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
Raft guide, raft racer, kayak instructor, environmentalist and river conservationist – there isn’t much that stops Georgina “Georgie” Preston. This is part one of a two part interview as Georgie sets off on a new adventure – we’ll catch up with her on her return. In part one, we find out what motivates her and how we can all get involved.
How long have you been rafting and how did you get into it?
I have been guiding for a shocking 18 years now and racing for 12 of those. I started guiding whilst studying at uni to help pay for my course. I was already a kayaker so it made sense to earn a bit of money by messing about on the water!
Continue reading We are river family – meet Georgina Preston
Rafting in Bulgaria is currently at risk of no longer being possible. Plans are in play to create a motorway across the only section of the Kresna Gorge suitable for competitions, amateur rafting and other white water disciplines.
Voice your concern by signing the petition!
The current plans involve a motorway connecting Germany with Turkey and Greece. Unfortunately, these plans mean building over the most exciting 17 kilometre section of the river.
At risk are a large array of flora and fauna native to the area and rare in the biodiversity of eastern Europe. The area is part of NATURA 2000, home to the greatest biodiversity in Bulgaria where you can find 122 species of butterflies all within a one square kilometre!
There are other options on the table for the motorway that don’t involve impacting this unique area. Your voice is needed to strengthen the resolve of the rafting and white water community.
Biodiversity Bulgaria – “Let’s save the Krensa Gorge”
European Commission – Daily News – 13/11/2017
A recent study finds that reservoirs emit significant greenhouse gases planet-wide; and the researchers are urging that new hydropower projects are not to be christened with the green energy label.
Read the full article here on International Rivers website
There is no reason why the rafting season opening should be limited only to the rafting community. The Bulgarian rafting club Adventure net decided to orientate it to a broader public so they invited companies who deal with outdoor activities in general. Focusing on the concept of an open festival, they invited many outdoor and adventure companies, giving them the opportunity to present themselves and exchange experiences and ideas. The festival served to awaken the curiosity of people who have never jumped into a raft or kayak before and to dare them to acknowledge and try different extreme sports and outdoor activities.
The start was given at 10.00 am on 1st April 2017 at the green camp of Adventure net in the Kresna gorge of the Struma River. The Outdoor and Whitewater fest continued throughout the weekend. Various activities were accessible for the guests: tasting of different local products (cheese, wine, honey and more), provided by the municipality of Kresna town, the trying out of extreme sports equipment, information about the biodiversity in the Kresna gorge. A dancing composition in national costumes and a folklore orchestra from Kresna town provided for the joyful mood. Free rafting trips were offered to the representatives of the Bulgarian media, which secured a broad coverage of the event. The companies, presenting their products or services at the festival, were also offered a free rafting tour. Part of the morning program was the speech of the most popular Bulgarian climber in high mountains, Boyan Petrov, who presented the problems of the future plans for the construction of a highway, passing through Kresna gorge. The ecologist Andrei Kovachev clarified further that this infrastructural project would cause extensive damages to the biological diversity of Kresna gorge and prompted the participants at the festival to sign the open petition. More than a hundred signatures were gathered on that day for the petition.
Later on during the day the public’s attention was attracted by a team competition in reflip technique – the team who took the shortest time to flip, then reflip the raft, climb into the boat and raise their hands wins. All guests were also invited to participate in different sports activities for free: a climbing competition on a specialised wall, a ride on a longboard, a balancing walk on the slackline and many others. The most gifted participants were awarded with prizes.
The peak of the entertainment was indeed the evening event – a live concert by the rock and grunge band “Saint electrics”. The dancing mood was kept high until the late hours, accompanied by a DJ set. In this way the Outdoor and Whitewater fest made a difference in 2017 and will hopefully lay the foundations of a long-lasting tradition in the outdoor and extreme sports sector in Bulgaria.
Since 1985, International Rivers has been at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them. As they are the leader in the fight for the preservation of rivers, we will be doing a three part introduction to them. They are a vital organisation for all river users to know about and are key in the aim to unite us all in the fight for the protection and conservation of rivers for us now and for generations to come.
We spoke to Sarah Bardeen, their International Communications Director.
What is International Rivers?
“International Rivers is a Berkeley-based non-profit with offices on four continents. Since 1985, we’ve been at the heart of the global struggle to protect rivers and the rights of communities that depend on them.
Why does International Rivers exist? Because rivers are under threat.
Consider this: By the end of the 20th century, the dam industry had choked more than half of the Earth’s major rivers with some 50,000 large dams. The number of small dams is even higher.
The consequences of this massive engineering program have been devastating. The world’s large dams have fragmented our rivers. They’ve wiped out species; flooded huge areas of wetlands, forests and farmlands; and displaced tens of millions of people.
While not every dam causes huge problems, cumulatively the world’s large dams have re-plumbed rivers in a massive experiment that has left the planet’s freshwaters in far worse shape than any other major ecosystem type, including tropical rainforests.
We know that this “one-size-fits-all” approach to meeting the world’s water and energy needs is outdated: better solutions exist.
That’s why we’ve worked to build a global movement to protect rivers. We’ve done it by working closely with an international network of dam-affected people, grassroots organizations, environmentalists, human rights advocates and others.
Our staff hail from at least ten countries, and they are experts on dams, energy and water policy, climate change, and international financial institutions. We focus primarily on Latin America, Asia and Africa.
The work takes many shapes: We work to empower local people to demand their rights and change the terms of the debate. We fight to raise awareness, promote solutions and – most importantly – stop destructive projects.
We know a better way is possible – development should never force a trade-off between healthy rivers and the rights of local communities. We envision a world where water and energy needs are met without degrading nature or increasing poverty, and where people have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Join us!”
Thank you, Sarah, for your introduction – we look forward to learning more about International Rivers and what they do in Part 2.
And you, dear readers, join International Rivers and let’s preserve our rivers.
If not us, who? If not now, when? All for Free Rivers, Free Rivers for all!
Links to International Rivers:
It is a great pleasure when a riverguide replaces paddle with pen for a moment and share with us his rich experiences which he gained on different continents doing this job. We love these books and so we are pleased to present this one.
If you look at the back cover of the book “Pushing Rubber Downhill” by Adam Piggott” you will read this description:
“… When Adam Piggott rode his motorbike across Australia chasing a girl he barely knew, he didn’t understand much about anything at all. He wanted to change his life but he didn’t know how, and he didn’t know what to change. But the girl was the catalyst that forced him out of his comfortable existence. This is the story of how a young man with no direction ended up working as a riverguide in a range of exotic locations around the world. And on the way while battling crazy bosses, fearsome rivers, and hordes of charlatans, thieves, and witch doctors, he learnt what it is to truly effect change in oneself. Told with humour and honesty, Piggott shows how it’s possible for a young man to end up in extraordinary circumstances through a willingness to take a chance instead of settling for the safe option …”
This introduction awakens the imagination and the desire to find out more about the adventures that he led in his life. It certainly motivated us interview Adam Piggott to find out a little more and to better understand the book.
Hi Adam, you’ve done an excellent job of writing a book about something we all so love. A large number of our members are working as riverguides, but very few of them are writers. So what has motivated you to put your story into a book?
The idea for the book began over seven years ago when I told a brief version of the story on an online forum. I received a huge response from people all around the world, (the thread received over 500,000 hits and over a thousand comments). A professional editor contacted me and encouraged me to write the story in book form. I worked with the editor for two years. We wrote four drafts of the book, so I actually wrote the entire thing four times. It was a lot of work but I wanted to do the best book I could.
What is the core of the book?
While the theme of the book is a rafting memoir, the core of the book is a message on how it is possible for a person to change their life when they don’t know what it is that they want to do. How do we get from one point to another in life when we don’t know that the other point even is a possibility? The answer is to put yourself out there, to accept challenges, and to have the courage to say yes when most people would say no. At the start of the book I am chasing a girl across Australia on a motorbike. I have no job, no home, and I am not a riverguide. By the end of the book I am working as a riverguide in Italy. The story of the book is how I made this journey when I didn’t know where I was going.
Do you recommend the life of a riverguide?
I think being a guide is a wonderful job for young people. You learn how to manage people, how to deal with stress and difficult situations, how to problem solve, and how to make effective decisions. You work with fantastic people, (the friends I made from fellow riverguides are the best and strongest friendships I have ever made), and you get paid to live and work in some of the most beautiful places in the world. However, you are not going to make very much money, so by your mid-thirties it is generally a good idea to transfer your skills to a higher paying profession.
What’s your favourite river?
For customer satisfaction the best river I worked on was the White Nile in Uganda. Nobody ever complained after a day on that river that they didn’t get their money’s worth! But my personal favourite has to be the North Johnston River in tropical Far North Australia. You have to enter by helicopter with your rafts underneath in a big sling, and then you have a 2 or 5 day trip in very difficult and technical class V water in a World Heritage rain forest setting. Spectacular.
What is the one piece of advice you’d offer to the youth of today?
Don’t be a sheep and do what everyone else is doing. People are too focused today on going to university. Get a job where you can learn real social skills. You always have two decisions available to you. Yes and no. Shall I do this? Yes or no. The freedom to have that choice doesn’t mean that you will take it. Have the courage to take the difficult path. There no guarantees but you will most likely have fewer regrets.
That’s good advice. Thank you Adam for setting aside the time to talk to us about your book, we hope that this is just the beginning of your creative work as a writer.
Here is an excellent book for yourself and a great gift for friends, an enjoyable read that will make you laugh while following his wonderful adventures. Enjoy!
We asked the public for their lists of the best rivers to raft in the world. We were surprised by the names of the rivers that were NOT on the list! But these rivers deserve equal place in the summary. So, following our research as well as communication with many distinguished names in rafting and respected public opinions …. it’s time to give our conclusion.
The decision criteria:
Consideration was taken of: the width of the river, depth, speed, colour, geographical location (lying north or east/ south or west is important in the northern or southern hemispheres), the chances of survival in some of the rapids, how curved it is, whether there are stones and what size, whether the river has piranhas, crocodiles or garbage, the length of the rafting section, number of waterfalls, rapids … and while I’m kidding with you on these criteria you may have started to realize that there is no specific criteria that makes any river the best!
It is difficult to classify nature’s miracles under titles of 1, 2, 3…, because it is the combination that creates a number 1. The indescribable power of nature to regenerate the human soul is infused in every river and each is given a certain beauty that enchants us. No one river gets it all!!! It is mostly ego, adrenaline, local vanity and marketing of some rivers above others that will allow anyone to assign a 1 to 10 to any rivers.
So to get back to the conclusion of the responses – there is no simple conclusion. There are many people who have paddled the most popular rivers of the planet, and were sincere in why they separated the rivers in certain ways, but the eventual answer I got was that is difficult to extract the top 20 rivers, never mind trying to put them in an order from 1-20, because every one gives something extraordinary.
Some rivers enjoy massive, high waves; some have waterfalls, or passing through caves; a pile of stones to avoid; the most famous places on the river that tumble the tourists around; some are part of the canyon that take your breath away; many are still not as popular as others but still not worth any less!! Some have geographical locations that present great difficulty for access for commercial tours; others have up to 10 thousand people in one day ….. each deserves a mention, and all of them can be used to refine our souls.
Because of the work that I do, I have learned about the many rivers of Russia to Chile, from Canada to New Zealand, from the North to the South Pole, and every year I find some new ones to put on the bucket list of “mandatory to paddle” (already a long list and at this rate I’m going to need a lot more life to do them all!) And yet, I still do not know all the rivers of the world, nor would I dare to make the list of the top 10. What about those rivers that are so disfigured by man that we can no longer use them?
Many rivers that have been on people’s top lists are now impossible to paddle because the rapids are now submerged by a dam. Many famous / popular names are threatened by dams, and that list is now looking like the list of “Paddle now or never!!” Every few years we need to adjust our lists because “Oops, this is below the dam!”, “Let me see … and this one too”, this has become a race against time to protect these rivers around the world.
So it seems that instead of wasting time in deciding which is the best, it is more urgent to preserve what is left, to fight so that no river is dammed or polluted. For most people the popular river names used to be praised as the “best”, but for those who really enjoy the rivers and paddling, names are not important but being able to spend more time paddling on the water. And so it is important that we fight equally for all rivers so that we can leave them in a decent condition – a legacy for generations to come – eternity, to flow freely and cleanly. Join the fight and sign some of the petitions because this won’t happen without YOUR input!
Follow us because we will present the many rivers of the world to you, many you may not have known about, and that will delight you.
The IRF – it’s about rafting around the world, about ALL the rivers around the world! Enjoy every stroke and every moment spent on the rivers.
2015 LIST OF TOP 10 ‘ENDANGERED RIVERS’ AND TOP 10 ‘MOST IMPROVED RIVERS’
Individuals or organizations are kindly requested to take our survey and nominate one river for the ‘TOP 10 ENDANGERED RIVERS’ list and one for the ‘TOP 10 MOST IMPROVED RIVERS’ list.
The IRF ‘TOP 10 ENDANGERED RIVERS’ list will consist of the rivers which are endangered due to damming or diversion, mining, pollution, logging, heavy development, or any other environmental or developmental threat that diminishes water quality, impedes fisheries, or negatively impacts recreational boating opportunities, or similar.
The IRF ‘TOP 10 MOST IMPROVED RIVERS’ list will consist of rivers that have been recently protected due to government decree, have had a serious threat removed or halted, have had dams or other major obstructions or diversions removed, have been cleaned up, have had active government participation in creating recreation opportunities, or any similar river improvement activities.
Providing as much of the information listed as possible will help us make the right choice.
THE DEADLINE FOR NOMINATIONS IS FEBRUARY 28, 2015
The International Rafting Federation will publish its Top 10 Endangered/Improved Rivers Lists in March 2015.
Thank you in advance for your consideration and activism!
An update for those who are interested in the dam proposed for the Batoka Gorge section of the Zambezi River:
We had a meeting recently with a company called Environmental Resources Management (ERM) who are doing the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) for the Batoka Gorge Dam on the Zambezi.
The situation is as follows:
- The dam wall will be built 47km downstream of the falls
- It will be 181m high and when the dam is full the water would reach all the way to the last pool before the falls – ie ALL the one day rafting and more would be under water.
- It will take 2 years to build the roads and workers camps and then 7 years to build the dam.
- At the moment the Scoping part of the ESIA has been completed and they are now working on the Baseline Data Gathering and then they must do the Impact Assessment and then the ESIA is ready to be presented. They think this will only be finished earliest about June.
- The IRF sent questions in on behalf of the IRF during the scoping phase (see Batoka Gorge Dam – 18 Nov 2014) – this was the same as the African Paddling Association letter) and so these questions MUST be answered in the ESIA.
- From our meeting we felt these people are approaching this in a professional and very thorough way. Having said that, we were able to open their eyes to a number of issues that they were not aware of and which they duly noted to include in their research.
- One of the things we pushed with them was that this project has huge international interest and so should be directed that way or it would not be a thorough, complete study. They have agreed to work with us and International Rivers to get news out of meetings and questionnaires, etc when data gathering.
- The World Bank has funded the ESIA ONLY. There is no funding available yet for the building of the dam and the funding will most likely depend on the outcome of the ESIA.
So – it is REALLY, REALLY important that when this company do start requesting input from the public that we get everyone around the world to participate! We’re not sure when this will be but it will be some time in Dec or Jan.
There’s no way we can let them do this dam – but it will take a concerted effort at times from all of us, especially those of us that have access to large numbers of people through social media, to get them to respond at the right time and in a consolidated way that has the right impact.
Please spread the word.
Anyone that has any other questions please feel free to ask.
Other links –