Adrenaline Rafting, The Great Amazon Raft Race 2009

by Captain Bill

A guest post by Barry Brett

One of a series of short humorous stories of life in Iquitos.

Each article is a portrayal of actual events, written from the perspective of a Californian living in the Jungle City of Iquitos, Peru.

Adrenaline Rafting

The Great Amazon Raft Race 2009                                                                                     Barry Brett

On the River Amazon, headed for Porvenier

On the River Amazon, headed for Porvenier

I’ve often wondered what kind of person would set about navigating the River Amazon on a raft. There was that nut back in the fifties who crossed the Atlantic on a raft. Then there was “Ben Hur” on that raft with the Roman Consul, “Row-well and Live”. But the Amazon? All those crazy piranhas swimming about. Aren’t rafts held together with rope or something? Gnaw-gnaw! My good friend Mick had invited me to join the “Great Amazon Raft Race.” It was his creation. Now I know why they call him “Mad Mick!” Having organized raft races in England many years ago he promotes the annual “Great Amazon Raft Race” here in Iquitos, Peru. This year fifteen foreign teams would be competing with twenty-four Peruvian Teams.

great-river-amazon-raft-race-paddle

City of Nauta. Early afternoon. “It’s time to leave Barry. We’re going-out to watch them construct their rafts.” “But I’ve been bitten by something, my head aches.” “It’s swelling-up”. “Don’t worry Barry it’s just an “Angochupo”. “It’s going to get worse before it gets better” “She’s laid her eggs under your scalp. After a few days the worms hatch-out and leave!” “But I need to rest” “Barry, we have to go over to the Island to watch the teams construct their rafts now.” “We need to determine the odds!” “The odds!” “What is this place?” “A betting parlor, a floating Casino on the Amazon?” “Miguel’s holding the pot Barry, do you want in?”

As I watched the teams constructing their rafts I wondered what qualifications are required to man them. Do they have to pass a test in a swimming pool or a bathtub? Would they need a “Rafting License”, or a “Diploma and Smog Certificate” from the Admiralty? Could contestants cheat? What about gigantic paddles and hollow logs! Could they lash-out at each other with horsewhips whilst shredding their opponent’s logs with revolving can-openers? Or maybe there just aren’t any rules at all!

Carrying one of eight logs to construct the raft

Carrying one of eight logs to construct the raft

But what’s that? Coils of metal wire, a Black and Decker Chainsaw! Hammer and nails made in China! I thought contestants were supposed to construct their rafts using only local materials. Neanderthals used a stone on a stick. Maybe Neanderthals had primitive brains but at least they were smart enough not to race rafts on the Amazon.

Tools of modern man, axe man

Tools of modern man, axe man

Tools of modern man, saw

Tools of modern man, saw

Life jackets were to be worn at all times and no alcohol or drugs were permitted “on the rafts.” Teams were allowed to hire local labor to aid in the construction of their rafts. A minimum of eight logs were required, but according to Mick, any configuration was permitted. The most common combination (commanding the best odds) was four logs in front linked to four behind. Linkage was everything. Some teams employed large screws, others used overlapping timbers bound together with metal wire. Three cross-beams were bound with rope to the main logs and plastic chairs with foam seating were common. Teams had numbers (for easy betting), and names. This would be “Gringa Linda’s” third Great Amazon Raft Race. Her team called themselves “Vamos Ya” (Let’s Go right Now). The favorites (5 to 1), were “Los Invensibles de Padre Cocha”. An all Peruvian team, they had won several races before. There were teams named “Coca Loco”, “Amazon Quest”, “Los Titanes”, “Los Increibles” (the Incredibles), “Amazonia” and “Las 4 Virgenes de Ivalu” (Four Virgins of Ivalu). Are there some left? In the Jungle!! As a non-swimmer my favorite was “Don’t Drown!” There were all-male teams, all female teams and mixed teams. Some team members volunteered to join only days before the start. Drinking a few beers in a London Pub, Tim overheard three crewmen crying in their beer. They were one member short. “Count me in!” he exclaimed. After a few more beers they carried him to the plane!

Wedging the joints together to form a raft of eight logs, four logs wide.

Wedging the joints together to form a raft of eight logs, four logs wide.

City of Nauta on the Amazon, eight in the morning. “Barry, there’s going to be a short delay.” “The Chief Harbor Master wants to start the race!” “He wants the glamour!” “But he’s drunk” “Wasn’t he at that fiesta dancing with a hooker?” “Can he shoot straight?” “Does he have any ammo?” “Can I trade my lifejacket for a bullet proof vest?”

City of Nauta on the Amazon eight thirty in the morning. “It’s number 18 at the gate, and they’re off. 23’s in the lead and it’s “Vamos Ya” followed by “Coca Loco” and “Timbercreek.” As they round the turn it’s the “Four Virgins” followed by “Amazonia”. The “Amazonians” are standing up! Californian surfers no doubt. “Hang Ten Guys, Surfs-Up.” Oh gosh, are they flashing it? Coming into the final stretch it’s “Coca Loco” followed by “Vamos Ya” and “Kindred Spirits,” and now it’s “The Titans” and the “Four Virgins” followed closely by the “Four Flashers”. The “Four Flashers” are gaining. The “Flashers” are Down! Now they’re up – way-way up!!! Neck and neck! They’re coming “up from behind“, now they’re “up on the inside!” As they approach the finish line it’s the “Two Virgins” followed by the “Four Flashers” and “Vamos Ya” (Let’s go Right Now!).

The beachhead at the Pueblo of Nueva Esperanza

The beachhead at the Pueblo of Nueva Esperanza

The beachhead at the Pueblo of Nueva Esperanza, end of day two. At the top of the muddy hill a welcoming band playing Amazonian Drums greeted the arriving rafters. First one in, number 33 “Keepin’ off Rio.” Losing my foothold, trying to get closer to Mick and the VIPs, I slipped and rolled down the embankment into the mud-bath below. “No I didn’t, you sick SOB.” “It’s mud!” What’s that, a Mud Freak?” – “I’m a VIP.” African Cheiftains smother their bodies with mud – If it’s good enough for them.” “Anyway it’s got medicinal properties.” As I peered through the mud I could see “Los Increibles”, “Gringa Linda with Vamos Ya” and “Lobo Marino de Nanay”. Rafters arriving in high spirits, spent the night dancing in the small discotheque and sleeping in the encampment above the cliffs.

Day Three. The Race to Tamshiyacu. This would be the longest and most difficult stretch. Rafters could be seen desperately searching for the current. Without the current they would suffer unbearable pain and exhaustion with the sun beating down on them. From the VIP boat we could see rafters, adrenalin pumping through their veins, as they tried to maintain speed. “Los Invensibles” were in the lead for the second day in a row, but who was that flying the Jolly Roger? “Piratas del Amazonas’ (Pirates of the Amazon). On an adrenaline rush, the rafts-men paddled at lightning speed as the “Coca Leaf Tea” and “Bark Nectar” kicked-in!

We reached the junction in the river. Rafts were to proceed through the short-cut. No-one told them. Mick and other VIPs left the boat to establish a traffic control spot further along the beachhead. “We’ve got a red flag Barry, someone’s in trouble.” We have to leave now.” “No time to pick-up Mick.” “But they are without water in all this heat,” I exclaimed. “We’ve got to leave now” Ed screamed, as the Captain started the engine. But where were the Peruvian Coast Guard? They were to patrol the river to aid distressed rafts. Lunch break. They had left for the day! Doubling-back some twenty minutes, a raft could be seen bobbing up and down while the rafts-men tried desperately to outmaneuver the strong current and bring-it alongside. The crew were exhausted. Suffering from dehydration, finally they realized they needed a tow.

“We’ve got another red flag” someone shouted, as the VIPs raced up-deck for a photo-shoot. “Everyone’s rushing to the same side” Ed shouted, as the vessel lurched. “ She’s going to capsize.” “Capsize!” “But I’m a VIP” “I can’t swim“. “At least I’d have a chance on a raft. Logs float.” “Put your life-jacket on Barry” “The boat’s caught in a strong current” My mind raced-back to that day-trip at Niagara Falls. “Good bye life jacket, I need a barrel!” “But where were the rafts?” “Oh they’re way behind us now.” So that’s it. The race was fixed all along! The “VIP Boat’s in the lead now.” “We’re going to Win!”

Later that evening, in a Tamshiyacu bar, one of the female team members shared her diary with me. Desperately trying to take their minds off the pain and exhaustion they sang and paddled to “Christmas Carols“ and “Queen’s” “Bohemian Rhapsody.” A song about a poor boy about to die. “I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me.” “Too late, my time has come.” “Sometimes I wish I’d never been born at all!” What about, “We are the Champions!” “No Time for Losers”. There were other notations. The desperate need to propel the raft with long deep strokes, and the struggle to maintain speed in the wake of passing vessels. The routine of constantly changing sides to relieve the pressure on one arm. Bathroom breaks that involved standing or squatting at the rear of the raft. There were unforgettable moments such as when a young boy rolled a water-melon down the embankment to help quench their thirst. The kids sitting on a riverside bank shouting down to them “They make motors now!” “Then there was the realization that for them, it had nothing to do with coming in first, or even last, but everything to do with not being towed! Towing was the ultimate humiliation.

Day Four. The last lap was grueling. Facing a fierce current along the Nanay River, rafts inched along toward the finish line. Crewmen who failed to paddle in unison found their raft going backwards as the current dragged them back toward the Amazon. “Didn’t someone say The Current is Your Friend?” “With friends like that?” As the local saying goes, “The Amazon has the River but the Nanay has the Current.” Three crew fainted and others found themselves towed-in. Is that the “Pirates of the Amazon” being towed? Ran-out of Coca Leaves and Bark Nectar? Good thing they don’t have to “walk the plank“! Rafting Teams were totally exhausted as they crossed the finish line. Team members posing for photo-shoots collapsed on their decks or suffered humiliation as they fell from their rafts into the water, only to be dragged onshore by young boys. The revenge of the Incas I thought as Los Invencibles de Padre Cocha, the “Peruvian Victors,” crossed the finish line.

At least I now know what kind of person races a raft on the Amazon looking for the ultimate “Adrenalin Rush.” The same kind of person who climbs Mount Everest, Explores Antarctica or walks on the Surface of the Moon (or lives in the Rainforest!). A Crazy Human!

Adrenaline Rafting, The Great Amazon Raft Race 2009

Barry Brett                                                                                         Copyright  October 2009

Barry Brett has spent three of the past five years here in Iquitos, Peru. Growing-up in England, he emigrated to the U.S. as a young man and has lived almost forty years in Huntington Beach, California.

If you enjoy Barry’s style of writing, follow these links to his other articles;

Welcome To Iquitos

Iquitos Water Carnival

Beauty In Death, The Passing Of A Baby Girl

Jungle Walk

A Rose Is But A Rose

Pampachica, The Watering Hole

Celebrating the Rebellion Against the Crown

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Susy October 1, 2009 at 10:57 am

I must go next year!!!

2 Matthew Barker October 1, 2009 at 11:01 am

Brilliant article, thanks for sharing.
Sounds like an amazing few days, I’m sorry I missed it! Next year perhaps…

3 Dale B October 1, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Great article! This brought back many memories from the 2006 race. It’s a special club of people who go all the way to the Amazon for this race, and an even more special club for those who actually finish. Welcome all new club members!

4 Caleb Whitaker October 1, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Yarrgh, matey, this be a crewman of the Coca Loca. Nice article, but we takes offense to your suggestion that the “Pirates of the Amazon” were towed to the finish line– we made it there under our own steam, with coca leaves to spare! Don’t make me board yer craft with a fact-checker, ye scurvy dog!

5 Mitch Bennett October 1, 2009 at 10:27 pm

I am going to be in on this one year. I cant wait. My wife is from Iquitos. We live in Florida. We have two children. As soon as our youngest is old enough to handle some adventure we are on our way!

6 Mike Collis October 2, 2009 at 10:45 am

Hello Rafters,
The raft race made it into Peru’s No.1 daily newspaer “El Comercio” again this year.

Click here to see the online version.

http://www.elcomercio.com.pe/impresa/edicion/2009-09-29/ecre290909a12/03

7 Gringa Linda October 2, 2009 at 11:06 am

What a great rendition of what really happened – haha – hope to read more of your work – fantastic. Vamos ya! Thanks so much for the article. Gringa Linda

8 Barry Brett October 2, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Sorry ¨PIRATES OF THE AMAZON – I only ASKED if it was you guys IN TOW. Not all the great teams are mentioned in my piece. The PIRATES are mentioned twice and also COCA LOCO. You are a STAR! Rememeber it´s a humorous article. Every team wanted to be mentioned in my story, but that was not possible.
Love you all,
Barry

9 Mike Collis October 2, 2009 at 6:44 pm

XI CARRERAS DE BALSAS 2009

RELACION DE LLEGADAS PRIMER TRAMO “ISLA PESCADORES – NUEVA ESPERANZA”

Day 1

ORDEN DE LLEGADA NOMBRE DE LOS EQUIPOS TIEMPO RECORRIDO Nº DE BALSA CATEGORIA
1º LOS INVENCIBLES DE PADRECOCHA 3:34’39” 33 VARONES
2º LOS INCREIBLES 3:35’11” 42 VARONES
3º LOBO MARINO DE NANAY 3:52’26” 18 VARONES
4º LOS CUSHURIS Nº 1 3:56’26” 14 MIXTO
5º PADRE COCHA DEL RIO NANAY 4:02’05” 20 MIXTO
6º LAS CUATRO VIRGENES DE IVALU 4:32’43” 29 DAMAS
7º “VAMOS YA” 4:37’06” 15 MIXTO
8º LOS DELFINES 4:38’52” 41 VARONES
9º BELGICA 01 4:39’48” 25 VARONES
10º LOS MAGNIFICOS DE LA NOCHE 4:41’05” 38 VARONES
11º CHULLACHAQUI 4:46’20” 16 VARONES
12º LOS CUATRO INSUPERABLES 5:00’54” 19 VARONES
13º PIRATAS DEL AMAZONAS 5:05’42” 21 MIXTO
14º HOGAR “ARCO IRIS” 5:20’11” 40 VARONES
15º SEPAP 5:22’14” 24 VARONES
16º LAS MAGNIFICAS DE LA NOCHE 5:23’35” 32 DAMAS
17º TIMBERCREEK 5:38’31” 39 VARONES
18º EXTREMO 5:39’44” 37 VARONES
19º IPERU 5:40’34” 11 VARONES
20º LAS ATREVIDAS DEL NANAY 5:41’08” 28 DAMAS
21º LOS 04 ASES 5:42’10” 36 MIXTO
22º LOS TITANES 5:52’37” 35 VARONES
23º KINDRED SPIRITS 6:01’20” 10 MIXTO
24º YAKUMAMA 6:10’38” 27 VARONES
25º COCA LOCO 6:13’10” 12 VARONES
26º AMAZON QUEST 6:16’04” 13 MIXTO
27º AMAZONIA 6:24’16” 23 MIXTO
28º KEEP IT RIO 6:26’56” 31 DAMAS
29º MAFRE 6:41’25” 30 VARONES
30º AMAZON.COM 7:00’29” 43 MIXTO
31º PARA LOS NIÑOS 7:30’15” 22 MIXTO
32º DON’T DROWN 7:40’15” 34 MIXTO
33º PERLA NEGRA 8:14’22” 44 VARONES

10 Mike Collis October 2, 2009 at 6:45 pm

RELACION DE LLEGADAS SEGUNDO TRAMO “NUEVA ESPERANZA – TAMSHIACO”
Day 2

ORDEN DE LLEGADA NOMBRE DE LOS EQUIPOS TIEMPO RECORRIDO Nº DE BALSA CATEGORIA
1º LOS INCREIBLES 5:10’45” 42 VARONES
2º LOS INVENCIBLES DE PADRECOCHA 5:15’03” 33 VARONES
3º LOBO MARINO DE NANAY 5:42’47” 18 VARONES
4º LOS CUSHURIS Nº 01 6:04’01” 14 MIXTO
5º PADRE COCHA DEL RIO NANAY 6:49’02” 20 MIXTO
6º LAS 04 VIRGENES DE IVALU 7:05’17” 29 DAMAS
7º “VAMOS YA” 7:56’07” 15 MIXTO
8º LOS DELFINES 8:05’27” 41 VARONES
9º LAS ATREVIDAS DEL NANAY 8:13’32” 28 DAMAS
10º BELGICA 01 8:14’42” 25 VARONES
11º CHULLACHAQUI 8:39’07” 16 VARONES
12º LOS MAGNIFICOS DE LA NOCHE 9:05’52” 38 VARONES
13º LOS 04 INSUPERABLES 9:18’42” 19 VARONES
14º HOGAR “ARCO IRIS” 9:21’44” 40 VARONES
15º PIRATAS DEL AMAZONAS 9:22’18” 21 MIXTO
16º SEPAP 9:34’58” 24 VARONES
17º LAS MAGNIFICAS DE LA NOCHE 9:35’56” 32 DAMAS
18º LA YAKUMAMA 10:01’50” 27 VARONES
19º EXTREMO 10:25’43” 37 VARONES
ORDEN DE LLEGADA NOMBRE DE LOS EQUIPOS TIEMPO RECORRIDO Nº DE BALSA CATEGORIA
20º IPERU 10:42’26” 11 VARONES
21º TIMBERCREEK 10:45’18” 39 VARONES
22º AMAZONIA 10:48’15” 23 MIXTO
23º LOS TITANES 11:05’56” 35 VARONES
24º KINDRED SPIRITS 11:07’26” 10 MIXTO
25º LOS 04 ASES 11:14’09” 36 MIXTO
26º AMAZON.COM 11:15’44” 43 MIXTO
27º MAFRE 11:56’52” 30 VARONES
28º AMAZON QUEST 12:03’14” 13 MIXTO
29º KEEP IT RIO 12:10’34” 31 MIXTO
30º LA PERLA NEGRA 12:13’43” 44 VARONES
31º PARA LOS NIÑOS 12:15’50” 22 MIXTO
32º COCA LOCO 12:30’14” 12 VARONES
33º DON’T DROWN 12:40’34” 34 DAMAS

11 Mike Collis October 2, 2009 at 6:46 pm

RELACION DE LLEGADAS TERCER TRAMO “TAMSHIACO – CLUB CAZA Y PESCA”

Day 3

ORDEN DE LLEGADA NOMBRE DE LOS EQUIPOS TIEMPO RECORRIDO Nº DE BALSA CATEGORIA
1º LOS INCREIBLES 3:55’00” 42 VARONES
2º LOS INVENCIBLES DE PADRECOCHA 4:01’58” 33 VARONES
3º LOBO MARINO DE NANAY 4:05’31” 18 VARONES
4º LOS CUSHURIS Nº 01 4:17’28” 14 MIXTO
5º PADRE COCHA DEL RIO NANAY 4:27’00” 20 MIXTO
6º CHULLACHAQUI 4:53’29” 16 VARONES
7º LAS 04 VIRGENES DE IVALU 4:57’59” 29 DAMAS
8º LOS 04 INSUPERABLES 4:59’40” 19 VARONES
9º “VAMOS YA” 5:03’58” 15 MIXTO
10º BELGICA 01 5:08’08” 25 VARONES
11º LAS ATREVIDAS DE NANAY 5:09’40” 28 DAMAS
12º LOS DELFINES 5:21’47” 41 VARONES
13º HOGAR “ARCO IRIS” 5:31’06” 40 VARONES
14º LOS MAGNIFICOS DE LA NOCHE 5:33’12” 38 VARONES
15º PIRATAS DEL AMAZONAS 5:40’50” 21 MIXTO
16º LA YAKUMAMA 5:47’04” 27 VARONES
17º SEPAP 5:56’42” 24 VARONES
18º TIMBERCREEK 6:07’00” 39 VARONES
19º LAS MAGNIFICAS DE LA NOCHE 6:08’09” 32 DAMAS
ORDEN DE LLEGADA NOMBRE DE LOS EQUIPOS TIEMPO RECORRIDO Nº DE BALSA CATEGORIA
20º EXTREMO 6:30’14” 37 VARONES
21º LOS 04 ASES 6:29’40” 36 MIXTO
22º AMAZONIA 6:44’24” 23 MIXTO
23º KINDRED SPIRITS 6:48’08” 10 MIXTO
24º LOS TITANES 6:50’48” 35 VARONES
25º MAFRE 6:52’19” 30 VARONES
26º IPERU 7:05’40” 11 VARONES
27º AMAZON QUEST 7:06’31” 13 MIXTO
28º COCA LOCO 7:23’41” 12 VARONES
29º PERLA NEGRA 7:26’37” 44 VARONES
30º PARA LOS NIÑOS 7:26’58” 22 MIXTO
31º KEEP IT RIO 7:53’01” 31 MIXTO
32º DON’T DROWN JALADOS 34 MIXTO
33º AMAZON.COM JALADOS 43 MIXTO

12 Peter Kvietok October 4, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Que tal aventura!!! Great article and a great concept for a race. I’m keen to enter next year, test the skills and stamina of my team, and raise money for charity. Is there a record of how much money was raised this year for needy causes? Also, is there video footage of the race that can be accessed by all?

13 Gringa Linda October 5, 2009 at 6:08 pm

Comment to Peter above and all: Absolutely – it’s the greatest tonic ever – upon finishing – you simply cannot believe what you have just accomplished! I am soooo proud to say that I have been fortunate to complete the competition 3 times – and going for 4th in 2010 – what an adventure! as a gringa living in Iquitos from Mississippi – I say “Braaang it on!” – or like the name of our team this year – VAMOS YA (let’s go right now)!

14 Mike Collis October 6, 2009 at 11:07 am

You really are a remarkable woman Linda.

To Peter,
Shame you could’nt make it this year, perhaps next year when we will have the honour of “Team Iran” led by Amin Adil also competing.

Regarding money raised ; Cedric Gilleman and his “Belgium One” team raised an impressive $6,000US which will go to help sick and poor children here in Iquitos. In fact one sick boy is now in hospital in Lima waiting for a life improving heart operation. This all paid for by Cedric and his sponsors.
Good on You Cedric, Well Done

15 Robbie Dowling October 6, 2009 at 11:26 am

what a jouirney,friction burns on my ass still !! Bowie,roy ann marie you all were great,proud to have you all for those intence days on the river…i have more to say my ass injury only allows 5 min sitting down,
cant wait until next year.what a bunch of mad alive people,,,
rob
amazonquest.net

16 Mike Collis October 7, 2009 at 10:42 am

Hello Rafters,

You must take a look at this great article written by Caleb Whitaker of the “Coca Loca” team.
Just click here ; http://www.calebwhitaker.com

17 CHUCK HALEY October 14, 2009 at 7:22 pm

HI EVERYONE, I LIVED THUR ONE MORE RAFT RACE (BARELY) AND ALL I DID WAS TO TAKE PHOTOS. BUT NEXT YEAR I WILL BE SPONCEING A TEAM SO WATCH OUT EVERYONE MY TEAM WILL BE GOING FOR THE BIG WIN.
IF ANY ONE WANTS TO CHECK OUT THE PHOTOS I TOOK I HAVE DOWNLOADED THEM ON FACEBOOK UNDER CHARLES HALEY.
LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK OF THEM OR IF YOU ARE HAVING TROBLE SEEING THEM.
SEE ALL MY FRIENDS IN IQUITOS FOR THE NEXT ADVENTURE
AMAZONCHUCK–AKA–OLD MAN RIVER—-
IF YOU HAVE TROBLE EMAIL ME AT( amazonchuck@yahoo.com ) AND I WILL SEND YOU THE LINK

18 Bobby February 21, 2011 at 2:41 am

I just found out this evening that my dear and trusted friend Barry Brett was murdered on December 15th 2010 while at his home in Peru.
No words are capable of expressing the loss that I am feeling right now….

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