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.
The Rio Negro has many sections and we paddled as many of them as we could in the time we had. Other than the 6-7 km of the normal commercial section and the extra 5-6 km of the longer commercial section, which starts on the Rio Pinsaima, one of the Rio Negros’ tribs, there is an upper section, a super-upper section (best name ever) and the Utica Canyon section, famous throughout the Colombian whitewater community as being ‘muy fuerte’. Sadly, due to the amount of rain that fell while we were staying in Tobia, the water level in the canyon was always too high and roads to the super-upper were too bad. But there was plenty on the other sections to keep us busy.
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.