This story is featured in the August 2012 issue of Canoe & Kayak Magazine which can be purchased here.
Words and Photos: Christian BodegrenKayaking 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.