9th to 11th July - 3 days with Amazonas Explorer
I stayed at Carol and Paul’s on the Friday night. My voluntary work was put on hold to give me a rest. Carol kindly gave me a loan of a proper long sleeved top for rafting..in pink..my new colour.
The trip was absolutely amazing ..even for me, who is a real chicken when it comes to these things. Hearing about it the night before had me a little worried but now I have been on it I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I really feel I achieved something. For a woman who hates water up her nose it is surprising who I got used to it and it not be a problem.
We set off at 7.30am to pick up the rest of the team. They were seasoned rafters and kayakers. I was the only novice. Even they said anything else would pale in comparison. The difference with this trip is you are completely alone for 3 days, camping at certain spots/ sandy banks along the way. There are a number of spots to choose from and with our small group of 6 we could have stopped at any of the spots. Carol and Paul always take smaller groups so it is more intimate and more fun.
The rapids in the Apurimac are incredible with lots of different grades. Anything above 5 is considered to be too dangerous for commercial use so we walked around those. This time that was about 4 I think. Did that detract from the rapids we rafted and kayaked through..not a jot!! There were a couple that Paul and Rupert, the only kayaker, assessed to see if they wanted to run them and they did but it was too difficult for the raft. Apurimac, by the way, means “God of Light” – (Apu = God; Rimac = light).
How many rapids did we go through??? I lost count but it must have been upwards of 50 or so over the 3 days.
Every rapid had a name..Trident, Indiana Jones, Toothache, the Last Laugh, the Whale to name a few. All were very exciting and ranged mostly from a grade 2 to 4+ but even a grade 2 rapid could be tricky depending on which way you went through it. Sometimes Cali added to this excitement by encouraging us to paddle causing the raft to circle through some. The river is really fast flowing so had to react quickly. The river and rapids change all the time caused by landslides, rain and snow so the guides and Paul must reassess whether they are safe to run or we have to walk around certain rapids. You definitely needed your hard hat, life jacket and either a long sleeved (rafting) top or splash jacket. All were provided except the top of course.
The temperature really varied. When you were in the shade compared to the sun, with the real soakings we got, you got cold quickly so again the splash jackets made a big difference. There were occasions when my teeth were chattering but soon we were in the sun again and dried out quickly!! The sun is incredibly strong so very high factor sun cream is essential as is insect repellent. At night the temperature was very pleasant so light sleeping clothes and sleeping bag are all that are required. We even slept with only the fly net on the door. The sound of the water rushing past through the night was so lovely and probably helped with my 10 hour sleep on the Sunday night, which I got right royal ripping up for.
There are 4 things I have learnt from this trip:
RESPECT, TEAMWORK, TRUST, GO WITH THE FLOW
Respect for the river is essential. The water is a very powerful element. Each guide gave an offering to her for a safe passage.
Teamwork and Trust are a must if you want to pass through the rapids safely; listening and responding to our guide quickly and without question. There were a couple of occasions when myself, Kurt and Ginger had to be grabbed by someone as we were thrown off balance.
Go with the flow ..the flow of the water, the instructions, any last minute changes because of the conditions. This kind of applies to anything you do out here as the elements can be unpredictable.
We had a 4 hour bus journey broken up with a visit to a local town (the one I stopped at on the way to Choquequirao) for any last minute purchases, toilet stop etc. Our lunch stop was when we reached our starting point. The food is amazing. We had quiche and salad for lunch which was just scrummy. They come well prepared with really good quality ingredients and food for breakfast, lunch, tea, a snack stop on the water and when you camp. I always love it.
We had 3 guys helping us...well 4 if you include Paul.... Alan, Cali and Efrain (bringing the cargo raft). All helped cook, set up and clear up. Everyone gets pitched in when it comes to setting up and taking down tents etc. It’s all part of the teamwork.
Once we were all kitted out and corseted into our life jackets (as in the water they can really slip) we got our very professional safety instructions, firstly from Cali on safety and the commands and what they meant. Then Alain took over to talk about what a rescue would look like if anyone fell in the water.
The guides were brilliant, doing a great job. They take their work seriously. I think all of these guys have to be a little mad though when you see them running the rafts through what we can’t raft through. As raft guides they have a hard seat at the back of the raft and 2 large oars to steer and row with. We assist when instructed to keep us all safe but have fun. All the guys were keen to make the trip as enjoyable as they could. There were areas to swim in the rapids or calm water, jump off rocks and take photos on the water. We even saw local men panning for gold on the last day so we pulled in to see what they have found. They had been there 15 days and found a little gold (see photos later for their largest find).
Once on the water we practiced our manoeuvres from Cali’s commands and some tried jumping in and practicing being rescued by Alan in his small, very manoeuvrable kayak. He was in charge of rescuing everyone including the cargo raft!! He really knew his stuff. I decided not to jump in and would deal with it if I needed to...nobody seemed to notice luckily.
I’ll give you a quick summary of what we had to do.
First the raft instructions –
Golden rule – always hang onto the top handle of the paddle that way you don’t hit the other person in the face and less likely to lose it.
Instructions- most are self explanatory:
Forwards, Backwards – negotiating rocks as we went through; Hard Forward (to make sure we cleared rocks as some were very close to the surface on the rapids and we glided over a few); Right Back (meant those on the left paddled forward while those on the right paddled back..you just had to remember which side you were on.) Over to the Right (or Left) meant all those on the left threw themselves over to the right while those on the right hung on and tucked their paddle against the side so not to hit the other person in the face. This was usually when we were stuck on rocks in the middle of rapids. Secure your Foot – when difficult rapids were coming; Get Down, when basically you hung onto the rope at the side and got inside the raft quickly!!
The water could be shallow in the most unusual places and the rocks were everywhere so lots to negotiate. You needed to have total faith in your guide or you would definitely come unstuck.
Throughout the whole trip we all managed to stay in the raft but it was touch and go at some points.
It was important to jam your outside foot under the support in front of you, or the foot stirrup if you were at the very front. This really did help you stay in the raft and under control to keep paddling. You also had to lean over the edge to get a good position to pull through with the paddle. It was important to get your body weight behind it. It also proved beneficial to change sides throughout the trip so you didn’t overtire one arm. I fell and hurt my knee on the first night so had to swap sides. This forced me to swap sides which was good.
Alain, was next with his instructions for rescue –
If you fell in the water stay calm. If you were not calm he wouldn’t come to you as you would panic and pull him in, then there would be 2 in the water and one of them would be very angry! This made me smile but you could see what he meant as he wouldn’t be able to help you then!! There were different positions for being rescued depending whether he presented you with the front or the back of his small kayak. All were practiced including being thrown a rope from the raft. It was good to see and gave us confidence if something should happen...even me who didn’t go in. What can I say the water was freezing .... I wasn’t going in unless I had to.
I mentioned swimming above. There is a special position to adopt in these fast flowing rivers.. floating in a sitting position with your feet forward so you can push off any rocks that come your way and it also meant you didn’t get your feet stuck in the rocks on the bottom due to how shallow it could be.
• Hitting the huge rapids and being submerged on a couple of occasions. It sounds scary I know but I always felt safe as we worked well as a team.
• The force of the water when you are up at the front and even when you weren’t the raft often seemed to be side on to the rapids..our side!
• The thrill of completing another rapid well. We always did a “high 5” with our paddles shouting “Apurimac”.
• The areas of the rapids where you were stationery in the middle of them...weird but amazing .
• The tranquillity of the evening with good food, a few drinks (yes we had beer, wine and Pisco Sours one night)
• The incredible stars, the half moon and the roar of the river...real food for the spirit.
• It all felt very romantic if you had been there with a loved one.
• Seeing the condors flying at night with the moon behind them lighting their flight...just beautiful.
• The wonderful smooth, flowing rock structures ..they looked like Gaudi’s work. Just stunning!!
• How peaceful it was..other than the roar of the river. Being at harmony with nature.
A MUST TO BRING
• A long sleeved top or two. (You want something dry to put on when you stop for lunch)
• A sun hat and sunglasses. (Essential for lunch stops).
• Insect repellent. (Difficult to avoid the blighters)
• Very high factor sun cream for the bits still exposed. (I’d say minimum of 70 to be safe.)
By day 3 I had worked my way from the back to the front of the raft and we were hitting grade 4+ rapids. The big ones!!
We were submerged a couple of times, including when I was at the front and I didn’t panic. I made sure those around me were safe.
I feel alive after such a great trip and definitely relaxed.
I went to unwind and switch off and that was definitely achieved.
IF YOU WANT TO EXPLORE ALL THE ACTIVITIES PAUL AND CAROL OFFER IN SOUTH AMERICA –
To be honest this is now the 3rd trip I have taken with them..2 treks and now white water rafting....
I wouldn’t go past them.
Until my next blog readers...Take Care, Have Fun and Live Life to the Full.