A Greeley native is sharing his story after being taken into custody while on a kayaking trip in Colombia last month.
Stookesberry and four friends; Chris Korbulic, Aniol Serrasolses, Jules Domine and Jessie Rice made plans to travel down the Rio Apaporis. It's a river that Stookesberry has wanted to explore since 2003, when he first kayaked in Colombia.
Part of the appeal was that it was a river that had gone so long unexplored, left alone for at least 50 years, he said.
Stookesberry has a lot of exploring experience. The Greeley native is credited with starting more than 120 first descents on rivers in 36 countries, which would average to about three or four in each.
With the Colombia's peace deal in place between its congress and the rebel group FARC, the time seemed right to finally try it, he said.
They knew there could be “unsettled areas that might be of concern,” and that there might be reason to stop their journey before it was through.
“As we saw firsthand, this particular conflict isn’t something that was immediately settled with the signing of this peace treaty,” he said in a Skype interview with Next.
Hear Ben's story, in his own words, in the video above.
And a part of FARC that wasn’t onboard with the treaty was in control of the lower area of the river, unbeknownst to them. They were 16 days into the expedition before they were told that they would run into FARC.
This wasn’t something they could have known until they were actually there, he said, as FARC moved quickly and their location and what they controlled was in flux.
They were about 500 miles down it when they came into contact with the FARC on April 18. Before that, they had seen signs of FARC's presence in the upper regions of the river, but as it seemed to be camps that were abandoned the kayakers assumed that FARC had left the area.
FARC let them go initially, but picked them up later on the morning of April 20.
As they were taken to the rebel camp, they reached out to their emergency contacts with their GPS devices and let them know that they were being unwillingly detained. Their strategy was to be as friendly as possible and work with the FARC, show that they had nothing to hide, he said.
The group was held for three days and two nights, except for Serrasolses, who had been held an extra night before the rest of the group was picked up. They were released on April 22.
Before FARC let them go, the group was asked to hand over their cameras, "images" and GPSes. Basically, they were to leave behind anything that could compromise FARC. They were allowed to keep their cash and documents.
The big package of memory cards he gave them were ones that he had used on a trip last year in Myanmar, so he was able to hold onto the images from the most recent trip.
They left the rebel camp, they paddled to a village where planes were waiting to bring them to the regional capital of the area. That's where a jet from the U.S. government was waiting for them.
Stookesberry got back to his home in northern California on the evening of May 3.
And none of this has deterred Stookesberry’s enthusiasm for exploring Colombia. He has plans to go back and finish his river expedition someday, as he lamented the rapids that lay ahead that they didn't get to see.
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