Kayak Trip Day 51: Apatin in Serbia to Erdut in Croatia – Straddling Schengen

The events in this story happened on Tuesday, the 2nd of April, 2024. We paddled our inflatable canoe Zucchini from Apatin in Serbia to Erdut in Croatia. This was our second kayaking day down the Danube of 2024 and the 51st in total. Since Croatia is in the EU and Schengen and Serbia isn’t, we had to deal with immigration—on one side of the river…

Preparing to Cross Back to Schengen

Click to read about exiting Serbia by boat in Apatin

The day before we left Apatin, we visited the police station near the marina. This is one of the official border checkpoints if you’re coming from the Danube. We entered the building past a little stool holding a pack of thin cigarettes and a lighter.

Jonas knocked on the door that read police on the ground floor. Someone shouted something, so he opened the door. I feel like he’s a lot more confident with this kind of activity since he did most of the work when entering Serbia in Bezdan just four days ago.

“Dobre dan, we’re traveling by kayak and need to leave Serbia.”

Like a pro.

There were three people inside, two men and one woman. When prompted on how we got here, he said we kayaked into Serbia from Mohács, Hungary, and checked into Serbia in the village of Bezdan. All of this was easily understood.

Jonas gave the correct papers, which were our passports, the Serbian crew manifest and the older Hungarian one, too. Everything received a stamp after some deliberation in Serbian. Though we’re technically only leaving tomorrow and this could be interpreted as an issue, everyone was chill about it. Let’s just get this done right now.

We needed to wait a bit for someone to make copies or print something. I decided to break the awkward silence by asking the police officer who spoke good English if there’s many kayakers coming or going via Apatin this year. With a lot of confidence, he said “You are the first.”

When they returned our papers, we thanked them and said goodbye. We walked away with our passports stamped and saying we exited Serbia by boat. We’ll meet again later, Serbia!

Back at home, we packed and prepared sandwiches for the next two kayak days on our two-man production line. Because there’s no way to check into Croatia legally until Vukovar, we shall only stay one night in Erdut to not dance with the immigration-status demons. Even though Croatia is Schengen and we have Schengen passports, I don’t think they’ll take a mild border violation with grace. One night in Erdut, hopefully without questions asked, should be doable.

For clarification: we’d be happy to legally check into Croatia and waste more time in offices, but we can’t paddle from Apatin to Vukovar in one day because that’s more than 60 kilometers. Bureaucracy isn’t on our side on this lengthy kayak trip.

Starting to Erdut from Apatin

In the morning, we smashed a slightly underripe banana and a cup of instant coffee. Though we’d prepared a lot the evening before, we somehow had forgotten to look on the map together and discuss the route. Main question: when do we cross to the Croatian side? And where in Erdut do we land?

The first question was very unclear because it will depend on the wind. The second question… satellite footage taken during low water levels showed a big speed bump in the river. Behind it was our one and only landing spot in Erdut.

Now that we were ready to go, where is our taxi? I checked around the corner and it wasn’t there. Jonas called the number and some other guy picked up. He agreed to come, but sending coordinates is always far-fetched. We ended up calling him again and he sent a guy to the pharmacy on the corner of our street. Good enough.

Once at the river, we carried our stuff down one flight of stairs. Unfortunately, the stairs were more muddy and slippery than anticipated; we’d checked them out on a 27°C afternoon when it was all dry. But last night, it had rained.

We pumped up Zucchini. I installed the kayak sail for the first time this year. Is it hopium? We’ll see. At the dock of Apatin, there was a private motorboat moored with a Dutch flag flying behind it. Or is it Croatian and are my eyes deceiving me?

Together, we put Zucchini’s butt in the water through some muddy nonsense. Jonas managed to bring the dry bags down with quite some trouble. I’d almost slipped and fallen and died on those stairs. We installed both in the boat and now it was time to go. Jonas got in first and managed to clean his muddy water shoes just a bit. I tried my best to keep things clean as well.

And there we went. Downstream to Erdut in Croatia. We let the boat float and turned around to see Apatin for the last time. When we turned downstream again, we saw the melting clouds reveal bright blue skies to the south.

A Beachy Break in Croatia

We paddled on the Serbian side for a bit, gravitating more and more towards the center of the river to catch some speed in the current. The wind was supposed to come from the west today, but we still felt it coming from the south as well. Once we were so close to the Croatian side, we decided to take refuge among the trees and just paddle on the Croatian side. If there’s any Croatian police, we’ll tell them we’re paddling to Vukovar today to check in since we’re already checked out of Serbia.

The kilometer numbers on the Danube were only sporadically on the Serbian side after Bezdan. Now we passed the 1400-kilometer mark, perched proudly on the Croatian side. Today we’re going to 1369 or around that number. A cargo ship passed us going upstream.

The water was sometimes a bit disturbed, but nothing like the day we paddled to Apatin. We kept going like this during our finest paddle hours for another seven kilometers, passing the ‘unclaimed’ pocket #2 on the right bank. One more unclaimed pocket to go where internet people have claimed the Free Republic of Verdis. And then there are only areas that are both claimed by Croatia and Serbia and not neither of them.

There was a big river island coming up in the area where we turn due south. I don’t have a name for it, but the shipping lane continued on the left of it. There were some big buoys floating in the water and a big sill. Jonas wanted to have a stop, so we first thought of landing on the head of the island close to a beacon with the 1393 sign. But because of the big sill, the currents there were very weird and strong.

We decided to paddle on and are happy that we did, because just a few hundred meters down, there was a beach hole on the island with shallow rocks in the water. Jonas did a nice paddle maneuver to get Zucchini through the narrow passage and we landed her on the soft but firm sand. No mud, yay!

We had a 15-minute break here and took some very nice photos before we continued. The sun was coming out from behind the clouds and revealing a mightily blue sky.

The Confluence with the Drava

After the island, we passed a Hrvatske Voda ship—Croatian water management. It’s a big ship and they didn’t bother us since they’re more about water quality and science than law enforcement.

We made a sharp turn right and passed the third and final unclaimed pocket. I didn’t see any signs of human activity there, though I wasn’t very aware we were passing it at the time.

We came past a little backwater called Hulovski Kanal, which leads to Kopačko jezero. It’s a lake in the Kopački Rit nature reserve. A man from Zagreb observatory told me about how nice the nature is here. A birdwatching paradise. If we’d stayed in Osijek for longer, I think we might have been able to visit the other side of this area. But now, the Danube side will have to do. Though the entrance looked wide enough for small boats like ours, there were lots of fallen trees in the water. There was also a weird beacon thing on the edge, but it was very obscured by the trees.

Jonas said “Wait, I know where the boat mirror is.” He opened a zipper from the CabinMAX and pulled out one of our funniest tools during the 2019 Danube kayaking season. We laughed a lot. It’s been on the back of our minds since we paddled down the Agger. All this time, we couldn’t find it. Was this the only object we lost in those five years? It had seemed unlikely.

Jonas installed the boat mirror. The usefulness is easy to dispute right now; the river is too wide for how much the mirror covers and ships are few and far between. It’s easier to just turn your head whenever we’re paddling in the shipping lane to quickly check.

We paddled through a left bend, approaching the confluence of the Danube and the Drava. We ate a Frutabella protein bar while floating down. It was dry as fuck, but did the trick of quieting my appetite.

It was 11:30 when we made the final dip southwest to the confluence. The wind was coming more and more from the back, which made me hopeful. We could see the town of Aljmaš in the distance.

At the confluence, cozy houses on the shore of the Drava appeared in a village mapped as Ušće (meaning: river mouth). Since the Drava is partly navigable, there were buoys to indicate ships can also pop in here. Nothing was coming from the Drava, but there was a cargo ship traveling upstream towards us. We crossed the Danube shipping lane fairly quickly to the left side to not be in conflict. The ship was aimed for the Drava, but still made a turn to the right to travel the Danube upstream. This was always the more likely option.

Aljmaš + Kayak Sailing Around the Bend

From the Serbian side, we glanced at Aljmaš. It has a small dock, but no boat visitors. We saw a funny-shaped modernist building on the shore. I had no idea about its function until I later learned it’s a church and that Aljmaš is a site of pilgrimage interest. The original church was destroyed during the Croatian War of Independence (1991–5).

The TID will stop in Aljmaš this year. They arranged with the Croatian police that they get a visit and get stamped into Croatia. There’s no permanent border facility in Aljmaš, but with a large organized group, they can pull some strings. I found the distance between Apatin in Serbia and Aljmaš in Croatia a bit short. Turns out that from Aljmaš, they paddle to Vukovar where they check out of Croatia.

The wind was coming from the back and strongly so. I wanted to deploy the kayak sail to catch some of that sweet, sweet tailwind. Jonas only agreed after we passed some crap in the water, including a knocked-down green buoy pole. Opening up the sail took a bit of effort and I just had to hope that I’d installed it the right way this morning. Once I figured it out, I let the wind fill up the sail and held on tightly to the straps.


Here we go. With the noon church bells ringing, we left Aljmaš behind us. At a speed of about 9km/h, our arms could take a rest on the way to Erdut. The sail pulled us through the easterly bend. Sometimes, we approached the Serbian side too much. But then the wind would turn a bit and take us back across the Danube to the Croatian side. We had very little control, but a lot of fun.

Our theory is that the wind tends to follow the river for as long as it doesn’t deviate too much off the wind’s course. We felt this on our day to Apatin, where the wind was almost always fighting against us no matter our direction. And now, we hopefully feel the flipside of this effect while going mostly downwind.

Since this was a full time job for my hands, I could not look on the map to see where we were. I saw a shining water tower on a bluff, which must be our destination Erdut. But we sailed quite far into the northeasterly river bend around a flat floodplain area called Porić on my map. This bend adds a few kilometers to our distance to Erdut. At the northernmost point of this river bend, we saw quite some houses on the Serbian side. The wind became more irregular as we approached the corner, where we suddenly spotted a Croatian police boat anchored in the shadow of the trees.

There was no one looking at us from the boat, which probably means they’re napping. I’d do the same if this was my job. I used the sail as long as possible to not make any noises. It’s not like we’re trying to be sneaky, but we’re almost in Erdut and any day we avoid interaction with police is a good day in my book.

Jonas needed to go to shore, but this wasn’t the right spot. We kept going a few hundred meters around the bend till it turned southeast. The police boat was hidden from view and we found a nice sandy beach to land on. I folded the kayak sail away and weighed it down with my personal dry bag. It was a five minute stop. There were hoofprints in the sand from deer (probably). We’re almost in Erdut.

Croatian Police Boat + Arriving in Erdut

We paddled the last five kilometers rather quickly. It didn’t make sense to deploy the kayak sail again. Then we heard an engine behind us and saw that the police boat was in motion as we were going through the final bend to Erdut. I got a little nervous as it felt like we’d poked the beast. The police boat disappeared from view for a little while, but then they also turned the corner and even increased their speed. Just in case, I put my phone in my pocket and started filming. I also put my whistle at the ready to tell them to back off if they’re acting dangerously around our inflatable miracle.

Luckily, the police boat didn’t approach us. But we had to deal with their sharp wake. It’s much worse than any cargo ship does.

We were in the last two kilometers before Erdut. A port facility on the Serbian side appeared, which is the harbor of Bogojevo. There’s also two international bridges that cross the Danube: one road, one rail. But those are for another day.

Because we’d looked on satellite view the day before, we knew there was a big sill (i.e. speedbump) in the water at our landing spot in Erdut. The satellite footage was taken during low water, so it was completely exposed. The sill wasn’t on my nautical map, but we’d transferred the coordinates to our own maps.

When spotting the private fishing jetties in Erdut, we knew to get out here. But I didn’t see a sill in the water and I expected the water to be high enough now for Zucchini to clear it. I indicated a spot to Jonas to aim for, but when we got close, we saw it was very shallow and a bit of a drop. But it was too late to change course and paddle around the sill. The current was strong.

We scraped Zucchini onto the rocks of the sill and came to a standstill. My bodyweight was over the sill, but we got stuck at Jonas and the fin. Luckily, the fix was easy; Jonas puts his legs out of the boat to take his weight off and he hopped back in once the fin had cleared it. A bit of an amateurish moment, but okay, we make mistakes.

Once in Erdut, we couldn’t find a perfect landing spot. There was muddy grass everywhere. Eventually, we just got out at a muddy section that didn’t look too bad (it was). But on land, it wasn’t clear how this area connected to Erdut town. We were looking at the fences of private houses. Where was the road?

Arrival time: 13:43. Nice and early!

Jonas got out and walked around, triggering a backyard dog to bark at us for the next fifteen minutes. He also spotted a cat and a sign he said read “private road, no access”. We’re on the other side of it, of course.

But this place will have to do. We got Zucchini out of the water and put her in a sunny spot in the grass away from much of the river view. Above us we could see the outline of Erdut Fort on the loess plateau against the strong sun. We sat down on the seats to eat our sandwiches and began the packing up process. Our host in Erdut had offered to pick us up from this spot. Jonas said we’d be there around 15:00. I said it’s good to send him a message on WhatsApp with a picture of our arrival situation once I was done with my sandwich. Then we can pack up the boat and the rest of our luggage.

A green lizard crawled on top of Zucchini to bask in the sun. Where exactly in Europe is the lizard line? Because we hadn’t seen them until Mohács in Hungary. And I don’t think there are lizards in Germany. I could be wrong, though.

I walked to the sign Jonas talked about. To my horror, it read “Državna Granica” with a Croatian coat of arms and a forbidden access symbol. I don’t know what the first half means, but I do know that granica means border. I looked it up later: state border. It’s fairly sketchy to be here with territorial dogs on land and police on the river.

Jonas sent the message to our host, who said he’d be there with a transporter vehicle in 10 minutes. Could we pack up Zucchini that fast? Our new packing method is much quicker. I rolled her up – managed to avoid crushing a beautiful spider – and Jonas put her in the backpack. It was all very quick, but not 10-minutes-quick. I put my paddle dress over my outfit and was ready to meet people.

Our host showed up in a very big vehicle and with a friend. We said hi and put all the heavy luggage in the back. The friend was in the back of the vehicle while we drove uphill over a formerly-paved road. Jonas pointed out the cat that was lying on a wall in the sun. So we could have had a cat with us the entire time the boat was drying?

It was steep and quite a long way. I was happy not to be walking this up.

At the accommodation, our host showed us the house. It’s very nice and very big. He also said there’s a supermarket in town and even a café. Had we known this, we would have stayed in Erdut longer, even if we’re not checked into Croatia properly. He also offered to drive us back to the kayak launch spot tomorrow morning. At 7:00 was okay, he said.

This recently renovated house is part of a winery called Danubio and has a lot of character. We even received two bottles of wine – one white, one red – from the host. And there was more wine in the fridge left behind by “the Americans” who stayed here before us. This place is very new on Booking, so how the Americans knew how to find this place is a bit of a mystery.

Our Stay in Erdut: the Fort, the Wineries, the Cats

After dropping off our stuff and putting our water shoes and socks in the sun to dry, we unpacked the day bag and prepared to go on a little walk through Erdut. First stop: the supermarket. It’s an NTL supermarket with more than enough things. We expected to eat mushroom soup with pasta tonight, but we can apparently eat something other than a depression meal. We bought some fresh-ish spinach and ricotta pasta, cream, and half a kilo of mushrooms. There are spices in the house. Tonight will be a fungus feast.

We dropped those off at home and then continued our walkie. We walked past many abandoned buildings in Erdut, though they had a lot of character and probably good bones. Lots of beautiful gardens with people gardening.

In one of the main streets, we came across a cat next to an abandoned building. This tuxedo with a short tail seemed not interested at first, but then I fed her some snacks and she came to me for pets and rubs. Such a sweetie. But her eyes looked so bad. We ran out of snacks, but the supermarket was only 400 meters away. I intended to come back to her with the good dry food later. We spotted another tuxedo cat in the street, who was even more shy. I couldn’t really stand it, the suffering of these amazing friends who just want love and safety.

We walked towards the fort of Erdut. There was one street going left that looked promising for views of the Danube. And there was a beautiful viewpoint there overlooking what we paddled just a few hours earlier. Sixty meters above the river  helps a lot with those amazing views.

We continued to the fort past an Orthodox church. We also walked past the silver shining water tower we’d used as a distance marker. There was a tabby cat here, but she ran away when we shook the food we’d just bought.

Erdut Fort was quite beautiful. In ruins, but stunning. There was some educational board here about the region, teaching about Erdut, Aljmaš, Dalj, and Bjelo Brdo. Though Bjelo Brdo isn’t at the Danube, I’d heard of it because there’s a football match between Vukovar and Bjelo Brdo in two days. That football match is supposedly the reason we couldn’t get accommodation in the center of Vukovar. All these towns are on the high plane of Dalj or Erdut.

We took a lot of nice photos at the fort and looked down from the edge. We could see our landing spot, which will also be our launch spot when we continue to Vukovar tomorrow. Across the river is Bogojevo Port in Serbia. A cargo ship traveled upstream while we were there. And we could see the two bridges across the Danube between Bogojevo and Erdut. The road bridge was full of stagnant trucks waiting to enter the EU. Good thing we’re not trying to enter Croatia like that, because it looks like a true shitshow. The train bridge saw no traffic while we were there.

Returning to our home in Erdut, we came past a cat behind a fence, but also a barking dog behind that same fence. How the cat tolerated such noise levels is beyond me.

We walked past the Catholic church of Erdut and the Adamovich-Cseh Palace. This is the biggest winery in Croatia according to our host in Erdut. It also has the world’s largest wine barrel in its cellar. Unfortunately, it’s only open from 7:30 till 12:00 this time of year. This is also where the Erdut Agreement was signed in 1995, which ended the Croatian War of Independence.

Jonas returned home after this and I walked back to the street where I’d met the tuxedo cat. I said pspsps, but there was no answer. However, I did encounter another shy cat and the other shy tuxedo cat. I tried to feed him, but all he did was stare at me and then run off. But I knew his walking routes, so I dropped a heap of dry food on his path so he had something to eat later. When looking into the cellar of an abandoned building with a broken window, I also spotted a giant wooden wine barrel. I wonder if it’s… empty?

Back at home, we took a shower and relaxed. We opened the bottle of red wine from the Danubio winery of Erdut and cooked our pasta meal. We watched one episode of The Blacklist before we packed a little and went to bed. I really wish we had known Erdut has a decent supermarket. This place is too nice to only visit for one day.

Tomorrow we paddle to Vukovar.

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