Georgina reports from the Machu Pichu Kayak Fest near Cusco, Peru, November 2017 –
The competition is held on the Urubamba River; a headwater of the Amazon. It rises in the Andes and flows through the Sacred Valley, past Machu Pichhu before entering Santa Teresa. Here the river is known as the Vilcanota. The upper section is continuous grade 4 boulder rapids. The pros raced 6km from our camp at Cocalmayo Hot Springs down to the slalom location in Quellomayo. This section is big volume fun bags getting more rowdy in high water with some massive holes to avoid (which I discovered at my cost). The expert section started at Quellomayo with more big volume fun wave trains all the way to the beginners grade 2-3 section where lines still had to be made to avoid sticky spots.
Last year I raced the expert section but this year I upgraded myself to the pros … My run was my first time at going the section alone. Safety was set up on all the large rapids but I managed to find a really good sticky hole right in-between two safety locations. Of course. In the ensuing swim I let go of both my boat and paddles which at the time was pretty necessary, but shortly after washing up on the bank, I regretted. So I waited for the safety crew to spot me, then scrambled up a cliff onto an Incan trail, berating myself the entire time. The trail eventually came to an abrupt end at a small wooden platform overlooking the river, continuing on the other side. A small hanging basket contraption was dangling over the river at the half way point. I waited and waved for attention to a non-existent ‘attendant’ of the basket. You can normally be sure of someone to be running these shows. But after five minutes I realised I was manning this thing on my own. So I started to pull the chain towards me which dragged the basket ever closer, giving me time to contemplate what the hell would happen once the basket arrived and I had to get in. At the last moment an old man hiker turned up who had witnessed my swim, which he vigorously re-enacted to me in excitable Spanish. I had impressed someone at least. So with his help, we balanced ourselves in the basket and whizzed at such speed across the river that we bounced clean off the buffers and ended up back in the centre of the wire over the most intimidating rapid. Thankfully sporting my PFD and helmet, I felt confident enough to lean out and drag us both along the wire more carefully this time. We walked and chatted and regaled more swimming adventure stories in sign language.
I managed to redeem myself in the boater-X event. My boat (minus all the foam blocks, and a newly positioned sideways seat) and paddles had been found and I was keen to get back in the game! My first race was up against Irina Medunyak (fellow GB rafting team mate) – but she ended up getting pushed off line during a competitive battle of wills at the top. Next up I was against Canadian Stephanie McArdle but she got her paddles caught in the bamboo on the ramp and had to be thrown a spare set as she landed. I got a clean getaway and went on to take the boater-X win. In the men’s, the final saw two slick Catalan gents – Aleix Salvat and Aran Balaguero battle it out the entire course, with Aran taking a gripping win.
A humongous rain storm that night turned the slalom course into a burly moves contest. A few practice runs were allowed to get used to the new volume, but even then, Chilean dude Pedro Astorga still managed two great rodeo rides in gate one. Only two guys got clean runs, Aleix (smoothest paddling you’ll ever see) Salvat, and Piero (Cusco local, Mr Strong) Vellutino.
The event was wrapped up with good tunes and prizes at a local hut restaurant along one of the Inca trails. Prizes kindly donated by Palm, including PFDs, safety equipment, rashies and dry bags went down a treat with young Peruvian kayakers who find it hard to get good kit over here. Local winners included: Jose Sanchez, Paul Sanchez, David Toro (Chile), Valentino Campana, Rodrigo Villena, Eduardo Ormeño, Daniela Holguin (Ecuador), Camila Mejia and Yanua Soldevilla.
Results from the Pro event were:
Downriver: Alonso Campana (Rambito) (PERU), Irina Medunyak (UKR)
Slalom: Aleix Salvat (ESP), Irina Medunyak (UKR)
Boater-X: Aran (ESP), Georgina Preston (GBR)