Like the name of the film, Confluir, it all came together with perfect timing. Her Odyssey first reached out September 2016, so you could say the journey was a long time in the making. Henry had worked on Confluir since late 2015, and likewise we started creating Marañon Waterkeeper and Marañón Experience in late 2015. When all this came together it created an amazing month of Purposeful Paddling, meaningful interaction and film screenings in incredibly remote locations.
Her Odyssey comprises a pair of adventurous women, Fidgit and Neon, who are traveling the length of the Americas (South and North) by non-motorised means (mostly walking). I imagine that when they learnt the Marañón River flows due north for 500km they were stoked with the idea of resting those weary legs, and of course including the story of the Water with the many stories of the Land that they had already documented in their travels. We balled around ideas of a trip for many many months, and many dozens (hundreds) of emails later, suddenly it seemed sure that a 27 day descent would be going ahead.
Henry Worobec had been in contact for years, keeping me updated as his film Confluir progressed. Through 2017 it looked like our own film project was going nowhere fast, Director Francisco Campos-Lopez failed to meet targets and for some reason was unable to even respond to emails to explain why he hadn’t upheld his end of written agreements; or at least sent us through footage that would allow a more willing editor to make a meaningful & useful piece. Instead of continuing to flog a dead horse (so to speak), we decided to redirect our resources to support Henry’s vision. We were able to provide footage, funding for finishing of the film and resources to dub the film in Spanish. (Pretty awesome when you see yourself on the big screen fully dubbed with a smooth Latin-American voice!). In true Latin American fashion, the fully dubbed final version of the film became available 1 day before launch for the trip (mildly worrying, but worked out anyways).
Marañón Waterkeeper became the platform for the launch of Confluir, promoting the film internationally and to coordinate the Marañón Film Festival, where we would take the film back down the river so all the communities that have contributed so much will be able to enjoy it.
Luigi and I had slowly but surely been putting the pieces in place for our own tourism company, Marañón Experience, to fill the gap of high quality, relatively low cost raft tours on the Marañón since late 2015. We had thrown ideas around for years, I put together a pretty nice webpage, and we had all the necessary connections with local guides and logistics. When it looked like this trip might happen, we talked about the possibility of investing in all our own equipment. As the months rolled by, we got to the point where it was do it now, or miss the boat, so we decided to take the plunge and make a pretty big investment in a free flowing Marañon, our own skills and our ability to collaborate with local communities. (It was an edge of your seat kind of experience, watching the gear get delayed in South Africa, and then delayed in Peruvian Customs and then only making it to Luigi’s house with about 1 week to spare…). I’m glad we did, because the trip wouldn’t have been viable if we had not taken that plunge.
And so it began
We had wide and varying missions, but we were all there to paddle downstream together. Her Odyssey were there to travel north, document local stories and tell the story of the water. As Marañón Waterkeeper, we were there to carry the film Confluir back to the local communities- to thank them for all their hard work protecting the river and to show that there are thousands of people Worldwide who appreciate their work. As Marañón Experience we were there keeping the journey moving, keeping everyone safe and happy.
With plenty of buena onda our small crew (Neon, Fidgit, Cloudbuster, Richard, Pablo, Jessie Luigi and I) navigated the challenging upper reaches of the Marañon. Big rapids such as Llanten, Wasson’s Landslide and Samosierra kept us on our toes and we made it through unscathed (even collecting some of the lost by a group who went through the week before us!). Good food (kudos to Pablo for Peruvian delicacies, and to Richard & Neon for baked scones and cinnamon rolls), good company and campfires aplenty we enjoyed hot springs, town visits and exploring many of the unknown side canyons.
At the restock point in Balsas, three more team members joined us (Christine, Dan and Steve) and after (kind of) resolving Dan’s lost baggage issues from flight difficulties encountered in Miami, we were once again going with the flow, this time en route to villages of Mendan and Tupén to conduct film screenings.
Film Screenings & Future Visits:
Our first stop was in the village of Mendán. Village leader, Pancho was waiting for us riverside when we pulled up and with his machete was happy to clear a new campsite for us. In previous conversations he’d asked why the tourists hadn’t been staying in as much lately, and the answer was simple- because the beach had been washed away and there was no good place to stop. He was keen to change this, seeing tourism as a means to create jobs and income in the town and we discussed future plans for sheltered campsites, toilets and water for visitors along with possible re-supplies of locally grown fruit and vegetables.
Around 7pm we walked up into town, setup the mini projector and sound system and projected Confluir onto a wall in the plaza. It was encouraging to see such a good turnout to the event, and to hear reactions of the town. Every time a local person appeared onscreen there were giggles, jokes and laughs because that was someone they know. Upon seeing parts of the river further up or downstream there were exclamations that ‘I didn’t know the Marañón was like that!’ or gasps as rafts and kayaks tackled the most difficult rapids on the river. After the film screening community members discussed with us current state of the dams plans, future steps for protection of the river and also asked about the recent conservation area that was approved on the Marañón – will that be good for us? It was good to be able to be a source of information and also a catalyst for these discussions.
Our second screening was in Tupén. After arriving, the school kids came down to the beach with painted signs to welcome us to town and the professor of the school was incredibly helpful to make the screening happen. He setup a projection screen in the center of town and the kids layed out school chairs so that the whole town could sit in comfort while watching the film.
From Tupén we followed the current through dozens of rapids downstream, beach after beautiful beach the trip rolled by, campfire by campfire, laugh by laugh and story by story. It was only once everyone had packed up and continued on their journey that I was take stock and realise that was a really really good month.
Visit https://her-odyssey.org/ to continue to follow Neon and Fidgit’s journey through the Americas. Or checkout their Instagram for some great photos of the journey https://www.instagram.com/_herodyssey_/