Report 10 - October 10th 1999
Final Expedition Internet Update
High winds and heavy storms make for a testing last leg
South America's land of extremes hit the expedition and decided to make for the most challenging test for Kota Mama II and Viracocha so far. Winds gusting to over 60mph, whipped up waves of over 4mts and gave the two reed boats a battering. As the river changes it's course on its way to the Atlantic, the winds hit the fleet from different directions, but the boats coped with the pounding. The only damage to the boats was a slight wearing of the outer skin of the reeds where the fabric of the reeds had been weakened by two months of pulling into river banks. Assessing the damage and carrying out some simple repairs after the three-day storm Erik Catari said, "the boats are still in perfect condition. They are well-balanced and structurally very sound."
While the totora boats are still used on the relatively calm waters of Lake Titicaca, it was these very conditions that we wanted to encounter to explore how the boats would cope in severe weather. They performed admirably. In many ways Kota Mama II coped better than the support vessel Quijarro. Being shorter in length, she was able to ride out the frequency of the waves with less of a battering.
Kota Mama II's jaguar head roars as it fights through the storm
Sailing into Rosario, the second largest city in Argentina, we were struck for the first time on the expedition by a truly modern metropolis. The dramatic Monument of the Flag dominates the riverside skyline, and celebrates the life and death of the General Manuel Belgrano who designed the Argentine flag. Behind this calm riverfront, the city buzzes with energy, having moved away from the river-dependent economy that saw it's creation.
The beginning of the end
The storm behind us, there was little more planned on the itinerary. The sense of completion that comes at the end of an expedition was beginning to creep in as we enjoyed the last nights on the riverbank beside a fire, singing songs and playing games. The jokes and games that had inevitably crept in after spending three months with each other were publicly exposed in a night of song, dance and high culture that included light operatics and poetry. Each member of the crew was given the spotlight and performed. Some wrote songs and sketches especially for the event and not surprisingly some people were given a harder time being hauled over the coals than most. Despite the mickey taking, John Blashford Snell, the Masters brothers and even young Owain Davies were not given too hard a time… officially.
Evidence of Vikings in Paraguay was never found, but there is growing support for the Scandinavians in Argentina
Brief stops in San Nicholas, Zarate and Compana marked our journey downstream as we entered the last week with the kilometres between us and our destination reducing quicker than expected. At port and while sailing we were constantly entertaining public and press who had heard about our journey downriver. When we arrive in port, word quickly gets round that there is something to see down by the river, and we quickly find ourselves working as a floating public attraction.
The last few weeks have seen a dramatic change in the river and the climate. The river takes us downstream at a comfortable speed and the Argentine system of policing the river, controlled by the Prefectura Naval, makes for easier navigation.
As the River Paraná meets the River Uruguay, the newly formed Rio de la Plata - River of Silver - breaks up into several different channels separated by small islands.
While the storm gave us a battering, most of us hoped that once it had passed, the warm temperatures that accompanied most of our journey would return. But no, gentle breezes and temperatures around 13°C are here to stay. We should have noticed the spring flowers on the banks of the river on the Rio de la Plata. But the acclimatisation is welcome for those of us returning to Britain in Autumn. Those from the Bahamas will have to simply put up with returning to the cloudless skies the islands provide.
Sailing Kota Mama II wrapped up in fleeces against the biting winds
What's new... Buenos Aires
The final day's sailing took us to Tigre Sailing Club, around 40kms north of Buenos Aires. There we hosted a reception for the Prefectura Naval, the British Ambassador and some of our sponsors including American Airlines and J.P.Knight.
The smaller vessel, Viracocha, has been donated to the Prefectura Naval museum in Tigre and Kota Mama II is being shipped back to England where it will sit in a musuem. She must return upstream to Campana to be prepared for shipping to set sail later this month to arrive in the UK around Christmas.
So what have we achieved?
Sitting here in Buenos Aires reflecting over the voyage of the last two months it is difficult to think clearly of what we have achieved.
Quite simply, we've sailed two totora reed boats down one of South America's longest river systems. That may sound like a small task, but it is easy to overlook the work involved. It also easy to forget the work done by so many before the expedition kicked off properly. While the work of John Blashford Snell, the sheer industry of Yolima Cipagauta, the quiet manouverings of Jim Masters and the ever present support of Barry Moss are all greatly appreciated, several work just as hard and don't get the pleasure of the Expedition. Keeping a flotilla of boats going involves the support and energy of many, including all our sponsors. Keeping that flotilla in touch with the world they are working in requires incredible energy and that work has been held together by those back at Expedition Base in Motcombe. It is to those, and in particular to Julie Linsley, that we send our thanks and appreciation for keeping this thing afloat.
Our community work in Paraguay was clearly appreciated, in particularly the teeth pulling of the dentists. Advice on community projects and promises to pass on information about the urgent need for increased services will hopefully assist several communities in north Paraguay. The anthropological and archaeological teams have worked in tight teams and have produced some interesting findings despite working under limitations of time scale and conditions. As a catalyst for further work and study the Kota Mama II Expedition has produced a fantastic array of opportunities that others can, if they wish, now build on in more detail.
Both Kota Mama II and Viracocha have performed outstandingly and could cope with at least two months sailing without need for serious repairs.
A few last words from Colonel John Blashford Snell. "We have proved that totora reed vessels could have been used for navigation in this area without problems, and that they can cope with the conditions when they get rough. On a broader scale, the work of the teams has been a great success and warmly received from the communities we have visited. The governments that have given us so much support for the journey have also expressed great interest in our work and findings, so we hope they will be used for further work as well. Most importantly, we are returning home with everybody fit and in good health."
From the members who have sailed on any or all parts of the expedition journey, thank you to all involved with the Expedition and to all those who have offered support, physical, financial and emotional. Your support has been essential in the success of this venture.
The full Kota Mama II Expedition Team
Here's to Phase III.