As Juan Butron takes us to the place where we will put in, below Morelos Dam, he tells us all the stories of what he has seen and experienced, when he was paddling along this section of the Colorado River, which meanders back and forth between Mexico and the US, along the border. For the first time on this trip I am getting nervous, as the stories all include violence and danger. Like one time when Juan went down on a science trip, collecting data with a his colleague Osvel. Mexican cops stopped them and he was held at gunpoint, while they were shouting at Osvel to put his hands up. But Osvel was holding the laptop with all the precious data, that would have fallen in the water, had he let go…
Juan and Osvel got out of the situation just fine, by explaining they were not smuggling anything and managing to calm the situation down. But nonetheless Juan warns us to keep paddling, not talk to anyone on the shore and particularly not talk about anything concerning drugs or criminal intent. Well, as it happens, Yuli and I had no such plans anyways.
We have done our homework and informed border patrol on both sides of the river about our plan to paddle, aswell as the mexican police. We both keep our documents on us at all times and plan to stay attentive.
We put in at the small leftover drizzle that once was the Colorado River. A very meagre current drifts us south, but we need to paddle contantly to actually move downstream. The riverside is overgrown with reeds and trash floats around on the edges.
As it turns out, we don’t see a single human soul, violent or otherwise, on our entire way. Just lots of very pretty birds and a few river rats. Sometimes we hear helicopters buzzing, but it is mostly quite calm. To be honest, I dont mind.
The biggest challenge of this stretch of the Colorado River is passing through deep muddy sections. Yuli and I (we have jokingly named out common mission here “Delta Force” are struggling, but laughing at the same time. We are both not very tall and after pushing our crafts until we are up to our waist in mucky, dirty and smelly water, our legs can’t reach the bottom anymore. It takes us a while to kind of wabble along, trying helplessly to pull ourselves forward by the reeds tat keep giving. I am glad to share this otherwise frustrating experience with someone as humurous as Yuli.
We finally take out shortly before the water runs out, near the first big restauration project that is managed by Pronatura Noroeste, called Sitio de Restauracion Miguel Aleman.
Yuli takes me on a tour. I am fascinated by the beauty and paradise like atmosphere that has been created here, only by giving some water back to the land and planting trees. I suddenly feel like I am in a jungle, and I can’t help but think of the way this area supposedly used to be, before the river was dried out by the dams: a wild jungle, with Jaguars. We stay a while, watching birds and enjoying the cool of the shade. The light falls between beautiful high Cottonwood and Alamo trees, and there is a restorative energy to the place that resonates deep within me, especially after the tough days that lie behind me.
From here on out my path will divert through the Delta, just like the river once did. A large portion of the stretch from here to the sea is now managed by Pronatura and the Sonoran Institute, who try to revive the riparian habitat in various projects. Most of them are not yet accessible to the general public. Instead they organize guided tours to raise awareness in the communities, until one day the areas can be given back to the people to enjoy and take care of them. I will be visiting and taking part in some of the activities the NGOs offer to local residents here. And I will be talking to locals and care-takers about the importance and the effect of the initiatives here. To maneuver on foot and by packraft, this area is quite demanding, and the heat is becoming an issue for me too. So I will take my time and figure out what is best as I go.