By Andreas Ambarchian
With sweltering temperatures, a close, muggy atmosphere and more flying insects than seem strictly necessary, the Peruvian Amazon is perhaps not a place with which one would automatically associate a record breaking endurance event. However, as well as being home to Iquitos, the largest city in the world unreachable by road, and a multitude indigenous human tribes and rare and endemic species of animals, the rainforest region is also the location of the River Amazon International Raft Race: certified by Guinness World Records as the longest raft race in the world.
Held every September, the River Amazon International Raft Race comprises a gruelling 118 mile course along the Amazon River and its tributaries. The race begins on the Isla de Pescadores, located in the southeast of the Loreto region close to Nauta, finishing two days later at the Caza y Pesca Club in Bellavista, Nanay, close to the jungle city of Iquitos.
Before making their way to the start line, competitors must first construct their own rafts, a process that takes place in situ a day before the race. Despite the intimidating distance of the race, one crumb of consolation for the crews taking part in the competition is that the huge majority of the course is downstream (except for a challenging 500 metre home stretch, which is against the tide).
The race was originally organised by British born Iquitos resident Michael Collis and was first staged on 29 July 1999. The inaugural competition attracted 42 crews to take on the then 12 mile course. The following year, interest grew and 60 crews took part. By 2003 the course had been extended to 26 miles, becoming a two day event in the process. It was in 2006 that the River Amazon International Raft Race first took place in its current format.
The international race draws in competitors from across the globe, with crews from England, Scotland, Canada, and Germany among the numerous nations to have competed in past events. The record for the fastest time in which the race has been completed is even held by a crew from abroad: the Easy Living team from the USA, which won the 2008 race in a course record of 12 hours and 19 minutes. This year will be the 16th edition of the competition and crews from several new countries are expected to enter.
Despite foreign interest, however, it is the local teams who tend to dominate the competition: the last race was won by Los Invincibles from the nearby village of Padre Cocha. The Amazonian crews also tend to be more adept at building their rafts, while international teams often enlist the help of locals.
In 2014, the race will be staged on Friday 19 and Sunday 20 September, with crews congregating in la Plaza Ramon Castilla in Iquitos on Wednesday 17 September for the Rafter’s Reception. The cost of entry is US$1000 per crew of four, with an extra fee of $250 for each substitute crew member (of which two are allowed). The fee includes all necessary transport, materials, safety equipment, accommodation and meals. Bottled water is also supplied by organisers. The winners will take home a grand prize of $5,000.
. Further information and updates about the race can be seen on the official web page of the event at http://dawnontheamazon.com/blog/2014/02/17/amazon-river-raft-race-international-16th-annual/.
Andreas Ambarchian is a freelance journalist from England. He writes about a variety of subjects including travel, wildlife and sport. This article was written on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned Amazon jungle lodge.