Iquitos Peru and the Great River Amazon Raft Race
You can not compare the Great Amazon River Raft Race with any other competition in the world. Over 118 miles on balsa logs tied together with jungle vines, on a primitive raft you built yourself, on the largest river, surrounded by the largest rainforest, it could only be possible in Iquitos Peru, the most isolated, remote, jungle town.
Imagine yourself and three friends working as a team on a small cork, bobbing downstream, dodging snags, maneuvering around filters, trying to find the strongest current, dense impenetrable rainforest shimmering with a thousand shades of green on both sides. You are three degrees south of the equator. The tropical sun tries to boil your brains. Piranhas wait to nibble your toes. Are those buzzards circling overhead? You paddle as hard as you can but a raft full of native indigenous Indians pass you like you are not trying. What are you going to do, go back? Nahhh!!! This is extreme! This is one of the last great adventures. The world is getting too civilized. You need this.
You have gone back in time to a way of life and travel not seen in the civilized world in hundreds of years. Your paddle was carved with a machete, out of a special tree, Remo Caspi, which means paddle tree. The wood is strong but light. You sanded the handle for an hour. You have some blisters, but imagine the other teams that did not sand their handles. HA, HA! Bleed suckers! Come on mates, paddle harder, catch those natives. Get them.
Sure your butt is a little sore but you planned ahead and brought a piece of foam. Damn good thinking. Don’t leave home without it. What is that floating over there? Not your foam? Oh well, only 2 and a half more days. Dig deep mates, harder. Where are those damned natives hiding? Don’t see them. You are part of one of the last great wild races on earth. Is it easy? Hell no.
The starting point was at the village of Nauta, across the river from Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, one of the wildest places left. It is also several miles upstream on the Marañon River. It is quite a sight, an amazing feeling, when your raft enters the confluence of the Marañon and the Ucayali Rivers and you paddle into the very beginning of the Amazon River. Whew the Amazon River, on a balsa raft. No one will believe this story.
The first day ends at Porvenier, a pueblo so small it is not on any map. Maybe it’s right around this next bend. What happened to those native rafters? Maybe they all sank? Where is everybody? Everybody surely didn’t sink? Are we the only raft left floating? That would be a good one, ha, ha. Swim suckers. Mad Mick, the guy that started all of this Greatest Race stuff, told us they make rum in Porvenier. That could help. Maybe its around this next bend…nope…oh, oh, is that lightning? Paddle…Mad Mick, he must be mad.
Rain. Your first Amazon rainforest rain, this could feel good, you’re too hot. Oww, this is hard rain, cold rain. Can’t see either shore, waves washing over the raft, breaking up, Mad Mick never told us it would be cold or the raft would fall apart, wait till we get our hands on him. Hold on tight, mates. Weather the storm. That is all we can do now. Hope it is not too late.
You make it to Porvenier, the native paddlers are working on fine tuning their rafts, some are whittling the balsa logs with machetes, some practically rebuilding theirs. You step off the raft all wobbly legged and to add insult to injury you slip in the river mud and your feet are in the air and your back splats into the mud and you slide into the river, and you just want to die from exhaustion and embarrassment. Where is Mad Mick? You crawl up the bank wet muddy and miserable. You hear music playing and people laughing, there is a party going on. You made it. That wasn’t so bad. You can do this.
After a few shots of rum you see the guy who owns the boat the sissy spectators are riding on, what is it called? Dawn on the Amazon or something, coming your way. He introduces himself as Captain Bill and says some things that make no sense. Suggests it is faster to go farther. Farther! Cross the river to the outside of every bend. Zig Zag! Does he know how many bends that is? We would have to go twice as far. Never cut short next to the sand bar. Stay in the strongest current. What current? Go twice as far with half the effort, faster. Must be some kind of Zen thing. We need practical advice, not some Zen philosophy. You drink some more rum…The next morning you wake up stiff and sore and hung over. The native rafters are already fine tuning their rafts, whittling the balsa with machetes, tightening the bindings, and some are out on the river testing and practicing. You know your raft is about to fall apart, but you and your mates have to get some breakfast first. How do they do it?
This is the first time since the start of the race you have been close enough to see the local native’s rafts. Now you realize their rafts look like Corvettes and yours looks more like a Humvee. One of them sees you looking and smiles. He paddles over and shakes hands with you and nods toward your raft. He asks if you need any help. You can only smile back and nod. He gets his machete out and starts hacking on your outside logs. One of his buddies reties your vines. The race starts again. You feel the difference. The raft steers much easier.
You are looking at the backs of the native paddlers. Lets follow them. Where are they going, crossing clear across the river? We’ll take a short cut and beat them. Paddle hard mates…wow, those guys really paddle fast. How do they do that? Look, they are crossing back over to the other side again. Zig zagging…Hmmm… ok guys, follow them across. The native paddlers are soon out of sight again but not before you get it. Cross the river, hold tight to the tallest bank where the strongest current is, stay away from the low sand bars where there is no current and worse yet, sometimes a back current. Go farther, easier, faster. Why didn’t someone tell us?
Yeah, you’ve got blisters, your ass is sore, you’re hung over from too much rum, but your raft steers easier, you’re getting the hang of it. You pass your first raft, gringos of course, but you pass one. Ha! Victory is so sweet. A raft gains on you. Don’t look back. Paddle. The raft pulls along side. It is the girl veterinarian crew. They’re cute. Don’t let them out of sight. Aawww, how do they do that. Wait for us…no.
The second day was longer but easier. You pull into the village of Tamshiyacu with everyone cheering, ahead of several rafts, give your mates high fives all around, and cheer the other rafts coming in. Everyone is laughing and feeling good. It is like the first day was initiation, the second day you are part of something, the Amazon Rafting Club, and it feels good. The native paddlers are already tweaking the design of their rafts, and tightening their bindings. You borrow a machete and do the same. The guys back home will never believe this. What a story…
Cool, a live band is playing, your belly is full of good food, cute little, black haired, smiley native girls want to dance, you are a different man than last night. Mad Mick surprises you. Your crew is in fourth place among the international teams. Not far out of third. You are amazed to find out your crew is already three hours behind the native teams. They’re incredible.
The last day is the shortest and you stay in the current more. In a few hours Iquitos is in sight, but it takes longer than you think to finish. The last part is a cruel joke by Mad Mick. You have to finish paddling upstream on a smaller river. Upstream is no fun. You see the finish line but it does not seem to get any closer. Your muscles burn with the effort. People scream and cheer, and you finally make it to the finish line. You have completed one of the greatest races on earth. Everyone helps everyone else. Now it feels more like co-operation than a competition. You help the other rafts beach, grab a beer, everyone is laughing. “Salude amigo.” “Cheers.” “We made it.” “We did it.” “My canoeing buddies will not believe this.”
You moved into third place. Congratulations all around. There are no losers in this crowd. Everyone is a winner. You see Mad Mick and Captain Bill laughing and shaking hands. You can’t believe your ears. “We did it.” “We did it. ” “We did it again.” “Good job, Mick.” What did they do?
Iquitos Peru and the Great River Amazon Raft Race
Bill Grimes, river rat
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Great River Amazon Raft Race Blog
The Amazon Rafting Club has an official blog at; Great River Amazon Raft Race Blog There are 285 comments already posted. At least six groups are using this opportunity to raise money for their favorite charity by soliciting sponsors. I think that is a great idea. Some teams need one or two other crew members to be complete. If you would like to participate or be a witness to this great event, leave a comment either here or on the official Amazon Rafting Club blog. You have questions, we have answers.