Tobia – a great end to our Colombian adventures.

Tobia was a fantastic little town to spend some time in – a relaxed pace of life, virtually no tourists, plenty of sun and just enough rain to keep topping the rivers up. The main river, running through Tobia, is the Rio Negro, with many other tributaries joining in and around the town.

By far the longest day we had on the Rio Negro was paddling the Upper gorge all the way down to the rafting centre on the lower commercial section. We got up early, loaded the boats onto the raft trailer and set off on the two and a half hour dirt road shuttle to the get on.

Along the way we came close to being hit by rocks being dug out of the mountain side and then had to stop and hike the last bit of the road because a landslide had deposited most of the road in the river!

The upper section started off with a bang with a grade 3 rapid leading into a steep grade 4. Dave got the line slightly wrong and got to practice his hole surfing for a few minutes before, after a number of unintentional cartwheels, he managed to dig himself out.

The river continued in this vein with some great grade 3/4 read and run rapids in a deep, jungle lined gorge.

That day we were paddling with quite a large group – the usual four brits, three colombians, one argentinian and, a new addition, a german chap called Armin.

Unfortunately on one particularly long rapid he took a swim. Alex helped Armin to the side before Alex, Ezequiel and Fabien dashed off after the boat, doing well to get it onto the bank before too long – hiking out here would have been a nightmare.

Sadly the paddle was never seen again, but at least we had finally got some use out of the split paddles we had carried all month! After a bit more swimming and some jungle bashing Armin and his boat were re-united and we carried on. Before too long the gradient eased and the river widened turning into cruisy grade 3 and giving us time to relax and have a snack.

At the confluence with the Rio Pinsaima, the river narrowed again and we romped down the grade 3/4 commercial section back to camp. A brilliant, if quite eventful day on the river!

Over the next few days we had all manner of adventures from the trailer falling apart on the road, to Dave doing some impromtu raft guiding for Rio Negro Rafting.

We fitted in an Argentinian Asado – like a bbq but SO much better – taught the South Americans some British drinking games and some British dance moves and had them in stiches at our lack of salsa dancing skills.

All too soon it was time to go. Fran, Lowri and Dave sold most of their paddling gear with Fran selling her boat to our good friend Victor. We were all very sad to say goodbye to such a great bunch of people.

Back in Bogota there was just enough time to have one last night on the town with some friends we had met in San Gil, Niamh and Lowri managing to find some strange cocktails which turned their tongues blue and their poo green! (sorry no pics of that)

The following day Dave and Lowri sold their boats to some other friends from San Gil who had come down to meet us, then we said our goodbyes to Niamh, who will be in South America for another month, loaded up the taxi and headed off to the airport for the journey home. Thanks Colombia, it’s been amazing.

                   


Rio Tabacal – Colombian optimism strikes again!

The plan we had made over ice creams was to kick off our time in Tobia with a paddle down the local rafting run on the Rio Negro with our new friends Victor, Alex and Ezequiel. The commercial section was a fun, bouncy grade 3 run with some great waves for attempting kick-flips.

Having finished this by midday the Colombians were keen to show us some more of their local runs and so we decided to head to the Rio Tabacal. Alex and Victor had confidently said it would take around two hours. Fran didn’t fancy paddling a second river that day and so leant out most of her kit for the locals to try – a wise decision, by the end of the day she had buyers for most of it! 

The Rio Tabacal was exhilarating right from the start, with steep, pushy, grade 4/4+ boulder gardens and very little break in between. The steep nature of the river and the heavily silt-laden black water, something we were still trying to get used to, meant that a lot of bank scouting was required and the expected two hours flew by.

The exuberant Alex, the youngster of the group, was often leading the charge, needing only a glance before jumping back in his boat and pelting off downstream. We were happy for him to ‘probe’ the lines.

After three and a half hours, and just as we were starting to get concerned about the amount of daylight we had left, the gradient eased a little, the rapids became more read and run and the group picked up speed.

We were just approaching the four and a half hour mark when we came around a corner and found a very relieved Fran waiting for us at a bridge. She reported that, with the water level rising and the hours of daylight slipping away, our driver had been getting pretty nervous about what had happened to us.

We happily shouldered our boats and started walking up to the jeep thinking we had at least reached the take out, if a little later than expected. Not so, the take out we had been aiming for was still another six or seven km downstream. Colombian optimism strikes again! Nevertheless, we rewarded ourselves for an epic day with an epic dinner!

Not wanting to leave a river unfinished, our adventures on the Tabacal were not over and the whole team went to finish it off a few days later, this time accompanied by Jared, an american chap we had befriended in San Gil.

We all got on where Dave, Lowri and Niamh had happily got off before, only this time the water was lower and not rising! The rest of the river was fun grade III/III+ with fantastic canyon scenery to look at and a beautiful corner where the whole river turned 180° and went back on itself.

Our get out was upstream of a 2km long portage where we were told ‘the whole river goes underneath the mountain’! A fairly extreme kind of siphon, but a testament to the amazing rock formations that Colombia has.  It did not take us long to do this upper section and we had loads of time left until dark so Victor suggested we do the lower section. He also said that it wasn’t a long walk down to the river. It may not have been a long walk (although it did take about 45mins), but it did turn out to be pretty traumatic, as we were to realise about 20mins after we got on…

Just after getting on, Fran’s legs could not stop itching, thinking that it was stings from the nettle-type plants they have in Colombia, she carried on. Then it seemed that everyone was needing a good scratch. As we paused at a really nice play wave on the way down, one by one we all got out of our boats and discovered the horror of being covered in tiny (and not so tiny) ticks!!!

What proceeded was – for Dave, who, because he was wearing thermal trousers, had none – a hilarious 30 minutes of everyone stripping off and washing, scrubbing, picking and inspecting to get the little buggers off us before they all got too attached. Suffice to say we all got to know some intimate parts of each other as there are certain places ticks are attracted to that one cannot see of oneself!

Once all bases had been thoroughly checked and then rechecked we gingerly got back on and carried on to the get out. Seeing as most of the river had been class II/III we were all questioning whether it had been worth the trauma! That night to take our minds off the ticks that we were sure were still burrowing in dark places, we went to play Tejo; a very Colombian game of throwing metal disks at a board covered in clay with sachets of gun powder stuck to it.

The aim is to make the sachets go BANG! We had varying levels of success and fluke but it was great fun – it could never get past health and safety laws in the UK though.Once we had won/lost Tejo (no one was all that sure) we went for some late night ice cream. Then four sleepy british kayakers crawled into their tents for some well earned sleep.


Ciao Villavicencio, Hola Tobia!

Following our night of hard partying in Villavicencio the team made a vain attempt to go boating the next day, but decided instead to have one of the huge lunches that Colombians do so well and then go for a swim.

After a good nights sleep we were all feeling a lot more motivated for kayaking and got up early to paddle the Rio Blanco, a bouldery grade 3 river with some trickier grade 4 drops, in, as usual, a deep, committing, beautiful canyon. We had a great morning paddling and then packed up the truck and headed back to Bogotá.

 

In Bogotá, having failed to find a jeep driver to take us to Tobia., our next destination, we spent a couple of hours arguing with bus drivers before finding one who would put our four kayaks inside his bus.

A couple of hours later we made it to Tobia where we were met by a Victor, Michelle and Alex who work for Rio Negro Rafting. They gave us a lift back to their rafting centre, leant us a couple of tents and showed us the way to the local ice cream parlour, result!

Over ice creams we made plans for the next day, excited about our first taste of the black rivers of the department of Cundin Amarca.



Mules kick ass on the Rio Ariari!

The Ariari is a river we have wanted to paddle since we started planning our trip back in the UK. The idea of hiking in for 3hours with mules, rather than putting us off, excited us quite a lot! But it did mean we had to get up at 5am!

We hired 3 mules- two kayaks per mule except for the ‘lucky’ one that only had to carry Dave’s boat, which was easily the heaviest and tied on in such a way that every step the mule took the boat hit him on the head!!! We all felt a mixture of guilt and amusement at the plight of these animals as we headed out on our walk to the river. They definately lived up to the saying ‘as stubborn as mules’ as they stopped every few minutes to eat anything that took their fancy, or relieve themselves on the path.

 

Eventually we got to the tributary of the Rio Ariari, the Rio Azul, where we were to start. The Azul was a great 2km section of class IV low volume steep creeking. We all set off together, but with our friend Emilio prefering the Lone Wolf style of paddling, we were quickly reduced to the 4 of us; occasionally catching up with him when there was something of interest!

 

After an hour we reached the Ariari. A beautiful, steep, technical, big volume class IV/IV+ river in a deep and commiting canyon. At first we were a bit purturbed by the horizon lines and huge boulders but we soon got into the swing of it; boofing, flaring and riding the waves for some sweet lines. However, we had a few interesting moments too: some unintended hole surfing, and an unfortunate swim from Niamh. All too quickly, it seemed, we reached the end of the canyon and the start of easier read and run class III which led us all the way back to Puente Ariari.

 

We celebrated at the take-out with a big fat sandwich and headed back, victorious, for swim beers. Little did we know that was not the end of the day. Upon arriving back at Rafting Guayuriba we were met with ‘Quieras Fiesta este noche?’ – Do you want to party tonight? Niamh’s face lit up and so we went back to the hostel for a shower and shave, then headed out for a night on the town in Villavicencio. After far too much rum and beer we found a night club that seemed to satify our French and Colombian compadres, but alas, it was too much for poor Fran who fell asleep in the club despite Shakira being on the playlist! Dave, Lowri and Niamh soldiered on and salsa-ed hard until 2am when we all bundled into a taxi for the half hour ride home. Another long but satisfying day in Colombia!

Guayuriba-arriba-arriba!

After the brown rivers of San Gil and the surrounding area the team decided what we needed was some cleaner water. So from Bogota we headed out on another bus journey, only four and a half hours this time, to Villavicencio in the department of Meta.

 

From our American friend Mark we had acquired the number of a contact near Villavicencio, a french chap called Theo Rivaud who runs a small rafting company. Theo very kindly picked us up from the bus station and gave us a lift to a hostel, complete with swimming pool, near to his base on the Rio Guayuriba. He had a raft trip going out the next day on the lower section of the Rio Guayuriba and so we tagged along – the perfect way to check out the local run.

 The lower section started out with a very chilled out forty-five minutes of grade 2/3 before the river narrowed and canyon walls closed in for a short section of 3/4. After this blast of excitement the river mellowed again and there was a chance for the rafters to try out some kayaks and for the safety kayaker Emilio to try our new boats!

The following day we were up for more of a challenge so we decided to paddle the upper section of the Guayuriba, and for economys sake, the lower section as well, in all five hours on the water! The upper section was 20km of grade 4/4+ in a stunning steep sided gorge, with some steep technical rapids and some fantastic read-and-run. Theo and Emilio came along too to speed up the trip with their local knowledge and add some gallic flair!

The next day we had a rest from paddling while we sorted the logistics for the river next on our list- the Rio Ariari. We checked out the local town of Acacias, had some typical colombian cuisine of fruit salad with icecream and …..grated cheese!?- before hiking into the jungle to go for a swim in one of the small side creeks which flow into the Rio Guayuriba. Along the way we bumped into some prisoners and their guards returning from their days’ labour.

Next up our adventure on the Rio Ariari!…..

Buzzing on the Suarez

To complete our stay in the wonderul San Gil we had to finish with the much talked about Rio Suarez, a big volume III+-IV+ rafted section, described as ‘muy fuerte’ (very strong). With most of our team feeling back on form we headed to the put-in to see what the river had in store for us.

A huge, beautiful surf wave in the ever glorious sun made a good start to an incredible run. Massive grade III+ wave trains were interspersed with meaty hole dodging grade IV rapids giving us the buzz we’d been looking for!

About an hour in we came to the first big momma grade IV+, the aptly named Labyrinth displayed 3 big lines, a bit of mix and match in the middle before heading left or right around a giganto hole in the centre. Definitely would’ve liked to see how they managed to raft it! With some lovely big pools after almost every big rapid and beautiful scenery, it was a river that lived up to expectations.

After a brilliant day on the water already, we ended up at the last and biggest rapid, the ‘Sorpresa’ – something that certainly would not look out of place on the Zambezi. With the raft (our ride home) overtaking us whilst Niamh took her time deliberating, we all ended up paddling hard; avoiding some fat holes, riding some massive waves and nailing the line. Saweeet!!

Having had an amazing day and having made some great friends over the past couple of weeks we had to end our time in San Gil with a proper fiesta. It started with the colombian tradition, saved in most over countries for 13-16 year olds, of drinking in the park before continuing to the out of town club complex: complete with supermarket, karaoke bar and… petrol station?! We shook it like Shakira and left San Gil in style, saving our hangover for  our 8 hour bus trip back to Bogota… fun times!

Good night out not complete without meat on a stick

Our salsa skills coming along nicely