Our journey down to the Maranon River began with a long car ride- from Huaraz; we went east over the mountains and down to the river. Our guide (and now friend) Ben had heard a tunnel along our way might be closed for repairs, so we weren't sure when to leave. We decided on mid-morning, hoping to get to the construction area just in time for the workers' lunch break. We left Huaraz in a timely manner and the car trip went as smoothly as car trips in Peru go. We arrived at the tunnel and there was no one there! It turns out the construction was on the eastern side; thankfully, we only had to wait thirty minutes or so before we made it through. On to the river!
We arrived at the put-in area early evening and spent the rest of the day sorting gear, inflating boats, rigging boats, eating, and getting to know one another. Having seven other people to interact with was far different than the one I was used to. Though sometimes overwhelming, it was nice to speak English once again and get to know the people we'd be spending the next month with. The crew consisted of two Peruvians (Luigi and Pablo), two Australians (Ben and Richard), and four Americans (Jessie, Cloudbuster, Fidgit, and myself). We headed to bed after a filling meal, each choosing our favorite section of beach and crawling into sleeping bags.
The next morning, I was excited to get on the river, though there was more rigging and packing to do. We had two rafts and two kayaks. One raft was for most of our gear and food, with Pablo at the oars. The other raft was for our personal dry bags, four humans with paddles, and Ben at the oars. Richard and Luigi were the safety kayakers, waiting with throw ropes along rapids and helping people get back to their raft if need be.
Come mid-morning the boats were packed and ready to go. We got a lesson on swimming through rapids and we were off. Throughout the rest of the day Ben taught us how to help paddle as we drifted along with the current. The water was colder than I had anticipated and my sun shirt didn't do much to help block the wind, so I was grateful the sun stayed out for us as we drifted/paddled along. Unfortunately, the bugs also stayed with us - we were glad to have bug spray along.
After lunch, we went through a section where the river narrows dramatically. After we were able to squeeze the rafts through, we celebrated not popping any tubes by going through a couple more rapids before camping on a sandy beach along the river's edge.
After that the days began blurring together. Days flowed past like the water we were on, though we still kept some semblance of routine - wake up, eat breakfast, pack up the boats, go down the river to the next camp. Each rapid we hit had its own characteristics, and each side canyon we explored was unique, though the photos do a better job of depicting that than I could ever do in words. There was even one campsite with its own hot spring pool just above the sandy riverside! Over the days, my fingerprints wore off, sand got into everything, and two weeks went by in the blink of an eye. We pulled into La Balsas, ready for a town day (or two) and a shower.
Pablo stayed with the boats, as the other seven of us packed gear into Luigi's truck and headed into Cajamarca - a five hour drive away. We spent the next couple of days doing our best to clean the sand out of, well, everywhere. We also gathered three more people to our crew - Dan and Christine came in from Philadelphia, and Steve came in from L.A. to bring us up to a team of eleven for the last week of our trip. Despite Dan and Christine's terrible travel experience coming down (cancelled flights and being bumped all over) and some lost luggage, we all headed back to La Balsas ready to continue along the river.
Rearranging gear and adding a few people to the passenger boat added fodder for the sharing of stories from upriver as well as learning more about the new additions to our crew. We told Dan, Christine, and Steve about the rapids we had gone through/walked around/got stuck in and they shared travel stories from their previous trips - rafting or walking the Camino de Santiago or walking across Colombia.
As a crew, we were sharing a film along the way - we stopped in many towns, and Ben would go in asking if they'd like a copy he had made of 'Confluir'. We were also doing screenings of the film in certain pueblos - some planned, some not as planned. Everyone we talked to was interested in seeing the film about the river that passed by their town, and the dams that had (to date) been effectively shut down by the powers that be. As skeptical as many of the people were of outsiders, they were also curious. I was glad we could share something with them even though we were just passing through.
Back on the river, we again settled into our routine, plus three people who were extremely helpful and easy to get along with. Each day brought a new rapid or side hike. Our first overcast day in weeks also coincided with a long river day full of rapids. We pulled into camp later than usual though still in high spirits - we certainly enjoyed the campfire that night!Near the end of our trip, we took another river zero on a beach that Maranon Experience (the company we were able to do our rafting trip through) owned. The co-owners are working on turning it into a conservation area in the hopes that it will encourage the country of Peru and international businesses to stop trying to dam Rio Maranon. The land had a creek running through it with many pools for swimming. We were able to sit in the pools during the heat of the afternoon, talking and enjoying each other's company.
The last day of our river trip was like any other- get up, eat, pack up the boats, get on the river. The difference was at the take out - we broke down everything and separated out gear before heading into Jaen. It was all surreal to me - we had become accustomed to the routine of the river and suddenly we were no longer on it. I had trouble walking on flat land and needed time to process the amazing river journey, as well as the people I had come to call friends over the past month.
All of us stayed together in Jaen, drawing out the goodbyes and cherishing our last moments together (for now) as we reminisced and planned ahead. Slowly, people began departing - Steve left for LA; the next day Dan, Christine, and Cloudbuster all left to head back to the States. Later that day Ben and Richard headed out to explore a nearby creek. Fidgit and I took a day and walked 38km along the road into Jaen to finish up Peru. Jessi and Luigi stopped by to say their farewells after breakfast the next day. Fidgit and I then began making our way back up to where we had walked to in Ecuador, our heartstrings being tugged in so many directions. Sadness, emptiness, feelings of accomplishment, and anticipation were just a few of the emotions I was flitting between as we crossed into Ecuador.