Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Grand Canyon of the Amazon

Three years ago I went down to Peru to join the intrepid Rocky Contos on an exploratory paddle down the upper reaches of the Rio Maranon, which is one of the primary tributaries of the Amazon (Rocky has proven that it is THE primary tributary).  It was a great trip that for us, but ended on a bit of a mixed note when we lost a boat to a sieve a couple of days above our intended  takeout (I wrote a tale about that adventure a year and a half ago here).   I didn't really feel compelled to go back and "finish it", since we did most of the section and I had a fine adventure, but on that trip I had plenty of opportunity to hear Rocky's tales of the "Grand Canyon of the Amazon" section that lay downstream of our takeout - a 400 mile long section of glorious canyon that was a much more conducive to a "river trip" than our portagefest, and I've been wanting to go back, as has Ash.  Our great buddy Kiwi Andy got wind of those tales as well, and when he and the Flying Scotsman Steve Mackay suggested a trip down the upper reaches of the canyon this year Ash and I jumped on the opportunity.

The Rio Maranon starts in the Cordillera Blanca, which is a section of the Andes that is north of Lima and has a lot of high peaks, including 22,000 Huascaran and Siula Grande, the peak that Joe Simpson made famous with his memorable book "Touching the Void".  The Maranon essentially slices through the Andes on a near due-north trajectory before bending around to the east and entering the jungle where it eventually meets up with the Rio Napo, Rio Uacayali, and others to become the Amazon.  According to Rocky, the Amazon was originally called the Rio Maranon, and according to a map of Brazil, the Brazilian state of Maranhão encompasses the mouth and is Portugese for Maranon.

In any case, big river:  starts high, goes a long ways, through a 10,000 deep canyon, and with tons of great rapids and beautiful beach camping, it was inevitable that it would be called "The Grand Canyon of the Amazon" (Given that the Amazon's annual discharge is greater than that of the next seven largest rivers in the world combined, maybe the Colorado should be called the "Amazon of America?"  It's not really worthy, actually....).

All Peruvian adventures go through Lima, and I made sure that ours would start with a bang by mis-dating our bus reservation to get from Lima to Huaraz, but at least it turned out to be a holiday weekend with zillions of Limanos heading out of town!  No worries, the nice bus people got us on a reservation on another bus leaving in a few hours, at  - and we confirmed a couple of times - dos y media, or two thirty.  The problem is that "dos y media" sounds   -to a gringo's ear, who speaks poor Spanish - very similar to dos-say y media, or twelve-thirty, when there was another bus.  

So when we came rolling up to our bus gate at about 1:30 for plenty of time to board our 2:30 bus.....we realized that we had indeed, missed the bus again.  But our nice bus people got us on the 9:30 pm bus to roll through the night.  So we killed yet more hours and hours at what appeared to be the biggest mall in Lima (that featured a weird wax monument to Sylvester Stallone):

I decided to throw down and take my chances on food right away, with some street-served raw fish:
I think the vendor is saying "Look! El Gringo Loco is eating that raw fish!  Boy is he in for some GI adventures!"
And Ash and I found a good market, with the gratuitous meat-in-the-heat:

And the best Peruvian export:
Cherimoyas!  Candy disguised as fruit. 
We ultimately found a Festivo Gastronomico and were able to kill a few hours
as with every Latin American festival I've seen, what you can't quite see here is the ear-splittingly-loud music....
And finally at about 10:15pm got on our bus
Mike Brehm relied on Ash and I for our reservations and bad Spanish; it's a testament to his great nature that he was very patient when both failed miserably!

I had promised a pretty comfy bus, but that didn't quite transpire, so by the time we got to Huaraz we were a bit cooked.  But finally we saw something that looked vaguely familiar:
Look!  kayaks in that truck!  We must know those guys!   
And we knew that we had at last connected with our old and future amigos.

The next order of business was to get to the put in.  From my two previous trips to Peru, short distances on a map can mean literally days of travel, so it didn't surprise me that it was another full day to get to the rio. However, this time we were on a roomy bus with our friends and had the time to stop for views:

this lake was at about 15,000 feet

Ash and I were trying to figure out how to make a bike tour that would include this road. 
 lunch, and even a really cool ruin.

 In addition to being a great friend for nearly 20 years, a smooth as silk kayaker, and one of the nicest guys ever,, Nico Tripcevich also has a doctorate in....Peruvian archeology.  We ended up visiting something like 8 archeological sites, and Nico's insight at all was fascinating.
Dorko Touristos trudging after Nico
needing to rest after a couple of hundred yards (sorry, meters) of walking!

Macchu Picchu is Incan; this stuff is way pre-Inca

since it's not nearly as big as MP, it's pretty easy to get the flavor pretty quickly.  
Gringa Tourista has zipoffs and money pouch, will travel and visit ruins!
the nearby village seemed was really nice, with the classically-dressed Peruvian mountain people

Rocky was able to pick up extra cherimoyas
There were more than a few standoffs with opposing trucks

Finally a view of some whitewater! This is the Rio Pushka, which we were going to kayak as a shakedown day down to the actual put in.  
And then finally, the put in!
You can see the bus to the right of the picture the bus.  
Here is our bus driver Maximo, who lived up to his name by backing down this 4WD road in his night!  I kinda wish my name was Maximo....
The Pushka bridge, looking upstream.  It took me three more years to finally arrive at this bridge, the intended goal of our previous trip!  
Channeling my inner Colter, an artsy view of our put in beach....
The kayakers went and ran the Rio Pushka through that gorge.  We had some future kayakers who were keen to join us:
 The Pushka had one rapid that had a burly start (upper right in the picture) but ended in nice class 4.

and then finally we hit the main river with our entire crew!
with some good early action:

down to the first of many amazing river camps:

Even though I've written an entire blog post and only just got to esssentially the beginning of a two week trip, it's probably a good time to stop and continue in a subsequent post.  It won't be excruciatingly long; most of the trip was day after day of great whitewater, big views, great beach camps, fun (short) hikes, and lots of yuks, and the photos will just be snapshots of that river life.

so to be continued.....

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