How 5 Kayakers Were Taken Hostage in Colombia by FARC Rebels

Last November, when the Colombian government struck a long-awaited peace accord with the rebel group FARC, which has occupied the country’s jungles for decades, Ben Stookesberry began planning a kayaking trip to the embattled country. He and four fellow paddlers had their sights set on the Rio Apaporis, a 700-mile river that wends through swaths of the Amazon basin, from central Colombia clear to the Brazilian border. They assumed they’d be able to negotiate passage with any armed guerillas they might encounter if they launched in the spring. They were wrong.

Stookesberry, a 38-year-old Coloradoan who has kayaked some of the world’s most remote rivers, says the Apaporis had been on his radar for about 15 years because he knew the territory was relatively unexplored. He’d paddled in Colombia on five separate occasions between 2003 and 2008, but called off any more expeditions there due to the government’s war against the FARC, which spanned 52 years and left more than 220,000 dead. “For the longest time you couldn’t get near the Apaporis,” he says.

The peace accord opened an opportunity. On March 30, the five kayakers launched their boats at the village of La Tunia, attempting to make the first descent of the Rio Apaporis over 30 days. Twenty-one days and 500 miles later, FARC rebels ended it. The photos the kayakers took along the way offer a glimpse of how it happened.

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