…is South America!
On August 30-2011, Freya Hoffmeister, a then 47-year-old business owner from Husum, Germany and arguably the most famous expedition sea kayaker of the world, launched from Argentine to become the first person to circumnavigate South America, stretching from Cape Horn to the Panama Canal.
From Buenos Aires inside the wide bay of the Rio de la Plata on the Atlantic Ocean, Freya paddled south in rough, windy waters and big tides along the Argentine shores, leaving the ”shortcut” options through the Magellan Strait or the Beagle Channel aside. Instead, she included the big rough southern island of Tierra del Fuego, and planned to paddle around Cape Horn at the Isla Hornos, the southernmost tip of South America. Surviving a dangerous odyssey in more than 60 knots wind and an emergency crash landing on an inhospitable rocky coast, Freya finally conquered on January 3-2012 without any escort the world’s most infamous windy and rough Cape, which had sunk already many huge ships.
Heading north again, she travelled through the beautiful wild but also windy Fjords and channels of Patagonia/ Chile and on the big waters of the Pacific coast. Freya ended the first stage of her historical first circumnavigation in Valparaiso/ Chile, having paddled challenging and exciting 7641 kilometers in eight months. In between legs, she had planned beforehand to return to her home in Husum, to spend some time with her teenage son and to look after her two ice cream cafés and her Christmas shop.
Starting over again on August 25-2012, this time together with her partner and former paddling teacher Peter Unold and her own new “Freya” expedition kayak model, she headed north along the barren and mountainous Atacama desert on the rough and big seas of the coast of northern Chile and Peru. Both went home for a short Christmas break, full with impressions of a rich southern marine wildlife of many wales, penguins, dolphins and thousands of seals and birds of all kinds since her trip had started in Argentine.
Freya continued her trip just by herself again to paddle into the slaying heat of Ecuador to cross the equator for the first time. In Colombia, she was happy to get a necessary full Navy escort for crime protection. Her northern highlight was to pass the busy Panama Canal and the beautiful Archipelago of San Blas. The Caribbean side of Columbia finalized the second stage of her expedition on May 6-2013, having paddled 15.300 km overall so far.
Returning on August 16-2013 to the heat and continuous head winds of Venezuela, Freya paddled and camped free as usual without escort on the beautiful but dangerous shores of Venezuela, infamous for a high pirate rate. Via the island state of Trinidad, she arrived through the already very shallow and muddy waters in Georgetown at the first of the three small Guyana countries. A short Christmas break brought her back to finish this most challenging third stage through the hot, shallow and muddy, mosquito infested swampy shores along Surinam and French Guiana, and around the northern area of the Amazon river, stressing her body and skin health to the max.
Many times, huge breaking waves developed in the shallows and strong currents like a minefield out of the nothing. Once she faced some of those at night, just before she witnessed the roaring and earth shaking launch of an “Ariadne” rocket by camping unintentionally almost next door. If that would not be enough, on crossing the broad Amazon jungle river mouth, she got unexpectedly caught at night in the mighty “Pororoca” tidal wave, and survived by side surfing in darkness the roaring trashing waters for about 10-15 min on 8 km with a maximum speed of 30 km/h.
Freya eventually found her way without a proper map through the big tidal maze of the fjords and channels between Belem and Sao Luiz in the northern Brazil, still in stressful heat and headwind. However, this area was almost relaxing, compared to the previous section. But her mind and body was so much worn by now, she decided spontaneously just behind Sao Luiz to go in her third and last German summer break on April 27-2014 to finish her third leg with 20,798 km under the belt by now.
Freya had some five months break due to strong head winds in the southern winter, full of work on her home businesses. She returned on October 16-2013, full of energy to face the dreaded headwind around the easternmost point of South America. Back to the beach, Freya realized she had to make the tough decision to reverse this windy section between Sao Luiz and Recife, not able to fight the almost daily strong headwinds around 20 knots for 1280 km.
Back to Recife and to the “right” direction, the long Brazilian coast offered a challenging variation of beautiful reefs, dangerous wide river mouths, heavily breaking rocky or sandy shores and calm relaxing paddles on safe inland waterways, still all in the skin burning and chafing heat of the southern summer. Freya was able to master all challenges with her now long time experience on this and her previous circumnavigations around Australia, New Zealand South and Iceland.
She finally closed the loop by arriving back in Buenos Aires on May 1-2015. Freya had paddled along 13 countries, traveled as far south as the 55th and as far north as the 15th latitude, with crossing the equator twice. She paddled almost 27.000 km and averaged around 45 km per day with more than 9 hours daily water time, on each of her 606 paddling days, being 850 days on the trip in a 44-month period. Freya paddled a heavy loaded solo expedition sea kayak with no engine or sail, spent most nights in her tent camping freely on the shores, with no support boat or car driving along. She carried all her water, simple food and camping gear by herself, being independent for 3-4 weeks between occasional city stops.
Freya became the first person to round the South American continent, a feat that probably no one will repeat any time again. She paddled more expedition kilometers than any sea kayaker ever has done. What will be next? She does not tell yet…
Freya was the first woman to win the World Paddle Award, the “Oscar” of all kayaking, presented on May 9-2015 in Augsburg/ Germany.