National Geographic : 1987 Apr
flats at 14,000 feet, well above timberline, rivulets from snowfields create the Rio Hornillos (left), the beginning of the Apurimac. Joe Kane, Sergio Leon, a naturalist from Costa Rica, and Kate Durrant look back at Mount Mismi, just a bump in mid-horizon. Here we found water six inches deep, enough to float our kayaks, and split into a kayaking team, a hiking team who would parallel the kayak route, and a two-man film crew in a Land-Rover, who would resupply us at strategic points. About 75 miles from the source we paddled between walls of volcanic rock in one of the Apurimac's small gorges (below). The water was silty and turquoise with runoff from gold and silver mining. Alpacas and herds of sheep grazed on the plateau above. The first 90 miles served as a training run before the rough water began. We never saw rain, but nights were freezing, and we built fires of bunch grass to keep warm. In this remote landscape we still saw people, including this onlooker on the left bank. Some even recognized me as "El Polaco"-The Pole-from city newspapers that had written of me as the man who had navigated the great white water rivers of Peru. Farther downriver, toward the Acobamba Abyss, we saw no one. In these elevations people rarely use the river. They don't know how to swim. The river to them is only an obstacle. They don't even like to sleep close to it, for the Indians believe that the water is an evil spirit.