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
Journal entry #5 - Kayaking Brazil: The third week


I spent about an hour in the morning down loading Walter's photos and answering some important email. While I was doing this Ben informed me that Mac was going to stay in Dianopolus and not go to Brazil. I could tell that the others had made up their mind, including most likely Mac, and it was pointless for me to try to tell Mac to see a doctor about his recurring fevers. He knows what I think he should do.

I left with Edson and Daniel about seven thirty that morning. I spent the entire eight and a half hours downloading video from the eleven tapes Daniel had captured. We got some lunch on the road, but unfortunately Edson misjudged the gas gauge and we ran out of gas. He certainly did not take long to solve this though, as he was back with containers of gas in about fifteen minutes. We were quickly back on the road and stopped at the first gas station to fill up.

We got to Brasilia about three thirty p.m. and went straight to TAM's lost baggage office. The woman there luckily spoke English which made my life a little easier for sure. I told her my name and asked her if they had two kayaks. With as many conversations as we had with the TAM baggage office over the phone, I thought she might know about them right away. But instead she asked me for my claim slip. She looked at my claim slip and bag tag stickers and the computer. Then she walked into the small hallway and looked around at the few pieces of luggage there. She said all the lost bags were right there, and she did not see them. Certainly I did not see any kayaks either. My heart hit the floor when she said this. I asked her again if all the lost baggage was just here, and she said yes. I was not feeling very optimistic about this. She went back to the computer and started working on it again.

Daniel sat down and asked her in Portuguese about two 'kayakes'. She said 'Ah! two KayakES, yes we have them.' Wow, I couldn't believe it. I had pronounced them the English way with no avail. Daniel pronounced them the Portuguese way and she knew exactly what he was talking about. She made a phone call and told me they were bringing them up from the holding area.

We waited for about ten minutes, and then I saw a baggage guy carrying a kayak on his shoulder. Not long after him the other kayak came on a cart being pushed by a second baggage guy. WOW! I couldn't believe my eyes. The kayaks were there, and they actually looked pretty good. With as many times as they had been on flights, and as many hands that had passed them around, I was quite concerned that they might be opened or damaged or missing things. But no, they looked pretty good. I could tell that someone had re-taped them a bunch, but otherwise they seem okay. I can't believe I finally have the kayaks ten days into my twenty one day trip. Crazy.


We drove to the bus station next and went to the ticket office for a ticket. I got the ticket and then we got a quick bite to eat.

The Bus Station

While we were eating I asked Daniel what platform the bus was going be. He said the ticket guy said 304, but that didn't make sense to me as the platforms were one through twelve. We looked at my ticket, and I did not see a platform number. Daniel looked at the ticket also, and said there was no platform number on it.

I walked over to the platforms and asked a guy wearing a uniform and loading baggage what platform for Dianopolus. He said 'dos' which means platform platform number two. We put the bags/kayaks in a bag check area so I would not have to baby sit them until my bus at nine p.m. Next I found an internet place and spent an hour on the internet for four reals which is just over two dollars. I also worked on my laptop until eight p.m. At eight I went to platform platform number two and saw a working behind a counter.

I asked him where the bus for Dianopolus would be and what time in my broken Portuguese, and he said Platform number two at nine p.m. A little before nine I got my bags out of storage and took them across the entire station to platform number two. I waited there until ten after and the same guy behind the desk asked me what bus I was waiting for.

After a bunch of talking they told me the bus for Dianopolus left already from platform number four. Are you kidding!!?!! I couldn't believe my ears. It turns out that the bus that left from platform number two was headed to ANNAPOLIS, NOT DIANOPOLUS. Are you kidding?!?! The travel problems on this trip never seem to end..

Confusion at the Bus Terminal

I talked to many many bus conductors and explained my situation and how I was told the wrong thing, but there was nothing they could do. The bus was already gone. The same tall guy who was behind the counter of platform two told me there was another bus at eight a.m. leaving from platform number two. MORE WRONG INFORMATION!!!! I spoke with the main ticket counter to get my ticket changed, and they said the next bus to Dianopolus was twenty-four hours from now at nine p.m. the next evening. The bad news just keeps piling on. I was stuck in the bus station for twenty-four more hours and another lost day on this trip that has been filled with lost kayaking days. I have never in my life spent so much money on a kayaking trip and done no kayaking.. UNBELIEVABLE!!

There are some definite lessons to learn from all of this.

1. There are times when you will be doing everything you think you can do to make things go smoothly, and still there may be major problems.
2. I should have studied the ticket more closely and asked the guys behind the counter what the platform would be instead of random workers.
3. Even though I though I was being early, I should have had my bags out there earlier and been checking busses for signs more closely.
4. I should have shown my ticket to those I was asking regarding the platform number as opposed to relying on my pronunciation and their selective hearing.

There was nothing else I could do but settle in for another friking day of waiting all day. This time it would be a bus station in Brasilia. I called Pedro and Mac to tell them I would be coming a day later. I considered getting a taxi to a Pousada, but decided against it. A Pousada would be more comfortable and a bit safer, but I am fed up with spending too much money and having logistical problems on this trip.

In the end I decided to just sleep at the bus station until the next frikin bus at nine p.m. Sunday. I tied up my bags and put them with me in a way that made them inaccessible to others. I worked on my computer until eleven p.m., played a game of electronic chess and went to sleep. Of course it was a fitful night of sleep waking up when I would hear footsteps near me..

Where I slept at the bus station.. next to my wrapped boats.


I woke up this morning at six a.m. to the sound of feet nearby. All night busses were coming and going, and now the bus station was starting to take on the bustle of the morning. I rubbed my eyes a bit and took inventory of my surroundings. I still had my all my gear and things looked pretty much the same as when I laid down. I brushed my teeth and put my sleeping stuff away. I went off to use the restroom and then moved my kayaks near the gate where the bus will be and next to the desk of the bus conductors. I hoped this would make the kayaks look official and be less likely to get messed with. After that I headed off to a shoe shine chair with an outlet next to it to type on the computer and keep busy. This ASUS EEE mini laptop has been the savior for me. I've been able to write out a full journal of events that have happened each day on the computer instead of in a notebook. When I used to write it in a notebook I would have to go back and type it in later.

Also, I saw very few shady people during my day and a half at the bus station. I saw a couple homeless people, one crazy lady, and about ten thirty last night I saw a shady young couple digging through trash cans that asked me for money. And Brasilia is supposed to be one of the more shady towns in Brazil. I've been to MUCH worse bus stations in Eastern Europe and the U.S. where I was very concerned for my stuff and for lots of shady characters in the area. But not here. Certainly I need to be smart and watch my stuff, but it is not like I have to have it strapped to my body at all times in front of me where I can see it. And I definitely have felt like that and needed that level of security in other countries. Pretty nice for sure!

I did one hell of a job parking myself where the bus would be and taking up as much prime real estate as possible. I guessed pretty closely where the bus would stop and only had to move my Super Heros a little bit. Even so, when the bus guys saw my kayaks they were less than optimistic. They saved one luggage compartment just for my boats and the guy worked really hard to stack everyone else's stuff like a tight puzzle.

I am really grateful that they made such an effort to get my boats on the bus. I was imaging what I would do if they told me they did not have room for them, and I really did not want to imagine another huge setback like that. I happily took my seat and for the time being had two seats to myself. With so many travel difficulties on this trip. I was sure looking forward to sitting on the bus and not being responsible for making things happen.


I arrived in Dianopolus at the bus station at seven thirty a.m. Walter and Pedro were waiting there for me which was very nice of them. I was SO happy to have the boats and my gear. I am really excited to kayak here and use the Super Heros! I also was so happy to be at Walter's house and clean up. I must have brushed my teeth for fifteen minutes. I also took a shower, shaved and did laundry. Man, it feels good to be clean.

In the afternoon we took the big flat bed truck to Walter's ranch and house that he is building and dropped off some fencing. We then drove back to Walter's house and got some lunch before heading off to the river named Palmeiras in Tocacantins region. Walter told us that they are damning the river for an electrical power house that will generate eleven Megawatts. The nature of the river was pool drop drop with flat sections between rapids.

On the road to the Palmeiras River


Chris, dressed for success at the put-in for the Palmeiras River..

The Palmeiras was basically class four with onem more difficult rapid that had two folding currents with a hole on the right and a wall on the left. We all ran this one fine with a variety of lines. We continued on down stream and eventually got to the first powerhouse. It turns out that they are building two houses and dewatering the section in between them. They created a diversion channel that allowed them to work on the the river bed where they would divert the flow. We got out of our boats and hiked around to check out the construction and damage done to the earth.

It turned out that the diversion channel created a cool long class five rapid that would be the toughest thing we saw all day. Just as we were looking at this diversion rapid the head guy who spoke some English came over to tell us we could not be there. He said that the area was a level four restricted area which was the highest level. He said that a bus was coming to take away the workers, and we would go with them on that bus.

It was a little before five p.m. when we got there, and he said they were going to do a blast at five thirty. Just as he was talking with us it began raining very strongly. The rain was so heavy that the muddy water was absolutely pouring off the mountain and hill sides into the river. They had dug a huge pit that must have been eighty feet deep and sixty feet wide. They had a ton of scaffolding down there and the workers came pouring out when the rain hit. Water and rocks were literally pouring down the sides of the pit and filling it. The workers were yelling at each other to get out of there as you could hear the rocks hitting the scaffolding below. The scene was surreal. I couldn't believe how it went from sunny to pouring rain and filling the river so quickly.

You could actually see the river rising, and the muddy water pouring over rocks and hill side into the river looked like it was right out of Indiana Jones. We decided that we would not listen to the head guard and would get in the water and press on downstream. We wanted to get in together and quickly so they wouldn't stop us. Unfortunately Pedro was taking longer for some reason, and we ended up waiting for him. After a bit Pedro came as well and we got in the flooded river and headed down stream. Right at five thirty we heard this HUGE thunderous boom and must have been them setting off the blast. It rocked the earth and the sound carried across and over us. If we had gotten to that first powerhouse forty minutes later than we did there would have been no one there, and we would have been there right when they blasted. Scary!

There were a couple more rapids and some flat water and we got to the second powerhouse. There was no diversion here and we just pulled over to speak with the workers. The workers said that they work from seven a.m. until ten p.m. every day. Even with the first head guard telling us to not run the river, all of the workers including him were friendly. And most of them were excited to see us on the river and hollering after us as we would run the rapids. After the second powerhouse there was only one kilometer of river left.

While we were on the river Mac got us a Dublo rental car and checked out a waterfall that turned out to be unrunnable. The Dublo is the perfect car for us in that it seats five comfortably and has room for our gear in the back. Plus it has a roof rack that we tied wood bars to for our kayaks. That night we ate some dinner, checked email and relaxed.

In the morning we set up the wood cross bars and loaded up the boats and gear. Then it was time to drive two hundred and forty kilometers to Cavalcante to the put in for the Rio Das Almas. This stands for the river of the souls. This is an eighty kilometer first descent that drops four hundred meters. We expect it to take three or four days to run, but there is no way to be sure.

On the way we decided to stop at Taugautinga to drop off Pedro's Mega Rocker at the forty three meter waterfall so that he can come back and run it later after we have left. We still have not gotten permission from the guards to run this waterfall, so the boys have decided to buy some meat and churrascaria ( BBQ ) supplies to try to win them over to our side more. I made up my mind earlier in the day, that if Pedro wanted to wait at the waterfall until the water level was high enough, I would stay with him and film it and be his safety. When I told the others what I wanted to do, they seemed more interested in sticking around also. We arrived at the waterfall and this time we were surprised to see that there were very few guards there. We walked to the falls just as they were stopping the diversion and letting the flow go over the falls, which was good timing. This time the maximum flow was greater than it had been the last time we were here.

Pedro scouting the big falls at a more favorable flow than before.

Eventually after looking at it long enough Pedro decided there was not enough water to run it. We went to the car to relax until Pedro was ready to go. While we were at the car and relaxing Ben brought up the idea again of sending a boat over, and we decided we would do it regardless of the guards. We didn't have anything really to lose as Pedro wasn't going to run it. We got the boat and set up the cameras where they would be for the real thing. I gave the boat to Pedro and went to the bottom to get the boat. Ben and Chris went to get the shot from across the ridge. When we were all ready Pedro sent the boat over. The line looked amazingly perfect. The boat went right where you would want it to go. Any time you send an empty boat over it always gets out of orientation quickly, but in this case it actually stayed in good orientation for almost the whole way. It did flatten out toward the bottom, but it was really an encouraging line by the boat. I got in the water and collected the boat at the bottom. It floated perfectly to the end of the pool.

We gathered the equipment together and started walking up the road to the look out. Pedro and all of us were amazed at how good the line looked. Ben and Pedro were walking together at the back and talking about the drop. All of the sudden Ben announces that Pedro has decided to run the falls. We check make sure Ben was not kidding, and he wasn't. We hurried to the car to get Pedro's Mega Rocker and get our equipment all together. Ben got his safety gear and camera together.

Pedro borrowed my shoulder brace geared himself up for the drop with his safety gear. I was happy to lend it to him. He also asked if he could use my bent shaft carbon fiber foam core blade Werner Paddle and I was happy to lend it to him as this is the Cadillac of paddles in my opinion.

Pedro, contemplating dropping over the biggest waterfall ever run in a kayak..

Pedro asked that I be the one who was with him at the top. I was glad to be the one who he trusted to have a positive attitude and help him at the top before he went off the falls. We were scrambling a bit but also making sure we had the gear we needed. We all packed off toward our respective spots. Mac took video of Pedro getting in the water well above the falls and mentioned that they were already letting water through the diversion. That was bad news. We had been scouting this drop at full flow for about two hours, and we only decided to run it right at the time they were going to run the water through the diversion. I walked out to the look out and told the others that the water had already dropped too much. I hiked out to the lip and got there the same time as Pedro in his Mega Rocker. We both came to the same realization. The water was too low to run it now. Pedro was devastated. He had prepared himself mentally and now he wasn't going to run it. I told him it was fine. If we came back tomorrow we could run it on his time table and with good light. I told him I would rather he run it when everything was right rather than rush it now.

Mac spoke with one of the guards and almost talked him into shutting off the diversion. But again, I think it is better for Pedro to run it on his schedule and to be sure about it. I didn't want Pedro to rush into it. I also really wanted Pedro to stick this drop perfectly if he was going to run it. I suggested to him that he will want a little more speed than the water, and that he should get his speed heading toward the lip. Then he should not take a stroke at the falls but should use that last paddle blade to set his angle. Then he should stay neutral for as long as possible until right before he was going to land in the pool below.

I suggested that he wanted a smooth tuck, not a quick rushed one that would get his boat turning and pitching. I suggested that he put the front paddle blade right against the boat so that it would not catch any water when he hit the pool. I suggested he tuck his head tight and be looking down at his skirt, not up at the pool. Finally regarding his tuck I suggested that he put his back hand by his ribs and not on the boat. That way if the force of the water in the pool pushes his paddle into his boat it won't smash his hand against the boat. And my last suggestion was that he should stay tucked no matter what orientation he was going to land, unless he was going to land flat. And if that was going to happen he should throw his body over the boat to get it to go upside down. That way he would hopefully get thrown out of the boat as opposed to getting smashed flat. He showed me his entry line and it really looked good and straight forward as that is where the water is going. That is a good sign.

We stashed his gear at the lip and went back to the car. We took the meat we bought earlier in the day and made a great churrascaria for ourselves and shared it with the guards. This was such a great evening. Pedro made a great dinner of rice, beans, grilled meat, noodles and vegetables.

Sharing BBQ with one of the guards

I saw Mac picking limes straight from a tree, and I wanted some for myself because they smelled so good on the tree. I picked one and took it into the kitchen for a knife. While I was cutting and tasting the lime I noticed a container of raw sugar. This gave me an idea. I went back and picked another eight lemons from the tree and cut them in half. I took my cup and squeezed the lemons into the cup.

I used a fork to fish the seeds out of the lemon juice and added a bunch of sugar. I then added the fresh spring water that they had plumbed into the kitchen and had the best fresh lime juice I have ever had. I made three of these cups I liked it so much. The stars were out in force with the clear sky and this turned out to be one of if not my favorite evening of the whole trip. I went to sleep that night knowing that tomorrow would be a day of reconning..

Ben and the author at the lime orchard campsite that evening..

Week four in Brazil, coming next week..