By Kate Hagstrom
(From left) President of Loreto Ivan Vasquez, Norma Cordova Director of Tourism and Mike Collis
The first place trophy that we had made up in honor of my very good friend John Henry Mack (Montana John, who lived in Iquitos, and won the 2006 race with Dale Baskins and died shortly after in 2007), was to be the first place trophy for the International Mixed Team, then forgetting to pack it and leaving it on my dining room table in Canada. Sheesh...
We arrived in Iquitos 2 days before the race and stayed at a great hotel Amazon apart with a lovely swimming pool and great food.
Our first stop was Dawn on the Amazon Cafe run by Bill Grimes and his wife Marmelita. I had heard that Bill knew my friend John and was tickled to meet up with him and others who knew Montana John. I loved hearing the stories from the people that frequent Dawn on the Amazon, Mike Collis, Adrain Keatings (herbtologist and snake whisperer) the two Kevin’s and many other delightful people. By the way...if you are ever to head to Iquitos Bill has rooms to rent by the month and the food and bevvies at the restaurant are delicious. Small portions was the only draw back, because the food was extra good I really wanted more of it! Bill’s guacamole and lemonades are something I will crave forever!!! My husband could not get enough of the Mango Chicken Sandwiches and our friend Karen being a vegetarian was really pleased with the extensive menu! We would meet up with people in the day time and have evening drinks with our new friends, we felt safe and at home. Bill even called the money changers that came and changed our american dollars to soles. Martin Green met us and became a great tour guide who took us through the Belen Market, rented a boat to see how the Belen people live and when I had my camera stolen and lost all my pictures, told me he would send me pictures that he had taken! Thanks Martin!
Our team consisted of myself, Kate Hagstrom 52, Martin Dennis 54, Karen Hnatiuk 45 all from Canada and Murielo (Katoo) Reis 47 of Brazil, whom I met on facebook and told him that we were gonna win and he should join us. I can only imagine the shock on his face when we met in person at his green track hostel. We do not look like winners!
The first evening of raft events started in Iquitos in a small square where we had a meeting with government officials and speeches for all the rafters, many cusquena beers and dancing and singing. There was lots of press at the square taking photos and videos and me yelling my Zena warrior princess call (got me lots of attention!!!) telling the camera crews that we were in it to win it! We were going to be first and just being cheeky. Then I looked around the square and checking out our competition...I wasn’t so cocky...beside us sat 4 big burly young men dressed in the Cambridge University black and golds...telling us they just won gold in the rowing competions at the olympics or something like that...oh oh, me and my big mouth!
We were going to get squashed.
Young Peace Corp men and women were everywhere.
Young, in shape and ready for adventure...crap again, me and my big mouth!!!
That night I went to bed and wondered to myself “What did I get us into?”...
Three days and 180km of hell...
Day 1: We were bused to Nauta, about 36 teams of 4 and people from the support boat and helpers. We were all in great spirits. We reached Nauta and filed from the buses. Some found seats set up under a tent and some of us sat in the full blazing sun searing our heads. Again to more officials and dancing and singing. Mike Collis had me get up and give a speech about my friend John and why we were in the race. After we all dispersed and tried to find a quick lunch before being hauled up on the support boat with all our belongings and extras we had picked up for the race. We got on the boat and Katoo realized that the helpers forgot the rebar on the bus, that was so important for building our raft. He jumped from the boat and was gone! The boat left without our Katoo! Panic...oh crap...lost the rebar and Katoo...we were calmed down and told not to worry, that all would show up, which after an hour Katoo showed up with more rebar and shortly after that more rebar showed up! Ah... We went to a captains meeting and we were told so many different things, my broken spanish picked up maybe every third or fourth word. Karen and Martin mutineed...sit, stand, don’t leave our belongings, leave our belongings, grab the logs, no not those logs, those logs, set up the tent, what do you mean we don’t have toilet paper! Toilet paper where the hell are the toilets??? One man pointed off into the distance...no trees to be seen, just small spindly bushes...oh dear! Nightfall and we were still trying to build the raft. Katoo and Martin trying to chop at the wood with machetes that would just bang off the wood, it was so hard. Finally someone came up with a chainsaw and all was better. A hand drill to drill through the wood and much hammering in the rebar, foot rests and some small squares of foam and that would be our home for the next three days. The drinking water ran out and we were dehydrated and cranky...Katoo tried to lift our sorry little spirits...hmmm. Hot, sticky, stinky...food came and it was delicious, after the food the bugs came out and into the tent we went.
Next morning we dragged the raft to the river, got our drinking water and breakfast and headed to the start line! After what seemed like eternity and a sighting of my first pink dolphin, we got the green flag and where off! Paddling, digging deep, stretching our bodies...paddle, paddle, paddle. We started a grunt one person at a time would call….whho, whho, whho….minutes…hours…go by and we are digging...dragging...backs begin to break down, minds go blank...I start to count...one to 100, one to 500, by 2′s, by 4's...up, down counting...trying not to think of the blisters that are forming on my hands and breaking open to form huge wounds...can’t stop paddling...rip open a energy bar and stuff it into our mouths...try to open the water bottle, my hands won’t work. Someone help me! Gobble the water...ok now it’s getting hot, really hot. Katoo sprays the dirty Amazon river water all over us...cools us for a moment...paddle...paddle...keep paddling...after 6+ hours we are almost to our first camp...a nice little town with more dancers and drumming and we could see our tents were already up and we landed...oh my...my legs wouldn’t work...cramps...leg and back cramps. I tried to stand and fell back into the water.clawing my way to the bank the water was so swift. After a walk and a beer and much high fiving that we not just made day one, but we came in first for the international teams. We ate and hung out watching the other rafters making it in. We crashed in our tents at about 8 pm.
Up the next morning for breaky about 5 am. Stuffing our food in our tummies and drinking water, lots of water….we got into the raft and watched the green flag...go! Again same as yesterday but this day was to be the most grueling...8+ hours of paddling. Our backs were broken, blisters on our hands, bleeding and bruised, blisters where everywhere! You can’t imagine! The pain...we just couldn’t go on...somehow Katoo or Martin would get us going again and we would power up and do our whho whho whho chant...the news crews would fly by us in power boats and we would keep our heads down and chant...we are a machine...paddle paddle paddle...Katoo gives us hope, just around the point is the finish for the day...ha ha ha...like drunken sailors we believe! Wrong...the point took us forever to get to...hours...then after we finally reach the point the end is nowhere in site. Tamshiyaku...where are you? Paddle paddle paddle...we see what looks like a radio tower, could it be? Could this be the end? We get to Tamshiyaku...I try to get my legs to work...my watershoe gets sucked into the Amazon mud and sinks in...I fall over with so much grace...plop!...into the water...again climbing out like a beaten drown rat...yeah we came in first in the international teams again... We are taken to the school where they have set up tents for some paddlers, we are lucky enough to be placed in school rooms on the cement floor with nothing but a very flat mat (half the thickness of a yoga mat). Thank goodness that we all had taken an old sheet from home. Security was tight as I had already had my carmera stolen the first day and Martin had stopped a man from lifting his wallet from a zippered pouch on his pantleg! We felt safe and content...more food, dancing and singing. I fell onto my mat and I was done. People were not well, many people had taken ill. One girl was really sick and I felt so sorry for her. Nothing we could do... Karen, Martin and Katoo went to the meeting and we were presented with a trophy for coming in first...some beers and they were all asleep quickly.
The next and final day we are up and eating and sucking back the water and find that because we are first inernational we get to start first, but on one explained that to the other rafters, so jockeying for the front no one waited for the flag and we were all off again Soon it was just us and the Peruvian machines...we paddle like hell today...blisters wrapped in climbing tape and gauze taped in places you don’t want to envision...paddle, paddle, paddle. 5 hours goes by, the river gets shallow, the support boat gets stuck on a sand bar, the police boat shoots past us and boom, stuck on a sand bar! We get stuck on a few sand bars...Katoo jumps off and pushes us as we dig our paddles into the sand...off we go again...paddle...up comes the Belgian team with a fresh Peruvian made raft and a Peruvian paddler, gaining on us...pulling up along side us telling us that they don’t want to beat us...but they don’t know that with a fresh new boat and a new substitute paddler they have been docked 2 hours! So on we paddle...one more turn in the river, another...we can now see what Mike Collis has been telling us about...the end of the race is the hardest, the hardest thing you could imagine.
After 3 days of paddling we now paddle against a new current...a strong current. We start to get ready and little dog fish are jumping out of the river, kind of like they are cheering us on...flopping onto the raft, Karen takes a moment to save a few...more yelling from the back. “Karen, paddle in the water, paddle paddle paddle. You can feel the current swelling, we paddle like hell...one inch, one inch, one inch, muscles aching, twitching, breaking...one more inch...we see the Rowing Club in front of us but we aren’t going anywhere, “paddle hard, stretch it out, dig deep, tit’s to yer knees” I yell. Trying to get us all is sync...whho whho whho we all chant in unison...”we’re a machine, paddle hard” we can taste it, we can feel it, we inch forward. People are cheering us on, cameras...it is raining, rain keeps falling and it is getting heavier...we realize that we can’t dock we have to go around the green flag...the rain is in torrents now, the wind is picking up and we only have feet to go! Dig in and paddle we make it to shore...men help me off the raft...someone wants to take us to the hospital...they see our hands...bloody open blisters...but no way! We want pictures with the Cusquena girls!!! I find Martin and give him a kiss, high five Karen and a few tears, no one can see through all the rain and then hugs for Katoo! Paddles in hand we make it up the slippery steep slope and are greeted with beer and the sky opens up and buckets of rain fall...washing all the muck and goo from our spent souls...food is waiting and we gobble it up...we watch for other rafts to come in. So much rain and wind alot of the rafters miss the turn off for Iquitos and keep paddling only to be turned around by fishermen pointing back...the support boat still grounded on a sand bar and only wet clothes to stand around in...shivering like drown rats...we wait for hours to get trophies and hugs and high fives and money! We donated our winnings to Katoo’s Tapiche Ohara’s Reserve! Check it out on the net...and his hostel too! Green track hostel. Yup, I would do it all again in a heart’s beat...if Katoo would come with us! Katoo you are a great soul...we could not have done this without you. You kept us safe and built a great raft, read the river, kept our spirits alive! A really special man. I would also like to finish this post by saying a really, really big thank you to Norma! She did everything possible to make our adventure as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. The Peruvian Government for the food (incredibly yummy and lots of it), lodging, new tents and everything else. Bill Grimes, Mike Collis, Lorne and Martin Green and the wonderful Spainish man that was on the support boat that gave me his roll of tiolet paper and hugs and put iodine on my hands...best adventure of my life! I have probably forgotten alot of what I wanted to post and some of the warm and sweet people that helped...but we will ad more later.
Hugs n love!!!
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