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Home > Editorials > Ascend of South America River Expedition 2018

Ascend of South America River Expedition 2018

Many of our readers will know Andy Leeman, former owner of Yacht Center Palma as well as being a serial explorer of rivers worldwide ! This year’s expedition was the toughest yet, a 3 month trip heading south through the whole of South America. Here we have Andy’s log of the whole trip.

Finally we are all here in Buenos Aires on the threshold of our dream becoming a reality. Getting here means being thousands of miles away from our homes spread across Switzerland, Germany, India, Argentina, Netherlands, Denmark and Italy. Arriving at this point has been an odyssey of thousands and thousands of emails, countless long distance phone calls and Skype conversations across the continents, dozens of flight, some connecting some not, and at times permits that had ensure passage would be arriving well after the flight had departed. But most of this is now behind us.

Logistic Team in Argentina San Fernando

CREW: which is the most important and difficult task and if a team can get factors right, success and a rewarding sense of teamwork will follow. Humans are in the mix, and each team member brings along all of their baggage—for the good and for the less good.

We worked good as a team and managed quite well the 5 weeks of depending on each other 24hrs a day. We had our struggles and our highs and lows.

As a leader I must inspire a high level of commitment and performance. But as a human being it is not always easy to deal with the pressure of the unknown and the expectations everybody has in me.

In the beginning of the trip I felt sometimes too much pressure on my shoulders for various reasons. I also tend to expect too much from my crew. Crew changes are always healthy but also sometimes difficult to adjust fast enough to the daily grind of the old team.

Andy Leemann,                       Swiss                        Expedition leader

Alfredo Cucciani                      Argentina               Logistics

Stefano Corruzi                       Italia                         in charge of the Boats

Apal Singh                                 India                       Photography and Film

Patricia Torales                       Argentina                Photography

Klaus Kranewitter                  German                    Video and Drone

Paul Schneider                        German                    Kitchen in Charge

Moritz Schneider                    German                    Crew

Gaja Formels                           German                    Crew

Edwin Hiemstra                      Netherlands            Crew

Luiz  Kumpel                             Brazil                       Logistic

The aim of the Expedition was to travel through four countries: Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil. The teams will journey 6800 km in 72 days on 8 different rivers, from the Delta of the Paraná River in Buenos Aires, Argentina to Manaus, the heart of the Amazon river, in inflatable boats and capture as much of the unique natural landscape, flora and fauna as possible. We focus on the diverse cultural traditions on the banks of these rivers, documenting the impact of climate change and environmental degradation on these areas and the experiences of the communities living there.

Tomorrow we buy food and supplies, Andy takes a final look at the equipment and safety gear and the crew carries on, among other things, this unending task of tying loose ends and dealing with surprises that grow in the preparations of expeditions like mushrooms. Our boats and engines are ready.

Paperwork:
Yesterday we could not write because all fingers had remained crossed for so long that they looked more like chopsticks in untrained hands. Reason? Simple, we had no concrete news about our boats certificates after 5 months of dealing for it. We got the paper work done on the 6th September thanks to Gustavo from Hard Craft, and so we kicked-off on the 7th. It has been a nightmare to deal with the authorities in Argentina, so all we want is to get off and be on the mighty Parana River.
Anyone who has ever organized an expedition would know the procedure. Excitement, chaos, heartaches, hard work, and wow!, we are ready to leave. The start was hectic, packing the boats organizing the crew, tending friends and visitors and trying to control the emotions. But nevertheless we got off from San Fernando to our

 

STAGE 1, Buenos Aires to Asuncion 1522 km

Cruising along beautiful channels to reach the huge Paraná River, our river road for the next 1150 km. The Paraná River, runs through Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Among South American rivers it is second in length only to the Amazon River. It merges first with the Paraguay River and then further downstream with the Uruguay River to form the Río de la Plata and discharges into the Atlantic Ocean.

Navigating:
The weather was cold and the current stronger than expected so it was not easy with the heavy loaded AB Inflatable 13’Rib’s driven by 40 HP outboard engines to cover the planed daily mileage. We had excellent marine charts, but with our small 4.30m Rib’s it was better to navigate in protected waters then to follow the shipping channels and face the waves, current and the daily thermic winds.

AB inflatable boats AL 14’ powered with 40HP outboard engine

Gasoline:
The second day the lesson was learned quickly when we were running out of fuel just 5 km before the safe port of San Nicolas. Luckily some harbour pilots had a spare 20 litres and saved our day. My calculation was 2.5 KM per Liter, but we had to correct it to 2.2 KM.

Camps:
The first days we were camping mostly in Club Nauticos where the people had big hearts and helped with whatever needs we had. People living on the rivers are worldwide a family and the Argentinians were just wonderful.

Cash:
The biggest problem was to make sure that we had enough gasoline and cash to pay for all the expenses. It was a daily challenge to change money, since the country just went to a financial crisis and many times the shop owners would rather not sell then to lose money!

Landscape:
In the pre-delta national Park in Argentina, through which the river runs, there are nearly 200 species of fish and almost as many types of birds as well. We enjoyed the pure nature along with the sometimes heavy industry along the banks and an immense shipping traffic.

Troubles with authorities:
Reporting in every bigger town in Argentina to the Coast guard was a must, but we had all the correct documents and so we were not worried until we reached Bella Vista. We got warned before from other captains that the Prefectura in this beautiful town was not very friendly. We reported as usual and all was OK until we received a heavy armed group of army officers at 2:00 am at night for a passport control. In the morning they visited us again and told us that we are not allowed to leave the port. We did not know what was going on, but we realized that something is stinky. Negotiating and trying to understand was one thing, but why this commander, who was a lady, was so unfriendly dealing with us was just hard to understand.
We were asking for help to our contacts in Buenos Aires and finally after being hold for over 24hrs we got the papers to leave the next morning. Some higher officials got involved and sorted out the problems.

Paraguay River:
North of Corrientes we reached the confluence with the Paraguay River, a major river in south -central South America, running through Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina. It would be our river road for the next 2000 km to the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso until Cáceres.
It was a river with clear water and a strong current. The nature became more beautiful and the towns and villages fewer.
We had to stick to the left side to stay in Argentina waters since the river forms the border with Paraguay.

We found some very pretty camps and the voyage became more and more a challenging expedition. Lovely nature, wonderful cruising but also challenging navigation. The real Gasoline problem started here, we had to find the supply of 200 litres we needed for a day’s 150 km with 3 Boats.
The problem was that the Navy did not allow spare tanks, but talking to locals we found out that nobody cared about these rules. That helped us a lot since we were able to carry up to 400 litres with us.

Crossing the border in to Paraguay was as usual a long haul with Argentina’s officials and a short and friendly act with the Paraguay Custom and Immigration. They took care of us with gasoline, money exchange and gave us a place on their boat to sleep.

Danger:
It is the same story anywhere. The Argentinians warned us that as soon we are reaching Paraguay it is dangerous and that they will rob our boats, rape and kill us if we do not have guns to defend us. The Paraguayans will tell you the same and Brazilians do so with the Bolivians. The story goes on that there are pirates everywhere and their advice is if the boats are not fast enough, better surrender and give anything they want.
My advice to the crew was always that we have to be careful, but in my 60.000 km on river expedition nothing ever has happened. In camps at night we switched off our lights if a boat was approaching. If the boats were moored more than 50 m away from our camp somebody would sleep with the boats. The boats were always with a crew member.

Highlights on the way to Asuncion were frequent sighting of river dolphins jumping out of water. All along we have also been seeing lots of aquatic bird life which is rather unusual, considering that there is so much of boating and fishing activity on the river.

Asuncion is a big city. We stayed on a camp ground invited by a Yacht Club. It was a night of anxiety and very strong winds gusting up to 65 knots. The ferry dock with the ferry and our boats went drifting and we had to rescue the watchmen from the dock. But finally the tired souls got the better of the angry rain gods and the sound of snores drowned the hollows of the fading storm.

Most of the crew left early morning to visit the famous Iguazu falls, one of the planet’s most awe-inspiring sights, the cascades are simply astounding and everyone was just overwhelmed when they met us the next day.

Apal our Cameraman could not join us in Paraguay because as an Indian he always has to apply and wait for a visa. Edwin and Luiz joined the crew and had quickly to adjust to the group.

 

STAGE 1 Buenos Aires/ Asuncion 1522km, average 100km per day
01.Sept.18 arrivel in Buenos Aires,
02.Sept.18 arrivel Crew,prepare equipment, San Fernando
03.Sept.18 arrivel Crew,prepare equipment, San Fernando
04.Sept.18 preparing for the trip,Ribs,Food,etc. San Fernando
05.Sept.18 San Fernando –Zarate
06.Sept.18 Zarate-San Nicolas
07.Sept.18 Zarate-San Nicolas
08.Sept.18 San Nicolas- Rosario-Bella Vista
09.Sept.18 Bella Vista-Santa Fe
10.Sept.18 Santa Fe-Parana-Villa Urquiza
11.Sept.18 Villa Urquiza-La Paz
12.Sept.18 La Paz-Esquina
13.Sept.18 Esquina-Goya
14.Sept.18 Goya -Bella Vista
15.Sept.18 Bella Vista-Coriente
16.Sept.18 Coriente,
17.Sept.18 Coriente-Paso de la Patria-Pilar
18.Sept.18 Pilar-Formosa/Alberdi,Border Crossing
19.Sept.18 Reaching Asuncion
20.Sept.18 Asuncion,   Trip to Iguazu
21.Sept.18 Asuncion, Return from Iguazu

 

STAGE 2, Asuncion – Cáceres, 1973km

The expectations for this second stage where high, since we approached the Pantanal, a natural region encompassing the world’s largest tropical wetland area. It is located mostly within the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, but it extends into Mato Grosso and portions of Bolivia and Paraguay. Various sub regional ecosystems exist, each with distinct hydrological, geological and ecological characteristics.

The Paraguay River was still immense, but we found more and more beautiful little short cuts with lots of bird life and Caymans.

A young Anaconda just cruising along

We enjoyed very helpful folks along the river and the 480 km to the Brazilian border we managed without any major problems, but the heat during the day became tough, and we had to force our self to drink water and cool down by just having a swim. Slowly but surely the mosquitoes became a plague.

Our lovely crewmember Patricia had to leave us just before the border to go back to Buenos Aires.

The border crossing was a huge surprise to all of us. A lady in a hardware shop stamped our passport, she works in the morning as an immigration officer and in the afternoon here in the shop. Luckily she had the stamps in her bag and so saved us a long journey to the Immigration office.

On the Brazilian side we met our friend and expedition veteran Apal again, did the paperwork and of we went to explore the unknown southern Pantanal and the 500 km to our next big destination Corumba. My biggest worry was as usual gasoline and cash money, but there was always a solution and by now we filled up to 400 litres whenever gas was available. The Flexible Orca tanks became our babies and proofed to be the key to navigate.
Every kilometre we dived deeper in to this wonderful natural paradise of the Pantanal.

Corumba is a typical tropical style city with lots of activities and also a border town to Bolivia. We had an invitation from Colonel Rabelo and his lovely wife Marcia at Moinho Cultural Centre, all this was organized by our crewmember Luiz Fernando Kumpel, a Brazilian Businessman who helped us a lot with logistics. We enjoyed the well-organized school and could not believe that an education place on such a high standard would exist in the middle of deep Brazil.

After 2 days of well-deserved rest and mending the wounds, we undertook the next 350 km to Acurizal an eco-farm where we had 450 litres of fuel depot and an invitation to stay. With mixed feelings what to expect and what was ahead of us we started the new adventure.
The first night we stayed at Instituto Acaia a wonderful NGO that works with the education of Children of the Pantanal, we had a beautiful event with the kids. We slept in a dormitory and enjoyed great food with superb kids and teachers.

Instituto Acaia a wonderful NGO

We navigated on a very lucky shot, and then we met Adrian a local guide, who was waiting for us and invited us for a cruise to a very special place, the Amolar Mountain Ridge where two small rivers join and it is the unique crystal clear water streams that only can be found in the entire area. We were swimming with piranhas and Caymans and enjoyed the place like little kids.
Our friend and guide Adrian invited us to his house where his wife was waiting with a typical Brazilian dish, like fish, beans, rice, pasta and a bit of salad. We stayed the night with them and enjoyed the beauty of the place.
The next morning he and his family guided us through wonderful wetlands and small channels to Acurizal. We had tropical rain and strong winds, but everybody was just happy and thankful for this awesome experience.

Acurizal was a very special place. The caretaker was a humble and helpful man. As promised Colonel Rabelo had for us the 400 litres of gasoline, and we got a little hut to stay dry and not attacked by the millions of mosquitoes.

Capybaras & Amazonian Waterlily

 

Douglas Trent our partner navigated 460 km down from Cáceres to meet us and help with logistics to do the final step. The big surprise; his boat had plenty food for us and an icebox full of cold beer.

Health:
We extended the stay for a second night just to recover health wise. The toll from the sun and the humidity, the endless torture of the millions of mosquitoes, the water quality finally signed all of us. We realized that yes, paradise exists but the price is very high and that is why there is very little local population, and we have not seen gringos for weeks. Mosquito repellent which should be effective for 10hrs was useless after 10 minutes and the clothing was not helping since these buggers just sting through it. The result of all this and the 3000 km we had in our bones, showed up with dehydration, fevers and not feeling well.

Acurizal was great to lick our wounds on a place like this. The Ribs were guarded by two caimans and behind the little house we had a 3 m anaconda eating the rats. All around there where monkeys, parrots, piranhas, capybaras, tarantulas etc. and a never expected pure nature.

The rest of 450km to Cáceres, on which we enjoyed the company, knowhow and support from Douglas Trent with his crew Wagner both at their home terrain knowing every corner of this beautiful Pantanal, spotting jaguars and the wild life in general for many years.

It was like living in a zoo, absolutely amazing the Caymans, Capybaras, the aquatic bird life and the stories about jaguars. The animals just looked at us curious not really afraid of human beings, since in this places hardly anyone comes.

The night camps became a mosquito’s nightmare and so we just wanted to get to Cáceres to escape from the plague. As I said before, paradise has his price and that is good so.

Water hyacinth chokes rivers & Cayman is watching us

Arriving in Cáceres was a once in a live time event. Hundreds of children where welcoming the team.

Jussara and Douglas with their NGO “Bichos of Pantanal”organized a wonderful event with the school and local dancers performed some typical rhythms of the Mato Grosso.

The team was high on impressions which we carried for the last 3500 km. Tears where flowing and emotions just had its space. The first half of the expedition we did with grace and enjoyment.

The moment of saying good bye to most of the crewmembers is always somehow heart-breaking. The new crew was expected the next day and on we go to the 3. Stage.

Left: Andy, Gaia, Paul, Douglas, Alfredo, Edwin, Klaus, Moritz, Paul, Stefano, Apal

 

STAGE 2, Asuncion – Cáceres, 1973km, average 116km per day
 Asuncion-Puerto Murtinho 480km
22.Sept.18 Asuncion-San Pedro de Ycuamandiayu
23.Sept.18 Asuncion-San Pedro de Ycuamandiayu
24.Sept.18 San Pedro de Ycuamandiayu-Conception,
25.Sept.18 Conception-Puerto Pinasco
26.Sept.18 Puerto Pinasco-Puerto Murtinho   Border Brazil
Puerto Murtinho-Forte Coimbra, 333km
27.Sept.18 Puerto Murtinho Crossing Border
28.Sept.18 Puerto Murtinho-Fuerte Olimpo
29.Sept.18 Fuerte Olimpo-Bahia Negra(Big Town)
30.Sept.18 Bahia Negra-Forte Coimbra Fuel Deposit with Colonel Rabelo
Forte Coimbra- Corumba 205KM
01.Oct.18 Forte Coimbra-Corumba
02.Oct.18 Corumba EVENTS by Luiz
Corumba – ACURIZAL 350km
03.Oct.18 Corumba-Vista Bella
04.Oct.18 Vista Bella-Lago Gaiba,Puerto Quijarro, ACURIZAL, Douglas will join the Expedition
05.Oct.18 ACURIZAL – Cáceres 465km
06.Oct.18 Lago Gaiba,Puerto Quijarro-Porto Conceicao
07.Oct.18 Porto Conceicao-Bracinho Hotel Bahiazinha
08.Oct.18 Bracinho Hotel Bahiazinha –  Caseres
09.Oct.18 Cáceres: EVENT BY Douglas, desinfect boats, New Crew joining the Team
10.Oct.18 Cáceres,Prepare Boats for Road transport,

 

By Andy Leemann

Photography by: Apal Singh, Klaus Kranewitter, Patricia Torales