Expedition Serbia 2010 Cavebase and DIR-Austria
The year 2010 was dedicated to the discovery of new terrain for cave diving. Through the efforts of the GUE in Bosnia we became aware of the karst areas of the former Yugoslav Republic and according to our sparse information there are also diveable caves in Serbia. With Darko Petkovic we had a strong partner on our side, who speaks the language, has some connections to Serbia and could support us. The project did not only consist of the big tour in October, but was preceded by a scouting tour in June and a video workshop in early September.
Tue 22.6.2010 - Sun 27.6.2010
The whole project was preceded by a scouting tour in June this year. For this purpose Peter Gärtner, Manuela Schoch and Darko Petkovic started from 22. - 27.06.2010 in the direction of Serbia. The goal of this tour was on the one hand to determine a few positions for cave diving and on the other hand to clarify the local conditions regarding diving permits. Always very important: making contacts and shaking hands. This little report gives the first impressions of the country and the people:
Arrival: We had 1500km ahead of us, in addition departure 5:20 in Böblingen, through Germany, Austria and Hungary the journey was quite unspectacular, so that we reached the Serbian border at 16:35 after 1126km. Surprisingly quickly went the customs formalities, the registration of the equipment cost only 1/2h. We continued on the Serbian highway until behind Belgrade, then 20:10 at kilometer 1400 we left the highway. The last part of the route went over serpentines, through rain and thick fog. Finally
22:30 after 1500km and 15:45h pure driving time, arrival at the 1st cave, directly next to it is our hotel. Surprisingly, we still got something warm to eat at such an advanced hour.
Full of expectations we started the day. Breakfast 7:30 in the hotel, then we meet Ceki, a friend of Darko's, who will accompany us the next days to the different locations.
1st location: Directly in front of the hotel: Mlave Vrelo, pool 20mx10m, strong current due to the rain, 11°C water, visibility about 0,3m.
Normally you can see the bottom from the shore at about 6-8m water depth. An old diver told us later about a double funnel course of the cave, which then opens into a passage at about 50m. Other voices say: 103m, absolute madness to dive there... Unfortunately we could not check it.
Conclusion: Extremely promising, since hotel/parking lot directly at the pool. Lots of water = lots of cave. But the little information is not clear. In summer a few sport divers occasionally jump into the pool.
2nd location: Krupajsko Vrelo
About 1h drive from the hotel Mlave Vrelo. There is a restaurant and a simple accommodation close to the pool. When we arrive, a bridge is so washed over that we first set up a rope belay, leave the car and slip into the Trockis.
This cave is slightly smaller than the 1st location, also the dimensions of the stream below are smaller. In any case, worthwhile to take a closer look at this cave, supposedly dived to 123m. Access to the pool is via narrow paths past the pools of a trout farm. Directly in front of the restaurant there is a thermal spring that runs into a pool. It can/should be bathed.
On the onward journey to Nis, a monastery and a very impressive show cave, richly decorated with stalactites, were still on the program. On the way in rural surroundings, on narrow roads, we avoid a truck and get stuck in softened meadow. J => Njema Problema! All passing vehicles stop and tow/push us out.
Nightly arrival in NIS, our first accommodation resembled a rat hole. We didn't even check in, but cancelled directly. And .... Driving us stuck in the garden in the dark. J Njema Problema. Darko's friend organized a tractor, Peter our rope expert built a pulley. The complete cart had to be unloaded and then it just went. We had enough of adventures on this day (23.30h). A new accommodation was organized still fix, from the landlord there was Slibowiz to the greeting.
An appointment was arranged in advance at the town hall. We introduced ourselves, chatted a bit and drank coffee. Peter gave a presentation about our request.
A place near Nis, named Vrelo (spring), there's a spring with an attached restaurant. Above the spring there is a dry cave. It is not clear if it is possible to dive in the pool, but usually it is crystal clear. This is something to see again.
Another point to visit that day was the water supply of Nis. terrific pool, with exceptionally good conditions (about 15m visibility) despite rainy weather. This place is of course restricted area, photography and diving strictly forbidden. We hope for a special permit.
In the evening we visited the local diving club. Very nice people, you immediately got into conversation, whether in German, English or with hands and feet.
Another meeting in the town hall, this time 2 geometers (local speleologists) were with us. We introduced ourselves again briefly, were knocked off at the Fachsimplen. Our impression after this conversation: Regarding dry caves, there are very good specialists on site, regarding underwater caves, they are missing. After 1 hour we started with all present and a television team (local television) to 2 site visits. We saw 2 cave entrances, which were probably diveable, but at first sight did not fit into the profile of the cavebase, too small and too wide ways through the forest. But, if the conditions are better, we want to take a look in there anyway. In the cave portal there was still an interview with the television.
In the evening we got an invitation to the UW-Filmfestival. There we met with appetizers next to the deputy mayor and the head of the local television, also old divers, who gave us more hints.
In the morning the car was pre-packed and everything was prepared for the evening.
Then: PARAGLIDEN! Darko has really excellent connections...
In the evening we gave a presentation about DIR & Cavebase projects (Cabouy and Gourneyras) at the local dive club. Everybody was very interested, 2 hours of listening with a few questions in between, but also skepticism about the myth of horizontal water position etc.. In this club are only scuba divers, but all are extremely interested.
After this theoretical part, we went to the outdoor pool for the pool session. The Serbian state television was waiting for us there. In the water then 1.5 hours demo of all skills. The divers from the club followed everything with diving equipment in the pool or armed only with swimming trunks and snorkel and endured the 1.5 hours shivering in the cold water - no one left the pool. Spellbound spectators, for them inconceivable that you can do all the exercises really horizontally in the water. The local celebrities stood at the edge of the pool: the police chief, visitors from the town hall, the old diving dudes. Afterwards we went to the old town and a Balkan platter XXL was waiting for hungry stomachs.
The event for the diving club was really extremely fun - every piece of information was absorbed like a sponge. And the enthusiasm more than compensated for the stress of preparing it in a hurry.
Shopping / Sunday 27.6.2010
Light hangover and little sleep. 06:30 Late start of our journey home, arrival in BB around 1:00am, completely exhausted.
This time we had fun at the Hungarian border. The customs officer wanted us to unload completely. Friendly we started unloading and asked again "completely?" When we had only distributed 20% on the benches and no end seemed in sight, the official realized the extent of the work and let us pack up again and continue.
The region is full of caves and extremely rich in water. Cave diving must be possible!
One thing to consider: without contacts it is extremely difficult and tedious, the language barrier adds to the difficulty. A good contact person is essential. Not much is known about the diving area of Serbia yet, you surely have to invest several attempts until everything goes smoothly and you know some nice positions to dive. Although we could not dive, we were impressed by the friendliness and helpfulness of the people. Serbia, we will be back!
Video Workshop together with DIR-Austria
The Serbia project should also have a video documentation as a goal. In preparation for this, a video workshop was planned together with DIR-Austria. On the one hand to bring the teams together a bit, on the other hand to get the most important instructions and tricks about videography. We met from 03. - 05.09.2010 at the Attersee, which was the lake with the least travel distance. Oliver and Clemenzo from DIR-Austria had prepared this workshop very well.
At breakfast on Saturday morning we discussed the latest visibility information from Attersee (2 - 3m) and decided to move the workshop to Franzosenschanze at Wolfgangsee. Advantage: Large parking lot and meadow, although unspectacular dive site (we were on a dump to 30m, supposedly there is still a steep wall). First Oliver explained us his scene plan, then the behavior in the team for protagonists (actors) and lightmen was explained and practiced in a dry run. We already filmed these scenes to be able to make a short video of the video workshop. After that we went into the water. The individual scenes were filmed and a story was told: Surface checks, safety check, descent, we find a root and look at it together, gas change, communication about safety stop, surfacing.
The result can be seen here as a small video clip.
Afterwards we had a barbecue. At Kaffe Eichhorn in Weyregg we continued the workshop. The video workshop was also a preliminary meeting for the project. Over coffee and cake Peter presented the project plan for Serbia. Afterwards we could watch the raw material of the video and get a first feedback. In the evening we joined the 2nd International Rebreather Meeting at the Attersee. Then the eventful and extremely instructive day was already over.
Before we could start at all, many details had to be clarified, possible carpools changed. There was no uniform information about customs formalities, everyone went to customs and had their completed INF3 form stamped and signed. Organize invitation from the city of Nis, reserve accommodation, arrange meeting with Nis Diving Club. Who will leave when? Very exciting, this preparation time.
For the common border crossing we had arranged in advance a meeting in front of the border Hungary - Serbia. Some met in Vienna and started as a convoy. Until the Hungarian border the convoy grew to 5 vehicles and reached the meeting point with about 1h delay. Only family Petzinger was on time.
The border crossing Hungary was relatively problem-free, but at the Serbian border was unfortunately 2h discussion announced. The inconsistent statements of the German and Austrian customs authorities had led us astray. Darko had mastered the discussion at the border and the problems dissolved into thin air thanks to the support of the city of Nis.
Arrival at the hotel around 24 o'clock. There was Balkan plate full.
Balkan platter. Really more than you can eat!
Also this time we had chosen as 1st position the hotel Mlave Vrelo. Right next to the hotel is the pool in which we wanted to dive. From the outside it looked quite good, a bit milky, but estimated 2 - 3m visibility in the pool. At least much better than our last visit in June. Furthermore, in the meantime an information board was fixed directly at the entrance, which gives an impression of the information known so far.
We dived in different teams and tried to find the entrance to the actual cave with initial 0.5m-1m visibility. As the day progressed, visibility continued to deteriorate. The dimensions on the info board were a bit irritating and conveyed large rooms. But this was not the case, the bottom consisted of loose silt with loose stones and branches, the walls of the funnel of crumbly rock. This diving day was not as successful as we had hoped. The surrounding was all the more entertaining. Oliver FP was with the video camera the whole time and tried to capture the first impressions of our tour. A 2nd video team, from the Serbian local television, made him clear competition.
In the evening then the usual Balkan plate with a lot of meat and a few side dishes.
For today we had a plan B in mind. One team wanted to stick their head into the Mlave Vrelo again. Ike and Oli managed to stick their heads into the actual cave and were able to give a good description. The rest of the troop headed out to visit 2 more locations. At the first location we walked for sure 1 - 1,5h through the forest. Thereby we had to cross the river again and again. Our guide was not quite sure himself at the end, where this place should be, where so much water comes out of the mountain. Well, that's probably part of the expedition, a lot of walking and .... you don't get there.
The 2nd position was at the edge of the forest, in a meadow at the foot of a mountain. There was a pond there, from which so much water flows in the spring that the whole meadow is flooded over a wide area. Sounds like a possible cave or else many small hillside springs from which a lot of water flows in the spring. We found 2 volunteers who slipped into the suits and searched the ground. Unfortunately, nothing of a cave entrance was to be found. Along the way there was always a bit of filming.
Back to the hotel Mlave Vrelo, that meant: clear the room, pack the remaining diving stuff, pay and then transfer to the "Forellenhof", our next location: Krupajsko Vrelo. And in the evening, how could it be otherwise à Balkan plate. J
We were already at Krupajsko Vrelo, baptized by us trout farm. The pool and the draining water is used for a trout farm. According to the previous information, the cave should be known and leashed up to -106m. We wanted to have a look at that in any case. The first day was used to check the conditions, like visibility, flow, line situation, complexity of the system. Peter and Ike were unfortunately prevented for health reasons. So new teams with different target depths were formed.
Darko and Fred laid the line from the surface to the main line. This was followed by the video team with Oliver and Clemenzo, they got down to -80m. After that the rest of the teams went into the water. Manu and Stefan dived to 60m. Andi and Manuel looked at the front area, Oli and Darko the shaft to -45m. The entrance area at 6 - 9m resembles a larger chamber, there an old habitat served as a deposit for the oxygen stages. This cave has a main passage that first changes depths. First it goes to 10m, then again to 4-6m, then to about 15m, again to 9m, then comes a shaft, partly so narrow that you brush left and right. In the shallow area up to 15m there are some smaller side passages. The clear line situation surprised us a bit, a tightly stretched main line stretched to the shaft. The visibility was about 2m. Together we decided to have another diving day at the trout yard. Oliver and Clemenzo wanted to have a look at the line end with the video camera the next day.
That evening we had: freshest trout. Hammer delicious!
Everyone pitched in and supported Oliver and Clemenzo so that they could get into the water quickly.
They reached the end of the line, which contrary to our previous knowledge was at -123m, in a kind of hall. The further search for a continuation failed because of the bad visibility there. But this is one more reason to come back.
Peter and Manu S. made a small photo dive in the meantime. Clean up was done by Manu S. and Manu F.
Thanks to a concerted action of the team the pool was empty at 14:00 and everybody was diving.
14:30 was departure to Nis. There we were picked up from the highway with a police escort and taken to the mayor's reception.
Some familiar faces from our last visit were among the guests and we were greeted warmly. Handshakes, snacks and slibo followed. The main subject of this reception was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the longer joint cooperation. On the table were placed the individual flags: EU, Germany, Serbia and that of the city of Nis. Contracts in leather folders, signing, exchanging, handing over, shaking hands, flashing lights and television cameras. After that, a press statement was expected. Afterwards, the mayor showed us fantastic pictures of a 6km long dry cave nearby.
Reception in Nis: police escort, signing of the memorandum, press declaration, Balkan plate
After the reception we invited our hosts for a luxury Balkan platter and celebrated our reunion and further cooperation.
In the morning we were picked up at our accommodation by our contact person from the city hall and the 2 known surveyors. We drove together to a position nearby. From the parking lot 10 min away, you have to cross the stream only 1x. Over a scree slope we came to the entrance, which was in the mountain, a few meters of stony dry part went into a clay slope and ended in crystal clear water.
We decided: One team should dive down (Oli and Ike) and look for the entrance underwater, the rest should organize the transfer car à cave. After that it should be decided if more teams can dive or not. The whole thing was recorded on video. Unfortunately, the pool quickly clouded completely, the clay stuck everywhere and became our undoing. Oli and Ike found the entrance, but further diving was out of the question. Another reason to come back.
In the meantime, a tractor was waiting in the middle of the creek to take our dive gear to the cars. But before that, the loamy equipment had to be cleaned in the creek.
On the way to the accommodation we stormed a supermarket. The entire team was on Balkan plate strike. Hmmmmm. How everyone was looking forward to spaghetti with tomato sauce!
Slowly the end of this expedition was approaching. In order to collect more information as effectively as possible, we separated this time and formed 2 teams.
Team 1 should check the conditions at the cave from the day before. Visibility had improved from 0 to 1m within one day. There was another "hot tip" nearby. This information was also followed up, but was unfortunately uninteresting (undercutting / steep wall in the river).
Team 2 checked another cave. Peter was able to crawl in backwards and briefly put his head under water. This cave could be interesting, but quite narrow and more for D7.
Team 2 joins Team 1. Together they looked at another cave that the scouting team had also seen in June. At first glance, the situation seemed hopeless and the cave undiveable. A small water-filled chamber was seen in the rock through a narrow entrance. On the second look we could discover a slightly smaller entrance, which seems to be getting bigger quickly (groped with branch).
In the evening we went to eat pizza in Nis.
In the signed letter of intent, the city of Nis expressed its interest in us diving in the water supply of Nis. In doing so, we were to collect video / photo footage of the pumping equipment and water samples from each depth. When we arrived at the water supply we were horrified to find that the water level was about 10m lower than on our last visit. After some deliberation, we decided to give it a try anyway. With ladders and ropes we made the access possible and secured the area. Behind electric fence and surrounded by armed security guards we assembled our diving equipment. The mayor and the chief of the water supply also paid us a visit and watched the hustle and bustle with interest.
Unfortunately, the team Manu / Peter dropped out, because Manu had injured his foot. Oliver and Clemenzo came up to about 25m, then they reached a narrow spot that was impassable with D20 and RB. At least they were able to gather some video footage up to this point. An OC team with D12 took another look at this area up to 25m and the narrows. After that, it got pretty narrow. Difficult to say if it makes sense to dive again.
In the evening our landlord had organized a small party in the accommodation, to which also some friends from the diving club and representatives of the administration were invited. There was suckling pig and all kinds of Serbian specialties. Extremely tasty. We celebrated our project and exchanged our host gifts. The evening was unfortunately short, because the next day we had 1000 to 1500km to travel home.
Wake up at 4:00 a.m., departure at 4:45 a.m. Our hosts did not miss the opportunity to make us coffee in the morning. The journey home flew by. Full of pictures and exciting experiences, there was plenty to talk about on the way. The border formalities went surprisingly fast this time. On arrival in the EU, the convoy broke up and everyone drove home at their own pace.
At this point, many thanks again to Darko, who made this expedition possible through his support.
In this sense,