By Piotr Chmielinski (this article originally appeared on pythom.com)
The sun slowly descends, and for a moment it touches the horizon at the contact line of the sky with the ocean, delineating the boundary between the present and the future, between being "here, and now" and "there, and soon." Here, means a great adventure on the Amazon. There, is also an adventure, the memory of which will last forever. The Atlantic beach on the coast of Brazil, where Dawid Andres and Hubert Kisinski, with “THE END” still adorning their backs, are sitting, brings nostalgic tunes and philosophical thoughts. Achieving the objective sought by the last six months makes them think there is something that ends and something that begins. Memories and plans, both stir excitement. Let's start with the memories ...
Will this bike prevail on the Amazon?
- Actually, over the last week we keep talking about what happened to us during the biking tour on the Amazon - says Dawid, the initiator of the expedition, whose idea was born under the influence of reading travel books and the irresistible need to experience an extraordinary adventure. - I think it's going to be like with you Piotr, I will always live with the Amazon.
Dawid spent two years preparing to leave for the biggest river in the world. He absorbed all the information like a sponge: on the sources of the mountain rapids, about people, about the pirates of the channels, and the jungle. He long wondered how to make the trip into the Amazon and which way to go. He collected maps, studied and planned a route, contacting those who have already been there: me, West Hansen from the expedition "The Amazon Express," Rafal Kosnik, and Jacek Klisowski.
- For two months before going on the expedition I worried terribly; it's dangerous, risky, irresponsible - recalls Dawid. - But something inside of me said, "you have to do it." On the one hand, I thought, so few people managed to defeat the Amazon, so why should I try, and on the other hand - but if someone did it, why not me?
Some doubts arose about using a unique means of transport invented by the 40-year-old from Gorzow, Poland, now a resident of Arizona, USA. The Amazonian Bike, which met the dual function adequate to the concept of the expedition - the way riding on wheels, and flowing on the water using pontoons attached to the frame - would have its debut not anywhere else, but only on the mighty Amazon.
- I remember you asked me whether the bike would definitely stand up to the waters of the Amazon. I thought to myself, why are you so persistent, asking about our bikes. I will simply plop myself on the seat, and pedal hard. Great stuff! And later on I realized that you really knew why you were asking about the strength of the bikes. I had not imagined such waves on the river - Dawid laughs, remembering our first conversation and my initial doubts.
The most difficult is the coolest
Recall that the brothers set off in September 2015. They started from the town of Camana over the Pacific Ocean. Soon, they began to climb the mountain roads in the high Andes to reach the lake, Ticlla Cocha, where the constant source of the Amazon is located. Right there, the bath at 5,142 meters above sea level inaugurated their expedition on the queen of the rivers.
- The mountain segment was one of the most difficult - says Hubert. - The high altitude took its toll, especially with its continuous changes - once we were at four and a half thousand meters, then at one hundred meters, again at four thousand to four hundred again. But the views were wonderful! I still have them before my eyes, though it was many months ago, and so many thousands of kilometers away.
Both bikers could not get over how their friend Dominik Dabrowski managed to control the altitude sickness, while accompanying them on the road for almost two weeks. Barely arrived from Poland, he immediately jumped on the bike we additionally purchased for him and pedaled a long way on the Andean hills. "He was breathing hard" it is true, but he did not give up, as befits a member of the expedition.
- Dawid, you remember those gangsters in the Ashaninka area? - Hubert smiled at the thought of goofy bandits. - How awkward they looked picking up their still running motorcycles from the ground. It was a pity to look at.
At Atalaya, the brothers launched their bikes and began the most enjoyable part of the trip. The first kilometers on the river were spent lounging on the platform planks attached to the pontoons. The water was carrying their vehicles, allowing the travelers to nap, take a swim, and to contemplate how wonderfully and effortlessly they floated down the Amazon.
On the Ucayali - where they listened to "talking" fish and raced with dolphins - it took a little work, pedaling. And it was there that the problems started with the drives, which tended to break often and kept Dawid awake at night and Hubert "the brilliant handy man" provided with additional jobs during the day - repairing, modernizing, improving, disassembling, assembling, and so on, and again.
From Iquitos the bikers entered very fast water, which was noted especially with pride and joy when they achieved an average speed of 10-14 km/hr. They have already begun to think that at that rate, reaching the ocean would be possible much earlier than thought. That is why they decided to stay in Tabatinga on the Peruvian-Brazilian border a bit longer for the holidays. There, they met the nicest people from the large group of people of the Colombian family that at Christmas time "adopted" the two Poles traveling on their strange vehicles on the Amazon.
It turned out that even pirates prowling between Tefe and Manaus spared the brothers trouble. Admittedly, the third meeting with a bunch of thugs was quite stressful and "mentally exhausting", but it ended happily because, after circling them four times around, the pirates left them alone.
Hospitality and friendly, warm relations with the locals were particularly valuable experiences of the bikers; they had the opportunity to learn about the life, customs and culture of the inhabitants of the Amazon River basin.
- We were hugely impressed with the children we encountered in the villages where we stayed - says Dawid. - They seemed much more mature, more independent, and they worked well in different situations. I remember especially Arexa, a 10-year-old, the boy of my son's age, whom we met in the village close to Coari. I was moved, when I saw how early in the morning in the rain he put in his rowboat into the river to catch fish for breakfast for his siblings. This sense of responsibility made a huge impression on me.
While the beginnings of the expedition were difficult, the final stages of the expedition solidly challenged them, although in quite different situations.
- From Santarem we had to fight with the river for a month - says Dawid. - I never imagined there would be such big waves that would shake us so much.
- And that there would be tides that upset you so much too - adds Hubert.
Storm and wind, a moment of calm and then a storm forming again on the river with waves as big as on the ocean. The same conditions every day. Additionally ebbs and flows, which complicated the journey, especially in the channels where the river could change the direction of the current unpredictable.
- I had a moment of weakness - admits Dawid.
If the brothers thought that moving by land would be easier, the jungle quickly changed that impression. Why? Because the road, which was visible on the map, appeared long overgrown with dense tropical vegetation, flooded with water, which often turned into a muddy quagmire. Trudging the bikes through this area topped the challenge. And in the case of brothers, we can say that it tripled the challenge because they made three loops in the "Amazon Bermuda Triangle" to make sure they maintained the continuity of the idea of traveling in the right direction and on their own power!
The road from Belem to the Atlantic would be just a 200 kilometers walk, like a snap of the finger. - Another false impression. Part of this tour was the jungle again, by which biking was not such a treat. But then ... then in front of the brothers' eyes appeared the view long awaited for and dreamed of - the Atlantic.
- It was the greatest feeling to jump into warm ocean water, touching it with our hands, not even so much swimming in it. We had reached our destination - says Hubert fondly.
To Be Continued: Cut with a machete when you see the light in the jungle
Polish brothers, David Andres and Hubert Kisinski, who are attempting to cross South America by bicycle since September 2015, are traveling the Amazon by land and water. On the water, they use an innovative catamaran-like bike to pedal most of the Amazon River. The brothers started the Amazon section at the foot of Mount Mismi, Lake Ticlla Cocha.
During the 1985-86 Amazon Source to Sea Expedition, Piotr Chmielinski became the only member of the 13-person expedition who managed to navigate the Amazon River entirely from Source to Sea, about 4300 miles. Joe Kane completed the entire river by walking the first section of the Apurimac’s white water and finished the rest by kayak and raft. Zbigniew Bzdak and Kate Durrant completed the entire River by walking the first section of the Apurimac’s white water and doing the rest by raft and motor boat. Their adventure is described in the book Running the Amazon by Joe Kane, which is now considered a classic of adventure literature. Check Piotr's Profile on Pythom here.
Jumping into the Atlantic: Biking the Amazon River Part 11
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