Monday, May 12, 2014

That's a spicy tomato.

Late last fall Roman and I were discussing a possible mid-winter paddling break.  I'd been smitten by the visuals from his and Luc's SE US trip, and said as much.  He agreed that it'd be a great place to go, but could not in that moment agree to a date.  Said he'd get back to me when he could, and left it at that.

A few weeks later I got a funny email from him, telling me that yes, indeed, he had booked flights to Mexico and hoped that I could join him.  In all of our back-and-forth Mexico had never been discussed...

Which is a shame because, now that I've been there, it's hard to imagine a better place to be at that time of year.

Mid-January of 2014 I joined Brad Meiklejohn, both Roman Dials, Todd Tumolo, Jeremiah Phelps, Gerard Ganey, and Doug Demarest in the Mexican state of Veracruz.  We spent the better part of two weeks immersing ourselves into the creeks and culture of that region.

They do things differently down there.

A first-day warmup on the Rio Actopon got us in the mood, followed by an evening arrival into Jalcomulco.  We sussed out a pile of empanadas, chased 'em with a hamberguesa, then strolled back to our rented digs to sleep.

We continued with an overnighter on the Barranca Grande, amidst a bit of a potential hydropower kerfuffle.  Seems the gubmint has plans that the locals weren't consulted on.

Our two-long-day float on the Rio Antigua was a delight, punctuated by a few dozen interesting rapids, stunning tropical scenery, and one scary swim.

We returned upstream to retrieve one of our cars from the put-in, only to find it stripped nearly bare: windows broken, seats, wheels, carburetor, stereo, and antenna all stolen.  We'd spend the next two days getting jerked around by the rental car company (Roman is $till getting jerked around 4 month$ later) before cutting ourselves free from that and heading to Tlapacoyon.  

There we stayed at Aventurec, and I cannot speak highly enough about the arrangements provided there.  Comfy cabanas, plenty of good food, access to every bit of rio beta and shuttle help we needed, and just an overall relaxed environment.

The only way Aventurec could improve on their offerings would be to figure out a way to not (nearly) kill their clients with carbon monoxide en route to every run, and maybe find a way to allow their guests to remain somewhat connected to the outside world.

Minor niggles, admittedly.

We ate away from Aventurec a few nights.  The hamberguesa place in Tlapacoyon was a real treat.  The many, many, many taquerias serving tacos al pastor became less of a novelty as the trip wore on.  I spent two travel days en route home visiting every airport and hotel latrine I saw.  Still wondering if it was bad meat, bad water, or merely (someone else's?) unwashed hands to blame.

Saw more automatic weapons in broad daylight down there than I have in...?

There was no hiding the fact that we were not, as they say, from around there.  Still, most of the locals treated us with a certain bemused and curious respect.  

Did I mention that we paddled a bit?

There's no way to say it other than directly: 

Every run we did was the hardest paddling I've yet done.  

I lucked out by traveling with a solid group of experienced boaters that expected me to bootstrap myself up to my A-game, and refused to coddle even while repeatedly chasing my boat downstream.

And they did lots of that.

It's undeniable that I came away from the trip a vastly improved paddler.  Still, on every run I put the 'meh' in Mexico.  I simply couldn't process the mistakes and internalize the lessons fast enough.

I hope, hope, hope that I get the chance to paddle with these guys again.  Maybe even chase their boats for a change.

Outside of Tlapacoyon we ran the Lower Jalacingo, Rio Zapotitlan, Roadside section of the Alseseca,  and the Filo-Bobos. 

While I find myself lacking words to explain all that we saw and did on those runs, the shots appended here should (hopefully) fill in some gaps.  

Such an amazing place to be.  No way to be there and not improve as a paddler.

Random highlights include young Roman's tour of the country via ice creameries, Brad and Roman's quasi-encyclopedic knowledge of the local avian residents, the seeming inability to swing a chicken anywhere in the country without hitting another, and Ganey's quest for enlightenment via swimming every rapid he could.

One drop stands out from the others, for many reasons.  Technically part of the Upper Jalacingo, Todd, Ganey, and Jeremiah had been smitten by this falls before Brad, the Romans, and myself arrived.  

On each trip to that river they'd heave themselves at and off of it repeatedly, each taking runs and learning a bit more about what it might take to run it clean.  And then they'd get chundered in the hole at the bottom.

Ultimately only Todd cracked the code, and I'd guess his doing so inspired more than just me to want to give it a shot next January.

On the subject of inspiration, Todd's boof was an especial thing to watch and emulate.  All of us managed substantial improvement of our boofs on the trip, but only Todd consistently stomped his.

Roman's determination ranked a close second for inspiration.  A casual observer might think him fearless.  Someone looking more closely might see a lifetime of athletic experience matched with intense curiosity and an insatiable, almost fanatical desire to achieve.

Brad's polished language skills smoothed the way for all of us on innumerable occasions.


This is the put-in scene at Big Banana.  After months of thinking about it, too many visualizations of what sailing off the mandatory 22 footer and into Mordor might feel like, we were finally there.

And, mere moments later, my boat literally deflated--probably due to pre-run jitters and overzealous rigging.  A brief on-shore discussion revealed the disheartening fact that our late start left no time for a repair to be completed and cured.  Meaning I wadded my gear up over my shoulder and hiked many miles back out while the boys disappeared down around a bend.

If for no other reason than to experience this run, I'll do everything I can to get back there next winter.

Big Banana debacle aside, my only regret was not getting to 'go north' to Ciudad Valles to experience the Micos and El Salto runs we'd heard so much about.

Next year.  Gotta.

Only 7 months to go...

* * * * *

Be sure to check out Luc's 2013 Mexico vid, as well as Todd's work from this 2014 trip.

Thanks for checkin' in.