Eco-Challenge Fiji Islands

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Team Uruguay Natural at Eco-Challenge. Part 3 - Help From The Fijians And An Amazon Special Delivery

Ruben Manduré (Edited by Rob Howard) / 14.09.2020See All Event Posts Follow Event
Team Captain Ruben Mandure studies the road book
Team Captain Ruben Mandure studies the road book / © Team Uruguay Natural

When we wake up at 5:30 we feel a little heavy, sleeping more than necessary on an expedition is bad for the body, which reacts as if the competition were over, so we find it hard to get moving. Luckily, the cold water of the river helps, so, as soon as we enter the current, we are energized again.

When we reach the end of the stage we must leave the rafts on the right bank next to the same road we passed the morning before heading for the start of the rafting. We must cross to the other bank trying not to lose our footing in the current, which is powerful.  At that moment Travis Macy passes by with his team on bikes heading for the muddy path we made the day before. Travis asks me how the road is. I have a hard time telling him how bad it is, and I can imagine what an ordeal it will be for his team to make those heavy miles.

After making a safe crossing through a flat stretch of the river, we arrive hungry and soaked in the village where we pick up the third medallion that says "River" from the hands of a happy girl with a captivating smile.  We take the opportunity to buy local delicacies, accept invitations to drink coconut water, and have some refreshments.  And the main thing: choosing a guide that the organization authorizes us to have in that stretch, which goes through small settlements, cultivated areas and cemeteries with a prohibition of passage.

A very tall man, with an imposing physique and friendly attitude offers himself. We quickly agreed on a fair price for his services and resume the trip. Shortly after leaving the village, we see that is necessary to be guided. It’s a labyrinth of small paths close to each other, which cross small streams, enter and leave the forest, even pass through inhabited houses. It would be impossible without guidance.

The man is happy, he sings, he describes the landscape and explains in correct English some local traditions.  At one point, Federica, who feels remorse because the man is carrying her backpack, asks him his age. With a wide smile he says: ‘68 years old’. We cannot believe that he has already walked at pace for 3 hours with us, over rough ground, barefoot and loaded. He is a bull!

In the next town we change our guide. Now we have a tame horse carrying 3 backpacks and the guide the fourth, so we feel wonderfully comfortable walking free of weight. However, we don’t increase speed as the locals have their own pace.  It is almost impossible to convince them to hurry!

In the next town we stop for a another guide, but here the conditions are different. There is a kind of religious temple managed by a character who lies to us shamelessly saying that we should rent a horse and guide from him, at an impossible price. The locals look at us with some pity, as if they are ashamed of witnessing this attempt at abuse, and to compensate, they sing us a beautiful song and offer us fresh fruit.

We leave and a few meters away we get a guide and a horse at a reasonable price. The next stretch is difficult, the jungle is dense, the path is sometimes lost, and the walk is terribly slow. Around 10.00 at night we manage to reach a village by a very wide and flat river. We change our guide and he takes us quickly along the riverbed, crossing it countless times to follow the path that, in the dark, he finds without any problem.

We arrive in Lutu on our fourth night, where Camp 3 is set up, which is also the logistical base for the race. We will sleep the three hours we have to there, and go on before the first light of the day. What is coming is, according to the road book, the hardest part of the course, and we have a big problem to solve before we leave.

A Problem To Solve

As soon as we arrive in Lutu, I go into headquarters to discuss an omission in the road book. Our helmets are multifunctional, so we have taken advantage of the regulations and only brought those. The problem is that the delivery of maps is stage by stage, so we left the helmets in the bike box and for  the next stage we see that we will have ropes.

We could have packed the helmets with us, but we didn’t because the instructions did not mention it. When we left them in the boxes we asked, and were told not to worry, if it was not in the road book, there was no problem. Headquarters understood the situation perfectly and said it would be sorted out for us.

I meet the team and tell my colleagues, who are in the middle of a delicious dinner served by Lali, who is radiant and very efficient. Especially with Federica, who has arrived with some discomfort in her knee. It’s now somewhat inflamed, with a deep red color on the skin near the wound. A good dose of anti-bacterial cream will probably be enough to make it go away.

Well before dawn we are ready, having hot coffee with house specialities for breakfast. We check the map with Thiago and define the exit from the village, and we get ready to leave exactly 3 hours after arriving.  About 10 minutes before, I go to HQ to get the passport and see what the solution to our problem is. Mindy is waiting for me with a worried expression, she tells me that they  still do not have a safe solution and advises me to wait. I assess the situation with coldness, if we leave with uncertainty, we can reach the foot of the Vuwa Falls and not have the helmets. We will be stranded there.

The decision is difficult, but I do not hesitate to make it and I communicate it to the team, who receive it with disquiet and some anguish. We will not leave until we have the helmets, and we will ask for a time bonus for the mistake.  Every 20 minutes we walk around headquarters, while Mindy comforts us. We go back to breakfast, keep resting and wait. I cannot sleep, I think it is another irreparable waste of time and it will bring consequences later as it always does. Suddenly, Mindy comes to me and says: "Ruben, you can continue and the solution will be found in Vuwa Falls". So we go straight into the jungle and I imagine that the security staff will lend us their own helmets or some spare ones they have there.

A Special Delivery

It is not at all easy to find a path that runs alongside the river. The jungle is close and the riverbed is occupied by large stones, smooth round, slippery, pointed and sharp. Progress is slow as attempts to get out and walk along animal trails that run in our direction are frustrated time and time again. In this sector of the race no guides or porters are allowed, however, we came across a couple of enthusiastic young people who assure us that they have just accompanied a team and are returning to the village.

We hesitate, and tell them to continue, but we gladly accept good advice from them as they point out an apparently better path.  We say goodbye and follow it.  Sometimes it gets lost and we return to the rocky course, but little by little we adapt and are able to reach the confluence with another river, where we must be careful not to continue on the wrong course, because they are parallel.

We unravel the problem but Federica is suffering a little with her knee. Among some high stones, we were surprised by the PC we were looking for. Its manager was not there so we continued walking along the river until we saw her perched on a stone, watching us carefully as we progressed. She tells us to continue and from that spot, there are markers that the organization has arranged, because in the surroundings of the giant cascade, the forest is impenetrable.

We advanced and when we turned in front of a big rock we were dazzled. Before us rises an immense, almost vertical wall, more than 300 meters high, with a gorge through which a large volume of water falls eternally, forming a perfect rainbow. The image is so striking that we are left breathless. A helicopter flies over the area, so there is probably a team on the way up.

We climb up the stones that will take us to a high, flat stall, from where we will go to the checkpoint under the waterfall. When we are only about 50 meters away, the helicopter descends, directly to the stone plain, with its characteristic swaying that causes a strong wind that hits us in the face.

It settles down for a second and immediately ascends again, as if the pilot regretted the manoeuvre. But it has left something that we see with disbelief, satisfaction, and a sense of huge relief. The four helmets appear there, as if by magic.  In an admirable logistical display, the organization has corrected its mistake and brought us our own helmets. We can continue!

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