Pirates of the Danube
After cycling 1,000 miles across Europe on a $50 bicycle, I was in need of a new mode of transport and wanted to push my boundaries in a new direction by travelling in a more unorthodox way. I had ended my trip near the Danube River in Slovakia, offering me the perfect opportunity of fulfilling a childhood dream and utilizing the river as a mode of transport: I would become a pirate.
Building a Raft of Recycled Materials
Along with three good friends who were bold enough to join me, we started to build a ship (raft) using recycled materials. We were lucky enough to be gifted several old billboards, some disused metal barrels, and the plastic signage from some other billboards. On the river bank, we connected three of the billboards using longer bits of wood and tied the barrels underneath the structure with rope and washing line. We then constructed a tent that would serve as both our cabin and home for the duration of the journey.
Pushing the river raft into the water for the very first time, we had no idea if it would float. When the large structure bounced easily on the top of the water, we leapt aboard and jumped for joy. It was really happening: we had built a river raft and we were to be the Pirates of the Danube River. We foraged for fruit, filled several glass containers with water, then we set off, four of us living in a space no bigger than 10 by 16 feet.
The first adventure for the Pirates of the Danube River…and whether we would continue
Our journey started on the Morava, a tributary of the Danube River. During our time here, a drunken man boarded our boat, then almost drove his four by four into us. Panicked, we grabbed his keys and reversed the vehicle away from its precarious position above our heads. This dilemma over, we entered the larger river, only to be sucked along at great speed towards huge ships that would have crushed us without even noticing. Paddling like crazy, we made our way to the banks of the shore and stopped to evaluate how safe our journey was. Later that same day, the wake of a huge ship smashed our river raft against rocks and we nearly lost several of our barrels in the dark.
At this point, we weren't sure whether we should carry on. Eventually a decision was reached that we should continue, and for the next couple of weeks, our life was filled with days of sunshine, swimming, and pleasantness. We paddled occasionally, lived slowly, and cooked dinner over an open fire each evening. Every night we slept either on the river raft or on the shore close by. Everywhere we went, people waved and smiled, some even invited us into their homes. Everyone was so happy to see us....
Trouble in Budapest
...Until we got to Budapest. Accosted by several police boats, we explained that we had safety floatation aids, paddles and lighting - everything we needed to be safe on a Danube boat trip (including verbal permission from the Danube River authority). Despite citing our only offence as 'not being a boat,' the police were having none of our objections and decided that our mode of transport was too unorthodox to be allowed in their city. They took our passports, issued us with a fine, and ordered us to cease and desist. So our adventure came to an end. In just two days, we managed to recycle every material from our river raft, giving different parts to different locals who were in need of them.
We had travelled only 168 miles on the Danube at this point and had hoped to journey all of the way to Romania. Despite this, I will never forget my couple of weeks aboard our hand-crafted river raft, built from recycled materials on the Danube River, living the life of a mock pirate. Would I still have done it if I knew that I would get arrested? Absolutely! Would I do it again now? Maybe on a different river…