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Rio Yari Expedition 2011

Participants: Maciej Tarasin – expedition leader & Tomasz Jędrys
Distance covered: over 450 km from Ciudad Yari to several kilometers
down from Raudal Tiburon


The Rio Yari, called also the river of traps Río de los Enganos winds through the Colombian Department of Caqueta flowing into the Rio Caqueta. Historically, it is the bastion of narcoterrorists. It was here that the complex of cocaine processing laboratories built by the Medellin Cartel was spectacularly destroyed in 1984. The founder of Tranquilandia, as the enormous factory powered with the waters of the Yari was called, was Gonzalo R. Gacha, also known as the Mexican. Its capacity amounted to 3500 kg of pure cocaine a month. Among the data that I was able to gather before heading out on the expedition was that on the banks of Rio Yari one can still encounter uncontacted tribes. It had meant I was to immerse in the rainforest spread out in the area of hundreds of square kilometers! It was the first documented paddling expedition down Rio Yari from Ciudad Yari to Araracuara. Exploration of Rio Yari was previously only fragmentary and took place in the early seventies. The whole thing is described in the book "Mi alma se la dejo al diablo" by Germana Castro Caycedo.


Excerpts from the expedition report:

"…On 9 November we reach the Raudal Tiburon Canyon. It looks as if the 150-metre wide river squeezed into a narrow 15-metre wide funnel between the rocks. We get through the first rapids easily. I have a look at the next rapids awaiting us now and what I see is a water crater of a few-metre height difference. I estimate our chances of running it without capsizing at 30 percent. There is no possibility of using the ropes. Right after the rapids, though, the river flows quietly for a long distance. We decide to go for it!. At the bottom of the crater we get hit on the left side, which throws the boat flying in the air to the right and then flips it over. Luckily Tomek has good reflexes; he grabs the mooring line and starts hauling the boat to the bank while I surface some good seconds later having choked on the water badly. ‘Good job!’, I shout at him as I climb onto the rocks. Together we throw the water out of the boat. Then I decide to scout the coming obstacles.

It is with great effort that we manage to run down the 4th class rapids. There is one moment when we sway to the side so hard that we almost get under water again. This time a proper body balancing job saves us. We get to the point where it is quieter but the ordeal is by no means over yet. The boat behaves like a raging bull on the rodeo arena: it rears and we almost score another flip over when, miraculously, we reach the slower waters. The next rapids are too much for us. I can see two major stoppers where we could get dragged underwater together with the boat. I get back to Tomek and tell him how bad it looks.

We have to use all the ropes we have and tie the boat’s front and back. We rope the boat. It takes hours and completely drains our energy. We keep wondering why the canyon is not coming to an end – after all, the Yari is a lowland river. I think it is a good idea to walk along the canyon ridge and inspect the coming up rapids. We make our way through the vegetation cutting our way with the machete. We check on two coming rapids then we turn back to the boat not having actually found the end of the canyon. We attach two of the three paddles we have to the side of the boat with the ropes. The spare paddle, the machete, my passport and the map with the coordinates meticulously marked daily by me are taken out. So is Tomek's most valuable stuff: his satellite phone and the camera, which has got slightly wet.

The waterproof gps is safely tucked in my waistcoat pocket. It is better to have these things safe in case the boat is irretrievably lost. This way or another, during the boat launching the teeming water wets everything inside. ‘We’ll get the boat down to the boulders over there and then we will get back on it’, I suggest. Tomek does not want to go. ‘I am scared and I don’t want to lose my stuff’, he points at his waterproof bag. Suddenly the current becomes so strong that we are unable to hold on to the boat which instantly gets carried away. Mesmerized, we watch as the water takes it to the riverbend and flips it over. The roar of the water in the canyon makes it impossible for me to discuss my decision with Tomek, so I quickly gesticulate that I am going to rescue the boat and I expect him to follow on foot along the canyon wall. I hurry two levels down and throw myself into the wild water twirling in the canyon. I am wearing my underwear, shorts, sandals, waistcoat with the gps in the pocket; I also have my knife.

I swim down a sequence of two rapids and I feel spewed out into the eddy at the 30-metre high rectangular black rocks. After about 5 minutes struggle with the element, I finally get out of it. Slowly I move along the rocky wall towards the boulders sticking out of the river. The current either pulls me under the rocks or turns me about with a powerful push. Finally, I reach the boulders and get some rest breathing hard. ’I can’t stay here overnight’, a thought rushes through my head. I am sitting on the rock but the water keeps slapping my back every now and again. Although I have been drowning a moment ago, I have to plunge back into the water. I tighten the straps on my waistcoat – I have lost 15 kilograms in the past three weeks. My plan is to swim across the rapids to the other side. I do it easily, another few thrusts and I reach the solid ground. I did it but I feel so exhausted that I simply lie down on the rock panels and fall asleep holding my knife in my hand. The rock keeps me warm. The moon provides the light. It is true magic. The most wonderful night in my life..."

Full report in Polish

© Maciej Tarasin.
Created by: sakowww.com
Rio Yari Expedition 2011
Photo: Francisco Castro