|Jared Page enjoying Rio Guabo|
Over the years I have done a lot of it. Trying to figure out what amount of risk is worth the reward is a constant in my life. Dealing with whitewater is relatively easy; you can see the hazards. Dealing with Guerrillas and corrupt military is entirely different. Every one becomes suspect, and the level of tension escalates quickly.
|pretty far out there|
|another comfortable ride to the river|
One large issue with the area is that Piedrancha is directly in the middle of hostile Guerrilla territory. As we arranged transportation, the locals in Pasto were asking us why we wanted to go to such a dangerous place. It took us a while to find a driver that was willing to go into the area. Finally Milton introduced himself and was willing to go into Guerrilla territory.
Bribing the military
On the way to Piedrancha, the military check points quickly increased. It was at one of these that our truck was pulled over. The military dug through our boats and checked everything they could. They were looking for a bribe. My heart was pounding as I was surrounded by late-teens with machine guns looking for a little cash. It took a little while for this to develop, but eventually the cash came out. We bought off the folks at the military check point and were able to continue on our mission.
That evening we headed into the center of town to grab a bite to eat and meet up with our Pasto connection, who was coming in on a later transport. We found a place serving an interesting version of a hamburger and started chatting up the locals. The moon was rising brightly over the city, so I walked down to get a cool angle for a photo. I quickly had a laser sight pointed on me. Thankfully it was the military, and after a quick harassment they let me go.
|moments before being in the cross hairs of the laser sight|
Shaking hands with the Mayor
Meeting with the mayors (Giavanny Melo and Eder Burgoswas) was interesting. I have never jumped through so many hoops to paddle a remote section of whitewater. We shook hands and once again promised that we were not there on corrupt business. Both of the mayors were more then friendly and gave us the authorization to paddle the river. They even signed a note that we referred to as our "get out of jail free" card. Giavanny went one step further and donated his personal truck and assistant. We were stoked - transportation was taken care of.
|get out of jail free|
|yea were in Farc territory now|
|sketchy scouting near coca fields|
|enjoying town life|
Blast zoneWe piled back into the pickup and headed to a family farm, which was only a couple miles away and adjacent to the river. Upon arrival on the property, the one thing that stuck out like a sore thumb was a pipeline. It went directly through the farm. The pipeline carries oil from the lower flat lands to the west coast to be exported. One of the locals then pointed out that this is one of the things the Guerrillas are very opposed to. It turns out the Guerrillas are partially eco-terrorists. They have opposed the taking of natural resources from the country, especially when the locals are not financially reimbursed for there losses. We walked along the pipe line for a couple minutes, and noticed a large clearing in front of us. "That's where they blew it up," he said.
|the damaged pipe line|
The Guerrillas had blown up the pipe line five months earlier, and there was a massive blast zone. The pipeline had been repaired, the local said it probable wouldn't be long until something else happens to it.
|eating with the mayor|
|packing the mayors truck|
|enjoying the polished granite|
Finally on the river
The river paddled really well - fun, polished boulder gardens. We were in and out of the truck, skipping sections that had been paddled the year before. Meeting and greeting the locals at every bridge, with tons of pictures and handshakes.
|Gurappo bridge meet and greet|
|sipping on Gurappo and looking for a date|
The River continued its user friendly nature, and we quickly made miles until we were waved over by the Family Florez, they offered us pork belly, juice, and their daughter. Smiles, high fives, photos, and we pressed on.
|charging into another stompy fun rapid|
Early in the afternoon we arrived at the biggest rapid of the day. From our scouting perch it looked like all the water moved towards the left against a tall vertical wall and dropped into a couple large hydraulics. I thought it looked fairly reasonable and charged in. The first major hydraulic was big, and I took a huge stroke and found myself barely on the back side of the boil. The rest of the rapid was pretty rowdy, and I stopped at the next possible eddy. I tried to give the other paddlers some hand signals and set safety; it was big. The next boater charged in, and took a hard right line at the hydraulic, and came through relatively smoothly. His first words in the eddy were, "damn that hole is BIG."
|Chris Baer heading towards the big hydrolic|
Our last paddler brought up the back of the pack and tried to get right of the hydraulic. It didn't work, and he ended up taking a large piece of the hole. Next thing you know, he was in for a major rodeo session. He stuck it out for a while and then abandoned ship. The swim was brutal - ledge after ledge - and a ton of down time. By the time he got to us, he was totally exhausted and couldn't even hold onto our grabloops. Finally, I helped corral the swimmer to the right-hand shore. I asked him if he was ok and he responded slowly and weakly with "I think so?"
Urging him to get all the way out of the river, the other paddler and myself took off into the unknown chasing his gear.
Things to remember... Float bags, and throw rope practice.
Unfortunately, our swimmer didn't have his float bags in his boat, and recovering the mostly-submerged boat took an extended amount of time. Upon pinning his kayak, it took me three lousy throws to get the rope out to pendulum the boat in to shore.
|Guiza at it's finest|
Go throw your rope!
We cleaned up the situation, and the other paddlers energy levels were dwindling. We scrapped the rest of the day and were rather content getting some new first descents and a great rapport with the locals.
We changed into dry cloths and packed into the mayor's truck one more time - this time seven deep with three kayaks for a three hour drive back to Pasto.
All said and done, this is a beautiful and relatively dangerous part of the country. Talking to the mayors might be the best way to guarantee a safer visit and local cooperation. The entire river drainage looks great. The canyon section is still filled with dragons and needs a strong-willed crew to slay them… I want in!
|another adventure by Chris Baer|