(Text by Marcin Gienieczko, translated by Piotr Chmielinski)
I made it to Belem and that way became the13th person in the world that had navigated the entire Amazon River system and the first person that paddled the Amazon from San Francisco to Belem in a canoe, which took me 94 days. It was a big challenge and a lot of sacrifices - starting from the family side. I had to leave two sons, 3-year-old Leon and 5-year-old Igor for four months, as well as the house that should have been worked on. Fortunately my wife is more resourceful at that matter than I am.
Exploring in South America is a logistical challenge. Maybe, as big as reaching the South Pole, because during this expedition from the very beginning logistics ruled. Starting from sending canoe and ending up at the source of the Amazon in Nevado Mismi. Please, find below the video of the expedition to the source of the Amazon
That’s how it started: There were logistics from the beginning, then riding a bike through the Andes to enter the elevation of 4700 meters and then exit. The next stage was Apurimac River and the city of San Francisco in Peru. I started my run on May 31st, 2015 and finished it on September 1st. Such fast navigating of Amazon would not be possible without the cooperation with Kacper Jurak, who prepared for me a special GPS maps and Adam Wasilewski, with whom I spent together many weeks to plan the entire project. It was also a big challenge in terms of the preparation.
A year earlier, I paddle the Rio Napo. You cannot just take a canoe and start paddling without any experience, and run the Amazon. I was following the example of Piotr Chmielinski, who was the first to kayaked the Amazon from the source to the Pacific Ocean. He explored the rivers of South America for almost 6 years before he started to kayak the Amazon River.
I was paddling rivers for 7 years, but only the rivers of the northern part of globe, and that is a huge difference; that is why I decided to run the Rio Napo, the tributary of Amazon. Chmielinski encouraged me to run Napo, and then to continue into Amazon and paddle to Belem. I replied immediately that I was not interested. Every professional traveler is the one who has a clear goal, and precisely knows what he wants from himself and from the adventure. My goal was one: to start my canoeing from the place where it is possible to put it in. I started from Apurimac below the first rapids, which could capsize my canoe.
I began on May 31st; there was no other expedition on Amazon at the same time. Why? Because others wanted to run the mountain river - one Mantaro, another Apurimac and as far as I know, both of the rivers are technically difficult, although Apurimac from what I know, is more demanding. Piotr Chmielinski ran that river in 1985. He was there in October, the safest month for kayaking as far as water levels (he paddle a raft in white water, and sea kayaks), just as other expeditions followed.
Since Triathlon through South America was my goal, I started at the end of May and it was really a very dangerous thing to do. According to the descriptions in the book Running the Amazon by Joe Kane, water pours and whirlpools of Ene River are10 meters across in October, but in May, when the most of the water flows from Andes, Ene and Tambo are not lowland rivers anymore. In May and June they resemble mountain rivers and have huge whirlpools - in October they are 10 meters big, but at the beginning of June they were 16 meters in diameter and you could safely hide inside two connected paddles.
Gadiel Sanchez Rivera who accompanied me in my canoe from San Francisco to Atalaya can confirm it; we paddled along the 60 km of Apurimac, then Ene and Tambo. At Tambo we had some problems - we had to enlist the help of a boat, that pulled us with a rope to the shore because the canoe was stuck in the funnel; the boat took so much water that I almost lost it. Similar situation happened on Ene River, but there we were lucky and we managed all without help. Whirlpools were powerful; I never had the experience with whirlpools before. I had the experience with rapids on Athabasca River, when I was paddling solo the Mckenzie River system in 2005.
Below you can find the video:
River Tambo tried to swallow us, later from Pojeni, the water became very fast but didn't have big whirlpools. We reached Atalaya. From Atalaya to Pucalpa I paddled on my own. Gadiel Sanchez Rivera became the head of the logistics of my expedition; he accompanied me at various points on Ucayali River. He was organizing accommodation, food, safe places. He fulfilled the same role during the expedition with Ed Strafford, when from Satipo, he went on foot along the banks of the Amazon.
Ucayali River is slow, but I was able to run it in 19 days. That was very fast for a slow river that meanders through the heart of the jungle of South America. There were a wall of the forest from the left and right, heat, 40 degrees Celsius and I in the canoe. Packing had always been the hardest; I drank electrolytes, swallowed pills, vitamins, and ate my space food like spaghetti or stew powder, etc.
A few times a snake crept into the tent and I had the most horrible experience ever. I had to crush its tail with the paddle and with a machete, cut off the head and the tail. It was a dangerous job, but Gadiel Sanchez Rivera gave me excellent lessons of survival. Thanks to him I managed to run Ucayali River, which was really dangerous, people were less friendly; you cannot just jump to a canoe or kayak and paddle as some kayakers from Gdansk, Poland did, and paid for it with their lives. You have to have special permissions to show them to local "Marshals", chiefs of villages, to run the Ene, Tambo, and Ucayali Rivers.
We had such an experience on Ene, when the locals gave two warning shots up, and one aimed straight at us. The bullet struck the rock near the canoe. Then, we knew that we had to stop and present our permits. How hazardous the region is, you can read in the book "The expedition along the Amazon," in which Englishman Ed Strafford described the region. Many think that this is the region you can travel. If so, why Explorer Website posted that only12 people ran the Amazon; eleven in a kayak and one, Ed Strafford along the river's banks on foot?
It speaks for itself how Amazon teaches determination and perseverance. That was the comment of Piotr Chmielinski. As he continues in his steady correspondence with me and my team: "Marcin, focus on the nearest ports and goals. Times have changed, but the river did not. The same with the Pacific Ocean; it has not changed - it is still very dangerous. You need to think and anticipate - then you can survive. Sometimes I say to others: Do you know, why I still exist? - Because I try to anticipate the situation in advance. A lot has to be done in such a big project".
Starting with the run from Iquitos, when the Ucayali River and Maranion meet and form the Amazon, the river gets big and fast. Sometimes I could paddle 100 km a day, because in June a large volume of water flowed from the Andes, and the river flooded; it was fast, sometimes 14 km per hour. Aleksander Doba, who tried to paddle the Amazon in 2011, wrote on the blog: "The river flows so fast as at Dunajec (mountain river in Poland) cascades”, and he is the only person who can say something about this, because he paddled the Amazon in a heavy ocean kayak in June. This is what I have to say since I was paddling in a canoe, which weighs 40 kg!
The river became even faster from Tabatinga to Manaus, but really fast it was at the end of June before the border with Columbia - the speed was reaching 18 km per hour. I had one goal from Pucallpa - to cover this part of the Amazon in sport style, as fast as possible.
From Iquitos I started to dream about paddling the Amazon in a canoe in less time than 100 days. And I did it – I ran the Amazon in 94 days in a canoe and this is an absolute world record in long-distance run in a canoe. You cannot of course, compare canoe to sea kayak, because it is the same as if someone would like to compare WRC canoe class to F1 class. This cannot be done.
I had different thoughts while working on this project. I remembered when during Rod Stewart's concert, my wife Ala began to cry, fearing that something will happen to me during the expedition. Going to the airport just before my departure to Lima she asked me why I was doing such a huge project now, when we have children. Only now I had adequate knowledge and experience that I could make it happen - I replied driving a car to Warsaw.
Earlier, I paddled the Lena River, many rivers in the Yukon as a guide and the Yukon River itself, and the Mackenzie River system etc. but Amazon is a huge river. Fighting with it does not make any sense, you need to love it and live with it - if you want to do it differently, and you will not succeed. You cannot think about the final, but about short-term goals, that is, what will happen in 10 days, not in 2 months. Otherwise, I would have gone crazy. I paddled 11 hours a day; I could paddled not more because it was getting dark early in the day, and I did not want to paddle in the darkness, although a couple of times I had to.
Near Ichihara I almost died. Entering the port I did not notice a large mooring, which was attached to a buoy. A strong line almost cut off my head. It was terrible. I was to meet with the local port Captain. They knew about that the large ships moors there, and decided to come and greet me. They came just in time because the fast current kept pushing me onto that rope, thick as a hand of MMA fighter. They saved my life; stopped my canoe 10 cm from the rope. It was my great, good fortune and no doubt, divine assistance. In general I received a lot of support from God, so I decided to donate the profit from selling my canoe to Children Charity or as a gift in Maritime Museum in Gdansk after I finish this expedition. "Energa" Company, my main sponsor decided to help me to bring a canoe back to Poland. I believe that if they keep their promise, I have to keep my, that I’ll paddle the Amazon.
Big problems started from Santarem, when the river became even more demanding. When I entered Para River, my daily distance was almost 30 km, sometimes 40 km a day. The high sides of a canoe on such a large basins act like sails and change the direction of the boat. At such high waters a canoe is not able to flow. But I fought. In 2012, I paddled from Bornholm to Darlowo for 28 hours - non-stop paddling across the Baltic Sea. Then I moved 5 km per hour, I was able to do it because I had the so-called weather window, with no wind and no ripples. It was 28-hour period of time, but you cannot count on such luck to last for 14 days.
Ocean wave from the Atlantic to the Gulf in front of Belem was 2 meters high. The shore tidal wave capsized me, everything got wet and again I had to dry everything. It was a struggle. Before Belem it was getting even harder and harder; large tides began, when the water rises and falls down every 6 hours and flows once up, once down the river. Within six hours I could do 45 km if the river flow was toward Atlantic. It took Piotr Chmielinski four days to paddle from Breves to Belem. I wondered how it was possible, but a sea kayak is like a F1, they quickly penetrate and move forward. Kayak ran the bay boldly, my canoe would not have a chance, so I had to paddle down the bay to the inter-island area, to traverse it, which was tough, demanding, and time consuming. At this stage of expedition I had an accompanying boat from the governor of Para State and the commander of the Para State Security, thanks to the efforts of the Polish Embassy.
Piotr Chmielinski in 1986 in a sea kayak paddled from Manaus to Belem in 31 days, I did it in a canoe in 36 days. From Breves to Belem he paddled in 4 days, I did it in 10 days, but all the time I had to underline that I did it in a canoe. I think that a canoe gives better opportunities on the expeditions, but it is slower and has more resistance, so these have an impact on wind and speed. On the fast rivers the canoe may be equal to the kayak, which confirms the legendary race of Yukon River Quest. Competitors in a canoe ended their voyage approximately 4 hours after the fastest kayaks, so it’s not bad, worthy competition.
My trip was purely sporting activity. As I have two sons, my motivation was to quickly return home. It was also a last chance to fit this kind of expedition in my life and use my skills as a good long-distance paddler. For this reason I decided to do it in the sporting style. I reached Belem on September 1st at 15:26. At this point, I decided to finish my long trips of canoe paddling. This step is behind me; someday, I will paddle with my boys on the Yukon to Alaska. Now, I am going to concentrate on the running. September 4th, I start my longest run of my entire life: 80 km from Belem toward the Atlantic Ocean to finish South America’s traverse. It was hard, with hot weather and high humidity, but the challenges have to be like that, otherwise the world would stop.
This Amazon traverse I dedicate to my younger son, 3-year old Leon. I want him to know that nothing is impossible; we just have to find a new solution. Amazon taught me that - look for solutions and push against; for the rest of my life.
A man must be stronger than the conditions he finds. I believe that everybody dies but not everyone knows how to live a life without being afraid of the sky, deep sea, big lizard; I bend only before God and move forward. In this world, only those survive who see in the dark in advance.
September 4th, 2015, 21:40, after14 hours and 40 minutes of slow running, and after 94 days of sitting in the canoe, comes the final success. Goal achieved. 111 days of pushing since May17th. This trip showed me that in order to survive you have to look for solutions in every situation.
Thank you for your participation in this project, and reading about the adventures of my challenges and my perseverance.
Once I asked my friend how to live? The answer was simple, be honest to yourself. I have two sons; I fight since my childhood, everything in order not to prove myself (this lifetime is behind me), but to show the children from different places in Poland that if you want to achieve anything in life you have to be persistent, you need to have a strong focus combined with a life’s mission. Olympic champion Robert Korzeniowski said: "I went through a lot in my life to achieve something. And the same is with the exploration, competitive sports, business, or family life.
The Triathlon through South America showed me that if you want to achieve something you should have three qualities: perseverance, enthusiasm and motivation. The mission was successful.
Gienieczko crossed South America, 700 km by bike through the Andes topping 4750 m, 5980 km in a canoe and 80km of slow-run.
This story previously appeared on Explorersweb.com
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Hotel in Iquitos: www.emperadorterraza.com