This story is featured in the August 2012 issue of Canoe & Kayak Magazine which can be purchased here.
Words and Photos: Christian Bodegren
Kayaking is an inexpensive way to travel. So I bought a continental map of South America and could see that it was possible to connect the rivers from Venezuela in the north all the way to Argentina. Of course, I would have to travel countercurrent much of the way.
I bought an old plastic kayak in Venezuela from my friend Aramis Mateo. It was a Sealution XL by Wilderness Systems that had been in his rental fleet for 12 years. He was supposed to come with me, but he had a motorcycle accident one month before. I’d already put my life on hold, so I went alone.
I don’t know how far I paddled on this expedition. I would start paddling when it got light in the morning until about 3:30 or 4 in the afternoon.
I got used to being alone. Once, on the Rio Madeira, I passed two women cleaning clothes in the river, and they ran away screaming. In other places, people were inviting me to stay with them in their homes.
I saved money for my trip by erecting scaffolding in Norway, mostly on deep-sea drilling rigs. I didn’t ask anyone to sponsor me. I thought I’d feel more free if I did it by myself.
When you paddle countercurrent, you have to stay close to the riverbanks, and this is where the crocodiles are. I surprised one on the Rio Orinoco. He tried to escape to deeper water but my kayak was blocking him. He was hitting the kayak very hard and I nearly fell into the river.
The big crocs are less afraid and very curious. Sometimes I had to scare them away when I made camp.
The Rio Guapore was the hardest. My hands were destroyed from the rain and from paddling all the time, and I was sick. I don’t know what it was; I was just eating antibiotics and trying to paddle. I had already been paddling six or seven months, and there were moments when I was just screaming at myself.
The current was very strong on the Guapore. Sometimes I had to get out of the kayak and pull it around the swiftest parts. I worried about the piranhas, sure, but they are most aggressive in still water.
In Mato Grosso, my kayak got a hole in it. The water was rising in the kayak, and I thought I might sink. It was very early morning, still dark, and I saw a light in the distance. It was a boat with people collecting termites, and one of them had some durapoxy, which I used to repair the hole.
My paddle was coming apart as well. I used a screw and some duct tape to repair it.
When I reached the sea I celebrated with champagne. It was a great trip to see all the animal life, and the way people are living in the Amazon. But I never want to paddle countercurrent again.