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Amazon warzone

by Rafa Ortiz

In front of us another class V horizon line that I was ready to run blind in order to get out of there.  It was the same feeling as the one from a war movie when the soldiers are in the trench and surrounded, one of the most dangerous moments in my life. I take a risk and push for a last eddy on river right. The movie is happening in my head: I hear my fast panting as I get out of my boat desperately, jump into the water and claw up the wall with adrenaline super-powers. I pull my boat up behind me as the meteorite rocks start falling again from the top of that mountain. It was like a bullet-shower and I was in the middle of it. Each one of those rocks could kill me. So I lift my boat up on my shoulder as a shield for mere mental comfort. I close my eyes and clench my muscles tight. The banging and splashing of the rocks doesn’t stop, and I see those rocks falling too close to me.

I’m not even sure how we ended up here. After 3 weeks from the source of this river that later is called the Amazon, we had moved from dragging our boats down a trickle of freezing water to fighting through the huge features of this beast. We had been self-support paddling for the past 5 days and had finally reached the steepest sections and the biggest canyons. But we still had 150 kms of whitewater to finish.

Finally the rocks stop falling and the banging stops. I open my eyes and realize I’m still alive. So I put my boat down and start climbing up the wall again swift as thought. Juanito is up there already and doesn’t look more relaxed than me. We shout and blow our whistles repetitively to try to catch the attention of the any construction worker at the top of that cliff. First the bang, then the splash and then the dust: warzone is starting again. So we quit our mission and run down to our boats risking our lives again. I put my kayak on the raft and help Juanito and West paddle across the river. We couldn’t go upstream anymore, but we make it into the cave where the rest of the team hid.

It was West’s idea to be there really. At age 50, he got obsessed with navigating the 5000+ miles of the Amazon River. And every day he kept intriguing us with his stories and his dedication. He basically put his life aside to make this possible. It was our mission to help him with what we do best, kayaking the whitewater.

“Hey Tino, do you still have that radio?” West had an idea. So Tino managed to find that radio deep in his bag and after the next session of destruction ended he poked his head out of the cave. We didn’t know if they even had a radio, but we assumed they did. We didn’t know what channel they used, but we had no other option if we didn’t want to wait in that cave till dark. “Better to loose one day in life, that life in one day” Juanito says.  So channel-by-channel, Tino repeats the message of help, begging them to stop throwing rocks into the river. He stops at the sound of a microwave oven sized rock hitting the water few feet from us.

Till that point it had been one of the best rivers we’ve paddled. As it grew in volume it did in difficulty. And it had been an incredible experience to live the life of the river with it, from its start towards its end, from the snow to the cactus. But only West would flow with it till its Delta.

It was noon then and we imagined the workers would maybe have lunch. So we decided that if the rocks stopped falling for 5 minutes we would go. After that last massive rock we looked at the clock, and it was time now. If may be our only chance. I get in my boat, get my skirt on and feel I’m in the movie again. The fast panting starts as I paddle into the warzone. I look up the mountain and see no dust. I look back and the raft and kayaks are following close.  We’re close to the safety of blind class V. When we finally drop in we are relieved. There are a few massive holes that I sneak next to and it feels like home again. Water splashes my face and cools off the fear.

We finally get together in the flat water below and share the joy. It had been one of the most dangerous moments in our lives, we concur. Then we get out on river right as the next horizon line appears. And we have lunch and relax a bit before we start portaging.

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