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June 18, 2005

Rio Upano Gorge

The "river of the sacred waterfalls" is hard to get to, but from what we had heard, it was worth the trip. Seldom run, it is a multi day class III and IV trip, partly through a narrow gorge with huge waterfalls.

In Macas, we ran into a local guide who occasionally worked with ROW; it turned out that he also knew of the Chiguaza Canon, though he had not paddled it. Macas was a very pleasant little town, and made an excellent base for final preparations. We even had an oarlock made there, at a machine shop, from scratch.

We put in at the bridge near Macas, on November 7th, at 2pm, with the Overflow Kayak and the cataraft, and the usual audience of a couple dozen local gawkers. 

The first two hours on the river were not very beautiful, but the water was very fast moving (class II) so it was not too boring.

The first night, we camped on the beach and met some of the local wildlife.
Day Two included some class III rapids, many of which were formed by the river hitting canyon walls and making sharp turns.

It was raining, and we had a hard time starting a fire at night. Once we had it going, the fire helped to dry us out a little.

Day three was the day we needed to decide whether we would run the gorge or not -- we passed the last bridge; literally. The rivers flows into the amazon, and there are no more bridges until the water reaches the Atlantic Ocean weeks later.

We decided to go for it -- and minutes later found a small waterfall that was ideal for cleaning ourselves up a little bit. Unfortunately, there were some gigantic ants here, one of which bit Kay.
That pretty much spoiled her day -- it was extremely painful. We later found out that this ant is locally called "Conga", and its sting is "the most painful and debilitating known for any insect". We were lucky Kay did not get a fever.  So what to do? We could not go back, and were right above the gorge; if we waited for a day, and the water level rose, it may become dangerous. Paddling was not an option for Kay that day either. We ended up strapping the kayak onto the cataraft and I rowed both of us through the gorge.

The next two hours were truly spectacular. Dozens of waterfalls reminded us of Yosemite valley, though Kay had a had time appreciating it through the tears streaming nonstop down her face.

The pictures do not do the waterfalls justice, since there is nothing that shows the proportions. Some of the rapids were quite big, definitely class IV and a step up from the Rio Blanco or Toachi. It would have been nice to have had time to explore the aread a little on foot - I'd definitely like to go back.

The last day was a pleasent swiftwater float with still very pretty scenery, although the flooded Rio Zamora coming in from the right was quite brown. We almost missed the last take out before Peru; and ended or trip in Penas.

We carried all the gear up to the road, and enquired about buses. Yes, there was a bus, but it was supposed to have passed already. Hitchhiking was hopeless, but eventualy the bus that was supposed to have passed showed up, loaded with people. They had no problem loading the boats and gear on the roof, in the dark, with everyone waiting. I almost fell off the roof when a strap that I was trying to tighten suddenly broke.

The bus ride was an adventure in itself -- 9 hours for the 120km trip. At one point, all passengers had to get off the bus and walk, while a brave bus driver crossed a very dangerous, narrow, and unstable section on the side of the gorge.  The earth was propped up with bamboo posts and it was quite obvious that there had been a landslide.

Posted by rick at 11:44 AM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2005

Sea Turtles in La Flor

As we were discussing where to go next, the Australian girl, Margot, who we had run into at the last two border crossings, mentioned something about a beach where turtles are going to be laying eggs in the next few days. We decided to go, and it turned out to be a fantastic experience; but at the same time, a sad and frustrating one. La Flor beach is a bit south of San Juan, on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. There is a small, but heavily guarded nature reserve here, and you can camp by the beach. We arrived in the afternoon so there was enough time to get a little tour from one of the nature guides there.

The idea of walking around turtles why they are laying eggs initially made me feel uncomfortable and a bit guilty -- at other turtle beaches, for example in Costa Rica, you are not even supposed to walk on the beach, to avoid compressing the sand. With the small number of visitors here, this did not seem to be a problem (especially compared to the other problems here; see below).
The guide seemed a whole lot less concerned, and proceeded to dig a little hole behind one of the turtles so that we could see her while she was laying eggs.

It was quite interesting; one popped out every few seconds, and we were told they lay about a hundred eggs. The turtles seemed to be in trance during the process; and very tired afterwards. But what do I know about turtle's facial expressions...?

We set up camp right by the beach. One guy decided to sleep on the beach, and was woken up by a turtle covering him in the sand she had to dispose of while digging the hole for the eggs. (The process of digging the holes is quite interesting -- they have specially shaped flippers to allow them to dig).

At night, the process continued. The military was patrolling the beach all night. One of the soldiers bragged about having once eaten 27 eggs in one night. Yes, that's right, one of the soldiers who is supposed to be protecting the turtles from poachers. Some of the turtles had fish attached to them -- must be quite an unpleasant surprise to a fish who was trying to feed on whatever was growing on the turtle, to find itself on land..

Occasionally, we heard gunfire. No idea whether that was for entertainment, or directed at poachers. In the morning, we saw a lot of people digging up the eggs again. Apparently, locals are allowed to take a certain quota, to preserve their lifestyle. However, the way they do that is rather inefficient. They probe the sand with a stick... if it comes up with egg goo stuck to it, they start digging up the eggs that they did not destroy with their crude method of finding them.

They also seem to take more eggs than they are allowed. After a short discussion, a guard confiscated a sack of eggs from an older man. Probably for dinner.

Later, we went snorkeling. It was quite an experience to see the turtles in their element. However, after seeing a sea snake, we decided it was not the safest place to be.

On our way on to Costa Rica, we had lunch in San Juan. The "vegetarian" plate included a boiled turtle egg - lovely.  Given that it was already boiled and doubting that a gringo actually eating the turtle egg that was served would make any difference whatsoever, I tried it. It tasted like a fishy egg. Big surprise there...


Posted by rick at 07:56 PM | Comments (0)