We traveled to Peru for the purpose of running the Rio Marañon. I briefly alluded to the reasons for our choice of this river in the Introduction to this series, but it is worth restating. This river is the primary source of the Amazon. It has cut a very deep and highly-scenic canyon for over 500 miles through the eastern Andes. While bridged at a few locations, the majority of the canyon is remote. Yet people inhabit the entirety of the canyon. Wherever the presence of springs and side streams allows, there are farms. These farms are a wonder of sustainable subsistence agriculture, typically producing some or all of the following: oca (a tuber), bananas, mangos, papayas, coconuts, coca, corn, squash, beans, citrus fruits, herbs, chili peppers, other vegetables and pigs, chickens and fighting roosters, cuy (guinea pigs), goats, cattle, burros, mules and horses. The residents of the canyon also fish and build and place fish traps in the river.
But (the inevitable “but”), the lifeways and livelihoods of these farmers, along with the inhabitants of the river towns and communities of Native American tribes on the lower river, are being threatened with the construction of as many as twelve dams along the length of the river canyon. We encountered large surveying and construction crews at two locations. Happily, the dams are being opposed within Peru, and an American river outfitter by the name of Rocky Contos has joined the fight. His company, Sierrarios, is raising awareness of the dam threat amongst the people who live along the river, while at the same time recruiting American river outfitters, river-runners and others to travel to Peru, run the river and assist in the effort to save the river. Myself and wife Kathy, who own and operate New Wave Rafting Co. on the Rio Grande in northern New Mexico, saw Sierrarios FB posts on the river and signed on to the 400 mile, 28 day-long trip. We were joined by our Operations Manager, Britt Runyon Huggins, and his significant other, CJ Robison, a former New Wave guide. Throughout our almost month on the river, our Peruvian trip leader, Pedro Peña, would stop and talk to everyone we met along the river, and take his laptop into every village we came upon, to show a movie about what exactly dams are, and the usual consequences to the lives of people whose homes are inundated by reservoirs. For our part, Kathy and I were eager to experience this river, and were ready to go to bat for the river upon our return home. Thus, this series of blog posts that will be devoted to the Rio Marañon, and some of the people that live along it.
We left Huaraz on Sept. 28, for a drive to the river that would take all day – first heading south, and upstream along the Rio Santa, until turning east. The route we then followed would cross the spine of the Andes, before descending to the Rio Marañon at an altitude of 6900′.
Just before and below the actual pass, we entered a tunnel that took us to the other side.
We then descended to the town of Chavin de Hauntar, at an altitude of 10,436′. This town is known for it’s ruins, which we had intended to visit, but we learned, upon our arrival there, that they were closed for the day. I was able, however, to get some photos from outside the ruins, looking in.
The town, meanwhile, was very attractive.
After lunch and a few more minutes to enjoy the town, we continued towards the river, following the tributary, the Rio Puchka, that flowed past Chavin. Almost to the Rio Marañon, the canyon we were descending narrowed into a vertically-walled gorge, with the road chiseled into the cliff. The roadway became, literally, a three-sided tunnel, with absolutely no room to spare. It was downright hair-raising, and I would have loved to document it, but it was too dark by then to allow for a photo. We then crossed the Marañon at the Puente Copuma, and a few minutes later turned onto a rough dirt road that took us to an operating gravel pit at riverside. The workers were cooking their supper 50 yards away in a small cave, while our crew, who had preceded us, was pumping rafts. We put up our tents, had a spaghetti dinner and called it a night.
In the morning, we prepared to tackle the Upper Grand Canyon of the Rio Marañon, but first took stock of the fact that we had all been bitten up very badly the evening before. The insects responsible were tiny sand flies or “no-see-ums”, and no guide had cautioned us to protect ourselves. Here’s Karl’s legs a day later:
Before saying anything further about the nasty bugs, I should mention that Rocky (the company owner) was anxious for me to know (and report) that this was the worst occurrence of these insects seen so far on the river. Understandably, Rocky may be concerned that frank reporting of the scourge could serve as a dis-incentive to prospective participants – but I know that you, the reader (being the intrepid outdoorsman that you are), wouldn’t let something like biting insects come between you and a river adventure of this magnitude … would you? In any event, it soon became clear to us that we needed to cover up, wearing long-sleeved shirts buttoned at the wrists and buttoned-up to the collar, socks pulled up over the bottoms of our long pants and copious amounts of insect repellent applied to those areas of skin that remained exposed. And, soon enough, we also learned that we were particularly vulnerable when we lowered our pants to … well, you know what for. Getting repellent to the exposed areas under these circumstances was awkward and not always successful.
We turned a corner and a few minutes later ran the second part of Huayancoragra
Less than an hour after running Huayancoragra, we came to our second III/IV rapid, Jata.
We pulled into camp in mid-afternoon, and shortly after it began to rain. We put up the rain tarp and, after a while, cooked dinner. The following day we would run Yesojirca Narrows, which would prove to be a little too narrow for the cataraft. Here is the link to the following post: