The Kota Mama Expedition Phase Two Reports

Report 4 - August 11th 1999

Leaving Bolivia

With all the tasks in Bolivia completed the expedition prepared to move out of Santa Cruz. The fleet was waiting for us on in the port of Puerto Quijarro on the border with Brazil. We were to travel down by train; the journey followed the route taken by Kota Mama II, Viracocha and the boat crew three weeks previously.

Organizing the movement by rail of 20 people, their kit and enough supplies for a two-month river trip is a small expedition in itself. With the cargo loaded the hustle and bustle of the daily train service filled the senses. Elva Nagashiro of Aerosur, who kindly gave the expedition several national plane tickets, came to see the team depart.

The train carriages bounce and rock along the tracks for most of the 18-hour journey. To kill time, a small group started playing cards. A guard arrived and immediately stopped the game; gambling on the train is strictly forbidden. Sergeant William Huxter, Queen's Dragoon Guards, looked a little more relaxed once in Puerto Quijarro. "I thought we were going to be derailed several times. It rocked a fair bit. It felt like being in a North Sea ferry on a bad crossing," he said.

Movement down to the port was staggered for the arrival of Andrew Rae and Liz Willson of American Airlines. As valued sponsors of the expedition, Liz and Andrew have joined the expedition for two weeks as we travel through northern Paraguay. After a 25-hour journey from London - with a quick trip to the beach in Miami - they were quickly bundled on board the next train. Warned of the long-journey ahead Liz cracked open the chilled bottle of Veuve Cliquot and toasted the journey ahead. With the journey over Andy looked somewhat relieved. "As someone in the airline industry I only thought you experienced turbulence in the air not on the ground."

Colonel Blashford Snell rallied the troops with the buying of food supplies and last minute organization. As ever the local knowledge and assistance provided by Bill Brady of the Puerto Quijarro helped smooth out local difficulties.

And finally the day arrives. 9th August and the launch ceremony. As the band of the naval base played out the British National Anthem the emotion on the faces of the expedition members was clear. Two years of hard work and planning had led to this historic day and Kota Mama looked superb basking in the light of the mid-morning sun. Birds flocked overhead looking for roosts away from the heat of the coming midday sun as the ceremonial drill parade commenced. It is an important part of any boat launch and the Bolivians love nothing better than to put on a good ceremony.

Father Eugenio Cantor, Franciscan Father of the naval base blessed the boats, before rousing renditions of the National Anthem for both nations. Colonel John Blashford Snell spoke at length. The amount of help and assistance received throughout Bolivia and the warmth of the people we have met deserved nothing less. The sadness experienced by the two archaeological groups also gave the audience reason for reflection. John reminded us that the planet we live on is not ours to do with as we wish, but rather a responsibility we carry for future generations to protect the planet and its treasures. On a more serious note John informed those present that we had experienced our first attack. A herd of cows, seeing before them a very tasty meal, had decided to dine on Kota Mama. Kind words from Captain Ernesto Roca wished us a safe, speedy and successful trip. Travelling down the international waterways of the River Paraguay and Parana he also urged us to help Bolivia reclaim it's right to the sea; a subject of considerable emotion for the proud people of Bolivia. In addition to thanking all those involved with the expedition, Captain Rocca took time to thank Yolima Cipagauta for her endless and tireless work.

With the ceremonies complete Colonel Blashford Snell and Captain Roca moved to the dockside to break a bottle of champagne on the bow of the boat. The dignitaries left the boat, the crew took to their stations and Kota Mama moved away from the dockside to the sound of the 'The animals went in two by two.'

The first day's journey was for just two hours downstream to the Brazilian town of Corumba. The boat drifted downstream in the current with only a gentle breeze to push her on her way.

So Day One is complete and the expedition proper has begun. The crew is ready in anticipation for the journey ahead. We will continue to send updates as often as technology and conditions allow.

Communication Equipment sponsored by Sight & Sound

Taq HQ in Gutierrez: Owain on Sat Phone, Charles on JVC Digital Video

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