina, and in it some kids ran away from home on some kind of a raft they made, and slipped across swamps, bogs, estuaries and real rivers. That is, maybe, where my affection for the slow muddy waters originates from.
Lazar: When we reached the shore, after taking a short break for scrubbing down the layers of mud, bindweed, insects etc., we started off, step by step, towards the highway, hoping that drivers driving at full speed won’t notice the piles of dirt covering our skin. The road that leads to Kovilj isn’t too busy, but the vehicles you can see there are, to say the least, unusual. And a bit slow.
This tour is significant for the mankind for many reasons, but its biggest significance lies in the fact that we at the same time managed to formulate and prove one big philosophical maxim: you don’t have to go to the end of the world in order to get to the end of the world (the road sign on the last photo reads "End of the World" - it is a famous old fish restaurant near the village of Kovilj).