On a mammoth journey on the longest river in the world, Tarran Kent-Hume and Olie Hunter Smart recently followed the Amazon from source to sea.
The pair started on foot but switched to kayaks to complete their journey, paddling through Peru's infamous Red Zone — which is riddled with drug traffickers — and dodging pirates along the way. Follow their stories with incredible images taken from the noses of their kayaks below.
There’s not always a clear route on the Amazon
Tarran: We used maps to follow channels but it wasn't as simple as it looks. The channels change every year in the wet season and because we were paddling at the end of the dry season, we kept finding ones that had completely dried up. It added an extra 12 miles to our journey.
At one point, a boat headed straight for us, firing gunshots. There was lots of screaming and shouting ...
Olie: We also had a guide to help us, but at one point, right in the pirate zone, he just disappeared! We spent days trying to find him but he'd gone a different way and then decided to take a boat all the way to Pucallpa, a week's paddling away! That was the lowest moment.
Dicing with danger in Death Valley
Tarran: Two days into the Red Zone we reached Devil's Canyon. We couldn't stop just anywhere given the dangers of the area, and the sun was setting fast. Luckily, we found a sand bank to set up our tents and got protection from the local Rondero.
Mixing with some of the more friendly locals
Tarran: As we paddled past a Navy Base in Peru, these kids jumped my kayak. They swam out from the riverbank, grabbed hold of it and floated down the river with me. A few minutes later though, a Navy boat headed straight for me, scooped me up and headed back to the base!
Heading into a storm
Tarran: This was the start of an incredible electrical storm. There were loads of them on the Rio Solimões. We watched this one brew for an hour. Before it, we had incredibly calm waters but then it hit us. The wind increased and there was a huge sandstorm. The water got incredibly rough and the lightning was terrifying. It was epic!
Calm waters — but not always
Tarran: We had to paddle through rough water sometimes, but at other times, like here on the Rio Ucayali, the river was almost flowing backwards. That created some incredible reflections but it did make paddling our heavily laden kayaks pretty tough.
Ollie: I wasn't always calm in this area though. It was infested with pirates — even the Peruvian military avoid it. At one point, a boat headed straight for us, firing gunshots. There was lots of screaming and shouting but luckily they just carried on past. I think they were just messing with us.
Getting a good feed from the villagers
Tarran: This was about a week from the end. We came across these little villages, almost floating. The people there were farming freshwater shrimps. They'd salt and dry them out, and they were delicious!
Olie: We often stopped with locals and they gave us food, water and sometimes a bed. We ate a lot of dehydrated packet meals and protein shakes, so when we got good food we ate lots.
Tarran: It was not always good though. On one stop, the Asháninka tribe gave us a drink called Masato. I had eight bowls before I found out it's made by tribal women chewing raw Yucca and spitting it into a pot, where the saliva makes it ferment.
Sheltering in mangroves
Tarran: At this point, we were really close to the finish at the Atlantic but huge tides forced us to take shelter in the mangroves. We clung to the trees for six hours before we could move again.
Olie: When we finally reached the ocean, there was actually no finish line — we just paddled out to sea and checked our GPS to make sure we'd gone far enough! We managed a little paddle high-five but we were in 15-foot waves so it was a pretty scary finish.