Impressions of Colombia

Somehow this post never got posted a few years back.  So here it is a belated re-count of our Colombia trip from 2015.

I've been wanting to come to Colombia for about five years or so....

For this trip I didn't bring a camera, not even a cell phone camera.  The photos that you see here are compliments of Kent Bretzlaff or Leif.  Although I do miss having those photos to flip through to remind me of moments from the trip, I found that not having a camera along on the river and on the trip in general was really nice.  I was taking this trip for myself; it was personal and I didn't feel the need to record it.  Well, I guess I'm sort of recording it by recounting my memories here.

Taking a paddling to trip to Colombia isn't for everyone.  If you are looking for a South or Central American paddling destination to maximize your paddling days you might want to check out Ecuador, the Veracruz region in Mexico or Pucon, Chile.  In Colombia be prepared to spend more days travelling long windy roads and trying to figure out your logistics than paddling.  I went to Colombia to paddle for two reasons; More than kayaking, I wanted to experience Colombia with friends, and I wanted to visit my Colombian friend and fellow scientist, Mario.  Both goals were achieved and I went on some pretty fun runs as well (Thanks Jules!).

Memorable moments for or posterity:

The Calderas River (3 days) and Samana River (2 days) with Kent, Scotty, Adam, Leif and Natalie
  • The loudness of the Insects in the Jungle
  • Kent thinking "What should I grab" when Leif, rescued Kent by grabbing his boat before Kent got recirculated back into a hole.  This is funny because the seam of Leif's shorts had come apart earlier in the day all the way from the ass to the front and Leif's package was practically dangling in Kent's face.  Leif didn't bring any other pairs of shorts, so after that I loaned him my camp skirt to spare the rest of the crew the view.  I thought he looked pretty good in the skirt.  I bought him a new pair of shorts when we got back to town, that subsequently stained his seat pad green in his boat.
  • Helping Adam with a hurt shoulder make it out of a difficult class V canyon in the Jungle and back to civilization.
  • Kent showing up basically naked in the middle of the night at our hammock because he was still learning how to set up a tarp so that it would drain, rather then pooling then drenching him with water.  This happened repeatedly.  I think after four nights, he finally figured it out. At least the late night visits stopped.
  • The last camp on the Calderas run when we were all lactic and totally beat up from from the run.  Me, famished, trying to light a fire with wet wood so that we can eat while Leif and Scotty puked their guts out due to some sort of something.
  • The amazing float down through the class 2 section of the Verde below the Calderas Canyon.  It was so beautiful and so relaxing to paddle easy whitewater after 2 days of a really stout canyon.
  • Seeing the Samana Bridge, getting out and ordering a big lunch for everyone.

  • Because I study driftwood, I couldn't help but notice that there was a lot of drift piles and large logs on the lower reaches of the Calderas and the Samana.
  • Spending two days in a small pueblo (San Luis) then sending Adam (hurt shoulder) and Leif (still sick) back to Medellin in a Taxi. The negotiation in Spanish for this was kinda fun.
  • A really nice run down the Samana with Kent and Scotty.  We spent a lot of time simply hanging out in the jungle at camp thinking out life and just chatting.  
  • The last class V canyon of the Samana reminded me of rapids on the Stikine.  Big water is just so much fun!
  • The 7 hour drive back on a sideways bench seat in the back of Jules's yellow jeep-like car with no shocks on dirt windy roads was very uncomfortable.  Luckily I was tired enough that I was actually able to sleep through parts of it!  
The Samana River Festival
  • Mostly I remember spending hours on a Chiva bus with over twenty other people breathing engine fumes.
  • No really, the festival was awesome.  It was fun to have an event that was arranged not as a race, but as a group paddle. We should have more of these types of events in the community.

  • The water came up. Big water all the way down.  Way Way Way too much fun!!!
  • The food arranged by Jules was way better than the overnight food that we packed for our previous trip.
  • The rivers really can rise and fall 6ft in 24 hours.

The San Juan River with a bunch of Frenchies
  • What can I say, me and 7 dudes that I didn't know that well.  
  • I learned all about the history of the Basque people, who are very proud and although the Basque country is now split in half and included into France and Spain, they will stridently tell you that they are not Spaniards or Frenchmen. Thanks Eneko for the history lesson!
  • The river was low.  This run reminded me of all those low water excursions Leif and I have done on rivers. I found myself out in front of the pack because I felt more comfortable picking my lines than becoming jammed up between people.  I was told afterwards that I impressed some of the guys. That made me feel pretty good.
Rio Suarez with World Class Kayak Academy
  • Teenagers are teenagers. Hard to read their emotions when they are doing schoolwork and then you get them on the river and they are all smiles and whoops.  Sweet!
  • Had some good chats with up and coming Sophie from Mexico, that girl is going places!
  • It was fun messing up the same exact way on a line as coach Quinn.   Although I was a little embarrassed at first, I felt pretty okay about my line after I learned the Quinn's line looked exactly like it.  After we both went, all the students decided to take a different way down. 

Medellin and Colombians
  • Compared to other South and Central American countries I've been to, Colombia (at least in the parts I visited near Antioquia) is clean!  There aren't piles of garbage everywhere. Street cleaners clean it all up every night and Colombians throw their garbage in trash cans, not the ground.
  • You can actually get a nice California-type salad in the touristy part of Medellin, Poblado, where there are a lot of expats.
  • Street food is better in Mexico.  Arepas are okay, if a little bland, and fried food can get a little old after a while. Meat on a stick is really the best thing going.
  • Watch out world, there's some good scientists in Colombia.
  • There is a lot of interest in big hydropower projects and mining.  Damn!
  • As a group, Colombians are very respectful people.


  1. I agree. Colombians are one of the people I have met. Your must have had wonderful memories on your kayaking expeditions. You can find some nest kayak reviews on


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