Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mexico 2014

I'm sitting here in my living room and outside the Portland weather is really bringing me down. Cold, crisp, and Clear without a sign of any precip in the coming 10 days. This has basically been the norm for the Winter 2013/2014 season thus far. No snow, very little rain, and lots of days spent indoors instead of out on the water. I've watched more football games than the previous two years combined. What to do, what to do? I've got it, why not ditch the El Nino event and head south to paddle the beautiful sections of the Rio Alseseca with some beautiful people... And some not so beautiful...

The mountains on the ride up to the top of the Big Banana

I first started kicking around the idea for a trip to Tlapacoyan this summer. Alex had been down last year with a few PDX folks and the photos looked really stunning. Couple that with the fact that I'm pretty locked in with a 9-5er right now and vacation time was going to come at a premium. I was looking for a place where I could really maximize my time on the water and not spend too many hours dicking around with shuttles, beta, and very various other logistical issues. Enter Aventurec. Aventurec is a hostel and adventure outfitter based in Tlapacoyan, Veracruz, Mexico and owned by the Reninoso family. In the summers, the hostel is a bustling rafting outfitter which caters to Mexican tourist who want to paddle the local class III Filobobs. However, it recent years the near by Alseseca River has really blown up in popularity amongst class IV-V kayakers and Aventurec has become a world renowned destination for the Annual Rio Alseseca Race. The event was designed to build awareness in the community and worldwide to the pollution and environmental degradation along the Aleseca drainage. According to Tom McEwan, one of the organizers and long time Alseseca paddler, the race has been gaining traction in recent years and inch by inch, the local communities have been cleaning up their act. That being said, there is still a long way to go before one could really call the Alseseca a pristine river drainage. It's too bad too... Because everything else about the river is world class! Multiple sections ranging from sold class IV to serious Class V. Deep committing gorges. Easy access! Oh... and Waterfalls!... lots of waterfalls!

On this particular trip, I managed to convince Dan Rubado and John Edwards to throw caution to the wind and book travel with me down to Mexico City.

We were all pretty happy to see our boats and paddles arrive safely in Mexico City

The city of Tlapacoyan

We left Portland at 6AM the day before the big race and landed in Mexico City around 5PM. We opted to bring our own boats down, rather than rent from Aventurec, and decided to rent a car at the airport rather than trying to figure out a bus ride to the town of Tlapacoyan. This is a more expensive option, but again, we were really trying to maximize our time on the river and I was worried about losing a day of paddling waiting around for buses and trying to get my kayak to fit inside. After getting eddied out at the airport of a few hours, we eventually snagged a rental, loaded the boats, and set out for Veracruz. Driving in Mexico City is an absolute nightmare and we would have been completely screwed if it wasn't for John's GPS and nerves of steel. Seriously! I was more scared in the back of the car on the way out of the city than at any point on the rio. Thanks Bud! We didn't make it to the hostel until around 1 AM.

Dan with our trusty VW Classico, complete with after market Bamboo kayak rack.

Upon waking up, we were astonished to see just how many people had made it down for the event. Not only were their our friends from the PNW and Colorado, but there was great international representation from The UK, Costa Rica, Canada, Argentina, Ecuador and of course, Mexico. I'm not sure of the exact count on race day, but I know it was the biggest turn out to date and there were easily 100 people present including safety and spectators. Having never seen the course and with reports of high water and sticky holes, we opted not to compete on this day and instead headed up to the Roadside Section of the Alseseca to boat the course at our own speed and cheer on our friends as they made their way down the course. In the end, Dane Jackson took home 1st place, followed by Nick Troutman and Eric Jackson.

The view from the front porch of our humble hostel.

We had a great time figuring out the section for ourselves. The roadside is mostly class IV, with some bigger drops sprinkled in for good measure. The water was too high to run S-Turn, but Sophie's Hole and Sticky Hole were in fine form. Dan pulled off an an amazing hand of god manauver while I was about to be sucked back into sticky. No live bait needed, he grabbed my bow loop from shore and threw me down river away from the terminal spin cycle. The award ceremony followed and the entire town of Tlapacoyan came out for the event. In addition to the typical award announcements, we were treated to a few interpretive performances by local dancers and a speech by the town Mayor. Very cool!

The usual dinner scene at Aventurec. Everything's delicious and the company's great.

The stoke was high for Day 2 and we got together a great group of PNW boaters to tackle the Big Banana Section. Led my Nate Herbeck and Sandra Hyslop, we descended into the inescapable gorge that cuts through the mountains below Big Banana Falls. This is one the best sections of river that I've had the privledge to paddle. We never ran Silencio or Meat Locker (due to the high water) but even without the signiture drops, Big B is a true classic. Dropping over the unscoutable mandatory 20 footer for the first time was a real adrenalin rush! Thanks for all the beta Sandra and Nate!

Day 3 found us back on the Roadside section for a few laps and an exploration of the bottom (less commonly run) section below the standard takeout. Again, we had a big group with Leif and Natalie Anderson joining in, along with Jake, Joni Randal, and Beth McVay. We stopped quite a bit for photos and video and had blast lapping some of the more classic drops along the roadside. I highly recommend checking out the bottom mile as well. There were some great rapids down them there hills, including a wild slide right before the take out.

More from Tlap!

That evening folks decided to do the mega rally for the Pimiento section of the Filobobos river the following day. This meant waking up before dawn to start the 4 hours shuttle up into the mountains. The drive was long and bumpy, but the scenery was top notch and we were rewarded with a spectacular day on the water. 30 kms of unmolested jungle wilderness with the first 10ks featuring a wide variety of class IV-V boulder gardens. Of our group of 12, only Alex from Quebec had done the section before and this made for some interesting break downs in communication while we were routing the upper section. I remember dropping into one rapid right on Alex's tail before he dropped out of sight over a pretty massive horizon line. After blasting through two sticky ledge holes I found Alex in the eddy below with a big smile on his face as he mentioned that we had just routed one of the recomenedd portages. It was that type of day. It took us a full six hours of hard charging to finish the section, but luckily, the take out is only a mere 30 minutes from the hostel. So we were back at Aventurec drinking Cervasa's before dark.

Everyone in Tlap seems to love kayakers, including these guys!

I woke up the following morning feeling pretty horrible. Somewhere along the line I must have ingested some river water and spent a large portion of the night visiting the John. It happens to everyone who paddles the Alseseca. There really isn't much you can do besides lay down and take it on the chin. At this point, I hadn't even rolled, yet alone taken a swim and I was still laid up pretty good. Everybody has their own 'remedy' or modality to stave off the dreaded "gringo ass." The Brits all swear that Coke-Cola is the cure, while others stick to a tried and true regiment of take-out tequila. Either way, most folks get hit and end up moaning on the couch for a day or two. Fortunetly, I pounded the pepto and was able to rally for another Big Banana lap on my "sick day". I never felt 'good' by any stretch of the imagination, but I was able to keep er upright and had a great time despite my ever present nauseia.

It was right around day 5 when most everyone cleared out from Aventurec. Most folks had been there for several weeks leading up to the race and now that the event had passed, everyone started to split up and head their seperate ways. We still had a couple more days to go and didn't miss a beat. Two more laps on the Big B and life was good. Joni took her first run down somewhere in there and performed really well. Dan and John both sat out one day with 'the sickness' but not before Dan pulled the trigger on Truchas (clean 20 footer to 50 footer series locked in the heart of the Rio Alseseca Canyon. Well done.

Despite the high water, I was determined to paddle one of the sections on the Rio Jalacingo and on our last day in Tlapacoyan, we decided to throw caution to the wind and give the Lower Jala a go. We had a shuttle driver drop us off at the start of the hike in and recieved crucial beta to get out of the river 3 miles downstream before a scary 90 foot water fall. Be forewarned! The take out for the lower Jalacingo is easy to miss! Just below the take out trail, the river makes a bend and falls 90 feet into a crack in the earth. The falls starts in class III and their are no eddies once you've commited to the class III drop! Aniol and group 5 others were swept over this drop a little while back! Everyone survived, but I don't know how after seeing this thing in person. Make sure you hit that takeout! Pay your driver extra to wait by the river if you have to... just don't miss it!
Gearing up for another shuttle up into the mountains.

After dead reckoning down into the canyon we put on the creek and immediately were faced with a perfect 20 foot boof into a cathedral style pool. We could tell that there was a bigger drop down stream but we opted to run the 20 footer and deal with the next drop when we came to it. Just so happened that the 20 was one of the best boofs we got in Mexico and well worth what came next. After everyone was down, we made the steep climb out of the cathedral to scout the next falls. It turned out to be a 60 foot waterfall called Twisted Pleasure. It gets run by the big guns and has been featured in  one of the substantial videos, but none of us wanted any part of it. There was no portage option at river level so we began a strenuous jungle portage up and out of the canyon. Once above the rim we stayed high to avoid the next drop (40 foot falls called Dirty Sanchez) before descending down through a coffee plantation back towards the river. Once we were back at river level, the hits just kept on coming. The Lower Jala is jam packed with boofs. We spent the next hour boat scouting our way down over stacked 5-20 foot ledges. Before too long we got out to scout the last waterfall called Dungeon. Rafa got the first D on this drop a few years back and it's now pretty commonly run. You can't get anywhere near the lip of this drop to scout it carefully and are left with obscured views of the falls from across the canyon rim. The falls itself looked pretty good to go. A twisting lead in lead to a spirt falls size boof into a fully boxed in canyon. Dan and I were keen, but there was one factor that was really keeping us from firing. Right below where we could scout from, the outflow of the falls appeared to be disappearing into the canyon wall. We just couldn't get a good enough view to ascertain the severity of the undercut. After a good 45 minutes of scouting and a lot of hemming and hawing, we decided the roll of the dice just wasn't worth the pay off at this point in the game. We both joined John and Jake on the portage and quickly finished up the run. After getting back to the world of the internet, I'm able to see now that the undercut isn't as bad as it looks from 80 feet up in the air. In fact, the substantial guys were all hanging out in the cave in their video while the rest of the crew was finishing up the drop. Alas, I'll know next time.

Dan, Sam and Sandra enjoying some tacos in Tlap

El Pastor con Queso!

One more trip back to Aventurec after a quick stop for some tacos and we were on our way back to Mexico City. I left my tacos on the side of the highway somewhere along the line... Damn parasite... We crashed out in a hotel room late that night before catching our return flights home the following day. As I sit here writing I still long for the warm temps and clean bed rock of the Rio Alseseca. This is a trip that I definatly aim to repeat and highly encourage you to check it out as well. I didn't get a chance to paddle some of the classic drops in the area and still haven't seen the Upper Jala or the Seven Sisters section of the Alseseca, so I've unfinished business in the area. I'll be back.

Until next time,

I'm going to be releasing a series of videos (as I find the time to put them together) documenting our time down in Tlapacoyan. First up is this edit from the Rio Filobobos. 30 kilometers of classic jungle scenery and Class IV-V boogie water. Enjoy.

Pimiento Section of the Rio Filobobos (Veracruz, MX) from Nate Merrill on Vimeo.

The Pimiento Section is one of three sections that comprise a 30k wilderness run on the Rio Filobobos in Veracruz, Mexico. The shuttle is four hours one way and traverses some amazing landscape. The river itself is cut off from the world on either side by a vertical canyon that stretches up 600 feet in some places. The first 1/3 of the run is boat scouting class IV with the occasional hairy sieve. We got on the water around 10am and reached our takeout close to 5pm in the afternoon. 12 boaters deep and perpetual game of broken telephone made for some interesting lines, but this section is certainly worth checking out if you want a day off from the nearby Rio Alseseca.


Trifelife said...

Is the pimiento section above the tatempa (sp?) section? The highest we went while we were there was Zapoltitlan, just curious where this is in relation.

Nate said...

You're correct. The 30 kilometers that I write about are actually made up of all three sections. Somewhere along the line (not really sure where the breaks were) we transitioned from the Pimiento into the Tatempa, and then into the Zapo I believe. Again, I was really just following helmets all day and boat scouting a lot, so my beta may be a little fuzzy? The Pimiento section definitely contained the best white water of all three.