I am always up for an adventure. I’ve been in some pretty crazy places around the world during my photography career. I’ve had run-ins with Zapatista rebels deep in the Mexican jungle while shooting a kayaking expedition, complete with six-foot-tall razor sharp machete where I ended up having to bribe the rebels with $1000 in cash before they let me go. So, when I got a call from pro kayaker, Joel Kowalski, about trip to Michoacán, Mexico I was a bit hesitant to say the least.
Joel had been planning the adventure for a couple of years, and he’d lined up a stacked crew of athletes including Red Bull kayakers: Rafa Ortiz and Dane Jackson. The trip sounded amazing and no group of kayakers had really explored the zone, so I booked tickets and hopped a flight to Mexico with my brother, David, who assists me on many assignments.
Michoacán is not your garden variety Mexico. When we arrived, locals kept asking us why we were in Michoacán. Tourists don’t visit that part of Mexico often - partially because there has been an active drug war going on for years, spilling much blood in the region. But we weren’t there to get into any battles; we just wanted to find some huge waterfalls that had never been run before.
Our first shooting day we bushwhacked down into a canyon in sweltering 95+ degree heat to a 40 foot waterfall on the Rio Hoyo del Aire to meet our crew of Kayakers as they paddled the first descent of the uncharted river.
Fortunately everything went off without a hitch. The major concern on kayaking expeditions is if someone gets hurt, it’s very difficult to get them out of a canyon for medical attention.
On the way home we feasted on street tacos from a roadside stand near town while drinking beer and tequila to celebrate our successful day. The bill was only $23 for 10 hungry dudes eating a massive amount of tacos.
With a great start to the trip, we decided to press our luck and go explore some waterfalls a few hours away from our base in Uruapan the following morning.
After driving and hiking all day we only found waterfalls that landed on rocks. Tired and hungry we decided to stop for food in a small town before the long drive back to our base in Uruapan.
I think if we hadn’t been so exhausted we would have sucked it up and gotten on the road a lot sooner. Driving after dark in Mexico can be sketchy. About an hour into the drive we came up on a road-block with Mexican Soldiers carrying M-16 machine guns (the government soldiers can be as corrupt at the drug cartels in certain areas) so we were all on edge. Luckily our guides smooth talked the soldiers and after a quick inspection of the vehicle we were on our way again. About 20 minutes later we came up on bunch of boulders blocking the road and out of the darkness appeared men in black masks carrying AK-47 assault rifles. They surrounded the vehicles and were yelling at us in Spanish to not move. This seemed for a second to be the worst possible scenario and at the very least we were going to get robbed. Kidnapping for hire has also become prevalent in parts of Mexico recently as well.
After what seemed like a VERY long time it became apparent that the men with the guns were actually vigilantes looking for drug cartels smuggling drugs. Finally they let us go. We got back to our base in Uruapan very late and crashed for the night.
As we boarded the plane back to the USA, I wondered if we had stayed a few more days our luck would have run out.
Mexico is always an adventure, but on this trip we were able to get some spectacular photos of never-before-kayaked waterfalls.