Red Bull Kirimbawa

Jungle Warriors

Words: Fernando Gueiros
Photography: Marcelo Maragni and Fabio Piva

The people of the Amazon once gave warriors the title ‘kirimbawa’. Now, a punishing challenge of the same name asks athletes to run, ride and paddle in one of most hostile environments on earth

Three o’clock in the morning in the heart of the Amazon jungle and members of the Indian tribe called Inhaa-Be are wearing flashlights attached to their foreheads. It is hot and humid here in the middle of the night, the temperature rising past 28°C. 

Four Indians dance, evoking courage and support of the Gods to the kirimbawas – the name given to the great warriors  of the tribe – the darkness broken by torches. A fifth, an elderly woman, walks in circles, carrying a basket in which some grass is burning. “This is to purify our souls,” she says, spreading the smoke.

The tribespeople are at the start of Red Bull Kirimbawa, a multisport relay race of running, mountain biking and kayaking made up of 90 elite athletes divided into 30 teams of three. One of the runners is Pericles Villaca. “Running here is like running on a treadmill inside a sauna,” says the 39 year-old Brazilian. “The jungle is extreme: very hot and humid and with hard challenges.”

Pericles and the other 29 runners slept at the start point, hosted by the tribe, reclining on hammocks. They didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Fernanda Maciel, 33, was bitten by an insect and woke up at 2am with a swollen eye. “When I finally managed to settle, this bug bit me. There is a doctor here who helped me, though, and now I’m going for the run.”

It’s a 50km foot race winding through dense Amazon forest, over bumpy roads and even across rivers. With the sun rising behind the trees, the first runner finishes this first part of the challenge in 3h 15m, managing to tell, through heaving breaths, of a “fast, black animal” that crossed his path.

Alexandre Moura

Water garden

Athletes had to cross a river on the final stretch of the run

The first riders to start the muddy 86km of ups-and-downs on their mountain bikes didn’t know what to expect. “It’s impossible to know the depth of some muddy holes in the track,” says Rubens Donizete. The 34-year-old nevertheless managed to finish first, crossing the finish line at a Brazilian Army base with a time of 2h 55m. “About 3km in, I started to pour with sweat and didn’t stop. It’s unbelievable; it was impossible to get dry,” he says, a few moments out of the saddle, arms and legs still shaking with adrenalin. “And then at the end there was this very open, hot stretch. I couldn’t figure what was worse: riding in the soaking shadows or the heat straight from the sun.”

The merciless late-morning sun makes the work of the kayakers more demanding than they had imagined. Struggling against the tides of three rivers – the Amazon, Negro and Solimoes – eight of the 30 boatmen drop out before the finish line in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state in Brazil. The fastest time was 5h 30m; the slowest just over seven hours.

“I have never been in such a hard race in my life,” Marcelo Lins, the canoeist in the winning team, says later that day. “I have bruises all over my hands, I had the most terrible time with the heat and the thirst, but after managing to finish the race, I can consider myself a warrior.”

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03 2014 The Red Bulletin

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