Peru, the Rio Marañon. The Drive to the River and Day 1 – 9/28 & 29, 2015


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.

Corn and oranges, at a farm located on a side stream.

Corn and oranges, at a farm located on a side stream, close to the river (KathyMillerPhoto)

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′.

Map_MaranonOverview

Our route to the river went through the town of Chavin, to the put-in at Puente (bridge) Copuma. The Upper Grand Canyon and Inner Gorge sections are found between the put-in and the town of Chagual. The Central Grand Canyon section is found between Chagual and Balsas. The Lower Grand Canyon section is found between Balsas and Puerto Malleta, upstream from Cumba. The 50-mile long Cumba Valley section ends near Bagua. The Jungle Pongos section starts there and ends at Imacita.

In Huaraz, Britt helps load the truck, Sept. 27

In Huaraz, Britt helps load the truck, Sept. 27 (KarlSwansonPhoto)

Laguna Querococha

Laguna Querococha,  on the way to the pass (KarlSwansonPhoto)

Just before and below the actual pass, we entered a tunnel that took us to the other side.

Tunel Kahuish,

Tunel Kahuish, at an altitude of 14,816′ (KarlSwansonPhoto)

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.

Ruins of Chavin de Hauntar

Ruins of Chavin de Hauntar

Ruins of Chavin de Hauntar

same as above

Ruins of Chavin de Hauntar

same as above

The town, meanwhile, was very attractive.

Flowering cactus

Flowering cactus

Bougainvillea

Bougainvillea

Street paved with stone

Street paved with stone

The old and the new

The old and the new

10.5 Chavin_SCN2644

Traditional dresses for sale. Notice the hummingbird design on the bottom dress. Peru is well-known for its hummingbirds.

11. Chavin_SCN2622

Doors and bullfight posters

12. Chavin_SCN2623

A beautifully-crafted facade on a new building

The Plaza

The Plaza

The Plaza

The Plaza

The Plaza

The Plaza

The Plaza, hummingbird (currently unidentified)

The Plaza. Chestnut-breasted Coronet hummingbird female (?)

The Plaza, hummingbird (currently unidentified)

The Plaza. Chestnut-breasted Coronet hummingbird female (?)

The church on the Plaza

The church on the Plaza

The fountain in the Plaza

The fountain in the Plaza

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:Karl's legs

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 adjust the oars on the boat Kathy and m shared

We adjust the oars on the boat that Kathy and I would share. Kathy did the great majority of the rowing on this trip. leaving me free for photography (Karl SwansonPhoto).

MarionThrowbag

Marion, who had no prior river-running experience, gets practice with a throw rope – a rescue device (KarlSwansonPhoto).

We push off

We push off around noon. This is an upstream view towards the gravel pit. Nate is in the blue kayak. CJ and Zacarias are in the close by yellow raft. Britt, with Marion and Luis, are in the other yellow raft, and Karl is in the grey cataraft, just leaving shore. Our guides, Pedro and Barba, are in kayaks.

An old bridge, and very tilted strata of, probably, limestone

An old bridge, and tilted strata of, probably, limestone

Approaching our first Class II/IV rapid, Huayancoragra

Pedro is in the blue kayak, and Barba in the yellow, as we approach our first Class III/IV rapid, Huayancoragra

Huayancoragra

Huayancoragra

Huayancoragra

same as above

Huayancoragra

same as above

We turned a corner and a few minutes later ran the second part of Huayancoragra

3.7. Jata Sep282015_9713

Huayancoragra, part two

3.9. Jata Sep282015_9715

same as above

3.95. Jata Sep282015_9716

That handsome devil on the rock is Pedro, our trip leader, filming with his GoPro. I used a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS30A waterproof camera for these and other action photos taken from the raft.

Less than an hour after running Huayancoragra, we came to our second III/IV rapid, Jata.

Pedro, on the approach to Jata

Pedro, on the approach to Jata. On river-left, Barba is seen carrying his kayak back up to run the rapid again.

Rapid (not currently identified). Marion and Luis watch from upstream while Karl runs the cataraft through, and Britt photographs the action from the tilted slabs that line the river left side of the rapid.

Jata Rapid. Marion and Luis watch from upstream while Karl runs the cataraft through, and Britt photographs the action from the tilted slabs that line the river-left side of the rapid.

Jata Rapid. Pedro waits at the bottom, while Barba carries his kayak back to the top, to run the rapid again.

Jata Rapid. Pedro waits at the bottom, while Barba carries his kayak back to the top, to run the rapid again.

Tilted limestone layers

Tilted limestone layers

Riverside tree

Riverside tree

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:

https://believesteve.org/2015/12/10/peru-the-rio-maranon-day-2-93015/

 

 

About believesteve

I am a photographer and have published a book of photography and accompanying text on running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The first (print) edition is out of print, but a second edition is available as an iBook (eBook) through the iTunes bookstore. All Grand Canyon, river and nature lovers will enjoy my book: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-grand/id672492447?ls=1
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