Tuesday, February 9, 2021


Kayaking Internationally During a Plague

Often, I get questions about international travel. “How difficult is it to travel with a kayak?” “What about the food? Or the culture? Or the animals?” “How do you communicate?” One of my favorite questions… “How do you afford it?” Nowadays, I rebut that with, “How do you afford to stay in one of the most expensive countries in the world?” When I started traveling internationally, it was solely for kayaking! Over the years, traveling has become less about hardcore kayaking and more about exploring, looking for amazing landscapes, rivers, people, and culture. An open mind is key for these kinds of adventures.

Southeast Asia, 2015, bouncing down the road in yet another bus gave me plenty of time to get introspective. Being outside of the U.S. for prolonged periods was changing my perspective, and I scratched this into a notebook, “I’ve been traveling for so long that when I arrive “home” it doesn’t feel familiar anymore.” This statement feels truer every year, especially after spending time in a destination with a drastically different culture. This year, 2021, is now the fifteenth year that I’ve traveled outside the U.S. for paddling. Typically, when someone asks me, “Where is home?” I simply reply, “No”.

Joao Gabriel Araujo, dialing in a second boof on the Black Canyon of the Cubatão kayaker waterfall Brazil
Joao Gabriel Araujo dialing in a second boof on the Black Canyon of the Cubatão

About this time last year, I was on my way back to the States from China. The Covid-19 virus had started spreading a month earlier, and was spreading rapidly. The Chinese government was in the process of instating a very strict lock-down across the entire country. Flying back to the States, it felt like I had narrowly escaped the encroaching plague. Making the descent into the San Francisco airport, my mind was racing; would we all be escorted directly into quarantine? We landed and there were no special announcements. We exited the plane with wide eyes expecting immediate scrutiny. There were absolutely no precautions, no questions, no temperature checks, nothing! It was at this exact moment I realized we had a global pandemic on our hands. The opportunity to isolate between countries had come and gone.

Colorado, summer 2020, in the midst of a pandemic I made the tough decision to continue to work as a raft guide on the Arkansas River (my primary source of income). We were atrociously understaffed, as many of the guides had decided the risk wasn’t worth the raft guide wage. Late in the season, my body was beat down, and I had a light cough. I knew the sore muscles were from the lack of a day off, and I assumed my hoarseness was from shouting out safety talks twice a day through a mask… it wasn’t. Returning to the rafting outpost after a trip, I was pulled aside and informed that one of my co-workers had tested positive for Covid-19. The next day we closed the operation and the entire staff went to get tested. One other co-worker and I tested positive. The entire outpost shut down and the staff quarantined for two weeks. Then, with heavy hearts, and lighter pocketbooks, we went straight back to work. I felt horrible - how many people had I possibly infected?

Jeferson Werner, scouting an upper section on the Rio dos Cedros brazil kayak waterfall whereisbaer.com
Jeferson Werner scouting an upper section on the Rio dos Cedros

Making the decision to travel again this winter was very difficult. Considerations: I had already tested positive and had a very mild experience. The case studies I had looked at showed the reinfection rates had been amazingly low and the chances of me being an asymptomatic carrier and bringing the virus somewhere new was also relatively low. So, I looked at the map. Balancing locations that I had on my personal tick list and cross referencing them with which countries were allowing citizens from the most plague-ridden country on the globe to enter - a ticket was purchased for Brazil.

Air travel, what a shit show. Everyone seemed to be doing their fair share of masking up, washing hands, and trying to distance (in an utterly packed plane). Then the food came… and everyone just dropped their mask and went to town.

On the Ground in Brazil

The airport staff is all in masks, temperatures are taken upon arrival, and space is given for social distancing, except around the always congested baggage claim. Cab drivers wear masks, keep windows down, and tend to be incredibly kind. Major hotels have made many modifications. Everyone is attempting to distance, and the rooms are allotted “cool down” time between clients. There is still so much contact. People trying to be kind and help with my bags or kayak create so many potential vectors.   

Culturally, Brazilians are beyond welcoming. Being met with literal open arms, hugs, and the quintessential kiss on the cheek is still very commonplace. The local paddlers instantly welcome me into their community. We pack into overcrowded vehicles for shuttles, give high fives, and hugs at take outs. They invite me into their homes, we share meals, and Caipirinhas, (cachaça, which is a sugar cane alcohol, lime, and sugar). While conversing with paddlers in Brazil it seems that everyone has a story of getting Covid a few to nine months previously. Hardly anyone here is concerned about getting a new strain and for almost everyone it’s business as usual.

Justicia Rosa? Not sure, who's my botanist?

The Golden Rule, “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” Luke 6:31. The idea is good, but the phrasing could be so much better. How about: treat people how they would like to be treated. Take a moment, learn the cultural differences, and create empathy with the folks around you. I want to be within the culture when I travel and not just be a tourist. It’s with this care I enter into homes, reciprocate kisses on the cheek, and share cocktails. All of these actions are way outside of my Stateside pandemic precautions. I struggle daily trying to balance being culturally correct with the personal greed of traveling. In the meantime, I continue to try and be on the defensive. Staying masked up well after everyone around me has unmasked and giving space until the hug is brought upon me.

Two months in Brazil with one more to go, and it’s been an absolute blast. I have a few more kayak missions lined up, but my mind wanders, pondering the reality of heading back to the States. The rules for travel have changed while I’ve been gone. Now, I need to get a quick test before departure. I don’t have a clue where or how I’m going to get that done, but that hurdle is for another day. What comes to the forefront of my thoughts is what happens when I get back on the ground in the States? How separated do I stay? And for how long? On a more introspective level, was it ignorant for me to travel to a foreign country in the first place? To possibly bring a virus to these kind, welcoming people? To possibly bring a new strain back to the States? Are the risks of travel becoming too great?

There are few steadfast rules with this new virus, and I’m sure the information and viewpoints I write here will become dated within a year, or maybe even by the time of publishing. In the meantime, I’m happy. Traveling allows me to be a part of different cultures and landscapes. This continued education allows me to open my perspective on the world.

Hydrangeas framing a dreamy location, upper rio dos cedros, brazil beatutiful farm slide waterfall scenery sunset
Hydrangeas framing a dreamy location

Benedito Novo

Put In:    GPS (-26.782261, -49.396129) Note: Roadside pull off, local dogs love to bark but usually don’t bite, walk slightly upstream for a bonus rapid.
Take Out:    GPS (-26.782984,-49.377784) Note: Upstream river right of the bridge allows fairly easy access with one barbed wire fence to cross.
Alternate Take Out:    GPS (-26.776004, -49.372307) Note: Church parking lot, no barbed wire, and noticeably more sustainable access.
Class:    5
Flow:     Visual; gauge is currently offline. When online, go to: http://ceops.furb.br/restrito/SisCeops/views_pub/tabela_nivel.html search Benedito Novo on the site; sister drainage to Rio dos Cedros, runs regularly.

Run Description:    This is an absolute classic. It starts off with a stacked triple drop that leads into big slides and bigger holes. Soon you arrive at a dilapidated dam; get out and scout! This is a man-made feature and deserves at least a glance. Be mindful of the major rock formation downstream on river right as it is a massive sieve. Formiga (Ant) is the highlight rapid of the section, and can be seen from the takeout bridge. A long entrance of small ledges lead into a dynamic twisting left-hand turn backed up by multiple recirculating holes. 

adventure by Chris Baer

Friday, January 22, 2021

Brazil Beta

Descending toward the perpetual roar of whitewater, with sweat flowing off your brow and into your eyes, vegetation obscuring the already undistinguishable “trail,” jungle navigation is never elegant. There is the expected amount of cursing, tripping, and slipping.

beach ocean, excited person, landscape, brazil, rocks, cliff
Rudnei Ribeiro enjoying some ocean time

What you would assume to be a secure foot placement crumbles into a slick mud skid. Balance falters and that once stable foot is now in the air, your butt is now in the slippery mud and you are starting to pick up speed, sliding through the jungle. You reach out, grabbing for trees, branches, vines, or anything which might slow your descent. “Damn those were thorns”, expletive, thud, expletive! You come to an abrupt stop, relieved that the boulder you smashed into was in its precarious location. 
Sao Paulo, kayak, traffic, frogger, zet, hardcore paddles, traffic, Brazil
playing Frogger in downtown Sao Paulo traffic
Perfecting the balance necessary to descend this kind of terrain is possible. However, dragging a 9ft kayak with one hand, a 201cm paddle in the other, along with encumbering yourself with the entanglement opportunities of a pfd, helmet, skirt, and GoPro, make these advances a torturous excursion. All of this stumbling around in the Brazilian jungle has led to some spectacular rivers, many of which have little or no written beta. Here is a quick low-down on a few notable sections: 

Ribeirão do Braço Grande

Put In: GPS (-24.09578386090188, -47.254910219123175) Note: Follow feeder creek to main river
Take Out: GPS (-24.120205688341642, -47.26647569261122) Note: There is a house on river right
Class:  4
Flow:    Visual, consistent light rain (that is very common) will be enough to have good flow.
Run Description: Bedrock slides, ledges, portages, and a few boulder gardens. Access for this section is a thirty minute hike down the side of a mountain with no trail. Quality rapids start immediately. After half a dozen solid rapids, the river relents back into meandering riffles and overhanging vegetation dodging. 

Renato Costa Guimarães and Rudnei Ribeiro on Ribeirão do Braço Grande, kayaking, water fall jungle, brazil, portage,
Renato Costa Guimarães and Rudnei Ribeiro on Ribeirão do Braço Grande

“Little Hell” section of the Rio Inferninho Quinta dos Ganchos

Put In:  GPS (-27.36381508850432, -48.75438122944922) Note: Small wooden bridge
Take Out: GPS (-27.364597510074283, -48.740676968134) Note: Large dome slide
Class:  5
Flow:   Visual, heavy rain needed to have flows above boat abusive levels.
Run Description: Bedrock slides and waterfalls, rapids are large. Multiple portages (60 foot waterfall landing on a rock shelf). Scout every horizon line. 
Renato Costa Guimarães on Little Hell, huge water fall, portage, escited, happy, brazilian, brazil, white water, helmet
Renato Costa Guimarães on Little Hell


Rudnei Ribeiro behind the camera capturing Chris Baer on the first big slide of Little Hell, huge slide jungle, kayaking, whitewater
Rudnei Ribeiro behind the camera capturing Chris Baer on the first big slide of Little Hell

Rio dos Cedros

Multiple sections
Put In: GPS (-26.655205356249457, -49.35048029377008) Note: Dam
Take Out: GPS (-26.66130168294995, -49.33309718472249) Note: Power station
Class: 5+
Flow:   Visual; gauge is currently offline: http://ceops.furb.br/restrito/SisCeops/views_pub/tabela_nivel.html search Rio dos Cedros on the site; usually dewatered due to dam
Run Description: Dam creates a fun auto-boof park and huck. The rest of the section is a sieve pile.
Rudnei Ribeiro behind the camera capturing Chris Baer on the first big slide of Little Hell, dog volkswagon van, paddle, drinking, brazil, river, histoic
swing into the kayak bar just upstream of the historic bridge 

Put In: GPS (-26.66130168294995, -49.33309718472249) Note: Power station
Take Out: GPS (-26.672412956279782, -49.32129836646087) Note: Historic bridge
Class: 4+
Flow:  Visual; gauge is currently offline: http://ceops.furb.br/restrito/SisCeops/views_pub/tabela_nivel.html search Rio dos Cedros on the site; large watershed, usually flowing
Run Description: Rapids and rocks come at you quickly with long, boulder choked rapids. A local guide can make the difference between this being a quick lap or an all-day scouting mission.
historic bridge over the Rio dos Cedrosm, with pink flowers, rustic, whitewater,
historic bridge over the Rio dos Cedros

Put In: GPS (-26.672412956279782, -49.32129836646087) Note: Historic bridge
Take Out: GPS (-26.672479012772477, -49.320825566464634) Note: Small footbridge
Class: 5
Flow:   Visual; gauge is currently offline: http://ceops.furb.br/restrito/SisCeops/views_pub/tabela_nivel.html search Rio dos Cedros on the site; large watershed, usually flowing
Run Description: If you enjoyed the section above, this is a step up. One massive sieve that is usually portaged river right, and two very bouncy boulder garden rapids.
farm house, kayak, river, whitewater, trees, flowers,
private take out on the Rio dos Cedros

Put In: GPS (-26.68411207759926, -49.31353274517334) Note: Small footbridge
Take Out: GPS (-26.701225044973278, -49.287494734592016) Note: Private, kayaker-owned farm
Class: 3+
Flow:  Visual; gauge is currently offline: http://ceops.furb.br/restrito/SisCeops/views_pub/tabela_nivel.html search Rio dos Cedros on the site; large watershed, usually flowing
Run Description: A perfect warm-up stretch for this rocky river, or maybe just a cool-down after one of the upper sections.

Rio Garcia 

Put In: GPS (-27.04832886973124, -49.0921790976178) Note: Gated park entrance
Take Out: GPS (-27.028249001720194, -49.0930442596256) Note: Small drivable bridge
Class: 4+
Flow:      Visual; typically looks low, but the flow gets constricted in a micro-gorge
Run Description: Micro-creeking on the outskirts of Blumenau. Fun bedrock features. One big double drop that is usually portaged river right. Crystal clear water coming out of a national park. (Possibility of more good rapids upstream?)
Joao Gabriel Araujo scouting the "portage" on the Rio Garcia , portage kayak, whitewater, crazy, waterfall, brazil,
Joao Gabriel Araujo scouting the "portage" on the Rio Garcia

Itajaí-Açu River

Multiple sections

Note: “Paradise” section further upstream has a much smaller flow window and is typically dewatered by a dam
sunset, looking down on the Itajaí-Açu River, rich colors, river, trees, brazil mountains
looking down on the Itajaí-Açu River

Put In: GPS (-27.080805786301287, -49.513652261165326) Note: Side of road pull-off
Take Out: GPS (-27.076767560704273, -49.435098606638086) Note: Ativa Rafting Company
Class: 4
Flow:   http://ceops.furb.br/restrito/SisCeops/views_pub/tabela_nivel.html search Apiúna on the site. Range: Low 1.0 meter - High 2.6 meters
Run Description: Spectacular big water fun. A few steep ledges should be scouted. The general characteristic of the river is read and run big, rolling waves.
Joao Gabriel Araujo enjoying a fairly large caiparinia, drinking alchol, kayak, rafting ativa, freinds,
Joao Gabriel Araujo enjoying a fairly large caiparinia

Put In: GPS (-27.08034395994515, -49.442244208502295) Note: Looks like small private driveway
Take Out: GPS (-27.076767560704273, -49.435098606638086) Note: Ativa Rafting Company
Class: 3-4 with an enormous flow window
Flowhttp://ceops.furb.br/restrito/SisCeops/views_pub/tabela_nivel.html search Apiúna on the site. Range: Low 1.0 meter - High 3.5 meters
Run Description: Large volume bedrock ledges. Fun class 3 at low water, huge dynamic waves at high water. 
tubes, gauley, two ladies, Chris Baer, upper, unicorn, dragon, smiles excited, whitewater, helmet, wrsi
adventure by Chris Baer