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Mexico Trip Report '06/'07

Our most recent trip to research for "The River Gypsies' Guide to North America" took us south of the border to Mexico. We decided at the last possible minute that a trip down there was needed, since Mexico is a North American paddling destination with plenty of whitewater. We decided to explore the Eastern Slope - the Sierra Madre Oriental - in the states of San Luis Potosi and Veracruz. Here's the report:

After we left the city of Xalapa, we drove back over the mountains to Tlapacoyan so that we could get on the Tatempa, Zapotitlan, and Filo canyon sections of the Rio Bobos. First things first, we had to find a television so that we could watch the Saints in an important playoff game (Leland is from New Orleans). We went to a restaurant and they graciously let us watch the game. It started getting pretty intense, third quarter Saints were down by 1 point and they had the ball... it went to a commercial and then it switched over to a soccer game. The station had just been using American Football as a filler until the next Real Football game. Since we had no cell service and we were going to be on the river all day the next day, we wouldn't find out what happened for days...were they in the Championships or not? Oh well, time to go boating...

We had to get up and go at 6 the next morning because the shuttle was 3 hours and the hike in an hour for a 6 hour run in a remote canyon. We got lost about 5 times and thank goodness our shuttle driver was Mexican. He asked around each time found our way for us! We only got searched by the Feds once on the way. The road was very instense--this was some serious Mexican wilderness!

We got to the put in and changed clothes and headed down the steep, rocky, and wet trail that headed down into one of the most beautiful and intense canyons I had ever seen in my life. Unlike the Alseseca, this river is extremely remote and pristine.

Leland carrying down to the river, a limestone and basalt canyon.

The put in was a sandy beach in the sun in a place that you would think that was too steep for people to ever be except for the footbridge, trail, and fire ring on the beach. I could have stayed there forever on that beach with the steep verdant walls all around and basked in the sun and then stared up at the black starry night...but there was gradient downstream that needed to be tended to.

The run started out class III, IV boulder gardens. Good water level, manageable eddy hopping.

Andria boofing in the first rapids.

Not far below the put in, we encountered the first scout spot. It was class IV+ to V-.

Leland in the first big rapid. You can see the character of this whole first section.

We had several classic rapids like this one plus one rapid that landed on a rock (at high water, it would have been runnable, but had a terrible hole at the bottom), another one with a bad hole, and one unrunnable sieve pile. We were scouting often, running some intense stuff for two people in a remote wilderness canyon in a foreign country, portaging some, and definitely thinking that this run may be more than we bargained for, so we had better keep moving, and keep it safe.

The whitewater was not the only intense part, the scenery was getting really intense too. There were side canyons with waterfalls dropping through clefts down into the river, steep walls, ferns and vines.

Intense scenery.

We got to the biggest rapid on the run, a falls about 15 feet tall. We got out and were stoked to run a tall drop, but unfortunately, it funneled down into a pretty bad looking hole. It looked like a very difficult boof that you must make or you were definitely swimming. I think people run this with more water and can get out on the rock to boof and it's not so bad. But this level was too low to get out on the rock. So, to be safe we opted for the cheat on the little flume of water running down the bedrock. It was pretty fun! I was calling it the "toxaway line."

Andria scouting the falls.

Andria on the "toxaway line."

After this drop, there were a few more good rapids...

Andria enjoying another good boof.

...then things mellowed out drasitcally until we got to the next put-in spot, Zapotitlan. Down from here the river changed characters--some side streams had added water and the pace picked up again. The rapids turned into complex class IV boulder rapids with a little juice.

Leland enjoying the scenery and some good whitewater in the next canyon after Zapotitlan.

Andria in good class IV rapid on the Zapotitlan section.

We had fun eddy hopping that section for a while until we got to the last section, the Filo Canyon. "Filo" means "sharp," and it refers to the steep canyon walls. The river is only class II/III through this section and it is a popular section for rafting. It is one of the most beautiful places that you can ever imagine. the cayon walls are almost touching above your head. And there are waterfalls pouring down and lush greenness everywhere.

Enjoying more instense beauty!

After basking in the beauty, we turned up the heat and paddled out through the remaining few miles of mellow water. We were greeted at the take out with our truck sitting right on the beach!

That river was definitely one of the coolest stretches of river I have ever done and I would recommend it to everyone who is confident dropping into a remote class IV gorge. It has a little of everything and is a great adventure. It is beautiful and pristine and world class. I was sad it was over.