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The Great River Amazon Raft Race

Aug 17, 2007
Dawn on the Amazon III motored up the Nanay River for three days and two nights to observe, and photograph the sixth annual Great Amazon River Raft Race. We spent the first night at the village of Nina Rumi.

Before the roosters crowed, the sounds of machetes echoed through the fog as the teams shaped the balsa logs for their rafts. These rafts were not so much built, as engineered.

One raft in particular caught my attention. It was built in secrecy by a small group who had camped and fished overnight on the sandbar across the river. I heard them laughing into the night and knew they were having fun.

We took my Jon boat across to spy on them. They were delighted with the interest we showed, and were happy to share their secrets with us.

They had conceived an experimental design using seven balsa logs shaped very slim. They charred them over the fire to make them dry and buoyant, sanded them, and then painted them so they would not absorb water during the long race.

The original plan called for eight balsa logs, but they decided seven were advantageous and left the eighth on the beach. They tied their raft together with fishing line, then tested and retied several times. They showed us the big tub of fish they cleaned and salted to save for the second day of the race. I chose them, # 21, Los Bikingos, to win.

We took the Jon boat back to Nina Rumi and studied the other rafts and teams, comparing them to Los Bikingos. I started loosing confidence in my choice when I saw the Amazon Golf Club representatives were all big, strong athletes and learned that one of their members had won every canoe competition he had participated in.

Then I found out the team that won last year was back to defend their title. They were all dressed in red with matching red paddles, the flag of Peru, and a big # 1. They looked like a NASCAR team. I switched my allegiance to them, Los 4 Amigos.

My sentimental favorite was # 91, Los Moshacos, because my buddy Jocko was part of that team. The race started at 11:00 a.m. Jocko's team got off to a good start, but within thirty seconds it was obvious my sentimental favorite was a bad choice. Los Moshacos finished the first leg of the race at Santa Clara a respectable eleventh place, but out of contention.

No one told me team # 10, Los Increiblies de Padre Cocha was unbeatable. They were soon out of sight, and the race was for second and third place. The Amazon Golf Club got to Santa Clara second, 7 minutes and 36 seconds behind Los Increiblies.

My original favorites Los Bikingos finished a disappointing 29 minutes off the pace in fifth place. They paddled across the river to the solitude of a sandbar and began working on their raft. When I got up at 5:30 the next morning they were already refining the design.

Under cover of darkness, the other three members of Jocko's team left him and returned to Iquitos. He vowed to finish the race by himself. Fortunately for Jocko, when the rest of the crews found out his team had abandoned ship, they stripped his raft and used the pieces to modify and improve their rafts. Jocko was disqualified because he had no team and no raft.

In the end, Los Increiblies de Padre Cocha were incredible. They used the current and the wind as their friends. Everyone else tried to cut corners short, stalled in the slack water of the sand points with the wind in their faces and fell behind.

Los Increiblies paddled farther, stayed in the current of the channel, tucked in close to the steep river bank out of the wind, and went faster, earning the S/1000 first prize money, finishing the fifty kilometers over eighteen minutes ahead of Los Hermanos, another team I overlooked, who received the S/600 second place prize.

Los Amigos finished third for S/400. The Amazon Golf Club finished fourth and Los Bikingos finished fifth, both out of the money, but with a lot of pride.

We had a great time, learned a lot, and are making plans for next year's race. Dawn on the Amazon, will sponsor an international team. Please send me your resumes. We will be taking Dawn on the Amazon III again.

Anyone who would like to enjoy the Great Amazon River Raft Race in comfort, with gourmet food, cold beer, cool wine, and good company should contact me for details.
About the Author
Bill Grimes owns and operates Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises, custom cruises on the upper Amazon River and its tributaries from Iquitos, Peru. For details, visit his website at http://www.dawnontheamazon.com
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