Biking the Amazon: Part VII

When the great river flowed backward!

After crossing the Andes Mountains and finding the source of the Amazon on bicycles, Polish brothers David Andres and Hubert Kisiński are piloting their floating "Amazon Bikes" down the world's largest river toward the Atlantic Ocean. Amazon explorer Piotr Chmielinski is in touch with the expedition and provides this report as the brothers continue their journey.

By Piotr Chmielinski

"That’s a first! The water is flowing backward!" wrote Dawid Andres from the Amazon. He and brother Hubert Kisiński were getting closer to the Atlantic Ocean, the destination of their bike ride down the world’s largest river.

This reversal of water flow happened in a network of channels near Marajo Island. This island, the size of Switzerland, divides the river into two branches that reach the ocean. The shorter branch starts near the town of Macapá. The longer branch begins near the city of Belém. With the objective to conquer the entire Amazon River, only the second option was acceptable.

map

In the channels of the Amazon
The channel system is so complicated that one can wander endlessly into a labyrinth of smaller and larger streams. The most detailed maps are little help. On our expedition, 30 years ago, Joe Kane and I were similarly lost, wondering if we were paddling in the right direction.

Confusion hit Dawid and Hubert immediately after entering the channels. Fortunately, modern technology rescued the travelers. On the map locator, which reports the bikers’ position, I set way-points connecting the correct channels. This enabled them to find the main stem of the river. The brothers successfully moved through this tangled web, using their energy to struggle with the surging Atlantic tides.

"We move in one channel smoothly along the current," recounted Hubert. "We enter the next one and it starts to push us backwards, because everything here works the opposite way. The current is so strong, it is impossible to counter it on our bikes."

pushing bike

On the Amazon swing!
After the repairs and strengthening completed in Santarem, the brothers agreed that only now were they riding true Amazonian bikes. A rigid frame provided greater stability, even on choppy river. Horrible winds, pushing water, and big waves were no longer a threat to the bikers. Obviously, the water conditions were not forgiving, especially in the tidal channels.

"One day, a powerful storm unleashed its strength," said Hubert. "The water drenched the bikes harder than ever. I rose to the top of the wave, which then folded and crashed with a bang over the bike, as if it was in the middle of the ocean. Very strong wind and rain accompanied those waves."

After 30 minutes, the storm disappeared as suddenly as it appeared. Such weather changes are common in the Amazon. The brothers have grown used to them. From 4am, the start of their day, until early afternoon it is calm and sunny. In just a moment, it grows dark. A hurricane roars with heavy rains. The waves are huge. After a short while, beautiful weather returns.

"Fortunately, there are no such waves as before Santarem," said Dawid. "Choppy and striking from every angle. Here the waves are cool. We’re on a swing, up and down, up and down."

clouds

A cabin in Brazil
The many channels, despite the problematic tides, enchanted the brothers. Enjoying the green grasses exotic trees, and colorful birds, they often stopped to capture the beautiful memories with photos.

"We traveled so many thousands of kilometers on the Amazon," said a delighted Dawid. "But we hadn’t seen jungle like that. These are views I had only seen in nature and travel films. That is how I imagined the jungle."

Lush vegetation so densely overhung the riverbanks, it was not always possible to set up camp for the night. It was too dangerous to pitch tents close to the river because of high tide waters. And due to spiders as big as his hand, Hubert was not eager to venture into the dense undergrowth!

"We were going for a long time without the possibility of setting the camp, because the water rises and floods the shore," said Dawid. "Finally, some local cried, ‘Go a little bit further and stop at an old abandoned hut.’ That cottage was a dream come true! We lit a bonfire and baked fish, which we had caught. At night, in the silence, you can only hear the singing of the jungle. I was hoping to experience this during our trip. Piotr, stop by, we have a cabin in Brazil!"

locals

Belém on the horizon
The Atlantic approaches, but still much effort is needed for the brothers to reach their goal. They are tired after the six-month journey. The struggle even affects their health: Dawid recently caught a cold. However, what kind of Amazon adventure would this be without blistered hands, bruised bottoms, and aching joints? The pressure from the steering wheel is felt even during the night rest. Amused, they list their chafes, abrasions, and injuries which they refuse to photograph.

"Hubert has always said that everything had been so easy on the Amazon," laughed the elder brother. "A few days ago, he said to me, ‘Dawid, one has to be pretty crazy to do what we do.’"

The closer the target, the more they realize how little time they have left. For Dawid, it is a happy prospect. He misses a normal life, home and family. His garden bench in Arizona. At this time of year, the weather is beautiful there.

"I’m a little sad, and feeling regret, when I realize our expedition is nearing the end," said Hubert, with nostalgia in his voice. "On the other hand, I want to be with my boys."

on sand

But enough about the end of the expedition! The brothers have yet to accomplish their goal. Safe travels to Belém!

–Piotr Chmielinski is a Polish-American adventurer who completed the first source-to-sea descent of the Amazon River by kayak and raft in 1985/86. That trip was chronicled in Joe Kane's classic book "Running the Amazon."

READ the whole Biking the Amazon series on CanoeKayak.com

–Digital Feature | True Source: Discovery and Rivalry on the Amazon River

—Learn more on the expedition's website: bikingtheamazonriver.com