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LAND OF REBELS In March, Rafa Ortiz led an international team deep into the rainforests of his native Mexico to crack the Five Falls of the Rio Agua Azul, one of the most-complex waterfall combinations on earth.

words by Mark Anders

Here Martina Wegman makes a sky-blue stout go down easy.

Photo: Lane Jacobs


Photo: Tony Czech

Though the popular tourist site known as Agua Azul lies nearby, these five falls are hidden deep within the Lacandon Jungle, on a half-mile stretch of river that drops a dizzying 1,000 feet.

“There’s only two ways to get there, paddling through all these turquoise blue channels or hiking through Zapatista rebel land,” explains Ortiz. “It was really cool to see the faces of the Zapatistas because they don’t often see guys coming there with kayaks and running the waterfalls in their backyard.”

Photo: Tony Czech


The Rio Tulijá is an amazing river. Near the top is a heavily touristed site known as Agua Azul, a picturesque 40-something foot-high falls fringed with trinket shops, cafes, and throngs of tourists. Our expedition team stayed in cabinas near the tourist falls, but that was just our base camp.

Photo: Seth Pulford

Photo: Tony Czech

Photo: Tony Czech

Meanwhile, waiting quietly downstream is a series of five amazing back-to-back cascades, each of which make Agua Azul proper look like chopped liver. And unless you know where they’re located or are willing to either paddle downstream or trek deep into Zapatista rebel territory, you’d never know this whitewater paradise exists.

Photo: Lane Jacobs


“I’ve run drops all over the world but what makes Agua Azul unique is the geology and the travertine rock. It makes these perfect vertical waterfalls that basically transition from a flat pool to very high freefalls.” –Evan Garcia (pictured right)

Photo: Lane Jacobs


Besides being remote and way off the beaten path, the series of five waterfalls known in the local language as Bolom Ajaw are also smack dab in the middle of a Zapatistaheld region. Our filming team had to trek a half-day into the rainforest to film the action, through a zone well-known for being the site of multiple assaults and kidnappings.

Photo: Seth Pulford

Photo: Seth Pulford


But the team pressed on, even with many hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of camera gear. We’d been prepared for the worst yet the Zapitista folks we encountered were totally gracious and welcoming. And especially interested in the team dropping waterfalls in their own backyard.

Photo: Seth Pulford

Photo: Tony Czech

Photo: Tony Czech

Photo: Tony Czech


“I’ve run drops all over the world but what makes Agua Azul unique is the geology and the travertine rock. It makes these perfect vertical waterfalls that basically transition from a flat pool to very high freefalls.” –Evan Garcia

Photo: Tony Czech


Photo: Tony Czech

“These waterfalls are more fun when you’re at the bottom. They’re difficult; there’s no room for error; there’s not a ton of cushion at the bottom. So they dish out some big hits, you just have to be right on line.” –Evan Garcia

Photo: Tony Czech Photo: Tony Czech


“Agua Azul is amazing. It’s like being in a jungle safari out of a fairy tale and it’s also an amazing playground for kayaking.” –Rafa Ortiz

Photo: Lane Jacobs


Photo: Tony Czech

Photo: Lane Jacobs

“We came to Chiapas with a little bit of concern about the Zapitista rebels. We’d heard bad things about the area and bad things have happened with tourists, but so far everybody has been incredibly friendly, easy to deal with, and no conflicts.

“I often find that’s the case with everywhere we visit: there are bad stories and negative things but if you go there with a positive attitude and an open mind, you often have good results.”—Rush Sturges


Photo: Tony Czech

CHIAPAS: Land of Rebels  

Inside the making of Teva and River Roots' new short film, 'Beyond the Drop,' documenting an international team's March descent of the Five...

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