The typical kayak trip begins with some form challenging logistics such as how best to drive the small car to the river and have it waiting for you when you get downstream. Despite the fact we had neither boats nor cars to take care of, this trip started no differently. We arrived at the bus station in Xalapa at 8:30 a.m. to find that the next bus to Jacamulco (where our outfitter was located) was at 10 a.m. Great! After 1.5 hours on the bus, did I mention it is only 30 km away, we saw the sign for our outfitter, got the bus to stop. Sort of. The ticket collector told us that the entrance was further up the road. Yup, you guessed it. We made it to the end of the line (“downtown” Jalcumolco) where the bus driver told us they would turn around and take us back. Only that story changed once we got to downtown Jaculmoco. You can see the pattern here. We figured enough was enough and called for a ride. The day began with a um… backfire. It did get much much MUCH better….for me anyhow.
Once at the Kayak 360, our outfitter, Tio (Uncle) Memo got us fitted into boats and he, the two of us, and a pair of lodge staff in a raft were off to the river. Jill lucked out and got into the very same boat she paddled back in DC, while I unfortunately had to take a step-up into a boat with more play.
Once on the river, Memo told us the water was low as this was the dry season, and we would find many of the rapids to be very rocky and technical. He was correct but we did still find some decent water and had a great time. In comparison to paddling waterfalls just a few days prior this was harder, more technical work; still a blast for sure but by no means child splay. We needed to paddle hard and stay alert as going over in some of the shallower portions meant we were in for some nasty bruises.
We started off simply enough, easily navigating the first few rapids. Toward the end of one of these entrance rapids Memo instructed us to go between two rocks. Jill and I both took a look and couldn’t figure out which two….certainly he didn’t mean those two big ones on river right just a mere meter apart, that was a tight hole to fit through! Before we knew it Memo was off and yes, he did mean those two on the right. Jill went first and nearly missed but managed to get through. But, she went through crooked and by the time I got there she was already upside down in some big whitewater. We didn’t have time to warm up at the top of the river because it was shallow so she ejected, came up smiling and so began our day. (To be fair, the pair in the raft hit one of the rocks and got stuck…took them forever to free themselves).
A little while later, at the “strangulator” our day took a turn for the worst…but that’s where the good stories come from don’t they? The water was extremely rocky, big, and fast and it took all of our effort to stay up. I slammed into a rock hard enough to throw my bow up into the air and as I came down it was my elbow that slammed another rock, keeping me afloat. Surprisingly this was the biggest injury of the day. The big problem with this rapid was that all of us, 3 kayaks and a raft, entered more or less together rather than in a line. The raft, on account of its size, simply isn’t as maneuverable as a kayak and at one point the raft nudged Jill into a rock where she found herself pinned. For you non-boaters out there, being pinned is nothing unusual and is quite common. It is when the water pushes you against a rock and you are basically stuck against that rock. It took some time, Jill eventually freed herself, but as a result of having been pinned and coming off the rock unbalanced, flipped right then and there. In the middle of a fast moving rocky rapid, she attempted to roll a few times before signaling for help. We could see her bouncing along the river bottom, but as she signaled for help her body (I say body because she was upside down) was slammed against the next rock so hard that not only was the entire boat in the air, but we also saw her back exposed to the air as well. After that happened I don’t think Speedy Gonzales (yes, I realize I’m referencing him while in Mexico) could have ejected as quickly. We saw her back and I think before the boat hit the water again she was out of the thing and swimming up alongside it. It was a nasty swim to say the least, and she has a nice bruise on her shoulder to show for it, but she got right back in the boat and kept on going asking only: “which rock was I on?”
Whether she admitted it or not at the time, she was still a bit shaken. The next rapid, the “white witch” (and if anyone is curious, that is a literal translation…I have been assured that no one calls this rapid the gringa) would be Jill’s final swim of the day. The rapid was basically a large rock garden on a gradual decent with fast moving water. At the base of the rapid, on the river’s right, was a large rock and we needed to turn hard behind this rock (to the right) as going straight would have meant getting slammed into the canyon wall. Well as we got closer to the bottom the water got bigger and bigger and when trying to make that sharp turn Jill went over again. The only reason she went over was that she was simply exhausted and beaten on the last rapid and after white witch we took a break to recoup.
As I said somewhere above, the biggest injury of the day was to my elbow. I cannot begin to express what a big jump up this was (previously Jill had only kayaked the Potomac, which hardly counts, and the Lower Yough) and this water was much larger and more technical than either of those. Every time she got beaten she got back in the boat and was ready to go again. Good attitude and spirit.
Unfortunately, drama on the high seas isn’t so conducive to breaking out the camera and taking pictures. In fact it is advisable to ensure that your wife is still alive before making any attempt at documenting the event with photographic proof. That being said, here is the only video or documentary proof of our day on the river. This is my best and longest surf (the kayakers out there must be groaning b-c this is clearly a weanie surf) ever….even with my hurt elbow!
It was a great day on the river!!