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"The Apurimac is such a powerful river that even seemingly quite runnable rapids would just grab our heavy boat and eat it!" Image courtesy of expedition Amazonas (click to enlarge).



Expedition Amazonas interview, final: "The entire journey is etched upon my mind and my heart for eternity"

Posted: Mar 01, 2008 02:16 am EST
(TheOceans.net) Mark swears his next expedition will be a lightweight, open country trek - through Omo Valley in Ethiopia. "Surrounded by dense bush, at night hyenas, lions, buffalo and elephant and on the river hippos and crocs, this place is really hard out," he says.

In addition the tribes, with an AK-47 on their backs, stealing cattle, killing and kidnapping each other will prove a nice change of scenery to cocaine warlords. Today, the final part of the interview.

ExWeb What were the nights on the river like?

Mark Amazing! They could be the most peaceful, spiritual and uplifting times of the entire expedition. Floating along the open river on a still night, a billion stars lighting the sky and the feeling of being totally alone on the water released such endorphins into the body it was like a massive high.

ExWeb Single biggest memory?

Mark The entire journey is etched upon my mind and my heart for eternity. Some moments seem to melt into the next, others stand out by themselves, but the whole journey has been unforgettable.

I think the people of Peru and Brazil really captured our hearts. Such wonderful and caring people who live so simply and have what we in the developed world may see as very little gave us everything they had. Food, shelter, smiles, everything!

ExWeb And funniest?

Mark Fortunately for our spirits, these were plentiful. It could be an unintentional language faux pax, a deliberate joke from our resident comedian Phil or possibly something that out of context or in a different situation would not have been funny at all.

Nearing the end of the whitewater, the river at times opened right out meaning that rapids were easily avoided (if necessary) and bad places easily spotted. The Apurimac is such a powerful river that even seemingly quite runnable rapids would just grab our heavy boat and eat it!

To river right was a fairly large hole that looked quite fun. We could have quite simply avoided it but then what is the point of adventure if not for fun?

We hit the hole at good speed, began to pop out the other side with roaring laughter and smiles when like a real monster it grabbed the back end of our boat and pulled us back in, we surfed it for a little while trying to paddle our way out then in an instant it flipped us.

Phil was on the downriver side, Nathe and I upriver. As Nathe and I surfaced downstream we looked up to see the boat still a ways behind us and Phil nowhere. A second later he popped up not only a long way behind us but also the boat. He had been the first in the water but the last to come out.

As we righted the boat Phil explained how he had just had one of the biggest downtimes of his whole life! While it could have turned out quite badly, we really had to laugh. How simply we could have avoided this rapid and yet chose to run it. As we continued down river our laughs echoed off the canyon walls. Laughter is a key factor in increasing one´s chance of survival...luckily we laughed a lot!

ExWeb You wrote you feel that you can do anything now, clearly, so what's it going to be?

Mark Obviously we are stoked with the outcome of the expedition overall. To make our own little spot in history is satisfying. I can name off the top of my head the 6 people before us who have made the same descent. Joe Kane, Piotr Chmelinski, Mike Horn, Ben Kozel, Scott Borthwick and Colin Angus, making Nathe and myself numbers 7 and 8.

Of course it was never about the numbers, but all the same it does make one happy. Piotr and Mike have become legends in the world that ExplorersWeb and we inhabit, with Colin making quite a name for himself also. To be able to stand alongside these guys (in this achievement) is amazing.

As with all fairly large scale expeditions, the post-exped washup is where a lot of work is done. Now I guess the not quite as adventurous hard work begins. We took over 6000 photos throughout the trip and hours and hours of high-definition video footage. First task is to go through all of this and form it into some sort of coherent package. The film we wish to produce of the expedition we feel has the potential to be excellent. We managed to capture some really integral parts of the journey. Not just the action shots, but the changing emotions, the people and the environment.

We are also massively stoked to be able to have, we feel maintained such excellent relations with our great sponsors and feel we have so far managed to provide an excellent return on investment for them. Couple this with the footage, photos and resulting publicity we are happy. After all its not about free gear!

Beyond this, for myself personally, I wish to build on this successful expedition. Adventure is my life and I wish it to become my livelihood. It is a tough ask but it can be done. There are so many deserving adventurers out there who really struggle to find sponsorship for worthy undertakings and then others who manage to get a massive amount of publicity for "adventures" with little merit.

You mention on ExplorersWeb of course Hannah McKeand and her struggle for sponsorship even after her awesome South Pole efforts. Fortunately there are many ways to I believe capitalize on success, apart from the well trodden speaking circuit, books, articles etc.

As I said above, this is my life but at this point it is not quite paying the bills - it will!

On the expedition side of things, funnily enough a return to the Omo Valley in Ethiopia next year I think will be my next foray. I was there for short time early last year for a rather intense journey deep into the jungle.

Surrounded by dense bush, at night hyenas, lions, buffalo and elephant and on the river hippos and crocs, this place is really hard out. The tribes we came across in this region, such as the Mursi and Hamer are also very interesting. Living as they have for centuries save for an AK-47 on their backs. Raiding on cross river villages is still a day to day fact here - opposing tribes stealing cattle, killing and kidnapping the others. This next venture I think will be more of a personal undertaking. A lightweight journey where I can try and take in the experience rather than a race to the end, with posts, emails, sponsor commitments etc.

I have also become fascinated with Victorian-era explorer Sir Richard F. Burton. Burton was the man! One of the greatest explorers of his time, among the greatest linguists, writers and poets. He also fenced, boxed and generally raised hell. I am keen like to retrace some of his expeditions to Africa, India and the Middle East. On a 21 month expedition to Africa in the 1850´s to locate the source of the Nile, Burton was paralyzed with malaria for 11 months but managed to push on. That is determination.

But, I must say after almost 7 months apart, my partner Holly might have something to say about all this!

ExWeb: Feel free to add anything we forgot to ask.

Mark: I reckon we might have covered it. All I would like to add is my heartfelt thanks to the bloke who was with me the entire way, whose crazy idea it was 5 years ago to do this thing - Nathan Welch. He is the most determined (or stubborn, I am not sure) person you ever will meet.

This determination helped get myself and him across the finish line. We most likely want to see the backs of each for a while just now, but what we went through has forged a bond that can never be broken. Cheers Nathe.

It took 155 days: but just after midnight February 21st 2008, Mark Kalch and Nathan Welch of Expedition Amazonas became the fourth ever team to successfully navigate the entire length of the mighty Amazon River from its ultimate source at Mt Mismi to where it meets the Atlantic.

It was a big undertaking: Mark Kalch, Philip Swart, Scott Martin, Nathan Welch, Holly Tett, and Adrian Ward, white-water guides from South Africa and Australia were to trek to the Amazons source high in the Andes of Peru on what would be a five month, almost 7,000km trek on foot and by raft.

The team faced tough terrain on their way to the mouth of the Amazon on the coast of Brazil, including highly demanding whitewater sections.

The expedition partnered with environmental and indigenous rights action group, Amazon Watch, with the intention of highlighting the absolute need for a balance between global, sustainable development and the protection of the earth's natural environment, along with its most vulnerable populations.

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