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Here’s that cliche “we almost died” story

Hi readers,

Thanks for your comments on my first introduction–all were very helpful!

Most of your feedback suggested that I stick with my preferred introduction–starting with the letter to my parents.  But just so you know what your options are, here is the alternative.  My concern with this intro, besides the cliche-ness, is that it’s pretty heavy on the kayak jargon and might not make a ton of sense to non-kayakers (what’s the big deal about getting stuck in a hole)? I’m hoping my book will appeal to paddlers and non-paddlers alike so I don’t want to alienate a large percentage of my audience in the first pages of the book…

Please let me know what you think.

whitewater shot don darcy


Losing  Midge in the Dam Site



I was having a hard time forcing myself to care whether or not Midge made it out of the construction zone alive. What I wanted to do was ditch him, and thus vastly improve my own chances of staying alive. The adrenaline surging through my body told me to get moving—but I was caught between my own instinct to survive and my feelings of responsibility to Midge.  He was completely beat down after so many days of difficult whitewater, not to mention the energy-sapping stress of the last three hours. Still, my patience was drained, and I wasn’t in the mood for compassion.

It was our twentieth consecutive day of kayaking. We were paddling at the bottom of the deepest canyon I had ever been in—far deeper and more impressive than even the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. We were all tired, but Midge especially so. He was both physically and mentally depleted. The stress of just barely making it through one rapid after another, pushing his whitewater skills to their absolute limit, was taking its toll.  Maintaining high levels of adrenaline requires a lot of energy, and with our limited food intake, we didn’t have any energy to spare.

Whatever group cohesion we had rebuilt over the past ten days was unraveling under the tension of paddling through this dangerous section of river.   The power of this steep, thundering Andean river pitted against the desires—and the dynamite—of humans was more frightening than anything I had ever seen. We had only negotiated two and half hours of dynamite stoppage with the Cerro de Aguila hydroelectric dam project manager.  Three hours had already passed, and we had no idea how much further we still had to go before escaping the dangerous construction zone. I was certain they would resume their blasting work any minute. Time, I reasoned, is money—so why wouldn’t they?

We hadn’t spotted a single worker, but we’d witnessed some troubling results of their efforts. The sheer cliff walls and inaccessible river bottom restricted construction activity to between five hundred and two thousand feet above our heads. Blasting activity had sent everything from fine sand to house-sized boulders tumbling down the cliff walls. Some of the debris now cluttered the riverbed, while here and there it had caught on natural benches in the cliff face, resting there so precariously that we felt even a sneeze from down below might set it in motion again.

Our introduction to the dam construction site a few hours earlier had been a cascading rapid where most of the water flowed underneath school bus-sized pieces of the cliff dynamited from high above. On both sides of this unrunnable rapid, tall cliff walls rose straight out of the river—a bad combination for kayakers. Attaining upriver a short distance, we found a small egress in the cliff. It was still more or less a sheer rock face, and we had to use ropes to haul the three heavy kayaks one hundred feet up the wall. There we found a narrow bench where we could perch, put the boats down, and assess the situation.

We walked along the bench to its downstream end where Don found a steep gully leading back down to the river below the rapid. Looking further downstream, we saw more colossal rapids that defied the natural riverbed, these too had obviously been created by the dynamite high above on the cliffs. Downstream, however, the river left cliff wall was slightly less sheer and the rubble from the dynamiting work had created precarious piles of debris that ran from about half way down the cliff all the way down to the water’s edge. The left shore was a scree and slag pile that, while visibly unstable, did offer a place to walk if necessary.

It took us another thirty minutes to lower each kayak down to the water with our ropes, but finally all three of us sat at the river’s edge with our boats and paddles.

Getting around the first rapid had taken us over an hour.  We spent the next two hours running what rapids we could and devising creative ways to walk around those we couldn’t. Paddling up to one horizon line, we discovered the most atrocious rapid any of us had ever seen.  It was a maelstrom of powerful hydraulics all leading into one monstrous river-wide hole with such strong backwash that it was pulling water back into itself from thirty feet downstream. It looked like a low-head dam and we felt certain that no kayaker would ever get out of that hole alive.

There was a portage route on river left, but it required a delicate dash across a loose debris pile. Clambering around on what little shore there was seemed dangerous, yet infinitely safer than kayaking down the rapid. We decided we would go one at a time, but that we needed to move as quickly as possible across the scree slope and get into the pool at the bottom of the rapid—we feared that lingering too long on the unstable slope would cause an avalanche, sweeping us into the rapid we were trying to walk around.

We were all exhausted, but I knew we could not stop moving under any circumstances.  The workers were well within their rights to start up with their dynamite again. Our two and a half hours had come and gone. Besides, since we hadn’t seen any workers yet, I assumed they also hadn’t seen us: they would have no way of knowing we were still in the canyon. While I knew that lighting their fuse would mean our certain death, they might have no idea where we were.

Just as I picked up my kayak to start the portage, I heard Midge’s feeble voice: “I’m knackered, can we please have a snack break?”

“No!” I shouted at him, surprised at the anger I heard in my voice. Calming down a little, I added, “Midge, can’t you make it just a little bit further? We’ve got to get out of here before they start blasting again.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Darcy,” he retorted. “There is no way they will start blasting again with us still down here.”

“They don’t even know we’re here, Midge!”

“Plus, our allotted dynamite-free time frame has come and gone.”

I felt certain that—despite the construction bosses’ claims that it was “mandatory they have no fatalities”—three kayaking tourists were insignificant compared to their $910-million-dollar dam project.

Midge kept mindlessly repeating his belief that there was no way the workers would start blasting with us still in the canyon. He couldn’t seem to bring himself to imagine the possibility of our group getting blown to pieces; I sensed he felt too important to die in such an impersonal manner.  Or maybe he was simply too tired and scared to allow himself to consider this outcome.  His unwillingness to acknowledge the real danger we faced was pushing me to my breaking point.

The reality was it that didn’t matter whether or not the blasting recommenced: there were so many other ways we could die in the construction zone. A big rainstorm might destabilize the slopes; one of us might take a fatal slip or miss an eddy and blunder into an unrunnable rapid. But Midge was too stubborn and too tired to consider this. It was easier for him to just believe he would be okay.

It took every ounce of self-restraint I could muster to refrain from screaming with all my might that Midge was a complete fucking idiot if he really believed the workers would hold off from blasting for as long as it took his pansy ass to get through the construction zone.

We had more pressing issues to deal with than my anger, so I took a few deep breaths and tried to calm down. I looked downriver. We had no choice but to keep moving—and, to my amazement, Midge finally agreed to hold off on his snack break.

We portaged the massive rapid as quickly as we could and got back into our kayaks, trying to stay clear of the potential landslide area. As we paddled downstream, we noticed something peculiar in the river. The object seemed contorted and it disturbed the water in a strange way.  It was clearly not a rock, or any other natural object.  Paddling closer, we realized that it was a dump truck lying on its side in the middle of a huge rapid. We gazed upward, but could see no road: the truck must have fallen more than a thousand feet. As we paddled frantically to avoid being swept by the strong current into the underbelly of the truck, we tried not to think about what had happened to the driver when his vehicle plunged off the cliff.  So much for the mandatory no fatality policy.

We no longer felt like kayakers out having fun. The setting of our adventure had begun to feel more like a war zone, and I had turned all my focus towards survival. Just after the dump truck, I could see a steep horizon line with water spraying up in all directions, signaling that we had yet another massive rapid in front of us. Fortuitously, one of the huge boulders that had been relocated from the tops of the towering cliffs into the river below was creating a large eddy—a calm spot in the river where we could stop—at the top of the rapid.

Don, Midge and I huddled into the eddy and peered downstream.  The rapid was so big and steep that we couldn’t see the bottom of it, and there was now constant rock fall on the right bank that was also obscuring our view. Clearly they weren’t blasting, because we heard no explosions—but something up above, probably a backhoe or other heavy equipment, was shoving rocks and debris off the cliff and straight into the river about half way down the rapid.

I sank to my thighs in dust and gravel as I clawed my way up to the top of the boulder, hoping to get a better vantage point. What I saw was disheartening; the rapid was runnable, but the very first move was a nearly river-wide hydraulic with only a kayak-width tongue between its right edge and the cliff wall. The lead-in to the hole was chaotic, and most of the current pulled strongly towards the hydraulic. A kayaker not actively fighting the force of the current would be swept into the massive hole. The awful hole itself was only the first obstacle in a very long rapid full of hazards. Plus, the only line past the hole forced us to paddle directly under the river-right wall beneath the rock fall. Some of the falling rocks were small enough to appear survivable, but every now and then a boulder came crashing down that was easily big enough to crush a kayaker. The last thing we needed was for another dump truck to come tumbling off the cliff as we paddled past.

I could see one eddy a few hundred yards down from the entrance of the rapid, but I could not make out what was beyond it around the corner. Based on what we had experienced so far in the dam construction zone, we needed to assume that more unrunnable rapids lay ahead.  As tired as Midge was, I didn’t think he would be able to make the powerful move around the hole. I also suspected that if he were to swim in that hole, and if Don and I were unable get him into the eddy at the bottom, he would have a terrible, potentially unsurvivable, ordeal ahead of him.

Starting to look for portage options, I shouted down to Don, “come up here and have a look with me.” There was a group of twenty workers standing on the right bank about sixty feet above us; the first humans we’d seen since entering their work zone. They were impatiently waving us on. We had already taken more than an hour longer than we had anticipated, and the workers were obviously anxious to get back to it. Seeing me looking up at the left bank for a portage option, they started whistling to get my attention. They were indicating that we could come up the right bank to where they were standing—but it was a sheer cliff, and Don and I could see no way to do that.

When we pointed to the left bank, they all emphatically shook their heads in unison— “No!”—and began drawing their fingers across their necks in the universal sign language for death.

After a couple of minutes, Don stated calmly, “We can make that move, Darcy.”

“I know we can,” I replied, “but I don’t think Midge will make it. He’s too tired.”

I continued, “I know the workers don’t like it, but there’s a chance we could portage on the left. It looks sketchy, but if we can get across that loose scree there, one of us could climb up to that flat bench and then rope the boats up.”

“Suicide for all of us, Darcy,” Don insisted. “If, and I really mean if, we make it to your bench, then where will we go? At least we if run this rapid, two-thirds of us are sure to make it—and chances are that Midge will be okay too.”

The rapid didn’t look great, but it did seem to be the safest of our dismal options. We figured that as long as Midge could summon the strength and the skill to make that first move, he would probably be okay. After the hole, we just needed to move into the middle of the river to avoid the rock fall. From there on, the rapid appeared to be big but doable for Midge.

It was just a matter of making that first move.

Another problem was that the eddy we could see at the bottom of the rapid was at the base of another cliff that also did not look climbable. We were taking a huge gamble that we would be able go further downstream after making that eddy. Using our very limited geology skills, we made our best guess that, even if the next rapid turned out to be unrunnable, the character of the cliff wall looked as if it would offer us a place to climb out of the river just out of view. We said that, at any rate, to make ourselves feel better; I’m not sure if either of us actually believed it.

Don looked again at the rapid and at the portage routes and said, “We need to run this. There is no other option.”

It was a risk for all of us, but we couldn’t stand there forever. We had to go.

Don, the strongest paddler of the group, would go first so that he could catch the eddy at the bottom of the rapid, with the hopes of getting a look around the corner to know what we would be dealing with in the case of a rescue. If there was an easy rapid or a big pool around the corner, a rescue would be simple. If it was another rapid like this one, or worse, rescue would be difficult to impossible.

I would lead Midge through the rapid, and if a rescue became necessary, Don and I would do our best to get Midge into that eddy—but we knew we had to consider the option of letting him go if it meant dragging all three of us into an unrunnable rapid down below. It was a conversation I was not comfortable with, and one we did not share with Midge. Don’s and my job for more than a decade had been to keep people safe; we had saved hundreds of boaters as they swam from their kayaks or made other mistakes in the river. Now, in a moment of painful reckoning, we realized we were facing a situation in which we might not be able to help. Things had gotten that dire in the last three and a half hours. We were still working as a team, but there was an underlying knowledge that each of us was, in a very real sense, in it for ourselves.

Don and I climbed back down from the boulder and got into our kayaks.  We explained to Midge that we had to run the rapid.  We told him that we were going to leave our eddy, which was on the left side of the river, and paddle with all the strength that remained in our bodies to the right side of the river where the safe tongue of water bypassed the hole. We emphasized over and over how important it was to paddle at one hundred and ten percent effort to the right side of the river.  “Hit the right cliff wall with your boat,” we told him.

“After you’re safely past the first hole, paddle hard left to get away from the right wall so you don’t get crushed by that rock fall. Then, once you pass the rock fall, bust your ass into a small eddy on river right.”

“Right, left, right. Got it?” 

Midge nodded in understanding.

As per the plan, Don was preparing to launch as I told Midge to watch precisely where he went. Don took a few deep breaths to prepare himself, but just as he was about to pull out of the eddy, Midge stopped him to ask if his GoPro helmet camera was on. Don and I were beyond dismayed by this question. We asked Midge if was sure his head was in this. We implored him to focus, telling him that we needed him to be concentrating on survival, not on our video cameras.

Don peeled out of the eddy and made it to the right side of the river—nodding emphatically when he had made it to the tongue, which would ensure his safe passage past the hole. I asked Midge if he was ready, and then offered one more reminder: “Midge, put your boat on that right wall.”

Nervous—and wanting to focus on my own line rather than worrying solely about Midge—I concentrated on what I needed to do. Then I nodded at Midge and we left the eddy. I fought the current as I crossed from river left to river right. As I’d expected, the current was forceful and kept trying to pull me back to the left. I did not look back until I had cleared the hole; but when I did, my chest tightened.  Midge was above the hole and nowhere near the right wall.  He did make a heroic last minute effort to get right, but it was not enough, and he dropped into the massive hole.

Amazon Woman: 148 Days Source to Sea on the World’s Largest River

Hey Everyone,

I’ve been quiet on this site for a long time because I’ve been spending every free moment working on my book about our expedition down the Amazon.  Who knew it would take six times as long to write a book about our trip than it did to paddle the 4,300 miles?  (I suppose anyone who’s ever written a book before would have known this).

About to get started on the expedition by paddling across Lago Acucocha to begin our hike to the source.

About to get started on the expedition by paddling across Lago Acucocha to begin our hike to the source. First we had to thaw out all our gear.

I’m now nearly finished with my book and would love feedback from anyone willing to read some writing samples.  Below is my introduction to the book.  My biggest questions are:

  1. Do you like it?
  2. Do these 4 pages inspire you to want to keep reading the rest of the book?
  3. I’ve shied away from the seemingly ubiquitous “we almost died” story as the hook for the beginning of my book. However, if you didn’t feel like this introduction drew you in enough, do you think you’d more enjoy a story of the time Midge nearly died kayaking through the construction site for a new dam on the Mantaro River? I’ve got this written up as an alternative introduction which I will post next.

Feel free to comment on the blog or email me directly at if you have feedback for me.


Our campsite at Ponto Taipu on day 147. Because of the tides, this rock was only out of the water for about five hours.

Our campsite at Ponto Taipu on day 147. Because of the tides, this rock was only out of the water for about five hours.




July 24, 2013


Dear Mom, Dad, and Lacey,

If you are reading this, it’s because something went wrong and I am not coming home from the Amazon.

I realize that anything I have to say here probably won’t lessen your grief, but please know that I very much loved my life! I thank you all for supporting my “unusual” lifestyle choices and for never pressuring me to do all the things that families often pressure their daughters/sisters to do. (Parents, I haven’t forgotten that you forced me to go to college, but I forgive you for that.)

I’m sad it ended this early, but there are a lot worse ways I could have gone.

What I am most worried about as I type this, is the three of you. Don`t forget about me, of course, but please remember that you still have a lot of life left to live. So live it.

Know that I was happy while I was on this earth, and take whatever solace you can out of knowing that I won’t have to suffer when I am old.

I love you all very much. Thank you for everything you gave me.

Now put down this letter, and go out and do something you enjoy. Do it for me, because that is what I want you all to do.

Love, d.

*          *          *

While my friends were busying themselves with the tasks of adulthood—buying homes, starting families, saving for their retirement—I was sinking deeper into a hopeless obsession with running progressively more life-threatening whitewater in increasingly more remote places on our planet.  What few ties I had left with mainstream American society were slipping from my hands and I couldn’t find a reason to tighten my grip.

No one was terribly surprised when some typical, convoluted decision-making put me on a plane heading south to kayak the world’s largest river.  I was with David Midgley, an esoteric computer programmer from London and Don Beveridge, my boyfriend of twelve years.  Don and I had recently sold our adventure travel company and I’d gotten us fired from the new owner; Don was not happy with me.  The plan was to kayak the Amazon River from its source in the Peruvian Andes all the way to the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil. It would be a journey of 4,300 miles. Nine other people had done some sort of source-to-sea descent of the Amazon, compared to twelve people who have walked on the moon. None of those people had kayaked the entire river, and none of them were women.

I would be the first.

When I signed on, I expected one month of kayaking on some of the most challenging whitewater in the world, through the depths of one of most formidable and inescapable canyons on Earth. I was okay with this. I’d spent the previous sixteen years of my life intensely focused on whitewater kayaking adventures, so this sort of thing was almost normal for me. The whitewater would be followed by the longest, flattest, most boring paddle of my life. I estimated that the roughly 3,900 miles of flat water would take us three to four months to paddle. We’d be camping; there would be bugs; we’d be hot, tired, hungry, and bored. But who can’t deal with that stuff? We’d be doing it all for the sake of adventure, in the interest of being first at something in a world where it seems most of the firsts have already been taken. I also harbored faint hopes that this big adventure would be my last hurrah; that it would set me free from my wandering life and allow me to feel content to finally settle down.

It seemed like a worthwhile endeavor.

This was until we got to Peru, where I bought a copy of El Comercio from a street vendor just outside of Lima’s international airport and read that eight Peruvian colonists had been murdered by the indigenous Ashaninka people in the Red Zone. The Ashaninka feared the colonists were there to set up an illegal logging operation.  We would be paddling through Peru’s Red Zone in just over a month. I learned quickly during our four prep days in Lima that this expedition would be much more than a challenging river trip.  The human factor we’d have to contend with suddenly seemed much more dangerous and unpredictable than the Class V whitewater.

We met with Ruth Buendia, president of the Central Ashaninka Del Rio Ene (C.A.R.E), in the hopes of securing permission letters from the Ashaninka people whose lands we would travel through and who we hoped would refrain from murdering us as they had done to the eight Peruvians and the two Polish kayakers a couple of years earlier. C.A.R.E. represents seventeen Ashaninka communities along the Rio Ene—the start of the flatwater and the Red Zone—and their compliance with our expedition would be crucial to our survival. Ruth, whose father had been killed by Shining Path terrorists in this region twenty years ago, issued us these permission letters along with plenty of dire warnings.

The Ashaninka represented only one of our mounting problems. We met with the head engineer of a huge hydroelectric project being built in the deepest section of canyons in the Amazon’s headwaters. He advised us not to paddle through his construction zone. It was simply too dangerous due to the dynamite work, and he was too busy to deal with any fatalities.

Guillermo, whose father was an admiral in the Peruvian navy, was next in the line of people we met who were certain that our undertaking was a bad idea. He was adamant that we arrange an escort from the navy to protect us from the Ashaninka, the Shining Path rebels, the narco-traffickers, the illegal loggers, and the river pirates. He kept saying, “remember Sir Blake, remember the Polish couple, remember Davey,” naming off all the people who had been killed or nearly killed on the Amazon in recent years.

It was one o’clock in the morning, and we were supposed to start our drive to the source of the Amazon River in five hours. I was exhausted from the previous four days of running around Lima taking care of last-minute preparations. More troubling than my fatigue were all these images of how we were likely to die on this expedition, each subsequent danger certain to kill us provided we survived the ones before. If river pirates didn’t rob and murder us, then narco-traffickers or Shining Path insurgents would. If we somehow avoided being crushed by dynamited rock in the dam construction zone, then the scared and insular Ashaninka people would kill us. Or, who knew, we might stumble upon an illegal logging camp and get murdered there by rogue loggers afraid of being reported.  And if we escaped all those fates, we were sure to meet our end in the fierce winds, tides, and monstrous waves of the lower river.

This wasn’t at all what I had imagined when I said, “Sure, what the hell, I’d like to kayak the Amazon from source to sea.”

I wanted nothing more than to just collapse into bed. Instead I forced myself to sit down at the hostel’s lone computer and I hesitantly wrote my goodbye note.

I emailed the letter to my friend Larry, with strict instructions to deliver it to my family if I died.[i] Then I crawled into bed, hoping to get a little rest—but mostly I lay there wondering if I would succeed in becoming the first woman to kayak the entire Amazon River, or if, as so many people had predicted, I would die trying.

It was my thirty-fifth birthday.



[i] Hey Larry, 

Sorry to ask this of you…but if I happen to die on this trip, can you give this letter to my parents?

You can read it too if I don’t make it back.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that! But I thought I should write something for my family because I know my mom will not do too well if this is the outcome.

And, rest assured, I will do everything in my power to come back. But you just never know when there are people with guns involved…Thanks LV.

 We are heading toward the put-in tomorrow and will supposedly start paddling Saturday.

Love you man!

Kayakers in Manaus! Now for the Final Leg of the Journey


It’s a big sky here on the Amazon, and usually very interesting clouds.


Well now I’ve done it.  I have thoroughly embarrassed myself on the blog.  My blog posts are rife with spelling errors and my most recent English Language transgression is that I confused the word “boarder” with “border.”   Thankfully Midge was able to harness the stars (well the satellites at least) and fix my errors with his BGAN terminal after only 2 weeks of them being online…

Team Kayak the Amazon leaving Peru behind on October 14th.

Team Kayak the Amazon leaving Peru behind on October 14th.

Luckily, I’ve never let a little embarrassment slow me down.

For you few readers out there, I do have 3 excuses for my mistakes which will hopefully render them forgiveable in your minds.  They are as follows:
1.)  The spell check function of Word Press does not work on the Spanish and Portuguese speaking computers I am using here along the Amazon.  This, sadly, is exposing to the world (or at least to the 5 people who actually read  the blog) my pathetic spelling prowess.

Plants will grow anywhere in the Amazon Basin.  I wonder if this little guy will make it to the Atlantic with us?

Plants will grow anywhere in the Amazon Basin. I wonder if this little guy will make it to the Atlantic with us?

Many of you computer gurus out there might say, “why don’t you copy and paste your blog into Microsoft Word (or write the bog in Word and copy to Word Press afterwards), which will then recognize that I am writing in English and I can spell check from there.”  Well for all you people, see excuse #2.
2.). Amazonian Internet cafes are places that I would like to spend the least amount of time possible–and yes, even seconds matter here.  They are all terribly, hot, crowded and loud.  Typically they are have both computers and phone booths.  Most Peruvians and Brazilians, it seems, like to stand outside the phone booth and yell as loudly as possible into their end of the phone receiver.  So, this excuse makes both the Word spell check not plausible and it means that, irregardless of any spelling errors, typos, and any other bad form of writing that I may make, I just “can’t be bothered” and want to get the f outta there ASAP.
The sun shines on Midge even when it's raining...

The sun shines on Midge even when it’s raining…

3.). I am just a big dumby–as evidenced by my decision-making process which lead me to be here doing, and blogging about, this trip to begin with…
Yet, having laid out all my very legitimate excuses, I still do want to offer my most sincere apologies.  In the past, I have been intolerant of other people’s similar mistakes in their websites, blogs, and even emails.  And now, I realize that I have been being too hard on the world at large, for surely each and every one of these mistake-makers must have valid excuses of their own.  So I thank the Amazon for helping me to see the error in my hypocritical ways and for teaching me to be more tolerant.
Now, onto an update (and just for consistency’s sake, I am not going to spel chek this blog either):

We have made another major milestone in our trip—Manaus!

Little Anaconda that Edgine found swimming around the Perolita.  Don't worry, no snakes were harmed in the production of this blog

Little Anaconda that Edgine found swimming around the Perolita. Don’t worry, no snakes were harmed in the production of this blog

We made it to the confluence of the Rio Solimoes (what Brazilians call the Amazon) and the Rio Negro on November 6th a little after 6pm, just as it was getting really dark.  We could not see the black water of the Rio Negro from our kayaks because it was so dark, but once we loaded onto the Perolita and added a little height to our perspective, we could very clearly see the brown versus black line in the waters, even at total darkness.  It was very impressive and the Rio Negro is HUGE.  We are looking forward to seeing it in the daylight on Monday when we hope to start the final leg to the sea.
Our arrival to the Perolita was a little tumultuous.  It was great because there was a big storm approaching and so we got really nice sunset colors and the pink dolphins were very active just before dark.  But then it started raining like crazy and got very windy.  Because of a shallow sand bar, we had to land on the Perolita out “at sea” (obiously not really at sea, but it felt that way because the 2 rivers are so big and the line between them so rowdy).  There were huge waves, rain and wind which made the whole process a little tricky.  I almost lost a Croc—yes, Crocs are my Amazon footware of choice–but luckily it was recovered!

Mark Twain might of enjoyed certain aspects of the "River Life" here on the Amazon.

Mark Twain might of enjoyed certain aspects of the “River Life” here on the Amazon.

That was day 103 of our trip.  We plan to spend 4 days in Manaus.  If we can pull it off logistically, we hope to leave Manaus on Monday, Nov. 11th and then will have about 30-35 days left to the ocean.  So, the goal is actually within sight now!

We hope that our departure from Manaus will be a little bit smoother than our departure from Tabatinga was.


Actually, we left Tabatinga with no real issues on October 14th.  It took a while for the paperwork to be finished and for the Federal Police to come search our boat, but at 5pm they told us we could start paddling, and so off we went.  The late start was fine with me as I was still recovering from a very violent stomach illness.  We only got in about 1 hour of paddling before it got dark; but still we were happy to be on our way again.   But alas, we woke up the next morning to find out that the Marines had missed one piece of paper and that we had to motor back up to the border to complete our “departure papers.”

"Retrieve floating fish" was a very important objective this day...

“Retrieve floating fish” was a very important objective this day…

So, off we go, motoring back to Tabatinga.  Amazingly, even though we were in a hurry to get this done, about 20 minutes into the journey back upstream, the Perolita cut its engines and the launch (skiff) zoomed off behind us.  Originally we thought maybe something fell off the Perolita, but oh were we ever mistaken!  Edgine came back after about 5 minutes with a comparatively small fish (maybe 10 inches long).  When we asked him what he was doing he said, “I saw this fish and had to go get it!”  When I asked how it saw it, if it was caught in a net or something he replied, “Oh no, it was floating belly up.”  When Don asked if it wasn’t bad to eat fish that had died of some unknown cause, he said, “look it’s not dead” showing us it still moved a little bit, and then added, “and I’m going to give it to my friend when we get back to Tabatinga.”  What can one say to that?  Hence the updated whiteboard.  And if you want to know, I did successfully NOT puke this day.

A little friend who rode with me for a while one day.

A little friend who rode with me for a while one day.

Yet, despite all the oddities, for a trip of this magnitude, things are going surprisingly smoothly.  We are making pretty good progress these days and, still, at least one interesting thing happens every day!  Some examples of “interesting things” are:  Dragon fly passengers on our kayaks or clothing, more exciting dolphin sightings, seeing a new and very impractical kind of motor boat where they have a hole in the middle of the dougout canoe in which they set a motor (think a lawn mower moter) that propels the boat and then a “steerer” sits in the front with a wooden paddle and acts as a human rudder.  It’s the little things that keep us going!

The evening colors are always amazing here on the Amazon

The evening colors are always amazing here on the Amazon

When I am a feeling bored or grumpy I am sometimes tempted to write in my trip journel “nothing notable happened today.”  But each time I try to write this, I remember something of note that did happen.  So, in 103 days, I still have not made this journel entry.  Let’s hope I can make it to the ocean without writing that phrase.

Once we leave Manaus we will find some new challenges.  The wind has steadily incresed over our last week of paddling which means there are bigger and bigger waves in the river.  So far, they haven’t been difficult to kayak in (expect that they do slow us down a bit) but they do splash over our spray skirt tunnels and cause us to have to sponge out much more often.

This was our last camp before entering Brazil.  The kids were great, and we gave them a run for their money both at futbol and volley this night.  Don only pushed one or two over...

This was our last camp before entering Brazil. The kids were great, and we gave them a run for their money both at futbol and volley this night. Don only pushed one or two over…

Soon we will start feeling the effects of the tides as well.  Hopefully we can paddle through the incoming tide at first, but eventually we will have to start waiting out the incoming tide and paddling only during the outgoing tide.

The river is getting so big that it is becoming a major undertaking to go to shore each night for camp.  Just to give you an idea of how big it is, last week we were paddling about 100 feet from the right bank when the Perolita discovered that the right channel was too shallow for them and that we would have to cross all the way over to the far left channel.  The ferry to the left channel took us 45 minutes!

Daily fish delivery

Daily fish delivery

But I’m sure that with every kilometer that we paddle our excitment about hitting the ocean will only grow and our new found trials won’t bother us much!

I don’t think we will get internet again until landing in Belem hopefully AFTER we have drank salt water out of the Atlantic Ocean.  So until then, follow our Spot Tracks and wish us luck!


Bird's eye view of the Manaus Opera House

Bird’s eye view of the Manaus Opera House

Oh, and PS, Rachel–Midge’s better half–was here visiting us from London–thanks for bringing us gloves Rachel!  Thanks for your contribution to all of us not losing our fingernails!  While she was in Manaus we did a little sightseeing.  We took a tour of the Opera House–Teatro Amazonas–and then got a bird’s eye view of it from the “girating” bar (rotating bar) on the top floor of the Taj Majal Hotel (yes, we are in Brazil, not India, and I have no idea about the name, but their spinning bar is cool).  And my personal favorite of the day was that our tour ended with the model of the Opera House built out of LEGOs.  Classy!

Lego model of the world famous Opera House

Lego model of the world famous Opera House


Made it to the Border!

Amazonian Internet cafes have successfully killed my will to write long, verbose blogs and run on sentences. So I’m limiting this blog to a few bullet points and a bird list.

• We made it to the Brasil! Don now pauses frequently to scan the banks for the famed g-string clad Brasilian beauty. So far, he hasn’t spotted one, but I will update this status once we get to Manaus.

• The river dolphins continue to evade our photographic efforts, although we still see them frequently.

• A few days before arriving at the Brasil/Peru/Colombia border, we hit the confluence with the Rio Napo. For those of you who are a little rusty on your Amazon Basin geography, the Napo comes from Ecuador. Every river on the Eastern Slope of the Andes that Don and I used to guide on in Ecuador flows into the Napo, so it was special for us to see the terminus. We also particularly enjoyed the Napo because it had very good flow and help to carry us downriver.

• Peruvian bird list for all you bird nerds out there. The birds are listed in no particular order.

Neotropic cormorant
Great egret
Striated heron
Fasciated tiger heron
Jabiru (stork)
Roseate spoonbill
Andean swift
Swallow tailed kite
Horned screamer
Andean goose
Andean condor
Black vulture
Turkey vulture
Black collared hawk
Black chested buzzard eagle
Spix’s guan
Salvin’s curassow
Chilean flamingo
Common nighthawk
White throated toucan
Lots of terns…just not sure which ones
Torrent duck
Cattle egret
Snowy egret
Black crowned night heron
Puna ibis
Yellow headed caracara
Red throated caracara
Collared plover
Sandpipers–not sure which ones
Blue and yellow macaw
Blue headed macaw
White eyed parakeet
Parrots and parrotlets–tons of them, but very hard to identify which ones
Greater ani
Swifts–not sure which ones
Ringed kingfisher
Aracaris…again, not sure which ones
Emerald toucanet
Andean coot
Green jay (aka inca jay)
Crested oropendola
Yellow rumped cacique
Martins. Lots! Don’t know which
White-capped dipper

Ok, that is it until we hit Manaus. Bye bye Peru, viva Brasil!

Kayak the Amazon in Photos


The team at the source of the Amazon back on July 28th. High altitude and cold weather!

As many of you have noted, and pointed out to me, we have really sucked at updating our blog especially with photos.  The internet in the upper reaches of the Amazon hasn’t been all we had hoped for.  But I have a bit of time and good internet on my hands, so here is a photo tour of our last 65 days.  Enjoy!  We probably won’t be able to update again until Manaus which will be in a month or so.



Don and Midge on Lago Acucocha. We paddled across this lake and then hiked up the valley behind it to reach to source of the Amazon.




The kayaking was intermittent the first few days. Sometimes we could float down the narrow river bed or through irrigation canals, but other times we took to walking.

It was really cold back then, but we definitely do NOT have that problem now.  The outdoor thermometer in Iquitos read 45 degrees celcius when we arrived.

It was really cold back then, but we definitely do NOT have that problem now. The outdoor thermometer in Iquitos read 45 degrees celcius when we arrived.

enjoying a sunny evening before the sun sets and temps plummet.

enjoying a sunny evening before the sun sets and temps plummet.


Midge getting some whitewater (brownwater) early on.  We are on the Rio San Juan here near the San Juan Mine.

Midge getting some whitewater (brownwater) early on. We are on the Rio San Juan here near the San Juan Mine.

D and D camping in the highlands--yep, still cold up here!  This is just below the Upamayo dam

D and D camping in the highlands–yep, still cold up here! This is just below the Upamayo dam

Ah, finally some whitewater and canyons!  This is the first section of serious whitewater below Huancayo.

Ah, finally some whitewater and canyons! This is the first section of serious whitewater below Huancayo.

Tablachaca dam, safety first.

Tablachaca dam, safety first.

Being a team of 3, we didn't get any real whitewater shots (safety reasons) so you'll have to wait for GOPRO footage on that one.  But here is Don in a calm, but impressive (geologically speaking) canyon.

Being a team of 3, we didn’t get any real whitewater shots (safety reasons) so you’ll have to wait for GOPRO footage on that one. But here is Don in a calm, but impressive (geologically speaking) canyon.

Don and Midge with some more nice scenery.  This is approaching the Sala De Machinas of Tablachaca dam

Don and Midge with some more nice scenery. This is approaching the Sala De Machinas of Tablachaca dam

This cow was VERY unhappy to cross this bridge.  I can't blame her, I didn't want to cross it either!

This cow was VERY unhappy to cross this bridge. I can’t blame her, I didn’t want to cross it either!

As we passed a huge mine between Tablachaca Sala De Machinas and the new dam going in on the Mantaro, we were flagged down and told to stop.  The mining engineers drove down in their Hilux trucks and brought us water and presents--we are showing off the presents here--hats and scarves.  EXTREMELY thoughtful of them, but not so useful as we had already gotten into catus land and hot temps.  But here we are showing off our wares.

As we passed a huge mine between Tablachaca Sala De Machinas and the new dam going in on the Mantaro, we were flagged down and told to stop. The mining engineers drove down in their Hilux trucks and brought us water and presents–we are showing off the presents here–hats and scarves. EXTREMELY thoughtful of them, but not so useful as we had already gotten into catus land and hot temps. But here we are showing off our wares. They will be very useful when we returned to the northern hemisphere in the middle of winter!

Great camping spots in the canyons of the Mantaro.

Great camping spots in the canyons of the Mantaro.

Another whitewater shot.  This section we named the "crucible."  It was full of CA-style granite and made for some great whitewater.

Another whitewater shot. This section we named the “crucible.” It was full of CA-style granite and made for some great whitewater.

Malpaso dam, this portage was a bit tricky but we successfully navigated the concertina wire with only one puncture wound (to Darcy's hand)

Malpaso dam, this portage was a bit tricky but we successfully navigated the concertina wire with only one puncture wound (to Darcy’s hand)

Not too far downstream of Hunacayo, we stopped for a little side diversion to do what we think was a 1st descent of this little gem.  Reminds me of Havasu in the Grand Canyon!

Not too far downstream of Hunacayo, we stopped for a little side diversion to do what we think was a 1st descent of this little gem. Reminds me of Havasu in the Grand Canyon!

What are the odds, kayak and kayak...

What are the odds, kayak and kayak…

But sadly, all good whitewater comes to an end and we traded our whitewater boats for these giant flat water kayaks.  You can imagine what a circus we were in Puerto Ene

But sadly, all good whitewater comes to an end and we traded our whitewater boats for these giant flat water kayaks. You can imagine what a circus we were in Puerto Ene

Ah flatwater, get used to it!

Ah flatwater, get used to it!

David keeping himself safe in the Red Zone (no one would mess with a dude drinking beer and wearing those pants)!

David keeping himself safe in the Red Zone (no one would mess with a dude drinking beer and wearing those pants)!

It's still darn pretty here on the flatwater, and the guys with guns seem quite nice!

It’s still darn pretty here on the flatwater, and the guys with guns seem quite nice! And yes, I am wearing pink crocs.

ah, luxurious lodging in Puerto Prado--end of the Ene River and start of the Tambo River

ah, luxurious lodging in Puerto Prado–end of the Ene River and start of the Tambo River

The big Amazonian sky, just below the confluence of Ucayali and Maranon Rivers, now we are on the Amazon baby!

The big Amazonian sky, just below the confluence of Ucayali and Maranon Rivers, now we are on the Amazon baby!

River Kids

River Kids

Favored mode of transport down here.

Favored mode of transport down here.

No, no, Don wasn't going to the tanning booth just for his fingers...12 hours per day in the sun plus doxycyline is NOT a good combination!

No, no, Don wasn’t going to the tanning booth just for his fingers…12 hours per day in the sun plus doxycyline is NOT a good combination!

David enjoying life on the Perolita!

David enjoying life on the Perolita!

Francisco, Perolita captain, adjusting to life with the gringos...

Francisco, Perolita captain, adjusting to life with the gringos…



Our navy escort!  The big boat didn't come with us on a daily basis, but we did get to tour it and it's amazing!

Our navy escort! The big boat didn’t come with us on a daily basis, but we did get to tour it and it’s amazing!

Floating houses make sense down here where the water level will raise and fall more than 10 meters each year.

Floating houses make sense down here where the water level will raise and fall more than 10 meters each year.

Don Mauro repairing the Perolita's fishing net.  The boys are getting a lot of fresh fish on this trip, way to eat locally!

Don Mauro repairing the Perolita’s fishing net. The boys are getting a lot of fresh fish on this trip, way to eat locally!

Lots of great clouds down here.

Lots of great clouds down here.

Well, that's it for now.  We hope you enjoyed the photos.  More to come someday...

Well, that’s it for now. We hope you enjoyed the photos. More to come someday…

Perolita-less in Pucallpa


Day 37, September 3rd, we have completed phase 2 of the trip–the Red Zone is over (more or less)!
After a big push yesterday–12 hours paddling and getting in after dark–we made it to Pucallpa!  For days now (or weeks really) we have been anticipating our arrival here because it means we get on our support boat–the Perolita!  This means no more camping in the sand, pooping with the sand flies, eating dehydrated meals, etc…it means being delivered to a relative lap of luxury…
But alas, as we arrived last night, we found out that the Perolita is not here.  They are actually quite a ways downstream and are not coming up because they are worried about security.  Not exactly the news we were hoping for as we pulled into the big city.  This is also bad news for Cesar because it means he is stuck with us for probably another week!
But, you probably aren’t reading this to listen to me whine, so on with an update.
We have had a navy escort for the past 4 days and they are coming with us for 3-5 more days below Pucallpa.  The Peruvian Navy has been amazing.  We are all astonished, and incredibly grateful, that they are willing to commit their time and resources to our expedition.  We have been with Lieutenant Caceda and a team of 16 marines the last 4 days and they are a great bunch of guys!
 It is very nice to have them with us as it has definitely lessoned my level of paranoia!  I can sleep much better at night now that I don’t have to wake up at each noise and worry that the “bad guys” are coming.
I do think 1 or 2 guards got a little more than they bargined for though.   Each night 4 marines have to stand watch.   On our last night above Pucallpa, the guards were especially attentive.  I got out of the tent to pee in the middle of the night and gaurd with a big gun came over and shined his big and very bright flashlight in my face while I was peeing and asked if everything was ok.  A bit embarrassed and at a loss for words, I said “um, yes, all good, just peeing!”
Now, onto the dolphins, they are the one good thing about the flatwater:-)  We have seen them everyday since Atalaya.  There are pink dolphins which really are pink!  And they are big and a bit ungainly looking.  Their dorsel fin is flat topped, not pointed like a normal dolphin.  More common are the grey dolphins which look like very small ocean dolphins.  There are lots of these and they are constantly jumping around.
Everytime we see the pink dolphins I think back to Joe Kane’s description of the dolphins’ farting noises in his book Running the Amazon.  At first we thought that Joe Kane must have an odd diet because clearly he did NOT know what a normal fart sounded like!  Then we realized we were hearing the grey dolphins, and when we finally did hear the pink dolphins surface and breath, we were very relieved to know that Joe can indeed properly identify a fart noise!
In other wildlife, we see storks all the time now.   We also see parrots all day everyday.    The bugs haven’t been too horrible.  There is a mosquito hour each evening and morning but other than that, they aren’t too bad.  We still have no see ums but not nearly as much as we had higher up.
On the climate, it is hotter than crap now.  After our 3 days of rain upstream of Atalaya, we have had nothing but cloudless skies.  We are all taking doxicycline for malaria which makes you more sensitive to the sun and we are in the sun 12+ hours a day and it isn’t exactly working out so well.  We all have red noses and the worst is our hands are all messed up.  Even though we have back of the hand protection (sun paws), our fingers are frying!  I am now paddling in my pogies (mittens for cold weather kayaking), Midge is paddling with socks on his hands, and Don is toughing it out but his fingers have turned a very weird red/yellow color.  It litterally looks like he put “fake tan” cream on the top half of all his fingers.
So, do the rain dance would you?
On culture, last night when we arrived to Pucallpa, Midge and I were guarding the kayaks while Don got the hotel.  We never had fewer than 30 people standing in a circle around us staring at the kayaks and at us.  It is quite funny that most people won’t talk to us, they just want to stare at us and the kayaks.  A few people talked to us and that was nicer/less awkward!  The most common question is “where is the motor?”  I also don’t think many of them believe us when our answer to their question of  “where are you going” is “the Atlantic Ocean.”

Long Over Due Update

It has been nearly 3 weeks since our last blog post.  Internet access and time have been sparse as we have paddled the last 30 days in a row!

We are in Atalya now and, while we do have internet, it is not good enough for photo updates.

But here is a bit of an update from the past week.  I realize there is a big gap which we will have to fill in later…

This is taken from emails we have sent to our friends and family who have been wondering if we are still alive.

Enjoy!  Next update will be in about 7 days from Pucallpa.  Please excuse all spelling errors as there is no English spell check on this computer and I suck at spelling.


We have made it to Atalaya–yeah!   This means we have completed Phase 1 of the trip–The Whitewater.

We have also completed the Rio Ene y Rio Tambo.  Left in our phase 2 (Red Zone) is the Rio Ucayali, which will probably take us 7 more da

SO FAR, our experience of the red zone has been quite pleasant.  Most
people were very friendly and once they saw that we had all our
paperwork in order–permission letter from Ministry of Tourism and
permission letters from the Indigenous groups of the Rio Ene and Rio
Tambo–they were quite happy to have us there and pass.

We had a couple of weird things happen like a group of Asheninka
Indians were calling us over by waving at us from a far away bank.  As
it was not an official check point and we weren’t 100% sure if they
were calling us or waving at us we did not stop promptly.   After our
motorized canoe told us to stop we did.  The Asheninkas were a little
bit drunk and yelled at our guide Cesar for not radioing ahead to
tell them we were coming.  Then, very nicely, they proceeded to
appologize to us for being angry but explained that we had to
understand that they had to control the area because there have been
problems in the past with childern disapearing and gringos stealing
their organs…so, it turns out these myths really do exist down here!
Then they made Cesar do 50 push ups on the beach as his punishment
for not calling ahead.

The most logical explanation for how these stories about people
stealing their children and their children’s organs we have heard is
that often children will go swimming and end up drowning (aka
dissapearing).  They say there is a “parasitic catfish” in the rivers
up here that eats its prey from the inside out.  So the kids drown,
the catfish eat them (from the insides) and then people find them days
later dead with all their insides missing.  I am not sure if this is
true either, but it is the best explanation we have heard…

Today as we were approaching Atalya someone yelled from shore “oye,
pela cara” (hey, peeled face) at us.  But other than these 2 things,
everyone has been extremely nice and helpful to us.  Let’s just hope
that this luck continues!

Today was our 30th day in a row of paddling.  We are all feeling a
little wee bit tired, and so are taking a rest day tomorrow.  So
please do NOT be alarmed when you don’t see any movement on the

We have seen nice scenery so far and are well into the jungle now.
But it took a while, 95% of the Mantaro was desert and catus was the
dominant plant.  From the confluence with the Apurimac, up until
yesterday the rainforest looked more like New England…we were in a
part that people call the dry forest (I think) and when it is the dry
season–such as it is now–many of the trees lose their leaves.  There
were places where 75% of a hillside was trees with no leaves.

But now we are into the “normal” rainforest as we know it.   And, even
though it is the dry season, it has been raining for 3 days straight!

We have seen the following:
Andean Deer
Another Deer that looked much like a N. American deer but darker brown/grey
Andean Fox
Water Dog–an oversized otter than can swim but prefers shore
A real Otter

Cesar, our guide for the red zone, saw a Capybara, but we did not:-(

We have seen more parakeets than I can count, tons of macaws, tiger
herons, regular herons, eagles, hawks, osprey, cormorants and lots of
other birds we can not identify.

We have seen 2 billion ankle biters, but very few mosquitos so far.

In a response to this email, I also generated DAY TO DAY LIVING:

I have had a request for information on how our day to day living is…so here you go:
Wake up around 5am.  We have found that pooping before daylight is definitely the best way to go.  If we are in a remote area, the pre-dawn poop helps stave off the bugs.  Once it is light, the no–see–ums come out in force and you can only guess what that means if you have no pants on…
And if we are in a village, it means we can do our thing before there are too many people around.   This one is a bit more complicated because a motorized canoe seems to arrive at any town at 5am.  So we either have to go at 4:45am or 5:15am.
Then we proceed to heat water with our jet boils, put hot water in our dehydrated meals, make coffee, and then pack up camp while we wait for our food to rehydrate.   If you are wondering, this is day 31 of eating 2 dehydrated meals per day plus Cliff bars to supplement and YES, we are very sick of the dehydrated meals.  Especially those of us who only have 5 vegan flavors to choose from.  Supplemental food from villages has been tough.  I litterally do a little jig of joy if I can find plain potato chips which has been exactly twice in the last 14 days.
Due to this Amazon diet, we have all lost a bit of weight.  I made the BIG mistake of having an oversized wardrobe to begin with.  Due to the fact that I do not like “women’s cut” in clothing, I bought men’s pants for the trip.  Problem was, 30 was the smallest size they had.  30 was ok at the beginning of the trip but definitely is not now.  With my big pants, cinched belt, button up shirt, and haircut, Don says I look like a 15 year old boy trying to enlist in the army for WWII.
Sorry for the digression.
Next, we pack up our kayaks, put on our wet kayaking clothes and hit the river.  This has been normally happening between 7am and 8am.
Then we paddle.
We have now been on the flatwater for 6 days.   Our days of paddling consisit of a bit of talking, a bit of listening to music and books on tape, a bit of looking at the scenery, and looking at/waving at the locals.  Most interesting are our hourly GPS checks where we see how far we have gone and how much futher we have to go.  We also socialize for about 2 minutes and then get back to our business.  We also stop every 2-3 hours to stretch our legs, go pee, and complain about how uncomfortable the sea kayaks are.
Once on shore for the night we do a variety of things.  If we are camping without a village nearby, we unload the motorized canoe of things we need for the night, start cooking (yep, another dehydrated meal), have a bit of rum, do a bit of arguing and then go to bed.  It is a late night for us if we are awake until 7:30pm!
If we are in/near a village, we talk with the local guys for a bit while they check our paperwork, etc…then we go to town, meet the chief and anyone else who needs to meet us.  They we go to a store and buy what they might have to sell–crackers, beer, water….
We have had some very nice interactions with the people in this zone.  Especially in Poyeni, that was a great town with super nice people.
Then we go back to wherever they have allowed to camp, make said dehydrated meal, eat and go to sleep.
So, it is somewhat of a mundane and unwaivering existance.  Yet, contrary to this statement, each day has been unique (that’s very unique to you Midge)!
I can’t speak for the boys, .but I have very happy to be here, dispite my new found hatred for dehydrated meals!

Making Our Way Down the Amazon

Photos and a more thorough update will follow when we get to some descent internet, but here is a quick account of our last 4 days:

After paddling across Lago Acucocha we hiked to the source

After paddling across Lago Acucocha we hiked to the source

July 28th Don, Darcy, Midge made it to the source of the Amazon!  It is a beautiful place, and we all feel lucky to have made it this far.  We saw flamingos on the drive to Lago Acocacha (which we paddled across to reach the source) and saw a Condor on our paddle across the lake.  On top of this, there have been amazing wet land birds many species of which are new to us.

July 29th We started our morning with van troubles and so got a very late start on the river.  Luckily, the locals in a nearby town were more than happy to help and after a couple of hours they got us on our way.  Partly because of our late start, and partly because of the slow going that is “kayaking” the Amazon near the source, we did not make our car camp destination.  We thought this might happen and were sure to bring our bivy gear; but it was a chilly night nonetheless.

July 30th We all slept reasonably well considering but the morning was certainly a test of our committment!  Our kayaking socks and booties were so frozen that we literally could NOT get them on.   After trying to snuggle with our shoes in our bivy bags, sitting on them, spooning with them, and eventually dipping them in the river to get them pliable, we got the shoes on and set out again.  West was kind enough to walk the 3 miles upstream from the car camp to bring us water and boost our morale.  We made it to the van mid morning, had lunch and then set out again.  There was very little kayaking to speak of today, but lots of dragging the boats.

July 31st Spent most of the day carrying and dragging our kayaks along the Rio Gashon.  In the afternoon, we hit the Rio San Juan and were able to paddle a little bit.  Just enough to remind us that, “ah yes, we are here to go kayaking!”

We can not wait to get to some HOT weather.  It is rather cold up here near the soure of the Amazon!

Rio Amazonas here we come.

A Word From Darcy

For more than a decade, I’ve been guiding people down numerous tributaries of the Amazon; but I never imagined that I’d someday have the fortune (or misfortune depending on your perspective)  of kayaking the ENTIRE length of the mighty river.

darcy profile

Darcy doing a little cross training

After 11 years (Darcy) and 17 years (Don) of kayak guiding in Ecuador for Small World Adventures, we are leaving “reality” behind and setting off on a new adventure.

Having recently sold SWA and freed ourselves up for an undetermined amount of time, Don and I decided to join Midge on his long-time dream of paddling the Amazon River from its source in Peru to the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil.

We met Midge in 2007 as an SWA client.  He was preparing (physically) to be able to paddle the whitewater portion of the Amazon and found Ecuador to be the perfect training ground and Don to be the perfect trainer.  Six years and a few hundred gin and tonics later, Don and Darcy are committed to suffering with Midge through 4,200 miles (6,759 Km) of some of the planet’s least understood areas.   To be sure, it will be the adventure of a lifetime for all of us, and we are excited that Midge is letting us on in his dream!

A little background on Darcy:

dg fantasy falls

Darcy doing a little kayaking in California–“training” for Amazon. But then again, it’s all training isn’t it?

My somewhat unconventional life had an implausible beginning.  I grew up in Aspen, Colorado and throughout my high school years I was certain that the Roaring Fork Valley had all I needed.  Nothing beyond the Colorado River in Glenwood Springs had any appeal to me.  I was content to never leave.  I had life all planned out.  I would graduate high school, become a ski patroller at Aspen Highlands like my Dad and call it good.  I only wanted to live to the age of 30 as I figured life just wouldn’t be worth it after that (I take it back, I take it back)!

But then my “cruel and intolerant” parents impressed upon me that I had to go to college.  I’m not sure why I finally gave in to their arguments, but I eventually did

So off I went to Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY to play volleyball.  Yes I’m really short and yes I was an outside hitter—a pretty good one too, setting a few records here and there.  But I quickly got tired of the “Skidmore Grind,” which meant studying until midnight every night and then partying after that.  This schedule left little time for the things I really enjoyed doing.

At that point in my life, I wanted to ski!   After the volleyball season of my sophomore year, I transferred to Montana State University so that I could be a mere 16 miles from Bridger Bowl Ski area.  It was a good move, I got to ski 5 days a week!

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Don engaging in his favorite type of cross-training

It was during these years that I was slowly learning that there was life beyond Aspen.  Although I returned each summer to my job as a raft guide at Colorado Riff Raft and later Aspen Whitewater Rafting, I was gaining appreciation for the larger United States.

Then my friend Adam asked me if I wanted to skip fall semester and go to Nepal to go kayaking.  This was 1998 and I had only recently begun kayaking, but for some reason this struck me as an opportunity that I shouldn’t pass up.  Although I had very few kayaking skills, I did have a bomber combat roll, so I figured I’d be fine.

I remember getting out of the taxi from the airport in front of my $1.50 per night hotel in the middle of Katmandu and watching 3 guys slaughter a goat on the dirty streets.  I thought to myself—“geeze, I sure am glad I’m a vegetarian!”

It was my first time out of North America.  I was 20 years old, and that trip definitely helped shape and direct my life up to this point of departure for the Amazon River. 

Fast forward to 2013 and I still haven’t become a ski patroller at Aspen Highlands—there is still time for that I reckon.  But I have kayaked over 250 rivers in 11 different countries, had a wonderful career at Small World Adventures, and now am setting off on a rather long kayaking journey down the Amazon.

About the Trip:

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Don doing what he does best

Don, Midge and I plan to paddle from the Mantaro River in Peru (recently discovered by Rocky Contos to be the new source of the Amazon) all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.  The source is defined as the longest tributary of the Amazon River.  In 2012, Rocky determined that the Mantaro River was, indeed, 50 miles longer than the Apurimac which was long accepted as the source of the Amazon.  The trip should take 5 months, give or take a month, and will include all sorts of imagined and unimagined adventures!

We fly to Lima, Peru on July 21st and will spend a few days making sure all the “last minute details” are in order—Jetboil fuel purchasing, visa arranging, transportation fixing, and probably eating a few last descent meals before our tenure of dehydrated food starts.  Then we will put on the river!  Hopefully this will happen about 1 week after we arrive in Peru.  It will take a bit of time to locate the actual “source” which is reported to be a small puddle up in the highlands.  For the next month or so we’ll be enjoying the whitewater of the Mantaro River.   Once we hit the confluence of the Mantaro and Apurimac (old source of the Amazon) we’ll switch to sea kayaks and make ourselves comfortable because we’ll be in these boats for the next 3-4 months.

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The Master Mind behind it all!


Trip details confirmed so far:

–Plane tickets purchased—fly to Lima on the 21st of July

–Perolita booked—this will be our support boat from Pucallpa, Peru to the Atlantic Ocean!  Matt at Rainforest Cruises set up the Perolita for us and we are grateful for all of his help and patience!

–Snap Dragon spray skirts arrived

–Sea kayaks are more or less en route to Peru

–Sea kayak paddles arrived

–Whitewater boats (well most of them) are in hand and ready to load on our United Airlines flight—thanks United for accepting kayaks as luggage

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Midgley practicing on a “lessor” Amazon tributary, the Rio Jondachi in Ecuador

–Spots are up and running, you can follow Darcy, Don, and Midge.

We are all busy trying to pull together the rest of the logistics for the trip.  There is a lot of planning that goes into a trip this long!  But things are all coming together quickly now!

We plan to take photos and video along the way and will post them whenever we get the opportunity.