Survival on the Cocaine River
A Polish adventurer's close call in Colombia
Maciej Tarasin is a little crazy. The Polish adventurer has a knack for oddball, often dangerous, river expeditions. In 2008, he descended Ethiopia's war-ravaged Omo River. In 2009 and 2010, he ran a couple of wild Bolivian rivers on as many makeshift rafts. But it was his October 2011 expedition, when he and photographer Tomek Jędrys set out to run Rio Yari—the former Amazonian refuge of the cocaine-processing narcoterrorists from the Medellin Cartel—that nearly killed him. He recently published the harrowing two-part story on Explorersweb.
"The Yari was my goal," Tarasin writes. "I wanted to descend it because its grim legend made my heart race and my mind wonder about the secrets it guarded." Some of the "secrets" he thought he might encounter on the so-called "River of Traps" included guerilla fighters and jaguars. Least of his concerns, though certainly among them, was running rapids through narrow gorges.
The expedition almost never even got underway, because Tarasin hired a less-than-respectable guide. He writes, "Unfortunately, Jose is causing problems; either getting lost or being constantly hungry or buying beer wherever we stop for a break and making us pay for it. We're worried that our provisions will run out before we actually reach the river."
But they manage to ditch Jose who, Tarasin later learns, "wanted to slash open [his] throat," and make it to the river. Thus begins several weeks of relatively happy paddling and navigating rapids. Running through the vast Amazon rain forest, the river is the lifeblood for countless animals—huge river otters, as well as tapirs, capybaras and jaguars, which they spot along the riverbanks.
During the third week, with resources dwindling, the two go overboard in a Class 4 rapid. When Tarasin frees himself from the swirling waters and crawls to shore, the boat is gone, and so is his partner. All he has left to survive is his underwear, shorts, sandals, waistcoat with GPS in its pocket and a knife. Soon, he will have no underwear, either.
To find out how Tarasin survives, click through to Explorersweb.