Thursday, May 18, 2006

Rio Apurimac

The Apurimac River is only a few hours outside of Cusco, and is one of the most sought after multi days in the country. But, to catch this worm you have to get up early. We caught a cab out of cusco at 5 am in route to a small town about 40 minutes down the road. A reliable source had told us that there was a truck that you catch at 6 am which would take you too the Apurimac. We arrived at about a quarter to six at a small roadside restraunt, which also happend to be the transportation terminal. The restraunt owner informed us that a bus arrived a bit after seven which would be able to take us too the river. So, we took the opportunity to fuel up on a classic breakfast of rice and chicken. Which was surprisingly good. At seven, everyone was out and about whizzing up and down the street on bicycles and mosquitos (which is a motorcycle taxi, for those not familiar). The Bus arrived soon after and was packed. I mean way over 200% capicity, and the roof rack was overflowing. We pleaded our case to the driver, but no empathy was recieved. He did inform us that another bus would be arriving soon that could also take us. The driver was correct, and within a few minutes another bus arrived. The second bus possiably had more people than the first. But fortunatly the driver was less concerned about personal space and other irrelevent issues such as structural carrying capacities. So, he encouraged us too strap our boats on top of the already loaded roof rack. We loaded our gear and joined the rest of the passengers of our bus. There were no seats, and too be fair, there were more people in the isles than seated. The next three and half hours we spent rallying toward the put-in on some of Peru´s finest secondary roads.

As soon as we steped off the bus we were greeted by a swarm of natives. The natives didnt hesitate to attack, and immediatly our priority shifted toward swating these agressive motherf#€&$?s. The Apurimac is notorious for its ferocious sand flies which became apparant very quickly. All the locals knew these suckers had some teeth. a few young children were kicking a football around, and everyone of them was wearing a head net. I inquired with the gentleman who ran a small store by the bridge about head nets and he kindly offered a head net for the price of two soles( the equivelent of about 60 cents). Excited to be off the bus, we made our way to the river.

Within thirty minutes of being on the river we entered the first canyon. The river slightly narrowed and the canyon walls began to climb toward the sky. It was the first of the season and the river was high, so entering the canyon we were excited to see what lay between these dramatic rock walls. The river seemed to be mainly long rapids seperated by equally long pools. Floating into big water rapids is an aquired taste, that even when you enjoy it, should be consumed with a bit of trepidation. Combined with the late day sun every rapid looked similar from above. a horizon line of white explosions which was distorted from the glare. As you got closer to the lip the bottom often became apparant, and many times the line was obvious and the rapid very managable. But, every now and again you would float into something that the bottom wasn´t apparant. Which would entail locating an eddy within the rapid, or scrambling toward the bank to take a gander. At the top, as the sun is glarring you in the face, everything looks bigger than it is. And occasionally it is a bit bigger than it looks, but that is another story. That afternoon, we spent about three and a half hours making our way through the first Apurimac George.

we made camp above the second gorge. Fired up at how good the river was, we exited onto a nice beach as the sun departed the canyon for the day. ¨Most of the big rapids come the second day¨, was the extent of the information we had about the river. So tommorow was certain to be good. But, presently the task at hand was making dinner. And taking no prisoners in beach bochi ball. no prisoners were taken. And subsequently, we locked into a good bochi ball rally as dusk entered the camp..... after dinner we sat around enjoying the unique experience of being deep in a remote Peruvian canyon, when we saw the largest shooting star ever! it was one of those moments where three seconds in someone slowly say, ¨are you catchin this?¨ with the equally slow response of,¨oh....yeah.¨

Waking up on the river is an exceptional location to start the day. The light slowly emerges, while constantly changing until the sun shows its face for the day. After a leisurly breakfast, we broke camp and launched into the second gorge. The second gorge is not as dramatic in regards to vertical walls as the first canyon. But the rapids are stout. To our advantage the lighting was better, so it was much easier to scout from eddies. We had no problem making our way down, until in the middle of a big rapid i caught on eddy on the right without paying enough attention to what lie downstream. I signaled for Rob to catch an eddy on river left. He scouted his line and signaled that the left side was a go. When he got to the bottom, he signaled that the right channel had a big hole. At this point i was too commited downstream to make it left. The eddy i was in was deep and has surrounded by ten foot walls. Downstream there appeared to be a series of ledges. I could see the first two. But the bottom ledge was questionable and there seemed to be a suspect feature on the right that appeared to be sieve. After a bit speculation i was able to attain a higher eddie that had a really small ledge which i could get out on. With a bit of luck i was able to scale up the rock and pull my boat up. After scouting the rapid, the hole at the bottom appeared to flush through on the center left side. The top was pushier than i had anticipated but i was able to stay on line through the bottom. The second day proved to be incrediable. lots of big clean rapids. one big portage and one small one. The crux of the canyon was visually impressive, and i am slightly confused how they get rafts through a few sections. After lunch the valley opend up and eventually we arrived at the main road traveling from Lima to Cuzco.

The problem was we weren´t sure which direction Cuzco was. After an hour three cars had passed. two of them were busses, which indicated the direction of our destination. and the other car was going the other way. Neither bus had a roof rack, and even if they did, they were going so fast i don´t think they would have been able to stop. We had a few hours before dark, but after an hour not one potintial ride had passed. We had a little bit of oatmeal left over from breakfast, so we began planning to settle in for the night. And almost as soon as we verbally acknowledged our willingness to camp out by the road. An Angel came from the sky. Actually it was just a Tico (small cab) headed to Cuzco. I was so excited not too have to camp out by the interstate! Too add to our luck, he charged us ten dollars for the two and half hour ride back to Cuzco, which was so fair i could have done a dance on the spot. Actually, I think i did.

PICTURES: (above) taking a gander. (Below) ¨bread for sale.¨ the pinch, upper gorge. Rob, Floating into another exploding horizon line. have my attention. Sequence. ten foot wall eddy. sometimes... a little luck never hurts. The cooliest cab driver in the world!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cotahuasi River

Lying in the southwest corner of Peru is the deepest river in the world. The Cotahuasi river is over 10,000 feet deep in sections, and provides a dramatic contrast to the arid region that surrounds this oasis. Despite the remote nature of the Cotahuasi, This fertile region led rise to a large network of villages. Connected by an exceptional trail system that stands, even today, deep within the Cotahuasi Gorge. Passing through this gorge is a step back in time. Both in regards to the abandonded villages, and the striving regions that are still presently inhabited.....

Traveling to this phenomenal region of the world is a logistical challange to speak mildly. in order to avoid making the mistake of taking the local bus, Gian Marco´s sister was persueded to give us a ride. We traveled four hours up the road where we had arranged to meet another driver that would take us too the town of Cotahuasi. The whole drive took about twelve hours, so we arrived at the river at around two in the morning. Exhausted from the ride, we piled out of the van and made camp. Our mules were not supposed to arrive until the following day. So, we spent two evenings at our camp outside Cotahuasi. The next morning, Gian Marco and i were able to catch a ride up the road and paddled an upper section of the Cothausi. It took us a few hours to get back to camp. the section was pushy and continous, which was an exciting introduction to what lie ahead of us.

The Cotahuasi Gorge, below Flatwater Canyon, is ideally a five day trip on the water. But with amount of fascinating archeological sites and side canyons; I feel as though I could spend weeks inside the canyon exploring. But the river level was high and we were the first team of the year. So, the plan was too move efficiently down stream. In order to have time to difuse any situaions that might have arisen during the extremly high water season.

The mules arrived the next morning and we were half packed. so, we finihed up and met our team of porters. We had ten mules which would carry all of our gear for 16 kilometers to the put-in. On a side note; in the past there had been a problem with mules not wanting to walk with gear into the canyon. They seemed to never want to walk away from home. Recently, it was discovered that the township at the put-in had a satalite internet connection. So they started hiring mules from the village near the put-in. Now, as soon as the mules are loaded. They almost, without cohersion, begin making their way back toward home. We spent all day making our way toward the home of our porters, and also to our launch point.

The next morning we were fired up to get on the water. After building the oar frame, and riging the boat we talked a bit of safety. Everyone got on the same page with hand signals and we even practiced a bit of swiming for our rafters. Once on the river, the Cothausi did not hesitate to dictate her character. Almost immediatly upon launching we entered a long series of rapids. the high water combined with the incrediable countinuous nature of the Cothausi made it challanging to work with the oar rig. The Plan, was ideally to have the four kayakers spread within eyesight and communicate what the line was too the raft. Though if anyone caught an eddy it would only take a few seconds before the raft would come barreling through. If the raft got ahead, then we would be chasing a moving undercut downstream which is not a good idea, and essentially only adds to the drama. So, we would often have to just get into a rapid, that the exit was not apparant. We would boat scout as far as possiable. But if the exit appeared to be suspect, we would quickly exit the river and sling the raft into an eddy. Aiding the raft into eddies became a neccesary skill. Sergio, our oar´s man, did an excellent job of controlling his descent but it was a team effort getting the oar rig to pause. When we were not able to run the raft through a section we would place the boat on a line and control the descent from the shore. By the end of the first day, we were all excited how good the river was but were exhausted from high water challenge of navigating on the fly with four kayaks and an oar rig.

Day two maintained the integritiy of the Cotahuasi. We had camped next too a big rapid called ¨the wall.¨ So, subsequently the firt strokes of the day placed you right in the midst of it. After several hours of continous rapids, we entered a slightly steeper section that proved to evoke several problems simoutanously. We could boat scout, but the rapids were big. And the time it took to catch an eddy and figure out where too go eventually become more time than the raft had room. At the same time the raft lost a paddle and managed to disengauge one of the oars, rendering it useless. As the raft came barrelling out of one rapid into the next Rob and Gian Marco raced ahead in order to sling the raft into an eddy downstream. Keta, had gotten behind the raft so i waited in an eddy for here to gain a line of sight. She had gotten out to scout and was unale to see the entire rapid. She dropped into a large hole forcing her to swim. i couldn´t even see her enter the rapid, all i saw was multiple items floating out of the bottom. She swam hard and was able to catch the eddy i was in before floating into the next large rapid. She acknowledged that see was o.k. so i peeled out in pursuit of the gear that had already entered the next rapid. Luckily, within a few minutes we were able to recover all of her gear and fix the oars.

From that point, we loaded a kayak on the raft and created a crew of three for the oar rig. That evening we camped early. Day two had been a challenge. The Cotahuasi is amazing. The river is so continous. It feels like we are paddling for ten minutes at a time before there is an eddy big enough for everyone to congregate in. The Character of the river is excellent, providing very clean managable rapids. That due to the water level also have plenty of padding...... directly adjacent to the busseater holes. We made a nice camp. Cracked a bit of scotch, while making dinner. And were all in bed soon after the sun had set.

Day three is a big day, which involves Marpa rapid, along with Meter and Centimeter canyon. It was neccesary to get through both canyons, before there would be another appropriate camping location. The highwater in this area would prove to be challenging. Marpa is a long rapid that consisit of several sections and eventually funnels into a massive hole. Centimeter and Meter Canyons also contain simular big long entrance rapids that pinch down at the end, thus giving validation to their names. Passing through these sections was a challange and required a strong team effort. we lined two rapids, one loaded and one light. A missed sling forced Gian Marco to Row Marpa, which was performed with unrivaled grace. The canyons were phenominal! The river boxed up provoding a series of excellent rapids amongst guarded walls. Also, due to the constricted nature of the river in these particular section there were extensive archeological sites where the river did not flood and it was possiable to cross the river via bridge.

Day four was long. we started early and ran a great section of water for about four hours until we approached the confluence with the Moran. This section, above the confluence, was probley my favorite section of the Cotahuasi. At this point the river level more than doubled and entered a slightly broader valley. We had lunch at the confluence. Following lunch, we cranked into a heavy headwind for about four hours before making camp outside the first small village we had seen in alomost a week. Gian Marco and Sergio walked into the village in order to inquire about a ride. There was a bus that left at seven in the morning. We negotiated a few burros to help us get into town. Morning came early. The mules made their way into camp as the sun began to attempt to penetrate the heavy fog that had drifted up the valley. Two mules,three busses, and a landcruiser later we were back in Arequiipa.

PICTURES:(above) Sipia falls. (Below) Plenty of juice. upper Cotahuasi.Gian Marco giving it a going over. our porters heading home. Gian Marco and Sergio making a plan. (two photo sequence) day 2.sergio keeping it clean. (four photo sequence) Day 3. Another no name rapid, Cotahuasi River. Rob in meter canyon. Another archeological site, which i can´t figure out how anyone gets two. Cafe Cotahuasi. Checking for shrimp. early morning departure. the first town in six days

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