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KAYAKING FROM THE SOURCE OF THE AMAZON – ON THE APURIMAC

DAYS 5-6 - with Amazonas Explorers - www.amazonas-explorer.com

This is a long one so make sure you have time - a glass of wine or a wee cup of tea before you settle down to the last instalment of my epic adventure. :)

DAY 5

Up at a civilised 6am to have a nice breakfast and on the water This not just any water..this is from the source of the Amazon!!
..but first.....it’s time to try out these hot springs. Carol had said they were great so too tempting to miss.
I pulled on my cossy and wrapped my towel around me, donned the flip flops and walked rather smartly to the springs, wishing all a ”Buenos Dias” as I went. It was a lovely day after all and we were all fit and healthy after such a big day, the day before!! It was also a little cold as we were still above 4000m, so no hanging around.  As discussed all wished me a happy birthday on my new designated birthday.  Rob and his team were packing up and taking the things we no longer needed. He had some important papers to sign so couldn’t wait. Paul would get the things back in Cusco. At the springs I found Paul and Francois already there, enjoying the heat. I could see why as the water was really warm, lovely and relaxing....a pleasant way to start the day.  Unlike the springs at Colca Lodge you tend to find the moss gathering at the edges of these, more remote hot springs, then breaking free and floating on the top. A quick swish up and toss over the edge sorts that. I took advantage of Francois’s shampoo and decided to wash my hair. I’m not sure how sulphur affects the colour of your hair.. but hey it could cope. Prompted that breakfast would be ready soon we got out and dressed. It was surprising how long the heat stayed with you. First I hugged (a wet hug ) Rob and the guys and said bye agreeing to visit Rob to pick his brains about applying for grants, being that he applied for multimillion ones on a regular basis! All hints and tips welcome.  I then dried and dressed relatively leisurely not feeling the cold. Paul had left 2 wet suits beside my tent. I opted for the bigger, not wanting to risk getting stuck inside the smaller one. The large one was a little loose but I thought at least I could breathe in it! I also had a couple of layers to put under it. Carol suggested I wear my light weight fleecy then their red fleecy on top followed by the wet suit (to keep out the cold as the water would be particularly cold as would the wind once the sun dipped in the canyons)...knickers would suffice for the bottom half. This was followed by boots which are very difficult to zip up properly but you pull the wet suit over them anyway. Next came the splash jacket, a lifejacket that you can barely breathe in, and a helmet. It keeps you safe though so I shouldn’t complain. The latter gear doesn’t need to go on until we are ready to set off. First was a lovely breakfast of pancakes and peaches...now that was lovely. Armed with snack packs (which were bulging with chocolate as we were down to 4 of us now), lunch (that lovely rice dish again- same as the first day), full gear on and camera securely in a waterproof box we got ready to leave. As Paul was setting up Francois in his kayak Carol quickly gave me some lessons in what to do. How to hold the paddles and how to row, covering hand and body position, ensuring I was using the bottom half of my body...there is no slouching in a kayak especially when there are two of you as you get in the way of the other person and the power comes from the legs and stomach. Paul would be steering and I would be the engine. All I needed to do was listen and respond..fine..I can do that.  Francois discovered the back of his kayak was a little flat..obviously a slow puncture somewhere. For those not in the know there are various points you need to blow up these inflatable kayaks. Ronaldo and Paul pumped it up again and we took the pump with us. We were set. We wouldn’t see Justo and Ronaldo until 4pm approximately depending on the water. If it was fast flowing we may get there earlier.
Off we went taking it easy to see how it felt..no problems. As we paddled along it was incredibly peaceful and beautiful. The surrounding mountains had beautiful rock formations which became a fun topic of what we could see in each. This continued on for the two days actually. We reckoned we saw Elvis as we left the 3 canyons the next morning...really!!!!
There was also a lot of time to chat and for Paul and I to get to know each other better. Obviously I was friendly with Carol so Paul and I hadn’t spent much time in each other’s company. As we paddled and drifted along there were also lots of ducks, Andean geese etc on the water in front of us. Some of these ducks were very small and rode the rapids too!! How do they manage that without getting water up their nose I would like to know??? Amazing little things. The Andean geese were funny too if a little stupid. One kept feigning it was hurt by dragging a wing to draw our attention away from its baby...aaawww; but then it would only fly a short distance in front of us and so it would go on for quite some time. If they had just headed for shore and let us past!!  We stopped on a sunny spot to have our snacks (about 2 hours later) which was great as I needed to stretch my legs. I didn’t tell you my position in the kayak. Basically in the front of the kayak you have pedals to rest your feet on but your legs are bent up and out to the side with your knees held under straps at the side of the kayak. You can get them in and out reasonably easily but you wanted them tight enough so they didn’t slip out when on the rapids and rough water. I had to keep slipping mine out and stretching my feet as my legs and feet were getting rather sore in this unnatural splayed position. (I only did this on the quiet stretches of water...so don’t panic!!) Paul reckoned the water level was just about perfect. It was high enough to give us some thrills and not too low that we got stuck a lot, which was very tiring to try and get off as we discovered on a couple of occasions. We did quickly discover that Carol and Francois obviously sat a little higher in the water than us so we had to find our own way through these stretches of water. On the first day we did get stuck on the stones a couple of times so had to wiggle around a bit to get off and back into deeper water. Usually if we paddled quite hard at these areas we managed to use our momentum to get across. It was 12 years since Paul had done this stretch of water so he wasn’t sure if there would be any surprises ahead so Carol and Paul were constantly scanning the water..both very experienced kayakers both here and all over the world.
We then came to the canyon which Paul knew of. We pulled in and went to assess it. Carol wasn’t keen to come through this narrow section as it came round a sharp bend and under a bridge. With less time on the water while having the children and in the office, she was less confident of her skills for this type of run. Paul and Carol assessed it and Carol was the safety man with the rope ready should Paul get into any difficulty. After much deliberation Paul set off in Carol’s kayak first and executed it perfectly...yey  He then brought through François’, again with no hitches. OK it was time for the 2 man kayak. Paul asked me if I wanted to accompany him...I quickly declined and suggested Francois. He had kayaked on numerous occasions before but this was the first time he had kayaked on his own. He was keen to do this with Paul and I was keen to take photos.  Carol instructed me on what to do if they got into trouble as she would need an anchorman to help pull them both out..but I had to first make sure I was safe first. They sailed through with no problems but on a real adrenaline high. Paul was super hyper after 3 runs at the canyon, I can tell you.  We all climbed back in our kayaks and set off again coming safely out the other side of the canyon. We decided a lovely big rock would be nice and warm for lunch. In the sun it was lovely but in the shade you got a little cold especially if you were a little (or a lot) wet from the rapids. It was interesting being with Paul as often, once we were through the rapids but still in reasonably rough water, he would turn us around to ensure the others came through safely. He also had a mini video on his helmet so was videoing Carol and Francois as they came through....also videoing the beautiful scenery and canyons (especially on the second day). We found our lovely big rock with some fantastic images in the rocks above us. Some actually looked like the ones on Easter Island...incredible.  The biggest problem we had on day 1 was drinking water. Carol had been smart and brought her platypus but Paul and I only had 600ml each and these were soon finished. Carol’s water was also finished early on in the morning and she thought her platypus must be leaking. Paul and I decided to do without but Carol bravely filled her platypus from a small stream flowing into the river. It looked clear but the problem was you didn’t know what was happening further up the mountain..grazing animals and also using it as a toilet!! She didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects though.
On the second half of our trip – the afternoon stretch -was truly idyllic, but a big afternoon paddling as we still had a long way to go. We passed through long stretches of beautiful trees that Paul explained were extremely slow growing and very, very old. Some parts looked like a real dingly dell...it was like travelling through a really ancient civilisation. You expected to see fairies flying around. It was just lovely.  As we paddled past the local people here and there we would shout “Buenas Dias “and wave. They were out tending their animals or crops...most waved back and replied which was nice. The llamas were very curious as they watched us with the little ones running for mum...soooo cute .  We were now also on the lookout for Irasmo. This nice man had helped a young girl who had fallen in, on a previous trip some time ago and who was suffering from hypothermia. He took her and the guide into his house and helped heat her up..probably saved her life actually. As a sign of gratitude the guide on the trip had given Irasmo a paddle as he could see he had a tyre to cross the river and a piece of wood to paddle. Irasmo turned out to be quite a character, living on a house on top of a rock and as he explained they all lived off the land, only taking broken branches from the trees, not cutting them down...the way it should be actually... Contact had been maintained with Irasmo over the years. As we continued Paul would ask if they had seen Irasmo and how much further. All pointed further on. As we got closer a local man could tell us Irasmo was out so he wouldn’t be able to join us for tea. The last time Paul had seen him he had asked for a wet suit. Paul had agreed. It was still a good wetsuit but Paul, being the generous person he was, and still eternally grateful was going to give him one.
We made good time along the river and soon came to our exit point on the left of the river. It was now 5pm. Ronaldo was waiting for us. We all managed to negotiate our way out safely and quickly became cold as the sun was now setting. We were in the 3 canyons and very beautiful it was. We seemed to be near a road and above the camp were 2 lay-bys with a grazing cow and donkey....all very peaceful and picturesque.  We also had a lovely dog who stayed close to us all night. He sat quietly watching to see if he was going to be given any tit-bits. Justo is not a fan of dogs so often chased the poor soul. We gave him something when Justo wasn’t looking though.  We all changed into much warmer clothes and headed to the food tent for hot chocolate and crackers before tea. Carol and Paul went for a walk which later I was kicking myself for not going as I missed the lovely sunset over the mountains. I had been so cold at this point I just wanted to rest and heat up...oh well!! Francois and I had been chatting..a very interesting man. A very big businessman in Peru with his finger in a lot of pies but interestingly had from the raw materials to the final article all within his control, so no issue with supply etc....from beautiful alpaca and upmarket stores, to pharmacies to a large share in Amazonas Explorers (Carol and Paul’s company) to 75% share of Colca Lodge. Carol and Paul were invited to his daughter’s wedding in 2 weeks in Arequipa. A big affair I am sure.
Francois and I did join Carol and Paul for a short time at the top lay-by with a great view, but the sun had pretty much set by then..It was really beautiful though. In the morning I would wander off and take some photos. Paul said I would have time before we got on the water at 9am again.
At dinner we had a lovely soup (Justo’s speciality) and Lomo Saltado..one you could eat this time.  I was toasted with Inca Kola and they all sang happy birthday to me which was nice.  This felt like a better birthday. 
As usual we were all tucked up in bed pretty early – 7pm. We had not had as much sleep over the last few days between late camps and the cold. My muscles were also a bit sore so I did a bit of stretching before bed. We had been on the water for 8 hours with only about 1 hour to relax and eat.

DAY 6

Our last day....
Today was to be an easier day as we would finish by lunchtime and head home. Francois’ driver had been given instructions as to where to meet us.
Up at 6am as usual we had breakfast of eggs, sausage, beans and bacon, with a hot chocolate (that requires 2 sugars) ..lovely.  I then headed off for a few photos. I don’t think they were as nice as I would have got the night before but I was happy enough with them. As I left the camp to take my photos, up past the lay-bys and across the bridge, a man on a motor-bike passed me. I didn’t think anything of it. It turned out this was Irasmo coming to see his amigos.  He also got his wetsuit.  I was sad I had missed this colourful character.
Back at camp and we packed up and pulled on our wetsuits and clothes. With us arriving after the sun was well down there was little drying outside and we had hung the suits up in the food tent. The wet suits were unfortunately a little wet when we pulled them on...eeek!!
We were actually back on the water for 8.30am which was good. We learnt from the day before and had brought much more drinking water with us. Paul said there would be more water on the river today..more rapids and lots of canyons, black granite...should be interesting.  Off we set. The river felt much the same as the day before with rapids, choosing which side to go as there was often more than one path through them and meanwhile watching these little ducks ride the waves. Interestingly we were kayaking parallel with the road for a time and people slowed down to watch us, people came out of their houses to wave and shout hello..it was really nice. One motorcyclist with his wife and child kept slowing down and watched us going through the rapids. They followed us for quite a time.
Not far along it became apparent that Francois was having a bit of trouble. Seemingly his forearm had swollen up. They had all discussed it the night before unbeknown to me. He had taken an Ibuprofen (that I had supplied) from the first aid kit. Paul suggested Carol and him swap kayaks as Carol’s was lighter and possibly less strain on his arm. I also told him to make sure and take the Ibuprofen regularly to reduce the inflammation. It was quite swollen. This done off we set off again.
Shortly after this Paul and Carol suddenly shouted..the horizon, the horizon..head for the shore!! We did. We discovered the problem was there was a huge weir here now as they took water off to irrigate soil further on. Carol and Paul had noticed the horizon just disappeared so we didn’t know what we were going into!! Paul tried taking one of the boats through but it was quite difficult with the steepness and water level.. It was much easier just to walk the boats down it and then we could resume. The problem with this water was the swirl back and we could see coke bottles going nowhere just swirling in the water. Back in the kayaks off we went again.
After about a couple of hours we passed a lovely scene of llamas and alpacas on some lovely rocks near the water. Paul and I were busy looking at this when we realised a bit too late that we were taking the wrong line onto the rapids. We were too close to the large rocks on the right hand side. The kayak began to slide down the side of these rocks pulled into the water turbulence. We were at quite an angle and this is where I made my stupid mistake. I leant into the side away from the rocks to put my oar into the water..I was still paddling! The kayak turned and in I went. All I could think of was “shit!!” I came up under the kayak to begin with spluttering and then managed to get out and grab the side as it righted. Paul was in the kayak trying to get us ashore and telling me to hang on and kick. I did try but the current was quite strong. My kicks were pretty feeble. Paul managed to land the kayak. Both Carol and Francois were coming ashore and watching. Carol shouted to me to pull myself onto the rocks. I was trying but the rocks were quite big, smooth and steep so I was slipping back in with the current. I shouted “I’m slipping back in”..I was still choking at this point from swallowing quite a bit of water!! Paul then came and grabbed my life jacket and pulled me out......I lay there puffing and panting..and extremely shocked...a tad traumatised!! Carol suggested this was a good place to have our snacks. After a few minutes I took off my life jacket, splash jacket and tried to squeeze some of the water out of my wet suit and tops. Fortunately the sun was out so was quickly drying what it could. Paul asked if I was warm enough and actually I was. I sat quietly and ate a bit of my snack pack. Ronaldo and Justo had arrived in the jeep. We were actually going to be stopping here as there were some lovely ruins, just ahead, for us to see. Shortly afterwards they said we were heading up. I said I would wring out my tops first then head up. I felt the sun was strong enough to dry them. They wandered off leaving me to compose myself as waves of shock kept hitting me. This was best actually. Saved me turning into a blubbering wreck if someone had sympathised with me! As we reached the top of the slope to the ruins Ronaldo slowed and asked if I was OK. I said – a little shaky but fine..that was really sweet of him.  The ruins – Malka Yakta (ancient place) were unusual in that there were lots of circular ruins. This was seemingly a grain storage area for most of the surrounding area. The taller circular building had been a burial tower. It was pleasant wandering around. Soon we wandered back and got ready to set off again. Paul strongly suggested I change one of my fleecy tops as we were heading into more shade and I would be cold. He gave me a dry one- a kind of wetsuit type top to put on and gave me his waterproof trousers to put on top. It did make a difference..I thanked him as he must also be cold..He had been in the water too.
It would have been very easy not to get back in the kayak but that would have been silly so I pulled myself together and kept reminding myself that I had complete trust in Paul. He initially took me through the quieter parts of the river but then took me into some more exciting rapids to build my confidence. I was quiet during this last stretch I must admit..tired and a little nervous especially on the narrow stretches. I just kept concentrating on what I was doing and Paul was saying to me.. vigilant of any obstacles to make sure Paul didn’t miss them. A little later we did discuss what had happened and I knew I had tipped the wrong way. Paul also said I had given up too quickly on the ability of the inflatable kayak and Paul to keep it upright. We may still have gone in but not as quickly. Anyway I now knew what I needed to do if we listed. This actually did happen a couple of times later on that day and I reacted the correct way so lessons had been learnt. This stretch of water was truly magical but as Carol said..grade 1 water but grade 5 for nerves, as we passed through long and narrow granite canyons with rock formations that looked like Gaudi had been at work here. Absolutely stunning!!! The danger was if we tipped out here there was nowhere to go but hang on until you got out the other side!! There were a couple of tricky bits coming through some of the canyons as large rocks in our way meant narrow sections to kayak through but we managed them well. One section required time to decide how best to tackle one section to line up right for the rest of the rapids as the view was not clear from where we were coming into it. Carol tackled a tough bit of water to get a clearer view then shouted instructions to Paul so we could try it first. We got it right..yey!! As for the little ducks...yep they were still with us and looked like they enjoyed these lovely quiet canyons. A poor little pigeon had limped onto a rock with a broken wing so I’m not sure it would survive as the rock faces were sheer and very high...It would not be able to fly out...poor thing. 

I couldn’t believe how many canyons there were but there were a lot. Eventually we came out of one canyon to see a bridge in front of us and more rapids. This was where we came ashore..just before the bridge ( Macchu Puente)..miss this and we were not sure where we were going to be able to land! All was well... we came in one at a time with Ronaldo and a helper he had found, helping us ashore. We quickly pulled each kayak up to allow the next person to land. Once we had all landed we carried the kayaks up to where Justo was making lunch next to the jeep. It was 12.30pm and beautifully sunny. We all found somewhere quiet to dry ourselves and change into dry, land clothes. I was pleased to be ashore....It had been quite an adventure!!!
Paul actually admitted on the way home this was not a commercial trip. The river, even though at the right level, was too dangerous unless it was very proficient kayakers on the water. If you had one silly person that didn’t take instruction or panicked it could be very dangerous. Paul was very tired after running on adrenaline for so long. He obviously had been trying to keep me upbeat as well after the capsizing.
We had a lovely lunch of soup, trucha (trout) and pineapple for dessert and full fat coke.  We left Macchu Puente at 2pm. We seemed to make good time on the way home with the only minor hiccup of getting pulled in by police to check our paperwork. We had been quite lucky as 4 police cordons had let us through. This is a fairly common occurrence in Peru but more so today as this was the May holiday here. Coming through a village we caught up on a motorbike trying to take his very drunk friend home. Watching this person swaying about behind the driver I am surprised he didn’t fall off!! All the ooows and aahhs coming from our car were quite funny as we watched!! We followed them for some time.
We arrived back in Cusco at 6pm but not before stopping at other ruins called KanaMarka...again lovely and quite extensive..before finishing our trip.
Back in Cusco at Carol and Paul’s we offloaded all the things from the jeep, taking our rucksacks into the house. The rest would wait until the morning when Justo would tidy up and Ronaldo would clean the car. We said goodnight to them, Ronaldo heading home and Justo deciding he was going to a hostel for the night. Paul and Carol spent a bit of time with the kids, 2 of whom weren’t very well- Lara and Oliver, with earache. Paul then said we were going out. He had mentioned earlier he fancied a Baco’s steak. After the kids were in bed we headed to Baco’s at 8.30pm. It was lovely to have a hot shower and wash my hair beforehand, put on reasonably smart clothes and go out. We shared a bottle of red wine; I had a gin and tonic and then shared a starter of pork ribs. I had seafood tagliatelle which was really lovely and then we all tried Paul’s fig cake...very nice . Carol and Paul then announced this was my birthday treat so that was really nice....a lovely way to finish our expedition...It really felt like that I can tell you.... an expedition!!!!

Well my friends I have come to the end of the adventure..the rest of my blogs will be much calmer and about my day to day life in Peru. Hope that doesn’t disappoint. 

Until the next blog...adios mis amigos. 

Posted by Heather Buc 20:04

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