The extreme heat persisted throughout the night which prevented me from getting any decent amount of sleep. I eventually swam out of bed around 3 AM that first night on account of pure frustration. I ate a small bowl of cereal for a lack of anything better to do before I returned back to the morass which my bed had become. I tossed and turned for several more hours before I eventually got back out of bed, took a frigid shower, and headed downstairs to the classroom to await my scheduled placement test which would determine which class I would be in for the next three weeks.
The examination looked like every other language test I’ve ever encountered so I did not spend very much time on it. Next on the agenda was to travel with our dedicated guide Uroš (name changed for privacy) to the nearby Gradac river to swim. We took a very inexpensive taxi to the spot from which we would need to walk. The ride was windy (not windy) and quite dangerous for any pedestrians which dared to traverse the narrow road which hugged the river. We chose the river over the public swimming pool on account of the heat and the assumption that the majority of Valjevan’s (can I say this?) would choose to go to the pool causing it to become overcrowded. What I didn’t expect, however, was that the river was also quite crowded. The entire length of the small river which we traveled had no fewer than fifteen people at each location swimming, tanning, barbecuing, or drinking.
We continued by foot for another twenty minutes down twisting trails laden with stones which caused me to regret wearing sandals every time I stubbed my toe on a rock or protruding root. Uroš led us to a small cave from which poured the river. It was at this point the water was pure enough to drink. Many of us did drink and somewhat surprisingly none of us became ill. Finally we arrived at the spot in which we would spend the next several hours.
But because nothing is ever easy, before we were able to actually reach the spot, we first had to jump over a five foot tall concrete wall, walk across slippery, rusty pipes, and down a steep hill which forced us to leap over several gaps for a lack of proper footing. Despite all this we somehow managed to arrive safely at a small clearing with still more stones beneath a few trees and beside a small waterfall which fell from the remains of what looked like an old aqueduct. The water was frigid, possibly 50° F and the river bed was filled with sharp, jagged stones. But the “purest river in Serbia,” as Uroš called it, provided much needed relief from the unusually warm weather. Despite the cold I was reluctant to leave the water to the surprise of my freezing classmates.
After swimming in the shallow waters and fighting against the current to swim immediately under the waterfall I was invited to dive from an old dam probably built in the 50’s. Of course, I was the only one to accept the invitation. Considering the water was quite shallow and the drop quite far, the jump was quite exciting as I don’t typically risk my life in this fashion. As I’m not a complete idiot, I watched carefully as others jumped so I would be sure to land where it was safe. The water was only about five feet deep in this location. To return to the diving spot (because of course I wanted to jump again) required the climbing of a rusty metal girder which resembled an extremely thin ladder large enough only for half of one foot.
This is all to say that the river was quite refreshing (and pure) and would have been a pleasant change of pace had we not elected to walk back to the dormitory in the 100° F heat. The hike which took well over an hour prompted me to take yet another frigid shower immediately upon returning to the schoolhouse. Needless to say, again I slept like a starfish. I bought a fan the very next day.
Unfortunately, I neglected to bring my camera on this excursion so I don’t have any pictures of this location. If any of my classmates have any please send them and I’d love to post them here.