Interview: Piotr Chmielinski, 30 years on, Running the Amazon (Part 3 of 3)

1985 – 2015: kayaks and gear, Amazon adventurers, biggest takeaway and a dream expedition.

(TSjogren/CCoetzer) In the previous parts, we covered Piotr’s political refugee past, the true source of the Amazon river, and his general outlook on existence gained by lessons learned on the edges of life.

In this final part Piotr Chmielinski takes it down to the practicals of an Amazon run – gear, kayaks, the styles and the media. He also talks about the new folks out there: Doba, Stafford, Bodegren, Gienieczko and the three Polish cyclists currently on the river with their bikes.

PYTHOM: What type of kayak did you use back then and what would you recommend today?

PIOTR: At that time we used white water kayaks Blazer and Dancer made by Perception. The sea kayak we had, was Cheyenne made by Perception. Now I believe I would suggest one of the white water creek kayaks made by Jackson Kayak or Dragger Kayak and any of the modern sea kayak i.e. Epic sea kayak.

PYTHOM: 3-5 gear items that you would recommend for the Amazon?

PIOTR: I would recommend a mosquito proof tent, instant food, wetsuits for the cold section of the river in the high mountains, and a water purifying system. I would also suggest an easy to operate drone for spectacular footage of white-water kayaking in the upper section of the Amazon.

PYTHOM: Three top tips?

PIOTR: 1) At the source, make sure you have enough time for acclimatization.

2) Make sure you prepare well for the white water section, you should have skills and experience to enter the difficult, rapid mountain river.

3) Look at the map for the next step only, not to the endpoint, as it could make you tired and disheartened in reaching the goal.

PYTHOM: What’s your take on the later exploits down there?

PIOTR: I think the Amazon River and surrounding areas are very interesting and inspirational for exploration.

In recent years, several initiatives and expeditions have been undertaken there and I become involved quite often in these trips, as their authors contact me with questions and need for advice. It gives me a lot of satisfaction.

PYTHOM: Ed Stafford made some really funny dispatches but we were surprised at the loads of media he got while Christian Bodegren got none in spite of going unguided. Your thoughts?

PIOTR: I think that the main question is to understand the role of media in informing public about some undertakings. No one will get to know about the greatest achievements without a media campaign.

I felt that was a case with the first transatlantic expedition of Alexander Doba in 2011. He did the first kayak crossing ever, but not many knew about it. The strategic point of the second transatlantic expedition was to involve media.

After Alexander Doba asked me to coordinate media information campaign I ran it as a scientific project (including money, my time and personal connections) from the beginning to the end. As a result of those activities Doba’s achievement found its place in the world history of exploration. Additionally, fans selected him to be an Adventurer of the Year 2015 of National Geographic.

As far as I know, Ed Stafford, who got inspiration to do his Amazon after reading about our expedition in the “Running the Amazon” by Joe Kane, had coordinated media coverage, and Christian Bodegren hadn’t, despite both expeditions are great achievements in my opinion. Actually, I heard for the first time of Christian after reading your question and had to Google to find something about him.

PYTHOM: Any comments on Marcin Gienieczko and the upcoming Amazon bikers?

PIOTR: Marcin Gienieczko’s paddling only the flat part of the Amazon is unusual in terms of using canoe, but it is not unique in comparison with other expeditions using kayaks and rafts to accomplish similar goals.

Biking the Amazon is a completely new idea of travelling on the Amazon where regular bike are used on the roads and the Amazon bike on the river. If successful we will witness the first bike passage of the Amazon on the vessel constructed by the explorers themselves. Besides the idea, I like the contagious enthusiasm of bikers-brothers.

One additional, important comment for me, is a fact that both expeditions happened almost exactly 30 years after our first Amazon source to sea expedition – 1985-86. Great way to celebrate!!

PYTHOM: You were very much involved in Alexander Doba’s Atlantic kayak crossing. What are the challenges of long distance sea kayaking?

PIOTR: I think the real challenge was to deal with isolation and solitude. Being far from people reduces to the minimum the possibility to get help in case of danger caused by storms, hurricanes and of course, illness or other incidents.

PYTHOM: Any undone “Dream expedition” you’re thinking of when no one’s around?

PIOTR: I wish I could paddle parts of the Amazon river with my sons, Max and Alex.

PYTHOM: Biggest takeaway?

PIOTR: No matter what, never lower the goal. My aim was to get to the Atlantic, and it remained in my mind through the many problems that challenged myself and my colleagues.

I can say now that these troubles bring life experience and increase your own satisfaction.

In 1979, Piotr Chmielinski became the first person to kayak Colca Canyon, the world’s deepest canyon.

During the 1985-86 Amazon Source to Sea Expedition, Chmielinski became the only member of the 13-person team who managed to kayak and raft the entire River, about 4300 miles. Joe Kane completed the river by walking the first section of the Apurimac’s white water and finished the rest by kayak and raft. Zbigniew Bzdak and Kate Durrant completed the river by walking the first section of the Apurimac’s white water and did rest by raft and motor boat. Their adventure is described in the book Running the Amazon by Joe Kane, which is now considered a classic of adventure literature.

Piotr Chmielinski’s expeditions since the Amazon 30 years ago:

2000 – National Geographic, Co-organizer of the Sources of the Amazon-2000 Expedition (carried The Explorers Club flag No: 146 to the source of the Amazon River)

2006 – Organizer of “Colca Canyon 25 years After” celebratory trip to the Colca Canyon with all members of original group from Canoandes-79 Expedition and members of the Explorers Club.

2012 – National Geographic, May 2012 (rainy season), together with son Max Chmielinski as National Geographic and The Explorers Club Observers of the Source of The Mantaro River, Peru Expedition lead by Rocky Contos (Piotr carried The Explorers Club flag No: 44)

2012 – National Geographic, August 2012 (dry season), together with son Alex Chmielinski as National Geographic Observers of the “From the Source of The River (seasonal source of the Amazon) down the Atlantic Ocean, Peru & Brazil Expedition”, lead by West Hansen.

2013 – National Geographic, June 2013 (end of rainy season), together with son Alex Chmielinski as National Geographic Observers of the Source of The Mantaro River, Peru Expedition, lead by Rocky Cantos.


Piotr Chmielinski, Godfather of Amazon exploration (Interview Part 1 of 3)

Piotr Chmielinski: True Source of Amazon River (Interview Part 2 of 3)


Piotr Chmielinski’s complete Profile on

Piotr’s publications on Pythom:

Biking the Amazon, Part 1

Launching bikes on Amazon and hitting the road! Part 2

Initiation on waters of Amazon – Part 3