16 Oct Kids Free kayaking courses in Cocorná
July 21 2018, Freak’n Creek’n and Amigos del Río foundation hosted our second annual free kids’ kayaking clinic on the Río Cocorná. This world-class river is located 90 minutes outside of Medellín, making it a perfect destination for families, friends, and solo travelers. Born in the high altitudes of Carmen de Viboral, the almost “icy” Río Cocorná plummets down steep valleys, tumbling over waterfalls and challenging rapids in its descent from 2,150 m (7053 ft) above sea level to 1,100 m (3608 ft) at the small village of El Ocho. This tiny vereda is located 8 km from the town of Cocorná, and is home to one of the hydroelectric dams of the greater Cocorná area, turning this fierce and challenging river into a lake and making it the ideal location for kids’ kayaking and river safety instruction.
So let’s rewind here; you may be asking yourself, why teach kids kayaking in Colombia? Up until 15 years ago, the whole of Colombia was a much different place than we know now, and this war-stricken region the` last place on anybody’s mind as a nice place to hang out casually on the river. Nowadays, Colombians and visitors are getting to enjoy the once-lost paradises, and through hard work, dedication, and love, the country is on its way to being one of the best spots to visit. Organizations such as Amigos del Río have dedicated their time to helping youths explore their country, forming lifelong bonds with nature and each other to protect the nirvana that is Colombia. This year we were blessed to have over 50 kids and young adults come to Cocorná to learn how to kayak.
Eager to learn something new and exciting, the first round of kids hit the water at 10 am. We started the day by explaining what a kayak is and how it works—most of the kids had never seen one, or only on top of a vehicle. Next, we explained all the equipment necessary to enter the water: kayak, paddle, spray skirt (which everyone found funny), helmet, and life vest, or personal flotation device (PFD). After that came learning to swim out of the kayak when it flips over. My kayak instructor once told me that the first year of kayaking is an underwater sport, so it is very important to know how to exit the boat. After lots of laughter, flipping, and swimming out of our kayaks, we moved on to paddling. Good, efficient paddle strokes create a solid foundation for any kayaker, and with the power stroke and the sweep stroke, we helped the children navigate the waters of the lower Río Cocorná. Once they had the hang of these two strokes, we began to apply them in moving from one side of the river to the other, called a ferry. Once a kayaker has learned to successfully ferry, they can get almost anywhere on the river, and it is important to learn these fundamental concepts before going downstream.
After a few fun hours on the river, we took a break to eat sancocho, a classic Colombian soup and the Sunday meal of many Antioqueños. The process starts with a good, old-fashioned campfire, and once the fire has produced a sufficient amount of coals you place on it a Titanic-sized pot with oil, and to that a freshly-butchered chicken. Once the chicken is nicely seared you add fresh river water and bring it to a boil, and then in goes the potatoes, carrots, green plantains, and corn on the cob. Just before the soup is ready you add crisp cilantro and zesty lime. It is a soup to fill you up and make you feel at home.
After resting off our homemade sancocho, we were able to take the kids upstream to a nice Class II section of the Río Cocorná. Whitewater is classified around the world from Class I, with current, small waves, and easily-missed features, to Class V, with long, dangerous, technical rapids. We divided the kids into small groups led by two instructors, and each group bounced like a family of ducks down the river, avoiding rocks and splashing through waves. Although some of the kids flipped over and swam out of their kayaks, no one was defeated or too afraid to get back in and try again. This went on all day until there was just enough light to collect all the gear and load it up into the Freak’n Creek’n trucks.
We had one last meeting to discuss the day and the event itself. We talked about the things that we liked the most, the things that scared us, and the things that would keep us coming back for more. One of our missions with this event is to help show kids and young adults another way of life. For us river folk, the river is the best pathway for self-realization. It has pushed us all to our limits and has always been there to lift our spirits as we begin our next walk of life. The river holds the answer for us. So our goal is to show the young people of this area that these rivers and irreplaceable resources for them, and their friends, families, and future generations. That we as a whole community need to fight for the river, we must speak for the river. Be the voice that says “NO, I won’t throw my garbage in the street,” or “NO, I won’t pollute our rivers. I will fight for her and for her way of life to be free and unconfined.” Rafting and kayaking are like meeting your therapist, it teaches us that there is something bigger out there, that we are not the top of the food chain. We are simple beings who are lucky enough to learn and grow with these natural resources. Teaching the next generation respect and conservation is very important, for they will be the river’s next protectors. This year we were lucky to have students from all over Colombia attend this event: Río Negro, Medellín, San Rafael, Guatapé, Marinilla, Río Claro, Cocorná, and even San Gil. We feel confident that we helped these kids to connect with Mother Nature, and we hope that next year will present an even greater turnout.
Amigos del Río is a non-profit organization that helps children build a connection with nature. For more information on how to volunteer or how to donate, contact us at +57 312 285 9361 or write us at firstname.lastname@example.org