Rio Miel & Magdalena five day canoe experience.
14th Jan 2018 – We set off from Medellin at 5am with the truck and trailer and headed off for the eco lodge past a small traditional town of San Miguel. We stopped for breakfast at Doradal and a bit of a leg stretch and to buy a few supplies ready for our two nights at the lodge. We took a dirt road for 28km to San Miguel where we were fortunate enough to catch the first ferry of the day due to very high-water levels. We had a bit of jolting to do to ensure the truck and trailer fitted onto the ferry. On the ferry we got to check the trailer and see that a leaf spring had snapped and would need to be repaired quickly. We soon crossed the Rio Miel on the ferry that looked like a piece of floating metal that would soon disappear below the surface if it ever broke free of its supporting cable. We then continued for about 11kms till we came to a dead end. We parked the vehicle and was met with a smile and a warm welcome and began to transfer people and equipment onto the boat provided by the lodge.
We inflated our speed boat with the aid of Victor and transferred it to the water along with two Old town discovery canoes. As a group we set off up river for around 10 minutes towing the canoes. We arrived at the lodge and the views were fantastic with lodges built out of bamboo and looking like they were about to be overgrown by the forest that was around us. Just to hear the birds, other animals and the gushing of the river was an excuse enough to be here. We were shown to our lodges where myself, James and Dany soon settled in and Diylan and Olga settled into theirs. We went to grab lunch and the size of the fish served was like trying to eat a whale! The staff were very friendly and trying to understand the groups English and attempts at Spanish certainly gave them a laugh.
After lunch we grabbed the fishing gear and headed down to the waters edge where we set up a few rods and tried our hand. Dany was first to catch and ended up catching the biggest of the day. We were fortunate enough to see an otter swimming near us and foraging for food.
At 4.45pm four of us piled into the speed boat and headed off down river to look for monkeys. After a 15 minute ride we found a total of seven golden brown monkeys spread out over a few hundred meters. A few photo moments later and light fading we bid farewell and headed off back to our lodges.
At 6pm the light got the best of us so we packed up the rest of the fishing gear and went to get ready for tea. Once we finished our hearty meals varying from chicken, pork or beef with rice and chips all five of us disappeared to our two lodges and settled in for the night. We were so tired that I for sure was fast asleep in a hammock after a couple of minutes and only woke up a couple of hours later to the rain and insects various clicks and chirps then took myself to my bed where I was asleep the second my head hit the pillow. James and Dany were already well and truly sound asleep.
15th Jan – it had rained all night but to lie on the bed listening to the sounds of the birds and the water rushing past was the best way to wake up. I took a quick look at the water level but also praying that our boats were still there and that we had tied them off good enough to be there but also afloat!
We all met up for breakfast of classics, arepa, scrambled eggs with ham and a slice of cheese washed down with either hot chocolate or coffee. Followed with a big bowl of fresh fruits. We chatted about yesterday and also what today would entail before three of us started heading to the boat. We were met by Andres who took us 45 minutes up river to the staring point for our horse riding. Here we were met by Mario who introduced us to our horses and promptly had us seated and ready to ride.
We started off into the rolling hills until we came to a plateau where we could see for miles. We were told that all the land that we could see around us and miles beyond were owned by one person. He was truly lucky to have a piece of paradise and able to call it home that’s for sure. It made my 4.5 hectares look like a dot in the landscape. After 3 or so hours of walking and galloping through open land and its cows, the trees and small streams we stopped by the side of the Rio Miel for a light lunch before heading back to the boat.
Once back at the lodge we sorted ourselves out and met up at the canoes. I gave a safety brief and reminded Diylan and Olga about different paddling strokes, what we wanted to achieve over the next few days and finally everyone’s favorite the capsize and rescue. Those two then with a push set off drifting down river practicing their moves and I followed closely behind. Unfortunately we drifted a bit further than I had hope for so I called to James to come fetch us with the speed boat and take us back to the start. This was where the fun really begun. As we were hooking up to prepare to get towed the other boat capsized and they started drifting at a rapid rate of knots down river. I took my canoe and rescued Diylan where we pulled his boat across the top of mine and emptied it then proceeded to tie it off behind mine. At the same times James had now rescued Olga and got her sat in the front of his boat and looking for her paddle. Luckily somehow her paddle was still inside her boat. We moved close to the river bank and the two swimmers got into the speedboat and with their canoe now tied behind they set off back to the lodge whilst I sat holding onto an over hanging bamboo branch waiting for James return so we could repeat the process. Whilst waiting I was fortunate enough to be lunch for the ants occupying the bamboo and soon had my hands full of biting ants. Doing my best not to let go I repeatedly tried to remove the ants with free swimming lessons for them! James soon returned and within a minute we had hooked up my boat and I positioned myself in the front of the speed boat and we set off. I turned around and all I could see was James trying to wash his arms. He had now become lunch for the same critters whilst I was moving between boats but he did not notice till we set off and unlucky for him I think they found him a tastier morsel.
Once we were all safely back on dry land we organized the boats and equipment and had a chat and laugh about the afternoons events starting off with how they had got to practice for real the rescues we had earlier talked about so hopefully we wont need to do them again! Things noted was that due to the higher levels of the river the speed had also increased from the average to 14knots (checked with GPS) So doing rescues in very fast flowing water can be a challenge but by carrying out what had been explained made things go smoother. And also the need for doing the drills at a hurried pace. The key here was the river is wide and pretty much good for floating down with not many strainers or potential major hazards and plenty of escape options for a person. Everyone felt safe but the initial shock of tipping out of a canoe into the warm water unexpectedly gave a moment for thought. The good thing for the group was that this should be the last time we will need to go against the current when carrying out any rescues as from tomorrow its all down river. The Miel is clear compared to what is to come on the Magdalena and its chocolate flowing river full of fallen floating trees and its very fast current averaging 12 knots.
16th – Today it only rained a while during the night. We all met up for breakfast and to chat about the days activities and to confirm the escape plans. We loaded the speed boat with all the bags and then we set off to where the truck was originally parked. Then James and Dany loaded up the truck and Dany set off to collect the trailer which would take him an hour and then to wait for us at San Miguel ferry crossing point. The three of us drifted pass them and continued onwards practicing skills as we went along. After about an hour we came to the first set of rapids and it gave some fun for Olga and Diylan and no problems were encountered. We arrived at the exit point after an hour forty five and we had covered 13km so this was a good scale to use for tomorrows planned trip. We hardly paddled and drifted pretty fast flicking between both sides of the river and trying to spot the different birds along the route.
We packed up the truck and trailer with a small crowd of elderly gentlemen with one jumping right in and helping in anyway possible so after a couple of cups of coca cola and a few thousand pesos he left with a smile. The 4 police officers armed with rifles also gave us a wave and smile as we departed for the town of Honda a couple of hours drive down the road. Here we stopped at our hotel Casa Belle Epoque for the night and organized ourselves ready for the big paddle on the Magdalena.
17th – We set off from Honda at 9am and headed towards Dorada. Due to the speed and height of the waves under the bridge we decided to put in just a bit further downstream. Over the day the average speed of the river was 8km an hour and we paddled for four and a half hours stopping once for a leg stretch and more photos. The weather was very hot but around 2pm we thought we may get caught up in the looming rain and thunder rolling our direction. Everyone had a good time and got to practice their skills going along. James spent most of the day drifting or rowing behind us with the speed boat and occasionally coming along side for a chat or to grab some sweets. Yet again at night it rained but luckily it had stopped like on all the previous nights before breakfast. We managed to paddle a distance of 36km.
18th – We left our hotel after breakfast and walked the few hundred meters to the get in point and organized all the gear and boats and we were ready on the water for 9am. James pushed off first in the speed boat followed by Dilyan & Olga then me. Along the way we got lots of waves and shouts of hola gringo and a few kids shouting hello how are you in English. I could hear many people talking about how big our canoes were considering they are about the same length of the locals wooden boats and probably double the width as well. We stopped off on an island for a leg stretch where the Miel joins the Magdalena and just took in the baking hot sun. Today was far hotter than the previous day and our glowing red arms and faces were testament to this. We finished up in Puerto Triunfo at 3.20pm so not a bad days paddle of 6 hours 20 mins and covering a distance of 53km and an average speed of 6km an hour.