There is something about kayaking being such a big part of my identity that is making me have a very ambiguous relationship to winter. I’m spending this northern hemisphere winter in Whistler and while most people here can’t wait to do an annual (seasonal sports) transition, I find myself having trouble letting go of kayaking, even though I really love snow and skiing. It starts getting better fast for me after New Year and I soon find myself back in the boat, even though it is cold, but the end of the year is also characterised by very short days, low water levels and low (kayaking) motivation. Hence I tend to break the winter down by traveling somewhere warm and sunny. I have been doing it each year for the last 7 years, give or take, except for the last winter. I spend the whole last winter in Slovenia and I had an awesome time skiing most of the days. I still found myself feeling a bit incomplete after the season for not pursuing my annual kayaking migration. I wasn’t going to do the same mistake again this year.
I love the trips me and my friends do only in part for kayaking. It is mostly the new environment and an intense cultural experience that make these trips so unforgettable. I love all the places I visited in the past and I would like to visit most of them again, but there is so much more left to see in this world, that I don’t really care what a general consensus from the rest of the crew is, as long as it is a new place for me. Last second change from Costa Rica to Columbia? No problem for me, I was still equally excited. After years of kayaking with same people you learn who likes to organise what, you learn to trust your buddies, you learn that too many heads can mean too much thinking and in general, that things normally work out. I wisely let everyone else come up with a plan this time.
Because I had some other obligations I was joining the rest of the crew about ten days later this time, so we just discussed about where and when we were about to meet. One of the biggest issues for kayakers travelling is always his/her kayak. You’re very immobile and dependent of others and I don’t even want to begin to write about all the hassles involved with air travel. Landing in Bogota around midnight is not a good thing for a kayaker. I was forced to take an overpriced van that could fit my kayak in, which then took me to a horribly overpriced hotel, where I had to wait till next morning to take a bus to Medellin. It sometimes seems that people see you as a walking ATM and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Not being involved in the planning, I wasn’t aware there was going to be around 10 kayakers taking part of this expedition. Oddly, I knew them all from before and I was really happy to see I was going to spend the next few weeks with friends from Slovenia, France, Argentina, USA and Canada. They had just returned from two first descent missions and they looked like they returned from a war zone. Cuts, bruises, bug bites, infected spider bites, exotic viral and bacterial infections plagued our trip from their start and even after some got back home. I’ve learned that a jungle is often scarier than rapids. And let me tell you, Colombia has some world-class hard-core white water. I experienced two of my worst high water swims ever in just three weeks. I crave for more of Columbian warm climate big water kayaking.
What about people, culture, cities and nature? I can honestly say that Columbia’s nature is amazing. But of course it is in its own way almost all around the world. What makes it more interesting and exotic for someone like me is that you can expect mostly jungle and some desert, dependant on what part of the country you go to. It normally doesn’t get too hot in the high parts of Cordilleras.
I dare to criticise the level of water pollution, which deeply saddens me. But I would be a fool if I tried to make sense of my cultural experience there and if I tried to write about Columbians. Three weeks are hardly enough to scratch the surface and I have been left with a rainbow of extraordinary memories. I saw what I thought were the beautiful and the ugly sides of it. As a kayaker you’re more likely to venture to places that weren’t meant for the tourists’ eyes. And keep in mind that not all areas are safe to travel and that there might be mine zones next to the rivers. But in general, I have been left amazed, interested and in the end very content with my experience. Columbia is big, diverse and rich in every sense that matters and I strongly advise kayakers or non-kayakers to visit it.
Thanks to all that made this experience as good as it was: Andrej Bijuklič, Ben Marr, Eric Parker, Erik Šturm, Fabian Bonanno, Igor Mlekuž, Jernej Mlekuž, Jules Domine, Todd Wells, Carlos and Casa Kiwi crew.
As we’ve just entered the New Year, I’d like to thank all my sponsors for their help in the past year. Especially Palm gear (with Dagger Europe) and Ophion paddles literally kept me afloat. You can find these great brands that are managed by great people in Alpin Action store in Slovenia or check their websites for your local dealers. Thank you Shred Ready (System X) for my helmet. I wish all the kayakers safe and experience rich 2014.