“You measure your life in new experiences,” says Joel Kowalski. “That's what this trip was: something we'd never done before, getting out into the unknown, and exploring.”
With everything that went wrong, it's almost a wonder they survived: in the final days of an exploratory trip into Mexico's Michoacán region, the kayak crew suffered a lost wallet and being locked out of their own van, and that was after Dane Jackson needed stitches and the aforementioned van broke down on the side of the road.
With a dry spell meaning water levels were dropping everywhere, the boys still set out in search of new whitewater – taking advice from local farmers and using Google maps to avoid areas potentially infested with narcos (when you see what could be an airplane runway in the middle of a deserted field, it's probably a good idea to hang out somewhere else).
Talk from the locals was of something interesting on the edge of Michoacán. The Cascado del Salto proved to be a big waterfall with high potential for fun with good lines and fun drops, but something was missing: the water level that would make it safe.
When the search for new whitewater proved fruitless, the smart decision was made: go with what you know. Heading back to the Rio Hoyo del Aire, and their favourite waterfall, christened 'Maria' (perhaps named after the girl who found Rafa Ortiz's wallet?!) it's one more day of crazy drops and plenty of paddling.
And how much fun did they have with 'Maria'? Well, by the way they were bouncing off the side of the falls, and with Dane Jackson bucking it backwards, it's safe to say, plenty!
In the end, First Descent: Michoacán ended up being exactly what it was intended to be: “High quality whitewater, with high quality people,” says Rafa. In the end Michoacán was a place everyone was glad they dropped into.
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