Monday, June 25, 2018

Summer 2017

A lazy day on the Maranon River - Photo Allen Hux

“Everything is possible in Peru.” Momo

Near the start of day twelve the beer ran dry. Seven of us had traveled from Oregon and Washington to navigate the Rio Maranon in Peru. A double layover was planned at an epic camp; but we had run out of liquid refreshments. Nearby sat a series of slides and swimming holes on a side creek; a section of old irrigation canals, farmlands, and strange circular pits awaited exploration. The plan the Oregonians developed was to use the satellite communicator to text our friend Nate Garr in Montana and order up a resupply. Our crew has a standing joke to call out on the sat phone when we run out of beer. Secretly I hope that someday Nate will think of a way to send us supplies. In this case a Russian built Peruvian rescue chopper would have swooped in with a couple of cases.

Our guides had a somewhat simpler plan. They hiked 4 kilometers to the nearest road, caught a rickshaw into town, got a flat tire after making it part of the way out of the canyon, hiked 5 kilometers more, got the necessary supplies and then repeated the trip back to camp. We didn’t need the beer but we sure were thankful!

“If any part of the following mixture of truth and fiction strikes the reader as unconvincing, he has my permission to disregard it. I would be content to stick to the facts if there were any.” William Maxwell

Our writers at The Sublimity Life began to consider writing up this year’s summer report in a more formal manner, so that we could publish it, perhaps even trying to get into the nonprofit American Whitewater’s quarterly publication. The roaming Peruvian Reporters even carried notebooks, pencils, and the ever-important tape recorder on their missions. Our team of editors read the last three installations of the quarterly, looking for themes and the occasional grammatical errors. Some of the team might have experimented with some gonzo journalism after visiting a farm along the way; but that is neither here nor there. In the end we did create an article for publication, but it turns out that if you take the inside jokes, quotes, self references, and general lies out of The Sublimity Life, the content isn’t worthy enough to entertain the common reader. The editors did create a convincing argument, stating, “The general reader doesn’t read quarterlies, so your worries are unfounded.” In the end, the writers won the argument and have rewritten the original article, adding a mixture of fact and fiction to try to entertain our fleeting audience. The editors did try to recreate the previous argument that this also isn’t a blog, but until they start producing content, their suggestions have been ignored.

Camping on the Rio Maranon - Photo Allen Hux

“But that is neither here nor there, sir.” Replied Sancho; “for, to be plain with you, I saw her but by hearsay too, and the answer I brought you was by hearsay as well as the rest, and I know the Lady Dulcinea no more than the man in the moon.” Don Quixote

About three years ago our group started hearing about the Rio Maranon. The main source of the Amazon River is currently threatened with possible dams. Our crew has boating in other countries, but the logistics of tackling an isolated 14-day trip like this in Peru were substantial and therefore we rented boats and hired guides. Most of the articles I have read focus on the river and the whitewater, but for me and many of the people in our group the Peruvians and farmers we met along the way, the farms, and the food are what made this trip special. In creating this blog about our travels, I want to inspire others to join the cause and travel as much as possible.

“Hold summer in your hand, pour summer in a glass, a tiny glass of course, the smallest tingling sip for children; change the season in your veins by raising the glass to lip and tilting summer in.” Bradbury in Dandelion Wine

Ruins near Trujillo - Photo Allen Hux

Our adventure started in Trujillo; we stayed just outside of the city in the costal town of Huanchaco. We began with a tour of some pre-Incan ruins at the Huaca del Sol and Chan Chan. Next we headed to the boathouse to drop off our dry bags, meet our guides, see some of the equipment we had rented, and help load a few things in the cooler dry boxes. A big advantage of the trip we had chosen is that we would be able to row our own boats and kayaks and the guides would help us with logistics and in particular help coordinated some of our visit to the villages and towns along the river. We had world-class guides. Pedro lives south of Lima in Lunahuana and runs river trips on the Rio Canete when he isn’t working as our guide company’s main guide. Nicolas is an extremely experienced Rio Futalafu guide and would be running one of the gear rafts. Rivaldo is Pedro’s young neighbor and joined us as a guide-in-training working to decide his future career path. Later at the hostel we met our token German client named Marco. He had spent the last couple of weeks touring Columbia and would make a good but sometimes scary showing in the inflatable kayak on our trip.

More Ruins near Trujillo - Photo Allen Hux

It was near this area that Pizarro originally made his great “discovery,” a vast civilization in South America. One of the ways that Pizarro knew that he was close to a large civilization was the reed and balsa wood ocean boats he started seeing as he traveled along the Pacific Ocean. They had hand crafted cotton sails, as far as I know they were the only sailing boats in the Americas. Pizarro captured and tortured some of the boats to find information about the location of the Incan Empire. 

To get to our adventure we took a small jump plane over the Andes landing in Chagual at what is often consider one of the most difficult landings in the world. The runway makes a sharp and dangerous turn at the very end. The helpful airport staff really questioned us about why we were heading to a small village in the middle of the Andies. It all went well and we rode the gear truck the 2 miles from the airport to the super hot put-in beach.

Our plane taking back off at the crazy airport - Photo Allen Hux

We were excited to see our friend Kallie at the put in with Momo, another outstanding guide. Momo wasn’t supposed to help guide our trip and Kallie wasn’t supposed to join us until day three of our trip, but their adventure on the upper and middle gorges had taken an interesting twist, the British client who had partially funded the upper and middle canyons trip was completely unprepared for the rapids and the adventure of the upper canyon. Momo and Kallie left that trip and self supported down to meet us ahead of schedule. Momo is a world-class Chilean kayaker and just a generally nice guy. He made an excellent last edition to the team. It is really hard to describe the importance of this sentence; we started the trip with four guides and we ended the trip with four new friends.

Ruins in a cave - Photo Allen Hux

Part of the appeal of running the Maranon is that it is the most distant source of the world’s largest river system: The Amazon River. Quite of few of the Amazon’s main tributaries would hold the record for largest river by volume in the world. The entire river was for a time called the Rio Maranon, until Franscisco Orellana was the first European to make the decent of the entire river and claimed to see and hear reports of entire cities of fighting women he dubbed The Amazons. The lower stem of the river became known as The Amazon.

Ruins on a cliffside - Photo Allen Hux

“Indeed, the Amazon River is so immense that superlatives fall short of doing it justice. More than 4,500 miles long, the Amazon discharges one-fifth of all the freshwater that flows into the earth’s oceans, about sixty times the amount contributed by the Nile, its closest rival in size. Snaking across and entire continent in a languid west-to-east flow, the immense river drainage is fed by some five hundred tributaries, a number of which themselves, were they located anywhere else in the world, would be the largest river on their continent. In places the Amazon sprawls a remarkable fifty miles wide; it can vary in depth with floodwaters or tides by as much as fifty feet; and, near its terminus at the Atlantic, it contains an island the size of Switzerland.” Buddy Levy

Typical Scenery on the Maranon - Photo Allen Hux

For the first three days we started getting the feel for the river, floating past the large gold mine that the airport serves and running some of the beginning rapids of the lower gorge. At the end of day 3 we camped near a village and had a layover day. At the start of the layover day my sister, Becky, and Niki decided to make the journey up the hill to see the farms and village. That is where they met Lela who was coming down to the river to goldmine for the day. Lela’s mom’s house is a farm near the village and Lela also lives with her grandma who has a farm on a hillside that is visible way up on the side of the main river’s canyon. She gave the three of them an impromptu tour of the village and the grade school where her sister attended. Our crew explained in their Spanglish what they were doing on the river. Our favorite comment from one of the grade-schoolers about my sister was, “Gringa es muy alto.” Later in the day Lela took another bunch of us up to her mom’s house where we crossed the creek on a home made bridge, tried some of the farms different fruits, admired the healthy pigs, hung out with the myriads of roaming chickens, and bought a bag of assorted fruit from her mom. At no point on this trip were ever in danger of scurvy. This is a perfect example of an impromptu conversation we had with some of the Peruvians that made our travels to the Rio Maranon so special.

My sister joined us on this adventure and we grew up on a farm that worked hard to ink out a profit. The farms that I saw operating on the Rio Maranon and the massive evidence of ancient farm plots and cross hatch farming were my second favorite part of the trip; beat out only by the experience of meeting the locals. A dam would devastate the environment, these people, and the history of farming practices on this rich land.

Peru is one of the hot spots for growing food, and as a former farmer I have a very special place in my heart for the land. Here is a short list of plants domesticated in or around Peru that are now in common use throughout the world: most famous of all are the potatoes and sweet potatoes which have been bred from a bitter toxic plant that required lots of work to eat to an easy to eat tuber, the most common types of beans come from Peru, peanuts, quinoa, squash, tomato, pineapple, and the diversification of the chili pepper. From the lower reaches of the Amazon River the Cassava root was domesticated as long as 10,000 years ago. This plant is often called Yucca and is still the most important source of carbohydrates in the tropics because it will grow in marginal soils. Yucca is likely the super plant that allowed South America to evolve from foraging to farming. One of the Pizzaros found a many kilometer long field of yucca when exploring/pillaging the Ecuadorian headwaters of the Amazon River. Some of these plants on the list had origins in Mexico, but areas around Peru really diversified the crop. Seriously think about different types of cuisine in the world and how often a potato, bean, squash, tomato, or most importantly a chili pepper is present; this dish would not exist without the cultivation practices and expertise of the ancient Peruvians.

Taking some local kids across the river to continue a long day's hike Photo Pedro Pena

An interesting and exciting component of our trip was helping locals cross the river and travel short distances downstream. It was about day 5 when Jerod and I ferried two teenagers across the river and downstream at least a mile. They had hiked a long ways down from a village that was visible on the canyon rim. The teenagers had a balsa boat on either side of the river and hence could have crossed. They would have had to ferry one boat across with two people, then each take one boat to the original side, pull both boats upstream, then together take one boat back across. We would see this same process with a couple of donkeys and a two year old kid a couple days later. In the end we saved the teenagers a lot of time. They really didn’t know what to make of riding on the raft and we didn’t know what to make of their day’s hike. Our Spanglish talk was limited, but it was still really nice to meet them. Later in the trip Nikolas and my sister helped ferry a mom and her young (at most 5 month old) kid downstream to the nearest village. I really can’t describe how much these utilitarian uses of boats and travel made the river and journey so much more special for me.

A family crossing the river - Photo Allen Hux

“Society functions. Except when it doesn’t.” Trevor Noah in Born a Crime

During our river journey we crossed paths with a British client who was running the river for a much different reason. In a polite conversation I had with her, the client of the trip told me her adventure was a mission and our trip was a holiday. This distinction was related to some life changes she had decided to make for herself. Subsequently she had decided to try to run the amazon from source to sea among other mission-like adventures. Every part of her plan to run the river was based on a need to accomplish something “solo”; and there was a particular appeal about it being impossible to repeat once a dam is in place. The parts of her mission that I know about involved a lot of hiking, some very unsafe swims, the firing of two guides because of safety decisions made on her behalf, an uncomfortable disposition for our friend Kallie on the upper canyons, and a need to create an online presence and blog about it. It was our opinion that the owner of the guide company should have never agreed to guide a beginning kayaker down the upper class 5 sections of river, putting the guides at risk. The client was unwilling to ride in the raft for the more difficult sections. Our crew also wanted to challenge a river that might not always be free flowing; but more then that we wanted to know the people and experience the sites and sounds. In our hearts we hope to be some small part of the reason that saves the river from a dam. I would really like to motivate boaters who read this article to focus on traveling to other countries to experience the culture and rivers, not for personal missions. I want readers to get excited about taking a holiday, spending time with the people that live in a particular area, visiting the farms, eating the food, and experiencing the culture. I think most of the stories and videos we watch are about the mission trips and it is just as important to encourage exploration and enjoyment.

“We were never being boring.” Pet Shop Boys

On that note, lets get back to the story. On day 9 we had a scheduled lunch stop at a village that was ground zero for the original pushback against the proposed dam site downstream. To get to the village we crossed a bridge over a creek that was created with two long pieces of bamboo. Between the bridge and the village we walked through the village’s rich farm plots and saw a large variety of crops on a rich flood irrigated field. Many of the houses had stencils protesting the dams. In the village we had a round of cold beers and an excellent meal. While we were having a drink, my sister started talking with a group of interested kids. She instantly had a group of followers helping her take pictures and talking her ear off. One of the kid’s grandmas finally chased the kids away so that Carrie could eat lunch. Really these little interactions with the kids and locals became one of the best parts of this adventure. I’ve never been to a river where the locals and kids are so friendly and genuinely interested. Three of us bought hand weaved throws at the village, partially to spread a little money into the economy, and also because we wanted a way to remember this special place. As we exited the village on the way back to the boats we got a nice tour of the village’s drying rooms and farming practices. Got to see a large grinding stone being used to chop cilantro. I’ve seen a lot of grinding stones in museums and archeological areas, but I had never seen one in use before.

A village near the dam site would do 24-7 watches for dam engineers when the dam project was in its early stages. According to our guide they would catch the engineers and make them do pushups. I’m not sure what it would be like to be tied up and forced to do pushups, but it couldn’t be that much fun. I also think, “make them do pushups,” was slang for more than just pushups. The police had to get involved. As an Oregonian who has a refrigerator that runs off the Columbia River dams, I have a hard time telling Peru not to dam its rivers. My hope is that Peru will learn from our mistakes and see what they might be missing after the dams have been built. Everyone in Oregon misses the idea of the legends of the giant salmon runs that once jumped up Celilo Falls in the gorge. The First Nation in British Columbia used culturally modified trees as a reasonable method to stop some of the logging; it seems reasonable to thing that interested Peruvians could use ancient farm plots and the ruins that we saw along the river as a method of stopping the dams. The BBC also reported that in the years 2015 and 2016 there where 381 new species discovered in the Amazon region. Human activity, including dams might cause animals to go extinct before they have been discovered and categorized.

One day our guide Pedro got talking about the river where he lives and runs his rafting company, the Rio Canete. It is a short distance south of the capital city Lima. The river has become popular as a boating destination for both visitors and Peruvians from Lima. Pedro carefully explained the problems with this newfound popularity; farmers are literally buying cheap rafts, dropping the farming, and becoming river outfitters without safety training. Because of the lack of training the overhead is low for these companies and they can charge the clients extremely low rates, but this creates an extreme lack of safety. Another way to help Peru fight the incoming dams is to create a stable and vibrant rafting community run by Peruvians. The quickest way to make this happen would be with training and financial support from outsiders. Our guide Pedro really wants to gain some extra safety training and credentials. In his plan he would like to get a job or internship with the company OARS to expand his skill set and bring that knowledge back to Peru. I told him I’d try to put in a good word for him.

“You can’t complain about the wind or the bugs, its not the fu*((*g USA.” Our Joking Guide Pedro

The Rio Maranon is a good river to have a guide if you plan on rafting, and a good river to at least get some logistic help from a guide if you plan on self-support kayaking. As I’ve mentioned, a guided trip will improve your chances of visiting some of the farms and meeting some of the people along the way. If you decide to go on a guided trip, it is important to ask lots of questions about everything. We got the gear we wanted and our world class guides because we really communicated with the company about our desires. What we didn’t realize because we didn’t ask, is that our guides didn’t get paid what we would have expected was a fair wage. In particular Nikolas wasn’t paid at all because it was his first time down the river, and he is a very experienced guide from the Futalafu. Secondly, after Momo was fired as safety kayaker by the British Adventurer for making to many correct safety calls, his contract was ended by the company and as far as we know he wasn’t paid for joining and helping our trip. Even our main guides pay was somewhat lower than we would have expected for the amount of work that was put into organizing this trip. If you take a guided trip at this scale, it is really important that you ask the company very detailed questions including where the money that you paid is going.

On one particular night that involved a dutch oven brownie, I decided it would be funny to start asking, “Quanto anos tiene tu madre?” Just like we used to do in Spanish class as a joke. I kept forgetting to say tiene, so the result was, “How old your mom?”

This Peruvian part of the blog is almost done. As I mentioned in the thesis, this article isn’t about the rapids but briefly I’d like to say that we really enjoyed the rapids, scenery, and campsites. After finishing up the rafting trip four of us from our crew traveled to Yurimaguas on the Huallaga River and then took a speed ferry down to Laguanas where the river meets the confluence of the Rio Maranon. Our goal was to visit a protected area of land on the Rio Maranon called Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samaria and see what preservation in Peru looks like. On our trip we saw pink dolphins, red macaws, monkeys, blue butterflies, and lots of other amazing things. Our guides Santiago and Sanchez had a 6-person canoe that they had hollowed out from a single log. The park requires guides to have there own traditional canoe that they can store at the park entrance. Sanchez remembers fishing with his dad before the park was created. Once the park was created, his dad wasn’t allowed to fish anymore but was given a guiding permit to supplement the lost income. This is precisely what I would like to see happen on the section of river that we had rafting. The main source of The Amazon River should be protected from dams and some of the lost income could be recovered with tourism and continued farming of the land. Our scary speed ferry back up the river concluded our trip.

A pink dolphin. They are awesome. - Photo Niki Schulz

I lied. That was not the end of our adventure. We had placed reservations 3 months earlier for a restaurant called Central in Lima, the number 5 restaurant in the world as rated by chefs. This might seem unrelated to my article, but each course had an associated elevation and was a dish using mostly local plants and fish from that elevation. The chef’s sister is a botanist and travels all over Peru seeing what people grow and eat, and this influences the brother’s food. Each dish comes with a story and explains the special ingredients for that dish. The farmers on our river trip also often shared their local ingredients and stories with us. A dam on the Rio Maranon at any elevation would kill part of the story of cultivation and preparation of the food. A loss of a story is a loss of culture that can’t be returned.

A farmer on the Rio Mananon - Photo Allen Hux

The entire trip was quite an epic adventure. Over the course of the month, I traveled by big international jet, taxi, colectivo bus, tour bus, 8-person plane over the Andies, the back of 3 ton truck driving us down to the put in, raft, cataraft, tour bus ride out of the Rio Maranon canyon (the second scariest ride of them all), gondola, tour bus ride back into the canyon, raft again, whitewater kayak until the big water scared me, raft again, tour bus, overnight local double decker bus, 3 wheeled ricksha with bags tied on, 2 hour drive with hired taxi, small medal boat with outboard engine, two-person scooter with me as a passenger, 130-person overnight speed jet boat ride to a tributary of the amazon (the scariest ride of them all), oversized 3 wheeled 7-person ricksha, 6-person hand dug canoe created from a single local tree, scary high speed jet boat ride again but mostly during the day, 2-hour nighttime taxi ride with a driver who couldn't stay awake (the 3rd scariest ride of them all), hostel owners grandkid's car (the safest ride of them all), local jet flight (I had to help a kind old lady who couldn’t figure out how to unbuckle her seatbelt because they hadn’t given the “safety talk”. At least a third of the plane had never flown before and where flying to be with friends/family for the bicentennial independence day), taxi with the driver waving the Peruvian flag out the window to celebrate Peru's 200 years of independence from Spain, and finally large international jet. Really the only types of transport that we missed where the reed fishing boats in Huanchaco, the occasional bicycle, the balsa wood boats in the Rio Maranon, and the really cool car ferry at the take out to the lower canyon. The people in Peru are amazing, the transportation can be a bit sketch, but it is all worth it.

“The courthouse clock struck nine and it was getting late and it was really night on this small street in a small town in a big state on a large continent on a planet earth hurtling down the pit of space toward nowhere or somewhere and Tom feeling every mile of the long drop.” Bradbury in Dandelion Wine

Later that summer after returning to the states we learned that the British Boater had been robbed and murdered as she soloed the lower portions of the Amazon River. This fact really shook the writers of The Sublimity Life and changed the direction of this post. We planned to present a negative critique of the decisions that lead her to the river, but that is difficult to do when someone has met such an unfortunate fate. We have many opinions, but we will keep them somewhat subtly to ourselves.

For the remainder of summer, Lacey and I headed to Hawaii for a two-week trip. We talked about going sea kayaking, but really the swimming and snorkeling was plenty to satisfy our water cravings. The highlight was the hour-long trip swimming with the manta rays at night.

“And then, quite suddenly, summer was over.” Bradbury in Dandelion Wine 

A typical campsite on a chickee

Luckily the teacher life doesn’t restrict us to just summer trips. For Winter Break, Lacey, Niki, Allen, and I headed to Everglade National Park in Florida and did a five-day flat water trip in sea kayaks through the mangroves. The park has little platforms set up that you can sleep on called chickees. When you register with the park for your trip, you reserve different locations. It really was the perfect get away for December. We mostly stayed in the inside of the park in the mangroves, but next time we will likely also venture out some to the open ocean campsites. We only saw one crocodile, but we did see tons of birds and at least one dolphin per day. We even spent a few days down in Key West, walking by the Hemingway house.

“Why, darling, I don’t live at all when I’m not with you.” Papa Hemingway 

Allen enjoying some libations

Niki and Lacey paddling in the mangroves

Lacey enjoying the sunset on new year's eve.

You can't see it, but there is a dolphin in this photo.

Allen and Niki explore a side channel.

Lacey chilling.

The last day was the roughest as a storm moved in.

The motor boats can easily hit the manatees and mame or kill them by accident.  We didn't see any on the trip, but we went to a viewing site and saw a bunch before we started the kayaking portion of our trip.

Next up was Spring Break. Lacey and I met Brett Smith and Mike Ross in Baja California. Most of our time was spent touring around in the car and motorboat, but we did do some sea kayaking as well. It is an amazing area to explore with tons of dolphins, whales, and even a few sea turtles.

Floating down the upper section of the Jarbridge

In terms of white water kayaking, I had a great year of day trips. We even managed to run the Jarbridge Bruneau Rivers at low flows. As I get older, all of these runs sure seem more difficult than they used to be, but we had a great 4 day trip on one of the prettiest rivers around.

A typical scene on the Jarbridge- Photo David Briggs

Well, it is time to publish this thing. We just ran the Deschutes River over summer solstice with my niece and nephew and the trip reminded me a new summer has begun and I should start working on next year’s blog.

“I forgot my name,” the cat said. “I had one, I know I did, but some where along the line I didn’t need it anymore. So its slipped my mind.” Murakami Kafka on the Shore