by jesse coombs

Prepping for Brazil: Overseas expedition kayaking travel tips
Journal entry #1 - Getting to Brazil: An unbelievable epic
Journal entry #2 - Getting to Brazil: It just keeps getting worse
Journal entry #3 - Kayaking Brazil: The first week
Journal entry #4 - Kayaking Brazil: The second week

43 METERS = 141 FEET

In the morning Pedro called Brazilian David Stefan who is trying to connect with us for kayaking. I guess he rented a car with a friend and drove a thousand kilometers to paddle with us. But he was never able to reach Pedro, because Pedro's phone battery was dead. He waited around for one and a half days in a town where we had just been, and then went back. Next Pedro called on my lost baggage. It turns out that my baggage as been with TAM in Brasilia since 2/25, but they did not tell us when we would call.

Now that we got a hold of them they were saying that they won't hold them much longer, and we better hurry. This was very frustrating as we had been checking every day on the phone and email for updates, and now they are saying they may just send them back. Crazy! I was not at all happy when I heard this. Pedro did a good job of talking with TAM and convinced them that we would pick up the boats no later than Monday.

With our business out of the way we drove off to see the forty meter waterfall. The forty meter falls is like nothing I have ever seen. I find it hard to believe I would say this, but it actually looks runnable. We drove up to the falls and kept our kayaks hidden from the guards/maintenance guys. It turns out Pedro has been here twice before. Once with a couple friends to consider it, and the second time with ESPN Brasil and his sponsor Red Hat. When he was there with ESPN they brought a construction tape measure and it measured forty-three meters.

Scouting the big falls at low water.
A diversion dam controls the flow over this one, so it is a true turn-on drop.

The first time he came to the falls the power management company was okay with it. And they allowed Pedro and ESPN to come back for kayaking and filming, but unfortunately the water level was too low. After the second trip the power company said no more kayaks. Therefore we had to keep our kayaks hidden when we came this time.

The guy at the house at the entrance had his boy with him and was fine with letting us walk out to see the falls. We got to the top and took some photos and video and then climbed over the fence to hike over to the lip. We got to the lip and I could not believe how tall this thing was.

We looked around and took photos and film. Ben asked me to sit with my legs over the lip for the film. I did this and was there for several minutes. The guards saw this from afar and they were not happy about it. I guess they thought I might jump or something. The main guard came and said it was time for us to go. Once he understood that we were not considering jumping he relaxed a bunch. We swam in the diversion river up stream and I was amazed at how clear and nice the water was. I could have swam there all day.

Mac and I took some underwater photos with my waterproof camera and we all laughed and joked. About the time we were ready to get out of the water we heard an alarm go off. This indicated that they were shutting off the diversion flow and would let the entire flow go over the falls. We all rushed to the look out point and took video of the falls coming up in volume and then going back down as the system turned back to the diversion channel.

Scouting the big falls with the full flow coming over the diversion dam just upstream.
( there is a person at the top for scale ).
Photo by Walter

During this time Mac and Pedro spoke with the guard quite a bit. One of the things Mac said was to ask the guard if he could make 300 reals in a day. The guard laughed and said absolutely he couldn't. Mac said how about in a week. Again the guard said no way. The guard said it would take at least two weeks to make 300 reals. Mac was planting the seed for giving the guard 300 reals to look the other way for half a day and let us run it. There is no saying whether or not the guard got the hint.

As the water was coming back down in the falls and into the diversion channel Ben saw a really cool green lizard that was quite long and sunning himself. We all went over to take video and photos. I just happened to snap a photo of the lizard as it was jumping from its spot into the water. Pretty cool. The lizard was a decent little swimmer and used his long tail and feet for propulsion through the water.

A cool lizard I saw swimming through the water.

We talked about the falls some more and decided we wanted to see it from the bottom. Mac said he wanted to go for a swim, and we all thought that was a good idea. We asked the guard and he said it would be okay. We had to climb down past the 'No Swimming' sign to get there. We stripped down to our shorts and got in the pool at the base. The water was fresh and really nice.

We figured out that we could swim behind the falls and before long we were all swimming behind the falls, enjoying being so close to the water and spray and power, and then swimming down and under the falls where it hit the pool. We would re-emerge at the front of the falls in the spray and be pushed away from the falls by the water. There were also little fish in the pool that must have been hungry, because they would nip at our bodies a once in awhile and it felt like a little pinch. Ben said one of them nipped at his groin. Yikes!

Swimming the base of the big falls.
The pool here is very deep, we just needed more water going over the falls to soften the landing zone..

As we were leaving Mac said he did not believe the falls were as high as Pedro said. He was adamant about it. I suggested that we had the climbing rope and we mind as well measure it. Mac still was not 'buying it' regarding height and Pedro suggested that they bet 500 reals that the falls was at least forty three meters high. Mac was so sure of his opinion and chose to not take the bet. We got the rope and went back to the guards.

Pedro checked with them if they would mind, and he encouraged them to guess the height they expected. Everyone including the guards and us chose a number, even the main guard's son, Flavio. I guessed 43 as that was what Pedro said it was measured at before. We agreed that the bet was one real each of which all would go to the winner.

Daniel and I went to the bottom with a radio and two cameras and everyone else went to the top. They first lowered a throw rope down, and the 60' rope was about half way or less in my opinion. Interestingly, Mac was filming from way back at the height of the top of the falls and said the throw rope looked more than half way down to him. Next they tied the climbing rope to a log and lowered it. When it got to the bottom I radioed that the log was in the water and the rope was straight. They used tape to mark the spot on the rope at the top, and then pulled up the log. They also marked the place on the rope at the log so we would know the top and bottom marks. Next we took the rope to a long straight area near the guard house and laid it out straight with a little tension to simulate the pull of the log.

I used my feet to step heel to toe to heel. I have done this countless times working on houses and found my feet to be pretty accurate as a measurement of one foot in length per step. When I was done walking the rope I had counted 140.75 feet. The guards also had a piece of rope they said was four meters long. They used this to measure the rope and came up with 42.5 meters. We did some basic math on the flat rocks writing with another rock, and came up with the fact that the measurements were basically the same. Sure enough, Pedro was right and this falls was pretty much 140 feet or 42.5 meters.

The person who won the bet was the guard's son, Flavio. He was no more than about nine years old. We gave him a box of cookies and everyone gave their real to him. Pretty soon he had just about as much as his little hand could hold in change. We had him shake the money and show his earnings to us in his hand. We were all enjoying this moment and how it turned out. You could tell the father was very proud for his son. We asked the boy what he was going to do with it, and after getting over a little shyness he said he was going to buy a car. Cool! Mac suggested he should hide his money under a rock and take out a little at a time as he needed it.

We got the phone number of the main guard so that we could check back with him on river levels. I still don't think he caught on to the fact that we were considering running it in a kayak. We got in the cars and drove back to town. It started raining while we were driving, and we stopped at another river in the system to get a gauge rock. We saw some good flat rocks and took video as a record.

On the drive home Pedro said that if the drop has enough water he is going to run it. I really don't think he is talking trash. I think that he truly likes the falls and is excited about them. I can tell that the falls gets him a little nervous and amped up, but tall falls or tough rapids do that to all of us. I honestly think he feels like this drop is for him. Pretty amazing that he is considering it this seriously. That night we stayed in a pousada and talked about the events of the day.


Mac has been fighting an illness that won't go away, and I am concerned that he has Dengue, Malaria or Yellow Fever. He goes through phases where he feels fine and has energy and looks good, and other phases where he has no energy and his bones and joints ache. Yesterday he seemed completely normal and high energy. Today he looks terrible again. He also has had a fever, sore throat, diarrhea and a tight and painful jaw. Sometimes he looks great, and other times he looks like he has lost fifteen pounds and is completely white. We took him to a doctor earlier, and they did some tests and looked at him, but they never came up with what was wrong. The told him to get rest and hydrate. I honestly don't think this will solve what ever he has. Mac needs a correct diagnosis and many relaxed days in a row to recover.

This is probably a good time to talk about team dynamics. Everyone as individuals has specific interests, and everyone as a team member has specific interests. Sometimes the individual desires take priority over the team decisions; sometimes the team desires take priority over the individual desires. In the case of Mac I don't think enough thought has been given to his illness that may be a disease. I have encouraged Mac several times to get straight to a major hospital and find out exactly what is going on. If he has something that will take care of itself with rest, then at least he knows exactly what is wrong. If he has something that needs medical attention, then he will get it.

He and I agreed Friday afternoon that he would go with me to Brasilia to get checked out, but by Saturday morning the team made the decision that he would stay in Dianopolus and informed me I would be the only one going with Daniel and Edson. When I spoke with Mac on the phone late Saturday night he sounded terrible. There are many, many times I see individuals exerting their will on the group to serve individual interests, and I really don't think Mac has gotten the care he should in this situation. It is quite possible that he will recover from what ever he has, which I think is probably Dengue Fever. And if he does it will all seem fine that he did not get to a major hospital. But none of us are doctors, and I think we are risking too much to not be sure and take this chance.

This morning we motivated earlier and hit the road at nine a.m. We drove out of town for about an hour and spent a lot of time on dirt roads. At about 2:30 we arrived at the first waterfall. It was tall with a lot of interesting features.

The first big falls on the Cachoeiras
Photo by Walter

We were discussing the height of the falls so I took a throw bag to the other side and did a measurement. I measured it at fifty feet. Pedro and Ben were considering it and the rest of us got into position for safety and filming. After looking at it many times, Pedro decided he would go.

I was filming from the lip of the falls, and Pedro was asking me what I thought about how to run the falls. I gave him my thoughts on the best line. He indicated that he was ready, and we motioned back to him. He got in his boat and didn't waste any time. He paddled hard for the lip and had a perfect line and penciled into the pool.

Pedro probes the first big one on the Cachoeiras
Photo by Walter

Unfortunately his paddle broke in the falls. This is surprising considering that he also said this was the softest landing he has ever had on a big falls. But he was using a paddle that was not a Werner, and we have seen an awful lot of those break on our international kayaking trips. He swam out of his boat and got himself to shore. After a few minutes he decided to jump back in the water and swim after his boat. He wasn't able to get it this way, so he decided to jump in the truck and drive down to the next falls hoping to see his boat. Despite Pedro's carnage result on the falls Ben was still fired up to run it.

We waited for a little while for Pedro to return and spent some time in our shorts fishing with a net that Edson has. That was kind of fun and we caught about fifty little guys only a couple inches long or less. Mac said they were good fried. We ended up releasing the fish we caught. I'm not sure why the change of plans, but that as fine with me. I made sure all the little fish made it back in the river.

Pedro returned without his boat unfortunately. Ben was still fired up to run the drop, so we all got into position. Ben looked at the falls one more time and then got in his boat. He spent a little time in his boat getting ready and then paddled for the falls. He hit his line perfectly and then seemed to be in a nice angle for entry.

Toward the bottom of the falls he took another stroke and the boat went completely flat and then actually dropped the stern slightly before the rest of the boat. He was in the falls and the water falling from the falls pushed him down. He rolled up and paddled away from the falls looking good. It was a sweet looking line for sure!

Ben drops the first big one on the Cachoeiras
Photo by Walter

Ben paddled down river to the next falls, and Chris hiked his boat down and paddled down river with Ben. They got to the next falls and this was a nice and clean thirty foot falls. The rest of us drove down river and then hiked through the jungle and deep mud to the pool at the base of the falls. When Ben and Chris saw me they signaled to me to tell them what line looked good from the bottom. I told them it was all good except for a place in the falls formed a V at the top.

They understood my signals and Chris decided to go first. He chose a good spot to go over the falls and took a boof stroke at the lip. He skied the drop and truly separated from the falls. He landed on the boil with a bit of angle for his boat, and stayed upright in what looked like too sweet of a line. On camera it looked perfect. Chris said the landing was a bit too abrupt based on his angle and he could have penciled more. Now Ben was ready to go. I signaled to Ben that he should pencil his entry, and he understood. We all signaled that Ben was ready and he took a similar line to Chris. He didn't take boof stroke and penciled the drop.

Ben runs the second falls on the Cachoeiras, demonstrating the tried-and-true Oregon Tuck..
Photo by Walter

Ben and Chris had found Pedro's Mega Rocker and brought it to the top of the falls. Pedro climbed up and around the bank and got to his boat. He ran a line a little left of where Chris and Ben ran, and he pulled a huge boof stroke. When he landed completely flat on the boil the boat made a booming sound. He paddled toward the rest of us and did not have a happy expression on his face.

When he got close he said his back was hurting. He got out of his boat and sat in the water for awhile. He felt better before too long and talked about his line and how he was doing. We all hiked out the slippery jungle trail and back to the car. Like pretty much all the other days we haven't gotten lunch, and are starving for dinner. We tend to eat a good breakfast, get very little lunch and eat a big dinner.

My boats are in Brasalia and Mac needs to get there also to get his illness checked more thoroughly. Daniel and Edson need to get back South, so Mac and I will go with them to Brasilia. Ben, Chris and Pedro are going to take a bus to Brasilia. We only have one car now as Walter is staying in his home town of Dianaopolus.


I woke up at six this morning to drive with Edson and Daniel eight and a half hours back to Brasilia. It was not hard to wake up this early, because the sleeping arrangements were one of my least favorite. As long as I have my pad I don't mind cement floors. It doesn't bother me to sleep in public places.

I am even semi-okay sleeping a little damp although it is not my first choice. But I have a very hard time sleeping much when the temperature is too hot to have a cover over me AND the bugs want to bite me. If I cover up I get so hot I wake up. If I don't cover up I wake up hearing the bugs buzzing in my ear or making me itch.

This was the case that night. Now certainly the easy solution to this is bring an airy tent, but I work really hard and carrying the least amount of stuff possible that I would only carry a tent if I absolutely had to. Otherwise a bivy sack is much, much smaller and lighter. The reason I am so diligent about packing lightly is that it makes travel much easier. I have less stuff to carry and the bags I have are lighter. There is less stuff for me to manage and or lose on the trip. I take up less room in the shared vehicle. And a tent is not very practical for kayak overnight trips as they take up too much room in the back of your boat.

Sleeping on cement floors with the bugs that night was not an ideal arrangement, but we made the best of it.

For international kayaking trips I have gone to the system of a pad, a sleeping bag, a bivy bag and a 8'x10' tarp. That way I can sleep pretty much anywhere. I am packed as lightly as anyone could be. I am ready for pretty much any weather. And the tarp gives me a dry place to change and hopefully keeps the majority of the water off my sleeping bag, bivy and me. Certainly the purpose of the bivy is to withstand the elements. But there is a problem when you have many rainy days in a row. The problem with a wet bivy is that after the first night you will pack it up wet.

The first question is what will you pack it next to in your dry bags that you won't mind the bivy getting wet. There really isn't anything you want wet in your dry bags. Second, when you go to use your bivy the next night the moisture has worked its way to the inside most likely, so now your sleeping bag is going to be wet right away. For me, the best way to manage this stuff is to let the tarp get wet, keep it outside of the dry bags, and do my best to keep the bivy, bag and pad a dry as reasonably possible..

Week three in Brazil, coming next week..