Paddling across the Amazon by canoe – that is the dream of two industrial engineering students, Julian and Konstantin. After having completed their bachelor’s degree in the summer of 2021, they will fly to Ecuador on September 13. Here, they will begin their six months journey paddling over 3,000 miles across the continent to the Atlantic Ocean.
This trip is not just about experiencing an adventure; Konstantin and Julian want to share the beauty and importance of this region with many people. They want to show what makes the rainforest worth protecting beyond its geo-climatic importance. After all, the clearing of substantial forest areas in Brazil, leaking oil pipelines in Ecuador, and the displacement of indigenous tribes paint a bleak future for this natural paradise. With their paddle tour, they want to raise donations for the Fundação Vitória Amazônica (FVA), an organization that fights for the long-term preservation of the rainforest.
We spoke with Julian and Konstantin before their departure and will be in touch with them throughout their journey to report on their grand adventure.
How did you come up with the idea of crossing the Amazon?
Konstantin: We met five years ago during a voluntary social year in Ecuador. There we spent every free time touring, in the Andes, in the Amazon basin, or on the coasts. The extremes within this small country fascinated us. On a guided 10-day tour through the Amazon rainforest, we got the feeling that there were so many exciting things to see there, but our trip was too short. Time and other circumstances constantly limited us, and we could never really pursue our curiosity. Back then, we planned to return one day to cross the entire Amazon.
What fascinates you about the rainforest?
Konstantin: When we were there for the first time, we were surprised that there seemed to be no life at all. But once you observe the surroundings for a while, the animal world reveals itself bit by bit. Here and there, suddenly things start to crawl. At a second glance, you recognize that almost everything moves. Some animals are perfectly camouflaged. The sheer size of the Amazon rainforest is also impressive. It is nearly incomprehensible from the outside. The Amazon rainforest is just a unique corner of the world.
Why do you want to paddle? There would be other means of transportation.
Julian: For us, it’s about the accessibility to the area. The river is a lifeline in the rainforest, and going along it is a wonderful way to understand the dimensions. Another aspect is the silence. Many animals gather around the river, especially rare or shy animals can be observed best from the water. If we were to trudge through the rainforest, we would be far too noisy and scare them away. Documentary filmmakers often use boats to get close to animals and avoid any noise.
Konstantin: In addition, we are both fascinated by moving through nature using our muscle power. For such a long distance, paddling is the optimal method of locomotion because we have to exert much less strength than if we were hiking, and we would have to face many more obstacles on foot, too.
What are the biggest challenges that you expect?
Julian: We will have to face many difficult situations. We will have to cope with the climate. In the long run, the paddling will be physically demanding. Also, it’s just the two of us, literally in the same boat. We will be spending six months together day and night, which will challenge our friendship. There will undoubtedly be problems on such a long tour, and then we’ll have to see how we deal with them and how we master the situations together.
Konstantin: Let’s see if we will still be friends afterward!
Aren’t you scared of dangerous animals? Or of challenging river conditions?
Konstantin: Technically, we don’t expect extreme sections like white water; the river is relatively calm. Predators we might encounter – jaguars, caimans, anacondas – which are relatively large, know which creatures are their prey and which are not. Humans don’t fit into their prey pattern. We expect them to be rather shy towards us. We prepared ourselves for smaller animals, such as mosquitoes, which can carry many tropical diseases, parasites, and small, poisonous animals that might accidentally bite us. We have a water filtration system with an activated carbon filter and a ceramic filter. Parasites or even chemical pollution caused by oil drilling there are filtered out. We have been given sting-proof clothing from Jack Wolfskin, so we feel very safe in that respect.
How else did you prepare for the Amazon adventure?
Julian: Most of it was research. What gear will we need? Which vaccinations are necessary? What medical supplies, meaning medications, do we need to pack? For the past 18 months, we have been doing many paddling tours t,o find out what we will need. But we also had to prepare for physical challenges. What water treatment system will work best for us? How do we pack our gear so that we stay as flexible as possible? Every evening we will have to unload the boat and load it again the following morning. We need a system that saves time and is convenient. We have two large duffle bags which contain individual drybags to keep everything neat and organized. We also have two cases for our camera and drone, a storage crate for food, and a water canister. We live on the boat, so all the luggage has to be perfectly organized. We’ll always have to know where to find things, and we need to have easy access to everything.
How will you get all the equipment to Ecuador?
Julian: We delivered the canoe to the port last week, where it was loaded into a shipping container. Again, we first had to figure out how to ship a canoe. How do you wrap it so that it arrives intact? We packed a lot of equipment into the boat. Yesterday the ship left for Ecuador and is expected to arrive on September 17.
What will you be eating on your trip?
Julian: We were kindly sponsored fishing rods so that we will catch fish on the way. Other than that, we’ll have to see what we can get locally. We can’t pack many supplies because we don’t have much space. Yucca roots will be our nutritional basis. We’ll bring vital nutrients with us so that we can prevent any deficiencies. Because we’re paddling all day, we have to prevent hyperacidity.
Konstantin: To meet our caloric needs, we will take rice and pasta in our storage crate. Foods high in density that don’t take up a lot of space but provide energy and are readily available.
What are you looking forward to the most?
Julian: I am especially looking forward to the different people we will meet in the villages and the interaction with them. I think we will have many wonderful encounters.
Konstantin: I agree. I am also looking forward to entering a new chapter. I have been sitting at my desk a lot lately, working on finishing my bachelor’s degree and dealing with theoretical things. What awaits us now will be pure practical experience. Being deep in the rainforest, seeing the starry night skies, that are the kind of things I’m looking forward to.
How will you document your trip?
Julian: We have a camera and a drone with us, and the plan is primarily to film the paddle tour primarily for ourselves. We’ll see what we’ll make out of the footage afterward. But we will share pictures and experiences from the river on our blog and Instagram channel.
Konstantin: On our trip, we will pass larger cities, in which we’ll have Internet access. If we don’t have enough time or a weak internet connection, our friends and family at home will help us share our experiences on social media. On our website, we will also integrate a map with GPS coordinates so that people can follow our journey live.
If you want to learn more about Julian’s and Konstantin’s Amazon adventure, you can read more on their blog. There you can also find more information about the Fundação Vitória Amazônica (FVA), which is committed to the sustainable protection of the Amazon rainforest.
You can donate here.
You can find more updates from Konstantin and Julian’s trip on their Instagram account.