Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Part 97 - Please Don't Leave Us

On the last day of the trip, we approached the thousand-foot-cliff walls of the Grand Canyon of San Jose, and prepared to ride the rapids found within the walls of the gorge.  This was the canyon I had seen from the air when I scouted the river a year ago, and the rapids hadn’t looked to be of any significance.

Just before entering the canyon, there was a large sandy beach on the left side of the river; as we approached, we could see that the eight Americans were camped here.  Their kayaks and sit-on-top canoes were pulled up on the sandy beach and they had their tents erected farther back in the jungle.  As soon as they saw us approaching, in unison, the eight of them raced down the beach and began to shout and wave their arms, in a frantic effort to gain our attention.  I angled the boat towards the beach and motored over to them.

“How can we help you?” I asked.

The leader of the group explained that they did not know what the rapids inside the gorge were like, and they were very hesitant to venture into the canyon.  The group consisted of four middle-aged couples, and although they had had a wonderful and uneventful trip down the river thus far, they were very afraid to go any farther.  Apparently, they knew we were behind them and had been waiting and watching for our arrival.  The leader pleaded with me to allow the eight of them to ride through the canyon to the takeout at Tenosique.  He said they were willing to leave all of their equipment behind - tents, kayaks, canoes, camping gear, food, etc., so as not to encumber the boat, if I would take them through the canyon.

I told the group that I would take them with us. There was room on the boat, even for their duffles, and I would tie the canoes to the back of the boat and tow them.  The group was immensely relieved and scurried back to their campsite to pack up their personal belongings.  They left behind their tents, sleeping bags, all of their cooking equipment, food, and several canoes.  I placed one kayak on top of the duffel pile, and tied one kayak to each side of the raft.

We were now twenty-three people on the raft.  I positioned the passengers on the tubes, such that one person was sitting between the legs of another person and leaning against that person’s chest.  Ropes were looped across the tubes, so that each passenger had something to hold onto.  With everyone settled, the guides and I put our backs against the rubber snouts and pushed the boat off the sand and into the water.  I stepped onto the raft, walked to the back of the boat, started the engine, and backed the boat out into the current.

I was a little apprehensive, but not because of these extra bodies on board; I just didn’t know what to expect when we got deeper into the canyon.  One after the other, the kayaks that were being towed collided with the engine prop, gouging large gaping holes in the plastic. Realizing that the kayaks couldn’t be salvaged, I cut them loose.  Our fears for the canyon were unfounded.  The ride through was far less adventurous than anything I had run in Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River.

Within a half hour, we were through the canyon and were motoring leisurely down the wide, jade-colored waters of the Usumacinta River towards Tenosique.  Farmland appeared on either side of the river, and we waved to astonished farmers as they stopped work for a few moments to observe our passing.

By two in the afternoon, we had docked at the concrete boat ramp.  My driver with the truck and trailer was waiting for us, as was the bus for the passengers.  The eight kayakers had their own vehicles waiting for them also.

The second part of the tour was a visit to the ruins of Palenque, followed by dinner at a Palenque Resort and then an all-night train ride to the city of Merida in the Yucatan Peninsula, where the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza and Tulum would be visited.  For this part of the tour, I had acquired the services of a tour company in Merida to provide a bus for transportation from the river to Palenque, an English-speaking step-on tour guide, and to make all other arrangements and accommodations for the group, once we were off the river.  The agency was professional and there were no hitches with the rest of the tour, except one.

Map showing the location of the Usumacinta River. It's a long drive by pickup truck from Salt Lake City, Utah to San Cristobal de las Casas, the put-in point for the river expedition.

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