The Amazon is everything we imagined and more— and a lot more rustic than I assumed. Our kayak escort guide, Leo Gonzales Mulonovich said we were the first people to standup paddle the Peruvian Amazon. Since Leo has paddled all the major rivers in Peru and around the globe, and is pretty much the mayor of the Peruvian paddle scene, we're sticking to his word.
That’s one of standup paddling’s great beauties: Pretty much anyone can make a first descent on a SUP and there are millions of places around the globe to still explore.
Without Leo, our other guides Cesar and Enzo, a famous macaw researcher named George and the folks at Rainforest Expeditions, we would have never received the permits to get as deep as we did into the Peruvian Amazon, and we would have never had the chance to experience one of Earth’s most raw and unforgiving jungle environments.
Our photographer, Chase, and standup paddle pro Mariko were total champs, never complaining despite both getting bitten hundreds of times by bugs. For a paddle expedition, we really didn’t paddle much… Only a few days, maybe 60 km, with a few minor rapids and two mini standup waves thrown into the mix. Where we we did venture—through thick, muddy water and lush lands full of wild macaws and caimans— made it feel like exploration, truly being out there, accompanied by the pure joy at being where few had been before.
The most important lesson we learned is that a huge part of a paddle adventure has nothing to do with paddling. Maybe it’s cliche but it’s the journey–-just getting to the entry point and paddling places people can’t get to by boat or car. And often the best part is getting off your board, trekking inland, playing soccer or cooking with the locals and getting to know another culture.
At the end of our paddle, we went up to the house of a local shaman who cut into a tree called sangre de grado, which released a red sap that oozed like fresh blood. The shaman used the sap to treat our countless bites. A doctor of the earth at work, in his office.
I have a feeling that in a week or two, our Amazon adventure, as Anthony Bourdain experienced, will be even more epic…in retrospect. If given the opportunity, we all agree we’d return, though with stronger bug protection than DEET and full length socks. Despite all the cute yoga pants and tanks Mariko and I planned to paddle in, function and mosquito protection won over fashion.
Photos by Chase Olivieri
Click here for Part III.