by jesse coombs

Prepping for Brazil: Overseas expedition kayaking travel tips
Journal entry #1 - Brazil Part 1 - Getting there: An unbelievable epic
Journal entry #2 - Brazil Part 2 - Getting there: It just keeps getting worse
Journal entry #3 - Brazil Part 3 - Kayaking Brazil: The first five days

Day One: The mission begins, but first I have to find my kayaks..

We woke up at 8 a.m. on my first day in Brazil during the filming of Hotel Charley III, The Lost World. We packed up our stuff, had some hostel breakfast. The airline had lost my boats, so I went to the airport to try and find them. I bought an international phone card for about eighteen dollars, but it would not work with pay phones. Then Chris and Ben went with me to the TAM lost baggage office. Ben spoke Spanish with them, and I made phone calls.

Mac showed up and spoke his excellent Portuguese with them and I made more phone calls. After about an hour of this we had done all we could do. The bottom line is that neither U.S. Airways, American Airlines, or TAM knew where my bags or boats were. I updated my AA claim to make sure the instructions were clear for the bags to go to Brasilia.

Where are my boats? No one at the airport seems to know. Maybe they were on this plane?
Photo by Walter

The AA agent who put in the claim notes the first time about the bags destination being Brasilia, typed in DRA instead of BRA. I am not sure where DRA is but Brasilia's airport code is BSB. I also called my mom and gave her all the information and asked her to track and keep an eye on the bags and help anyway she can. Hopefully she does not mind. We also got the phone number for Sete (Brazilian for the number seven), who is the local guy who gets paid to deliver AA bags in Brasilia. Pedro left Sete his phone number and the instructions.

Now that we had all that squared away it was time to get gas and see what river opportunities we had for the day. It is now 3:20 p.m. and we have been driving for quite awhile. We had to search around a bit and ask some locals for directions, but eventually we found our river and falls.

Asking a local for directions. They don't get many kayakers around here..

It is amazing to think of a set of large falls in this area. Except for the fauna, this area reminds me of Idaho. There are a lot of plateaus, and then you come across these great river valleys.

The geology in this part of Brazil seemed favorable for kayaking.
Photo by Walter

In some respects the area is very arid and like a desert. But the fauna is extremely green and lush. It is kind of a cross between and desert and a jungle. It tends to rain each afternoon and is warm and sunny the rest of the day. This is a special area, and I am really happy to get to experience it.

Brazil is a beautiful place.

Day two: Rio Dos Couros, Parque National Chapada Dos Veadeiros (Plateau of Deer Hunters) Cascatas dos Couros

We woke up at 6:30am and made a light breakfast. We dried our camping gear from the evening dew in the hot morning sun, and then geared up for the river. Mac, Ben and I headed down to the river first and started scouting. The first falls that we could hear from the camping spot were about 60' tall and across a wide area with several sections. Each section landed on rocks, so we went down to scout other areas.

Nice to look at, but not to paddle..

There was a calm section that lead to a bunch of falls, so Ben and Mac went back for their boats while I hiked and scouted further. The next horizon line was an 80' falls that cascaded over rocks and also did not have any clean lines.

This falls led directly to a very nice 48' falls that fell over a clean lip and into an area where the canyon tightened up river significantly and turned it to the left where the 48' falls landed. The river then went over a couple diagonal holes before it went into the next falls.

A huge cascade that wasn't very runnable, but it did lead to a nice falls further downstream.

This next set had a river wide diagonal drop of about 4' that lead into a boiling entrance into a 15' slide/falls. While I waited for the others to get there I used the opportunity to take a much needed bath, my first since left Oregon, and to do some laundry.

I washed my shirt and jeans from travel and enjoyed the time in the refreshing yet warm water and hot sun. After not seeing the others or awhile, I decided to head back up and look for them. I immediately ran into Ben and Mac. Ben told me that he was going to run the forty-eight falls and then look at the next slide falls. I went to take video and photos of Ben's line.

Scouting the entrance to the forty-eight foot falls at the bottom of the huge cascade.

Walter and I were at the top with two video cameras and a my digital camera. Mac, Chris and Jaime were at the bottom taking film and photos from below. Ben measured the height of the drop with his throw rope while Pedro scouted his line. Ben and Pedro did rock, paper, scissors for who would go first, and Ben won. Ben put in above the small ledges above the falls, lined himself up nicely and had a very clean line. I got a great photo and video of Ben passing Pedro and flying into the air.

Ben drops the forty-eight footer at the bottom of the huge unrunnable cascade.

Pedro looked at his line again, and then he went. Pedro had a great line also and now we were off to look at the next drop. Ben and I talked briefly about the line, and then he got in his boat. Again we had two cameras at the top and two below. Ben went first and had a great line. He entered the top 4' ledge on the right, then drove center and cleared the hole at the bottom nicely. Pedro looked closely at the line and decided he would go also. Pedro started just left of center, then drove toward the center where the rooster tail and main flow was going. He also had a good line.

We were relaxing a bit, and Ben and Pedro decided to scout the drop below. Chris wanted to run the 48' falls, so he hiked up for his boat. Again Walter and I positioned ourselves at the top. Instead of running the few lead in ledges, Chris opted to focus on the falls and put in right above it. Chris got a big boof stroke and really separated from the falls. He too had a good line. I hiked down to the slide falls to see what the plan was going to be. We decided that with the rain clouds and time of day, our best option was to head back and check on the lost boats. I hiked back quickly taking about 35 minutes, and it rained on me pretty good for much of that. I found a tarp to take shelter under while I waited for the others. The rain stopped not long after we all returned to the cars, and we had a small bite to eat and packed up.

Downstream of the big falls.

Ben and Pedro.

We then headed off for town so we can check voice messages, email and check on the lost boats.

A portion of the river valley getting a nice rainstorm, as viewed from the road on the way back to town..
Photo by Walter

Despite not kayaking, I had a fun day and truly enjoy traveling and being in this environment. I certainly love kayaking and traveling, and it is where I feel most at ease. It is fun to see how many cameras we have going and the great shots we are getting. This should make for some excellent footage for the film.

Talking to a bicyclist on the way back to town. You never know what you will learn from a friendly local!
Photo by Walter

On our way out of the river and toward town the pick up truck got a flat and a bunch of us chipped in on fixing it while a couple guys took video. It is funny how when you get video boaters together who want to tell the best story possible, they will take video of anything and everything. You never know when a camera moment is going to happen, and it is better to leave the camera on and catch it.

Unfortunately we drove on a very pointed and sharp rock, and it caused a flat like I had never seen before, especially in heavy duty truck tires. The rock literally tore the tire, creating an avulsion that was several inches across and long.

The truck was heavily loaded, and all the weight put on a small sharp point on the sidewall of the tire was too much for it. We drove into the town of Paradise and had a huge buffet meal. I had a heaping plate and a half, which I certainly appreciated as I had eaten a light breakfast and a light lunch.

The dinner cost 9 reals, which is equivalent to about five American dollars, and that included many beers and water. Brazil has a little candy desert that every country should have. They are called Pasoca, and only cost about fifteen cents each. They are delicious and taste like sweet crunchy crumbly peanut butter. They are great on ice cream. I think I might buy a whole box of them to take home. We also have eaten the standard Brazilian fare:

X-Frango = cheese and chicken sandwich.

Churascoria = Brazilian dinner with many types of meat. This is one of Brazil's finest cuisines as they have some of the best beef in the world. Brazil is second in the world in beef export.

Acai (pronounced ac-i-e) Brazilian buffet = meats, rice, beans, tomatoes, onions, eggs, etc.

For breakfast in Brazil you can expect bread, butter, cheese, some type of processed meat like bologna, fruit, coffee, and juice.

That evening we stayed in the Posada (house with rooms for rent) that is the same building as the restaurant. The rooms cost us 12 reals each or about seven dollars. This evening I was able to spend the evening charging up my computer, video camera, still camera and mp3 player. I also spent a lot of time typing up the Newfoundland journal and downloading Walter's photographs. He took some great ones, and I took the time to go through them and keep the ones that would be good in a trip report. It was a great evening to catch up on these things. While we were hanging out in the Pousada and old guy wearing hippie style clothes and drunk came in with a flute.

The flute player who wandered in and told us some stories.
Photo by Walter

He told some stories and would play the flute as interludes to the stories. He sold us a cd of his stories and flute playing. He played a lot better and was more coherent on the cd. He was interesting to listen to and stayed the night in the Pousada. In the morning he seemed a lot more normal. Tomorrow we are trying to get on a river in a national park.

Day three: Cachoeiras Ango and Monho

I went to bed about midnight the night before, so I sleeping quite comfortably when Ben and the others got up. I should have known not to rush as I my kayaking gear is still lost by the airlines and I tend to be ready faster than the group anyway. I got out of bed about 8 am and put my stuff together. I was excited to pick up a razor, sun screen, and some other stuff in town. Ben also wanted some some rubbing alcohol for his ears. I got a quick bread, cheese, butter sandwich and asked for directions to a pharmacy. I started walking there, and the owner of the pousada who is very nice stopped his car by me and offered me a ride.

I took the ride which was very nice of him and he dropped me off in front of it in town. I picked out the items I wanted and was surprised at the cost of sun screen. It was 43 reals, or about $24 dollars. Maybe I just haven't bought sun screen in awhile and forgot how expensive it is. I walked back to the pousada and was excited to take a shower, shave and do some laundry in the shower. I am good about doing laundry (shirts, shorts, pants, etc) on these trips with a bar of soap when I take a shower or bath in the river. Man it felt good to be clean, shaven and have clean clothes. After that I got some more breakfast and relaxed a bit this the rest of the guys got their gear together. I did some more computer work and relaxed until everyone was ready at about 10am. Every kayak trip is always a good reminder that if you want an early start you need to camp at your put in. The day that we did that we were hiking to the river at 8:30 am. Today we were not getting started until 10.

We drove to a local set of waterfalls we heard about and thought might be runnable. We first stopped at a Supermercado (super market) for some groceries. After figuring out the directions we arrived and the minimally marked directions and trail head for the waterfalls. We hiked across a stream and then up a trail to the falls. Ben and Mac were ahead of me and went to the lower falls. I decided it would be fun to break standard practice and check out the top falls first. I hiked up the steep rocks and then out above the falls on the rocks. The total hike to the top falls was about 30 minutes. I could see the entrance to the top falls, but not the middle or bottom.

I could see water spraying out in the middle of the falls which indicates rocks in the path of the water part way down. I started hiking down when I ran into Mac. He said the lower falls fell on rock and was not runnable. I planned on hiking to the lower falls, but found a trail leading down to the base of the first falls. I scrambled down there and was at the pool. This falls was about 30' high with rock ledges in it and landed with rocks at the back of the base of the falls. This one was too rocky and too questionable to run. It was sunny and nice and I was sweaty from hiking, so I looked forward to swimming in the pool. I left my shirt and shorts on so they would get 'cleaned' as well and swam across the pool to the other side.

Cooling off at the base of a not-so-runnable falls.
Photo by Walter

I then had fun hiking and climbing down the river left side to the lower falls. The lower falls was about 40' tall and actually looked pretty good from the top. It had a pool entrance and fell straight down. Mac said there were rocks at the bottom though. I saw Ben on the far bank, and after seeing me he decided to swim over to my side. He thought I had rock climbed up the lower falls. This was quite sketchy and would not be prudent without a rope, harness and belay device. He hung out at the lip of the lower falls and Ben considered jumping the 40' into the pool. There is no guarantee about depth of water though, and ultimately he chose to climb back up with me. After climbing back to the pool of the upper falls I swam back across to my stuff and hiked back to the pool of the lower falls. I took a quick swim in the pool of the lower falls and then headed back to the vehicles. We all loaded up and drove back to town.

When we got to town Mac called the head of the local national park to see about permission for running the Rio Preto in the park. It turned out the park manager was going to meet us at the place we were parked, so we had a couple hours to kill in town. Ben found and internet spot, so we went there and did that which was quite nice. The email inbox fills up quickly when you are away from it for several days. My mom was doing a great job of tracking down my lost baggage and giving me email updates. It seems that my bags were sent to Rio Dejaneiro and have been there for a couple days. We did a lot of calling to American Airlines, TAM and who ever else we thought could help, and ultimately I don't feel much closer to getting the boats and my gear. I am now on day 3 without my gear, and I have been very calm and positive about it. But today it looked like I might get it soon, and then it didn't look like that.

For some reason that got under my skin and I got frustrated for a bit. Especially when I consider how much I have spent on this trip it was very frustrating. But my emotions are my responsibility, so I worked on thinking it through and calming down. Instead of getting mad I had to think about the fact that getting mad does not help the boats get here any faster, and what lessons can I learn to apply for next time. We drove that evening to the put in for our next river. We have been traveling with in a group of eight. Ryan MacPherson, Chris Zawacki, Ben Stookesberry, Jesse Coombs, Pedro Olivia, and Pedro's three filming friends: Walter, Edson and Daniel. Pedro's friends are super nice and easy to get along with.

That night we drove toward the town where we thought there would be some rivers. We were looking for places where we could camp when we came across a bar under a bridge on the road. We pulled down under the bridge and it turned out to be perfect. There was a great covered area, and a grill and pool table. The owner turned on the music for us and we started up the homemade grill. We had bought some groceries earlier that day, so we started grilling up sausages and hot dogs. We had beer from the bar and played pool and enjoyed our setting.

A great sunset from our camp that night.
Photo by Walter

It turned out to be a very nice and relaxing evening. Probably our most enjoyable evening yet. We slept under the bridge at the bar which was great, because it rained heavily in the morning. Mac went to bed with the chills and said he got really tired all of the sudden. He may be coming down with something.

Our campsite at a bar under a bridge just outside town. This was a great spot.

The 'Bar under the Bridge' owner..

Day four: Guide to Waterfalls and Canyon

In the morning we had a light breakfast and headed off to town to talk with the tourist department to get information about rivers.

The sign for the local tourism agency.

We spent a good two hours in there talking with the tourism people and learning a lot about the area. I don't speak much Portuguese, so I have to interpret as well as I can. Mac was not feeling well from the previous night, and so stayed in the car during this time in the tourism office.

Ben and the guy running the tourism agency talk about big waterfalls..

After speaking with the office we were ready to go, but Mac was feeling worse. A lot worse. We decided to drop Mac off at a pousada so he could sleep and recover, and we would check out the river with the guide. We headed off with the guide and it took us about one hour to drive there.

Nice views on the way to the river..

We got to the town near the river, and had to pay the locals to see the waterfalls.

The local people who gave us directions to the falls.

We then drove for another twenty minutes over rough and washed out roads, and then arrived at the trail. We hiked about fifteen minutes down the trail and were at the river and waterfalls.

Deep in the jungle, another river with some big falls..

The waterfalls were huge and had a lot of rocks in them. The top one was about 100' and was not runnable. Ben and the guide hiked down further to check out the canyon. They came back about one hour later and Ben said there were to possibly runnable waterfalls.

We all agreed that we had no other river options for the day, so we decided to take one boat and the rope gear and check out the falls that might be runnable. Ben, Pedro and Chris geared up and the rest of us grabbed helmets and cameras. We hiked down there, swam across a calm section, and then positioned ourselves at the canyon rim. Ben hooked up a belay line, and we got everything in position taking video of the whole process.

Ben working his way downstream..
Photo by Walter

Next Ben belayed about eighty feet into the canyon to river level. Pedro and Chris lowered his boat to him next. The boat came down a little up stream of Ben, but it floated toward Ben with the rope attached. Ben then got his boat and hand paddled the flat water deep in the box canyon to the possibly runnable falls. We all waited while Ben scouted the falls for sometime. Eventually looked back and gave us the signal that the falls were not runnable.

Pedro decided to head down toward Ben, and the rest were going to follow the guide around the canyon to below these falls. Daniel, the guide and I hiked around and reached the river about thirty minutes later and climbed up to the area below the falls where Ben was. Ben then crossed the river and hiked up the bank a bit until he got to an area that he could safely jump into the water. I went for a swim as I was sweating and hot from hiking in the Brazilian jungle.

Looking back upstream at the series of falls, big but not very runnable..

Daniel, Ben, the guide and I then hiked down to the top of a two hundred foot falls and Ben showed me where the lower falls were that may be runnable.

Above the 200 footer

While Ben was hiking to above the two hundred foot falls he was attacked by a next of wasps that he said were as big as small birds. He said they were four inches long and attacked him all at once. He said it was like they had a uniform plan of attack. As soon as he realized what was happening he jumped into a pool. He thought later about how screwed you would be if you were on a belay or rock face and they started attacking you.

The time was getting late, so after checking out the falls a bit we decided to head back and call it a day. The hike was not bad, but somewhere during the day I got attacked by the mosquitos or small flies. I remember them getting after me on the hike back near the top of the canyon. I tried to keep moving, but I wanted to help everyone with gear. As soon as I got back to the cars I changed into pants and a long sleeve shirt.

But unfortunately I was too late for my legs. The pests got after my left leg especially, and I probably have about 25 bites on each leg. My left leg and foot is swollen as if it was broken or something. Now the bites are seeping and itchy as well. We got back to Mac and the pousada he slept at during the day. Mac looked terrible. He hadn't eaten anything all day and had barely had anything to drink. I think he pretty much just slept the entire time. Mac has diarrhea. He said his body was super achy like someone had been beating him up. He said his throat was sore and that he would go through periods of feeling better and worse. He also said his jaw was tight. Based on all these symptoms I am concerned he has something worse than a cold. The fact that it comes and goes a bit and makes his joints ache is concerning to me. After checking in on Mac I ate great meal with the others and charged up my electronics before bed.

Day five: Mac goes to the clinic

We spent the morning helping Mac at the clinic and getting hospital tests which took us until about 2:30 pm. First we took him to the clinic and they looked at him a bit and said he needed blood work. The woman was going to look at his tongue, but when he said he was having trouble opening his mouth, I guess she left it at that and never looked. He went to the hospital for the blood tests and they said the results would be ready in 2 hours.

We did some internet and called about my lost baggage and had some lunch during this time. We then went to get the blood results from the hospital and took them back to the clinic. They seemed to have checked for 8 different things such as white blood cells, red blood cells and other things, but I don't think they checked for the specific diseases that might be Mac's problem. They told him to eat and hydrate and rest.

This is good advice, but we still need a definitive answer as to what is wrong with Mac. Then we drove to Taguatinga after getting some lunch on the way. We arrived about 6pm and got some dinner. Walter took his truck to the Dianopolus in the evening to get work done on it. The pousada we chose surprisingly has wireless internet. So I used this opportunity to get caught up on some business and take care of computer work. This was very nice as it helps me work on everything needed to keep relationships in good shape and be responsive to requests. I stayed up until 1 a.m. doing this..

Another stunning sunset..
Photo by Walter

Week two in Brazil, coming next week..