Rafting on Struma is not just for adrenaline junkies
City fatigue is one of the most acute consequences of the Covid-19 travel restrictions. For the weary Sofianite, there is somewhere in Bulgaria that offers rapid relief. An hour and a half drive out of town, the jagged and winding Struma Gorge is hell for motorists and heaven for nature lovers. At this part of its course, the Struma squeezes through narrow bends, flings itself from rocks and creates whirlpools. It is a pleasure to contemplate and take photos, but negotiating it on a raft is much more: an adventure, an adrenaline boost, a much-desired close contact with nature, plus the feeling of belonging to a team striving towards a common goal.
This part of the Struma is considered to be the most technically challenging whitewater strip in Bulgaria. For 12 kilometres, the river alternates between rapids and calmer stretches. Under the guidance of an experienced instructor, this extreme sport is accessible to people of all ages, both beginners and experienced rafters.
Commercial whitewater rafting in the Struma Gorge started in earnest in the 2000s, when companies recognised the river's potential and built infrastructure to serve the growing number of visitors ready to pay a fee for a thrilling ride. Today, whitewater rafting in the Struma Gorge is a popular, affordable and accessible way to have fun and get wet with friends or strangers. HRs claim that few activities can compare to whitewater rafting as a means of team building, and while you paddle your way through the gushing water next to your company accountant, avoiding the rocks, muscles straining and heart thumping, you may well agree. After such an experience, company meetings and water cooler conversations are supposed to improve.
In short, if you have the opportunity, take it.
You can interpret the whole experience as a metaphor for humanity struggling to cope in a turbulent situation, unsure and afraid of what awaits round life's next rocky bend, but nonetheless concentrating on victory, no matter what. You might let yourself go in the experience of being wet and physically active in the company of others. You might just enjoy the feeling of camaraderie, or freedom, or adrenaline coursing through your veins.
It does not matter, really. The Struma is there: as white, pristine and turbulent as Sofia is stuck in its dust, congestion and restrictions.
Early spring, when the Struma is swollen with the snowmelt from the mountains, is the best time to ride, but – water levels permitting – rafting can take place even in summer and early autumn.