Stranded in Raging Waters At Night Casey Activates SOS
In Casey's latest blog he paints a picture of the endless barrage of frustrations and delays he faced off with on this leg of the Ucayali Amazon between Requena and Pucallpa. We become acutely aware of this by the description of the inordinate amount of backtracking they were forced to do.
Unfortunately, Jorge had several dire issues with his family back home that he had to contend with. Once the duo were properly deep within the jungle, Jorge received news of a family illness which forced them to backtrack three days to get home, yet the total time deficit cost them a delay of two weeks.
Back from that ordeal, this time four days deep within the jungle, Jorge once again needed to go back. They spent another three days getting back but with the sum-total time deficit costing them three more weeks this time. Sadly, this was due to Jorge's ailing younger 32-year-old brother and his eventual passing, as mentioned two updates prior.
As if the 'time' frustrations were not enough, Casey has been plagued by illnesses including an abscessed tooth, fevers, stomach infections and skin infections. He recently reported that he tested negative for leishmaniasis, a skin disease caused by sandfly parasites boring into the skin. Thankfully it is treatable and Casey has recently seen progress.
Furthermore, Casey has been dogged by cash flow problems and a broken kit.
It had been his goal to make it to the looming Amazon river milestone, the city of Pucallpa, and this seemed quite doable at the time. But, to add insult to injury after the numerous delays, they were disappointed to find that the rainy season had come TWO MONTHS earlier than expected! This would further delay the journey and force them to go deeper into the jungle to seek higher ground.
And so they did - much of this portion of the journey revolved around a Ucayali Amazon tributary on the higher ground called the Tapiche River.
And what was next to befall them was a harrowing predicament, perhaps the climactic collapse of the unlucky stack of cards that had been building up against the duo.
It all began when the people of a local community around the Tapiche told them they could make it across a seemingly minuscule four-mile stretch of jungle in less than a day because it was "dry ground". The community members offered to transport their bags by canoe. Although it was just a small stretch, Casey still felt ill-prepared for unknown circumstances. But after Jorge reassured about the safety of the transport of the bags, Casey submitted to their generosity.
For the first three hours of the hike, the trek was easy. It turned out not to be 'dry ground', but boot-deep in water, but it was still very easy going.
Unfortunately, they soon found themselves in a heavy downpour, and the water got deeper - first thigh-deep, then waist-deep and finally chest-deep. Perhaps with the thunderstorm the river had overflowed its banks into the inter-meander region. Casey calculated it would take too long to head back and they still had about two miles left.
By about 4:30PM everything became brisk, black swirling water as far as the eye could see and they were in over their heads. There was no higher ground anywhere within sight. Jorge became fearful. For starters, he was not a great swimmer, but he also warned of caiman (South American alligators) and electric eels. Casey proposed swimming from tree to tree but he was nearly swept away doing so and worked hard to save himself.
They perched themselves upon the high roots of an upturned tree. If any more rain fell, they were in danger of being swept away. Darkness eventually fell upon them and they had no lights. It had become too dangerous to swim further. They hunkered down on their log being vigorously attacked by red ants and mosquitoes. They were all out of options other than to wait out the entire night and pray for no more rain. And Jorge, who is evangelical, was praying very vocally. Both of them were scared.
By 3AM, with Jorge becoming increasingly despondent, Casey felt the guilt of having brought him there. The wind was picking up, threatening new thunderstorms and the battery on Casey's Inreach tracker was getting low.
“Don’t worry, mate,” said Casey, “I can trigger the emergency SOS on my Garmin Inreach, and someone will find us.” This was the first emergency SOS Casey had ever initiated and though he was certain they needed to be rescued for their lives, he was also well aware of the burdens placed on rescuers, criticism of his expedition and the financial burden.
By 5:30AM there was some light, and at 6:30AM miraculously Jorge's prayers for help seemed to be answered. They spotted a small canoe in the distance. They were so far away from any communities that the chances for this were near astronomical. They were rescued by the fisherman and Casey fortuitously was able to cancel the SOS.
All was well and they finally made it to their destination (Casey doubling back so it would be without motorized craft). But there was one casualty - Jorge. The predicament had taken its toll on him and he decided the journey was over for him. Casey thanked him. He wrote how grateful he was to have had him on the journey and what a pleasure he was as a walking partner.
At the wake of his blog, Casey describes his goal to still reach Pucallpa. He knows he must contend with the floodwaters in what turned out to be the early onset of the rainy season. In parting, he says he will seek out the higher ground and that he has arranged for an indigenous walking partner in one of the communities.