Colombia’s Farc ex-combatants and police paddling together

Police and ex-combatants practice rafting together in San Vicente del Caguán. UN mission in Colombia. Credit:

Colombia’s Rafting For Peace raft team made a big impression on all who attended the 2019 World Rafting Champs in Australia earlier this year (see Rifles for paddles).

They were touched by their amazing story and admired the strength these paddlers showed in not only taking on learning to raft, but to also step away from their previous lives and make a difference for their future and by so doing, inspiring so many others.

Recently this team and their village of Miravalle in San Vicente del Caguán hosted the Colombian National Rafting Championship on the Pato River. This area was previously a strategic rearguard of the Farc. This event was also a selection for the IRF’s 2020 World Rafting Championships which are to be held in China in August. The top teams in each category will be invited to compete at that event.

Planting trees to offset carbon – Sports for Climate Action. Picture credit:

At this championship there were police and ex-combatants, who were former enemies, paddling in a team together and competing.

“I can’t explain how symbolic it is to have ex-combatants and the Public Force paddling together, and with the community organizing an event like this.” said Mauricio Artiñano, member of the Verification Mission of the United Nations Organization.

Former combatant, Hermides Linares, was in a team with two policemen and four more composed another team in the men’s open category. However, the teams from San Gil where this sport is strongest, dominated. There were a total of 11 Open Men’s teams. In the Open Women Lorena Leiva, also a former combatant, lead the only women’s team. There were 3 Under 19 Men’s teams and two Master Men’s teams – a total of 17 teams!

The coffee served at the event was produced by ex-militants of the Farc, as were the medals, which were made out of reused wood by a collective called Artisans for Peace.

As part of their reinstatement process, these ex-combatants started Caguán Expeditions which is a tour operator in San Vicente del Caguán, in Caquetá. Their aim is to promote tourism through rafting.

To see more about these amazing peace ambassadors and the results from the event:

To read more about this in Spanish:

Exchanging rifles for paddles: Ticos and ex-guerillas of the FARC

Pato River in the background, Rafael Gallo (front) poses with ex-guerrillas Duberney (far left) and Hermides (far right). Centre are Costa Rican guides Max Solano (left) and Roy Obando

A Costa Rican rafting mission led by the company Rios Tropicales and the United Nations traveled to Colombia to meet with a group of ex-guerrillas from the FARC. Teaching them to tame the rapids of the Pato River, in complete peace, was the reason for the singular adventure.


By Alexánder Sánchez

It’s a quiet and a particularly cool night. A pair of crickets hum through the bushes and the river roars imposingly through the mountains. All is good without bullets, all is good without anyone dead. It is a quiet evening in the heart of the Caquetá jungle, a Colombian territory traditionally dominated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by the Spanish acronym FARC).

Suddenly, a peasant voice sharply cuts the calm and from the first strum of his guitar to a group of Costa Ricans, waiting quietly and expectantly, their soul breaks… “… Today I tell you, brother, I no longer shoot, for the peace of my country, I left my good rifle … Already the bombers cannot be heard coming and the noises at night let me sleep … I am well accommodated, I smile and even talk to soldiers (military) … And my family knows about me …”

Before a softened and “goosebumped” audience, this is how young Freyi sings it. His musical confession portrays his stormy past, but above all, his hopeful present. Freyi is no longer a guerrilla; now he is a powerful rafting guide.

Continue reading Exchanging rifles for paddles: Ticos and ex-guerillas of the FARC

Ex-FARC Guerrillas in Colombia train to be Raft Guides

By Shannon Farley

Nine ex-FARC guerrillas in Colombia have a new future ahead of them in adventure tourism, thanks to river rafting guide training provided by the International Rafting Federation (IRF) and Rios Tropicales adventure company in Costa Rica.

The new raft guides, who are former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by the Spanish acronym of FARC), will complete their training on Nov. 9 with a graduation ceremony. The accomplishment is even more extraordinary because the Pato River where they have trained and will operate commercial rafting trips is a former FARC controlled “red no-go zone” – once a feared, forbidden and secret place.

The fledgling adventure tourism venture is the result of a United Nations supported mission at Colombia’s Miravalle Territorial Area for Training and Continue reading Ex-FARC Guerrillas in Colombia train to be Raft Guides

IRF Honourary President Rafael Gallo is paddling a G6 solo and we have his back

IRF President Joe Willis Jones presents Rafael Gallo with his title of IRF Honorary President

Last year at the IRF 2019 Congress held in Tully, Australia, the IRF voted to bestow the title of Honourary President on Rafael (Rafa) Gallo to honour his long and unrelenting support of rafting and in particular, the IRF.  The IRF would like to give back its unrelenting support to Rafa in this, the hour of his need, as he finds himself paddling through a life threatening Class 6  – a rapid on the river of life called Pancreatic Cancer during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rafa is a long time legend in the rafting and conservation world, and one of the founders of the IRF.  Together with Lee Porter, he motivated the key people in the raft racing world at the time to join together to create a formal organisation that would create, maintain and officiate universal race rules and world championships, as well as set standards for rafting guides and raft tour operators. And so the IRF was born.

Rafael Gallo paddles with Project RAFT co-founder Mike Grant at the 1991 Project RAFT Championships in Costa Rica

But before even that, Rafa was captain of the rafting team that represented Costa Rica at the first international rafting competition event held in Siberia, Russia in 1989, and the second event held in Nantahala, North Carolina, USA in 1990, and served as the principle host for the 1991 event held in Costa Rica.  These early events organised by Project RAFT set the stage for the creation of the Camel White Water Challenges, which lead to the first official World Rafting Championships and the birth of the IRF in 1997.

As President and co-founder of Rios Tropicales, Costa Rica’s leading rafting tour company, Rafa has been a leading conservationist, visionary, entrepreneur, and change maker in Costa Rican adventure tourism for over 35 years. Rafa helped to lead the fight to save Costa Rica’s iconic Pacuare River from being dammed,  and sits on a number of boards where he continues to lead efforts to protect and preserve Costa Rica’s rainforests, rivers, and local communities.  A few of these boards include organisations like Fundación Ríos Tropicales, Reservas de Costarricenses, America Outdoors, Explorer’s Club, and various Costa Rican Tourism organisations.

Rafa opening the 2009 IRF World Rafting Championship, Banja Luka 🇧🇦

Rafa has additionally been honored internationally and in Costa Rica with recognition and awards like the Pioneers for Prosperity, International Whitewater Hall of Fame, National Geographic Ashoka’s Changemakers Geotourism Award, TIES Innovation Leadership in Sustainable Tourism Award, and more.

Since the formation of the IRF, Rafa has served various roles on the IRF Board of Directors (BOD) for most of its existence, including IRF President, Vice President, and Chair of the Conservation Committee. He has also served as an IRF Chief Judge, and Assessor with the IRF GTE system. One of his proudest achievements was to host the first-ever carbon neutral sports world championship, the 2011 IRF World Rafting Championship, an amazing achievement.  After retiring from the IRF BOD, his new position of Honourary President has allowed Rafa to continue his ambassadorship for the IRF, his most recent work being that of working as the IRF representative with the United Nations to help train former FARC combatants in Columbia as rafting guides, and again stepping up to create and host the highly successful IRF World White Water Rafting Summit.
Rafael-Gallo-Rios-Tropicales-owner kayaking-Ecotourism-pioneer
Over these past few months, Rafa has been going through cancer treatments in the United States and has responded positively to it. However, with the added challenge of COVID-19 threatening everything, including the health of his rafting company, it has been a hard and daunting path. But what is incredible is that none of this has slowed him down or reduced his amazingly indomitable spirit and initiative.  We salute him as we admire his strength, positive outlook and fierce determination – traits that helped the IRF grow and develop during its formative years, and are sure to help him during his current challenges.  You can hear Rafa speak about these challenges during a recent interview here with #TourismStrong.

The IRF and the world of rafting is eternally grateful for all Rafa has done and continues to do.  For those wanting to send Rafa a message of support, please feel free to do so on

#AreYouReady #RaftersAreAwesome #StrongerTogether #oneloveoneriver #raftinggram #RiverFamily #WeAreIRF

Show your WhiteCard

April 6 was declared as the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP) by the UN General Assembly in 2013. This decision represented a significant step in recognising the transformative power of sport and its great potential in advancing positive social change. The International Rafting Federation (IRF) is aligned with the mission and objectives of Peace and Sport with our roots beginning with the Project RAFT peace initiative which brought together rafters from around the world in a spirit of peace and solidarity at the inaugural Chuya Rally, Sibera, Russia in 1989.  This mission of peace through rafting has continued since then.  Out latest initiative was to work with the United Nations to train Colombia’s FARC ex-combatants to exchange guns-for-paddles and become raft guides in the former war torn region. This effort grew, culminated in the newly minted guides creating the Rafting For Peace raft team who joined us in Australia at the 2019 World Rafting Championships thanks to the great efforts of Rafael Gallo, IRF Honorary President.

Due to rafting’s global reach through sport and commercial activities, the positive values and promotion of equality for all, rafting sport is ideally positioned to contribute towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals to which the IRF has committed to working toward through our engagement with the United Nations Framework for Climate Change.  The IRF also supports the idea that sport is a neutral and universal platform that can help in the current health crisis.

April6 is a celebration of the work being carried out every day by sport organisations, athletes, coaches and NGOs that play a fundamental role by transmitting the educational values of sport to people of all ages throughout the world. In the current circumstances, April6 represents a propitious day to continue sending a message of global solidarity, unity, respect of the rules, team spirit and reinforce fraternity and cooperation.


As a reference to the yellow and red cards in many sports, a #WhiteCard is a symbol, created by the organisation Peace and Sport, representing the positive power of sport for peace and social inclusion. The core message of the 2020 #WhiteCard campaign is Behind each #WhiteCard, there is a story. It seeks to highlight and draw attention to the stories of individuals and beneficiaries who have been positively impacted by sport all around the globe. Through a #WhiteCard, each of us can encourage its community to stay home, respect the rules, stay healthy with sport, and thus send a message of unity and global solidarity.

To participate, take a picture of yourself (or with your #stayathome partners) while holding a white card and share it on your social networks using the hashtag #WhiteCard and tag @peaceandsport.
If you tag @internationalrafting and the hashtag #RaftersAreAwesome – we will share it on IRF social networks.

#April6 #WhiteCard #StayAtHome #AreYouReady #RaftersAreAwesome #StrongerTogether #internationalrafting #oneloveoneriver #RiverFamily #WeAreIRF

Short stories from WRC 2019

The 2019 World Rafting Champs on the Tully River in Australia finished more than a month ago. Looking back at the event there are some lovely stories that have come to light.

Teams often say the best thing about rafting is the camaraderie between the teams despite competing against each other. The U23 Women’s Downriver race was a very close race, right to the finish line. New Zealand were out front a mere boat length ahead of Australia, who were half a boat length ahead of Indonesia! As they crossed the line, exhausted but elated, the New Zealand team celebrated. Then turning back they saw things were not right with the Australian so they quickly paddled over and discovered that one of their paddlers was suffering an asthma attack. Suzy, recently qualified as a nurse, quickly jumped into their raft and started helping her, while a men’s team on the shore assisted by pulling the raft into the shore. Continue reading Short stories from WRC 2019

River of Reconciliation in Colombia

Former FARC-EP Combatants in Colombia Trade Guns for Paddles

By Shannon Farley

Former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP in Spanish) might seem unlikely whitewater rafting guides.

Rafael Gallo helping train ex-FARC-EP combatants in river rafting in Colombia.

However, a project supported by the United Nations at the Miravalle Territorial Area for Training and Reincorporation (TATR) in the Municipality of San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá Department, is encouraging ex-guerilla fighters to trade their guns for rafting paddles in a new sustainable ecotourism endeavor.

Rafael Gallo, honorary president of the International Rafting Federation (IRF), traveled to the Miravalle TATR at the beginning of August with a delegation of the UN Verification Mission in Colombia to assess the viability of developing a commercial rafting operation on the Pato River.

“Going rafting in the Pato River is very symbolic because you are part of the peace process in Colombia,” said Gallo, CEO of the Costa Rica adventure tour operator, Rios Tropicales. “Thousands of armed fighters have put down their Continue reading River of Reconciliation in Colombia