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A Costa Rican rafting mission – led by the company Rios Tropicales and the United Nations – traveled to Colombia to meet with a group of ex-guerrillas from the FARC. Teaching them to tame the rapids of the Pato River, in complete peace, was the reason for the singular adventure.
A very “crazy” selfie. After running the river, Rafael Gallo is photographed with former guerrillas, guides and members of the UN mission. Courtesy of Rafael Gallo.
Inspired by these values, Gallo packed suitcases in August and took a plane to the city of Bogotá, then headed to Villavicencio. He finally boarded a helicopter that took him to San Vicente del Caguán, in Caquetá, the land where Manuel Marulanda Velez “Tirofijo” – one of the best known and strongest leaders of the FARC – walked for a long time.
“I was wondering what the camp would be like and how people would react when they saw me. But there was no fear,” recalled the businessman.
At Camp Miravalle – the name of the place where the rafting project is hosted – Gallo remembers that at first, he came across people who were a little shy; but little by little, they showed their most friendly side. He felt very good in the area, although he quickly became very worried: in the two days that the businessman supervised the rafting project, he noticed that the training they were giving to the ex-combatants was really deficient.
“It was a training joke. They were not teaching them anything,” said Gallo.
Distressed, Gallo not only informed the UN representatives of the precarious situation but offered two of his best men to go save the noble project: Roy Obando and Max Solano, Costa Rican guides with more than 20 years of experience in the wildest rivers of our country.
“They are quality instructors, certified by the International Rafting Federation. When I returned to Costa Rica, I made the offer and they accepted without hesitation. They were very touched. By air and by land they traveled to Caquetá and this is how this adventure began, a beautiful adventure for us,” he explained.
With the expert Tico team in Colombia, and the adrenaline of the ex-revolutionaries at its peak, the time to overcome the rapids had arrived. Paddle by paddle, for the peaceful conquest of the Pato River.
Max Solano, one of the Costa Rican guides, not only made friends with the ex-combatants. Policemen and soldiers also went down the river with them in the rafts. Courtesy of Rafael Gallo.Conquering the rapids
“Everything we are now we owe to Costa Rica,” comments Duberney Moreno, one of the former guerrillas enrolled in the rafting project.
Duberney, who joined the FARC when he was 18, now proudly wears his credentials as a certified guide and dreams of a future that was previously blurred.
In the FARC, many of the ex-combatants confess that, before, they did not have many expectations of life. To live past 40 years in conditions of war was already an important accomplishment, because the natural thing was to die being shot or to die of some disease in the middle of the solitary mountains.
Duberney, for example, took risks like no other. As in the past, there were no cellphones and communications in the mountains were difficult. The ex-guerrilla was a kind of human mail. If the boss needed to say something to someone outside the camp, Duberney left with the message on his own, taking days and even months until the recipient received the message.
In addition, Duberney was an explosives expert, as they called those in the FARC who manufactured and transported explosives to different guerrilla bases.
“In that sense, one of them told me something that touched me a lot: ‘Now, I dream of being a grandfather – that keeps me alive and that is what most excites me about peace.’” Gallo recalled.
Duberney Moreno, former guerrilla who leads the rafting project. During the war, he was an explosives expert and a messenger. Courtesy of the UN.
Duberney does not have children yet, but he knows they could arrive soon. He dreams that the rafting company will start to be profitable and that tourists from all over the world will lose their fear of their mountains, their faces and their pasts.
And apparently, it’s not that difficult. Max Solano, one of the Tico guides who shared a raft and paddling with the ex-combatants for a month and a half, assures that knowing them was a lovely experience.
“We accepted the project because helping peace was something exciting and meaningful for us. In addition, we were never afraid because the UN protected the project and we had guarantees,” said Solano.
Solano remembers that, at the beginning, Duberney and all the others were serious and silent in his presence; but that after a couple of days, the ice was magically breaking.
“We began to establish a sincere friendship. They were very kind and humble with us. It struck me that the first talks we had were about Costa Rica and its peace. They wanted to know how we lived that way, since they were incredibly afraid of living like this,” he added.
For the ex-combatants, it was simply inconceivable to think that Costa Rica had no army. How was that?
Roberto Gallo, Rafael Gallo’s son, witnessed that feeling the day he saw a Colombian military patrolling along the Pato River, near the place where the rafting ends.
“My son is 23 years old and, of course, he got scared a bit when he saw the soldier, fully armed at that place. Only the presence intimidated him a little. In front of the former guerrillas, he commented that it was not common to see that in Costa Rica because there were no Armed Forces,” said Gallo.
“They immediately were in awe. They could not understand that reality in their heads,” the businessman added.
United in the water. With representatives of the UN and Rios Tropicales, ex-guerrilla Duberney was the expedition guide. Courtesy of the UN.
Additionally, in other times, if an ex-guerrilla and a Colombian military man saw each other on the banks of a river it would not have been anything pleasant. But this is no longer the case. What would normally have ended in a deadly shooting, ends now with a handshake, a smile and even a joke.
“There are still several police and military officers who see something wrong, they have certain resentments, but the truth is that most of us get along well. There is friendship and everything,” confesses Duberney, who exercises a very positive leadership at Camp Miravalle.
“It’s very nice; it’s like a feeling of reconciliation. We have already played football matches together and we have taken some of the military and the police down the river by raft. We get along pretty well,” he adds.
During the practices in the river, where the apprentices became experts in the business of the rapids, the stories ran from one side to the other. They were not afraid at all to talk about their troubled past and the Ticos loved to portray what the world was like outside the jungle.
For example, the Colombians told the Ticos about the custom of having dinner early, even long before the sun went down. It was important to do so, lest the lights of the fire or flashlights make them visible to military radars.
In addition, they told about the pain of losing their friends in combat, the anxiety they lived after hearing strange noises at night, and the scare they had the day a military helicopter landed in the vicinity of the camp. The shooting and death, inevitably, were present that unforgettable day.
“Everything was very painful, very complicated. No more war for me, no more weapons,” said Duberney.
Before navigating the river, Duberney gave a safety talk. Jessica Faieta, from the United Nations Verification Mission in Colombia, was part of the expedition. Courtesy of the UN.
Paddling a passage to heaven
According to Max, the desire of the ex-combatants to triumph was admirable. The determination they showed on the raft, when the rapids hit the boat hard or the raging currents sent a companion into the water, was fascinating.
They behaved like strong oaks in the river, passionate guys. Remembering that many of them didn’t know anything more than weapons as a method of survival could explain everything. Several ex-combatants did not know how to write when they were recruited into the revolutionary ranks, and others maybe only managed to finish elementary school. The world was small for them and now a paddle made them reach for the heavens.
“They learned everything that is required to run rivers and guide tourists. They were very methodical in their performance and always worked as a team. In a month and a half, thanks to their determination, they learned what a Tico does in six months. Their spirit to learn, to be different, was impressive,” said Max.
For them, rafting is like everything or nothing. Better paddling, than fighting.
Rafael Gallo sums it up like this: “With rafting, the world opened incredibly. The day I returned to Caquetá to give them their credentials as guides, I saw in their eyes a special shine, a confidence that I never saw, it was inspiring.”
In a hug of deep gratitude, Duberney says goodbye to the Tico guide, Max Solano. They will meet again soon, to be ready for the World Rafting Championship. Courtesy of the UN.
Now, the ex-guerrillas live in a small community. What they produce in San Vicente del Caguán they share among all to survive. Many of them still believe in Colombia’s social change, but now they cling to political efforts, rather than armed force.
“You have to remember that they are the result of something they did not generate. They did not ask to be guerrillas, to be in that situation and conditions. That’s why rafting represents a great opportunity for their lives,” said Gabriel Bolaños, a Costa Rican businessman who donated money from his pocket for the Rios Tropicales mission.
“Many of them were recruited at age 12. They had Russian agents who prepared them in war tactics and a French agent who formed them in ideology. So, they grew up among extreme violence; and yet, you talk to them and they are human beings like any other, calm and close. It’s very nice to have met them,” Bolaños added.
If cocaine was trafficked, there were deadly confrontations and painful kidnappings, which now is not apparent. For Bolaños, now only hope is breathed.
“It is very symbolic that Costa Rica has contributed to this project, to be the sponsor. I believe in peace and I believe that this way of living, in which we have all grown up, has great value and we can serve as mediators,” he concluded.
A world-class dream
The day in November 2018 that Rafael Gallo traveled returning to Colombia to graduate the ex-guerillas as new rafting guides, he knew that these men need “a dream” in their lives.
Their eyes shone and that passion could not be quenched. That is why Gallo took the floor and spoke some words that still resonate in the hearts of the group of Colombians.
“You are invited to participate in the World Rafting Championship. In May 2019, we will make efforts for you to participate with the flag of peace in Australia,” proclaimed Gallo.
The next stop for the ex-guerrillas is the World Rafting Championship in Australia. They are excited and training hard for that adventure. Courtesy of the UN.
That day, Camp Miravalle rumbled with the news. Excited, the ex-combatants have not stopped training to realize the great adventure of their lives.
“This is something incredible for us. We have never left the country, or anything close to that. I cannot explain the thrill,” Duberney said.
From Costa Rica, as expected, this new initiative is being led. Guides Max and Roy direct the training process remotely, and volunteers like Gabriel Bolaños look for the necessary funds to finance the trip.
“It’s an incredible opportunity. It will give them exposure all over the world. They will leave the jungle and they will know a higher level. We will accompany them there,” said Gallo.
“They are training hard. Hopeful. It is really moving,” concluded the businessman.
So, watch out world, because Camp Miravalle ‘has raised its paddles’.
which has the support of the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT) and the Costa
Rican National Training Institute (INA), is the largest effort at one time in
the world to certify guides in the rafting industry in guiding and safety
Between Nov. 27
and Dec. 14, 151 raft guides and 27 safety kayakers from all over Costa Rica
were certified to IRF standards using the Guide Training and Education Award
System (GTE), the most widely recognized whitewater raft guide qualification in
the world. In total in 2018, between September and December, more than 275
guides have been IRF certified in Costa Rica, including four female guides. INA
has agreed to officially validate the certification.
on rafting trips for national and foreign tourists in Costa Rica is the highest
priority for Rafael Gallo, IRF Honorary President and representative in Costa
Rica as President of the Costa Rica Sports Association for Adventure and
“Costa Rica has an
abundance of excellent raft guides and kayakers, who have national and
international experience. As leaders in rafting in Costa Rica, we have united
in our experience to certify guides and safety kayakers to IRF standards to
ensure that Costa Rica remains a leader in safety and excellence in rafting,”
certification measures raft guides’ skills in paddling, making preventative
safety decisions, and capacity in case of rescue and emergencies. It consists
of a theoretical-practical exam with topics such as water levels and common
sense. The certification levels range from RG2 and RG3 to RG4 (class 2 to 4
rapids) and Safety Kayaker.
by the IRF in Costa Rica permits the recognition of a rafting guide or safety
kayaker in any part of the world, said Gallo, who is one of only two IRF guide
training assessors – the highest level of expertise possible – in Costa Rica.
To apply for this
certification, participants had to be active guides, over 18 years old, and
have a valid CPR and First Aid Certificate. The accreditation must be renewed
every three years; and in case of bad performance by a guide, it can be
withdrawn, which allows for regulation of the standard.
“All were active
guides, many of whom have been working as guides for more than 10 years. In
Costa Rica, since they work 12 months a year, not only short seasons like in
the U.S. and Europe, that means that guides have a lot of experience,” said
The 27 safety
kayakers who also participated in the initiative are the first IRF certified
safety kayakers in Costa Rica. This group represents the most safety kayakers
certified by the IRF at one time in the world.
accompany rafting trips in class 3 or higher rapids to help point out dangers
in the river to raft guides and assist with rescues in case a person falls out
of a raft or the raft flips over.
Costa Rica now has the first IRF certified Safety Kayak Instructors in the
country. On Dec. 14, five highly experienced safety kayakers were accredited as
instructors – Joaquin “Miti” Garcia, Albert Obando, Johnny Obando, Roy Obando,
and Randall Solano – all of whom have more than 25 years of experience in river
Instructor is the newest certification by the IRF, since 2017, and there are
only 15 now total in the world, said Gallo.
“These guides have
been working for many years already as safety kayakers in Costa Rica and now
they are recognized and certified for their abilities by the IRF,” said Gallo.
“We are proud to recognize these safety kayakers for their heroic efforts in
participating in rescue efforts when necessary on rafting trips. They go the
extra mile to keep people safe.”
The recent guide
and kayaker certification exams were conducted over the three-week period
around the country on the Pacuare River, Sarapiqui River, Tenorio River in
Guanacaste, and the Naranjo and Savegre rivers by Manuel Antonio. Despite not
having an exact figure, it is estimated that there may be more than 500 raft
guides throughout the country, who Gallo said they hope to train during 2019.
These efforts come
after four U.S. tourists and a Costa Rican guide died on Oct. 20 during a
rafting trip on the Naranjo River when their rafts capsized in high water flow.
Ten tourists and three guides were rescued.
“It is important
for Costa Rica to have guides certified to an international level. If the
government will validate this certification, then we can have their support for
regulation enforcement in the industry throughout the country,” said Victorino
“Tori” Urzola, the IRF assessor in charge of the certification initiative.
“We want to raise
the level of quality of the guides. In addition, the public and private sector
must take more actions to work together for the welfare of the country,” said
Gallo, whose rafting and adventure tour company Rios Tropicales has been operating in Costa
Rica for 33 years.
“At my company of
Rios Tropicales, we have been certifying guides voluntarily for our own
requirements and peace of mind for years; however, not all companies do it and
not all meet the requirements, that is the problem. So, tourists should check
this when booking their tour,” explained Gallo.
raising the level of rafting in Costa Rica, Gallo is planning the first IRF
World Whitewater Summit in Costa Rica in October 2019. He plans to invite
high-profile international keynote speakers from the industry, hold a rafting
and kayaking rescue competition, and an instructors’ workshop, among other
“This is a worldwide
message that rafting is a safe sport and we want to work together with all
rafting guides and associations all over the world to show this,” Gallo said.
Gallo is president of Rios Tropicales rafting and
adventure company in Costa Rica, founder of the Rios Tropicales Rainforest
Reserve, the co-founder and current honorary president of the International
Rafting Federation, and author of the book “The Rivers of Costa
Rica” (1988). Mr. Gallo serves on several boards of nonprofit and government organizations where he advocates for
the protection of forests, rivers, wildlife, and local communities, including:
the Rios Tropicales Foundation which he co-created for environmental
conservation in Costa Rica; the Costa Rica Natural Reserves Network for which
he served as President from 2009-2013; and the Blue Flag Committee of Costa
Rica. For more than 35 years, Mr. Gallo has led the effort to protect Costa
Rica’s rivers, including preventing the building of a hydroelectric dam on the
Pacuare River, named one of the world’s most scenic rivers by National
Rafael Gallo President of Ríos Tropicales
this initiative, the Alliance will honor the name and career of Mr. Gallo
Palomo in the defense of the rivers, and will stimulate the care of the
environment, natural resources and especially water resources, through the
recognition and rewarding of the work that individuals, groups, companies or
institutions perform in their favor and their achievements in this area,” said
Roberto de la Ossa, General Director of the National Alliance of Rivers and
Watersheds of Costa Rica.
Costa Rica National Alliance of Rivers and Watersheds is a citizens’
organization dedicated to taking concrete actions to face global water
management challenges, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean, and
specifically in Costa Rica. The environmental organization has a mission that
all rivers in Costa Rica flow “healthily” into the oceans. The Alliance has
adopted the goals set by the United Nations agenda for Sustainable Development
Rafael Gallo Palomo Award’s main purpose is to recognize and stimulate the work
carried out in Costa Rica in favor of environmental improvement and on the ways
to benefit the rivers and water sources in general, said Mr. de la Ossa.
“Apart from its reason
for being: the future of our rivers, the Rafael Gallo Palomo Award pays
deserved homage to Mr. Rafael Gallo. Rafael has been one of the persons who has
been most active in the conservation of rivers in Costa Rica, which he has done
in many ways. The award has the purpose to recognize him for all the work that
he has done for the rivers in our country, and for the betterment of the
environment,” said Mr. de la Ossa.
“It is an incredible
honor to have my passion for conservation be recognized by an award being named
after me, and by such an important organization as the National Alliance of
Rivers and Watersheds in Costa Rica,” said Mr. Gallo. “My goal is that all of
Costa Rica, and the world, be united together into “one river” of conservation
and protection of our planet’s natural resources and beauty.”
The Rafael Gallo Palomo
Award will be given every two years on the fourth Sunday in September on World Rivers Day.
The first award will be presented on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. The award will be
a statue carved in Jobo wood by national sculptor Mario Parra Brenes, winner of
the National Award of Culture Aquileo J. Echeverría.
Alliance invites Costa Rican citizens to promote the objectives of the award,
either by personal initiative or through groups or organizations, and is
accepting recommendations of candidates to be considered for the 2019 award.
“With this award, we
want to continue the motivation to save Costa Rica’s rivers. There are a lot of
forces in the country working to rescue our rivers and we want to involve all
Costa Ricans in this mission to have our rivers arrive ‘healthy’ to the sea.
There are many people fighting for the rivers – organizations, communities and
individuals – and this is a way that we can recognize them,” explained Mr. de
El 9 de noviembre, un nuevo emprendimiento turístico colombiano tendrá nueve nuevos guías de rafting, gracias a la capacitación proporcionada por la Federación Internacional de Rafting (IRF) y la empresa de turismo de aventura Ríos Tropicales en Costa Rica.
Es un logro extraordinario porque los nuevos guías de rafting son excombatientes de las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). Además, el río Pato, el lugar en el cual los guías se han capacitado y donde se operarán viajes comerciales de rafting, es una antigua “zona roja prohibida” controlada por las FARC.
El incipiente emprendimiento turístico es producto de una misión apoyada por la Organización de las Naciones Unidas (ONU) en el Espacio Territorial de Capacitación y Reincorporación (ETCR) Miravalle, ubicado en el municipio de San Vicente del Caguán, departamento del Caquetá (unos 290 kilómetros al sur de Bogotá).
La Misión de Verificación de la ONU en Colombia ayuda a exmiembros de las FARC en su transición a la vida civil, después de 54 años de conflicto armado con el gobierno colombiano. En nombre del Consejo de Seguridad de la ONU, la Misión está a cargo de verificar y acompañar la reintegración política, económica y social de los exmiembros de las FARC y sus familias a las comunidades colombianas, de conformidad con el Acuerdo de Paz de noviembre de 2016.
“Este es un paso más hacia la paz. Nuestros guías están muy orgullosos de no solo capacitar a nuevos guías de rafting, sino también de participar en el proceso de paz en Colombia”, indicó Rafael Gallo, Presidente de Ríos Tropicales. “Miles de combatientes han bajado sus armas y están tratando de reintegrarse a una sociedad de la cual han estado separados por años o, en algunos casos, por toda su vida. La idea es promover la reconciliación y ayudar a las personas a adaptarse después de un muy prolongado conflicto, mediante la creación de nuevas fuentes de ingreso como medio de vida”.
Gallo, presidente honorario y uno de los miembros fundadores de la IRF, viajó al ETCR Miravalle con la Misión de la ONU en agosto de 2018, para evaluar la viabilidad de crear una operación comercial de rafting en el río Pato. Unos 100 residentes del lugar ven en el ecoturismo, entre otras iniciativas, una forma de estimular su economía y emprender un nuevo camino en la vida civil.
Impresionado por el hermoso río de selva, su potencial comercial para el rafting y el profundo deseo de la comunidad de un cambio positivo y un nuevo comienzo, Gallo envió, el 4 de octubre, a dos de sus mejores guías en Ríos Tropicales para capacitar al nuevo personal. El financiamiento fue proporcionado por donantes privados.
“Me sentí muy inspirado al ver cómo un río y el rafting podrían cambiar la vida de las personas y su futuro. Quise seguir ayudándolos, sabiendo que estaban empezando desde cero, y sabiendo cuánto podría contribuir al brindarles la mejor capacitación y ponerlos a funcionar mucho más rápido que si lo hicieran por sí solos. Todo su mundo ha cambiado en los últimos años”, expresó Gallo.
Los guías costarricenses, Roy Obando y Max Solano, capacitaron a un equipo de ocho hombres y una mujer durante el pasado mes, en técnicas de guía en balsa, kayak, y seguridad y rescate en río. Solano ha sido guía de rafting en Ríos Tropicales durante 13 años. Obando ha sido guía en Ríos Tropicales durante más de 27 años, fue jefe de seguridad en el Campeonato Mundial de Rafting de 2011 en Costa Rica, y ha sido instructor de la IRF nivel 4 (el nivel más alto) por más de 10 años. Por ello, certificará a los guías colombianos con una acreditación específica de la IRF para rafting en el río Pato.
Durante la capacitación, Obando y Solano lideraron al equipo en un primer descenso exploratorio de la sección superior del río Pato, con rápidos clase 4 y 5. Sin embargo, la mayor parte de la capacitación, y donde se realizarán los viajes comerciales de rafting, se realizó en un tramo del río de 9 km, con rápidos clase 3 y 4.
“El progreso ha sido asombroso, gracias a su [guías colombianos] deseo de aprender, ser capacitados y cambiar sus vidas. Su voluntad ha hecho que se avance rápido, y ha presentado oportunidades en lugar de obstáculos. Es un proceso continuo, porque dirigir una empresa de rafting no es algo que se aprenda de la noche a la mañana, pero vamos en la dirección correcta”, dijo Gallo, quien ha ayudado a generar operaciones comerciales de rafting en cinco países de América Latina y el Caribe.
Gallo viajará al Valle del Río Pato en Colombia para la ceremonia de graduación el 9 de noviembre. Llevará donaciones de chalecos salvavidas, cascos y otros equipos de rafting de Man of Rubber River Gear y Ríos Tropicales.
The new rafting guides, who are former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by the Spanish acronym of FARC), will complete their training on Nov. 9 with a graduation ceremony. The accomplishment is even more extraordinary because the Pato River where they have trained and will operate commercial rafting trips is a former FARC controlled “red no-go zone” – once a feared, forbidden and secret place.
The fledgling adventure tourism venture is the result of a United Nations supported mission at Colombia’s Miravalle Territorial Area for Training and Reincorporation (TATR) in the Municipality of San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá Department – about 180 miles south of Bogota. The UN Verification Mission in Colombia is helping former guerrillas make the transition to civilian life after 54 years of armed conflict with the Colombian government. On behalf of the UN Security Council, the Mission is in charge of verifying and accompanying the political, economic and social reintegration of former FARC members and their families into Colombian communities in accordance with the November 2016 Peace Agreement.
“This is one more step toward peace. Our guides are so proud to not only be training new river rafting guides, but to be taking part in the peace process in Colombia,” said Rafael Gallo, President of Rios Tropicales. “Thousands of armed fighters have put down their weapons and are trying to reintegrate into a society from which they have been estranged for years, or sometimes their entire lives. The idea is to promote reconciliation and to help people adapt after such a long conflict through developing new income sources as a means to live.”
Gallo, who is honorary president and one of the founding members of the IRF, traveled to the Miravalle TATR in August 2018 with the UN Mission to assess the viability of developing a commercial rafting operation on the Pato River. The 100 or so residents there are looking to ecotourism, among other initiatives, to stimulate their economy and embark on a new path in civil life.
Impressed by the beautiful jungle river, its commercial rafting potential, and the community’s deep desire for positive change and new beginnings, Gallo sent two of his top Rios Tropicales guides on Oct. 4 to train the new staff. Funding was provided by private donors.
“I was so inspired seeing how a river and rafting could change people’s lives and their future. I wanted to continue to help them, knowing that they were starting from zero and knowing how much I could contribute to provide them with the best training and get them up and running much faster than on their own. Their whole world has changed over the last few years,” said Gallo.
Costa Rican guides Roy Obando and Max Solano have spent the past month training the team of eight men and one woman in raft guiding, kayaking, and river safety and rescue skills. Solano has been guiding with Rios Tropicales for 13 years. Obando has been a rafting guide for more than 27 years with Rios Tropicales, and was head of safety for the 2011 World Whitewater Rafting Championships in Costa Rica. He is a level 4 IRF instructor (the highest level) for more than 10 years, and will be certifying the Colombian guides with an IRF site specific guide accreditation for rafting on the Pato River.
During their training, Obando and Solano led the team in an exploratory first descent of the upper section of the Pato River in class 4 and 5 rapids. Most of their training, however, and where commercial rafting trips will be conducted, was in a 9 km section of the river with class 3 and 4 rapids.
“The progress has been amazing. That’s thanks to their (the Colombians) will to learn and be trained and to change their lives. Their will has moved this so fast and opened opportunities rather than having obstacles. This is an ongoing process, because running a rafting company is not something you learn overnight, but we’re headed in the right direction,” said Gallo who has helped introduce commercial rafting operations in five countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Gallo will travel to the Pato River Valley in Colombia for the Nov. 9 graduation ceremony. He will bring donated gifts of lifejackets, helmets and rafting gear from Man of Rubber River Gear and Rios Tropicales.
For more information, contact:
Rafael Gallo, President of Rios Tropicales, Costa Rica, and Honorary President of the International Rafting Federation
The Rios Tropicales Lodge has been awarded the 2018 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence, for yet another consecutive year.
The multiple award-winning Costa Rica ecolodge on the Pacuare River is also a member of the TripAdvisor Hall of Fame, reserved for businesses that have been awarded the Certificate of Excellence for at least five years in a row.
“We are thrilled to receive this prestigious award from TripAdvisor based on our guests’ reviews,” said Rafael Gallo, CEO of Rios Tropicales. “On behalf of all of our personnel, we’d like to thank all of our guests who took the time to share their experience and comments about our Rios Tropicales Lodge on TripAdvisor. We are honored to receive this enormous vote of confidence from the people who matter most, our fellow travelers.”
Now in its eighth year, the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence celebrates businesses that have continually delivered a quality customer experience and earned outstanding traveler reviews over the past year.
The Rios Tropicales Lodge is No. 1 in specialty lodging on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica, according to feedback earned on the world’s largest travel site. The lodge holds a 5.0 rating – the highest possible – with 96% of 168 traveler reviews being “Excellent” and “Very Good.”
Rios Tropicales Lodge brings guests into the heart of the Costa Rica rainforest on whitewater rafting expeditions on the renowned Pacuare River. The ecolodge has been given National Geographic’s Geotourism Award, and adheres to ecologically sustainable principles in its operations.
A traveler who visited Rios Tropicales Lodge earlier in 2018 wrote on TripAdvisor: “We started our 10-day Costa Rica vacation with a raft trip on the Pacuare River with Rios Tropicales, and a two-night stay at their Eco Lodge. I almost wish we had ended our vacation this way because it was by far the highlight of our trip. Our rafting guide … and all the employees were so amazing and caring. They probably meet hundreds of travelers each year, but we felt that we were the most important guests …. The grounds of the Eco Lodge are stunning, with beautiful flowers and landscaping. The roar of the river accompanies you everywhere. The rooms are very comfortable, and … the whitewater was thrilling to say the least.”
In addition, Rios Tropicales also enjoys TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence status and highest 5.0 rating for its eco-adventure company. A vanguard in adventures and conservation in Costa Rica for 34 years, Rios Tropicales operates multiple adventure trips all over Costa Rica: whitewater rafting and multisport activities that feature kayaking, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking and cycling, family adventures, cultural encounters with indigenous communities, nature and wildlife tours, and sustainable community activities.
Rios Tropicales operates on ecotourism sustainability principles that benefit employees, local communities, indigenous peoples, tourists, and the environment. They uphold the company purpose of: “We design authentic experiences that inspire a positive impact on the environment.” They are a completely carbon neutral tourism operator and are committed to professionalism, safety, high-quality, extraordinary service and environmental conservation.
Michael Kaye, founder of Costa Rica Expeditions and a giant figure in travel and tourism in Costa Rica, passed away on July 12, 2018, at the age of 76. Tributes, remembrances and messages have since poured in from around the world on social media, blogs and news feeds.
Michael has been called a pioneer in adventure travel, a titan of the Costa Rican tourism industry, and the godfather of ecotourism. To Rafael Gallo, president and co-founder of Rios Tropicales adventure company in Costa Rica, Michael was not only a mentor, he was the catalyst that forever changed his life.
We share with you here Rafael’s remembrances of his friend, Michael Kaye, followed by a poignant and powerful article by James Dyde that published in CentralAmerica.com.
Michael Kaye was quite an individual. He was my mentor. Thanks to Michael Kaye, my company Rios Tropicales exists. If it had not been for Michael, I probably never would have come to Costa Rica and not had the life I’ve led. He completely changed my life.
I first met Michael in 1982 at an “end of the season” party on the Chattooga River (North Carolina), where I was working as a river rafting guide in the southeastern U.S. All of the different rafting companies would get together for these big parties. Someone introduced us and I told him I was from El Salvador. Michael said he had been surfing in El Salvador, had married a Salvadoran woman (his wife, Yolanda), and had started a whitewater rafting company in Costa Rica.
He said, “Why don’t you come join me?” And it so happened that the people who had worked for him in Costa Rica were people I knew. Growing up in El Salvador, we never really thought about traveling in Central America, so Costa Rica wasn’t on my radar. I probably would have gone to New Zealand with my other rafting friends.
I went and became Michael’s rafting manager for Costa Rica Expeditions. He opened the Pacuare and the Reventazón rivers to me. I thank Michael deep from my heart to have brought me to Costa Rica, which allowed me to see the Pacuare River. What I’m doing here is thanks to him. I thank Yolanda, his wife and a fellow Salvadoran, for welcoming me into their family and their home.
Michael started whitewater rafting in Costa Rica. We both believed in very high standards for rafting and that is why Costa Rica has such a high level of rafting in the world.
Even though Michael and I ended up having different visions of the future of rafting in Costa Rica – back then I still wanted to explore more rivers and Michael saw the future of tourism in national parks and nature – by having different visions, it inspired me to start my own company of Rios Tropicales in 1985 and to really grow rafting. Thanks to him, Rios Tropicales was created. And thanks to Rios Tropicales, many, many people have benefitted over the years. The best part is that Michael and I regained our friendship, stronger than ever, and I always enjoyed our long talks.
Michael put Costa Rica on the map for world tourism. If it hadn’t been for Michael Kaye, Costa Rica might have gone down a similar path like many other Latin American countries where people came, explored, and then left without developing tourism. Michael stayed and he developed tourism that was well done. He did it right.
Costa Rica owes Michael Kaye for its success in tourism.
If you ever worked in tourism in Costa Rica, Michael Kaye, the founder of Costa Rica Expeditions, who passed away last week aged 76, influenced your career. Even if you never realized it.
If you ever visited Costa Rica as a tourist, Michael Kaye influenced your vacation, too. Even if you’ve never heard of him before. He was THAT important to the tourism industry in this part of the world.
A trailblazer, a pioneer, a titan of the travel biz in Costa Rica, and the godfather of Costa Rican eco-tourism.
I only met Michael Kaye once. It was around 2005 and we were both on a puddle-jumper from San Jose, Costa Rica to Granada, Nicaragua.
Also on the plane was a friend of mine, and his father, who was the CEO of the airline we were flying on. Michael was sitting with my friend’s dad, and someone made introductions. We the only four people on the flight.
Once we landed in Granada, Michael had a driver waiting for him and he offered me a ride into town, about fifteen minutes away, which I accepted. On the way, he asked if I was around for dinner that evening, with some other people. I declined that invite because I didn’t want to be a spare wheel so he dropped me off at my hotel and we went our separate ways.
I mention this innocuous encounter because, during it, Michael’s enthusiasm for Nicaragua struck me.
He wanted to make Nicaragua as much of a tourist mecca as Costa Rica, or at least he did in those days. I remember him loving the fact I was enthusiastic about Nicaragua too. Not me personally, of course, but that someone else felt the same way about Nicaragua’s potential as he did. He liked that.
I doubt Michael would remember this meeting, but it doesn’t matter. Those who knew him and worked with him over the years will recognize the passion for travel and tourism I saw that day almost fifteen years ago.
Journalist and Costa Rica Custom Trips head honcho Eliot Greenspan recognized that same passion in 1995 when Frommer’s hired him to update and maintain their Costa Rica guidebook.
“Michael was one of the first people I contacted – his reputation obviously preceded him,” he said.
“Michael was always immensely helpful, open and generous. He opened many doors for me, including those to his hotels and home. Michael was opinionated, set in his ways, and self-assured. I always knew to block off a good hour if I planned to call Michael, cause there was almost no way to have a short conversation with him.”
Costa Rica in the year 2000, when I arrived, was a different country to the Costa Rica I live in now.
I’m talking in tourism terms. So I can only imagine what it was like back in 1978 when Michael and his wife first came here. Back then – in tourism terms – Costa Rica was more of an exotic backwater than a mainstream eco-tourist center. Or any kind of tourist center, for that matter.
Costa Rica wasn’t just a different country in the seventies, it was a different planet. The surfers hadn’t even arrived en masse in those pre-Endless Summer II days, and Central America was slipping into the war and conflict that would define it through the 1980s.
But in 1978, Michael found himself on the old train from San Jose to Limon. Looking out the window, he noticed the Rio Reventazon flowing through a gorge below the railway line. As a whitewater rafter and river guide, he knew back then, according to a 2012 interview with livingabroadincosta.com, he’d struck gold.
“This river’s gonna put food in our mouths,” he told his wife.
That was the start of Costa Rica Expeditions and the start of river rafting and eco-tourism in Costa Rica.
Before Michael Kaye set eyes on the Rio Reventazon, there was no eco-tourism industry in Costa Rica. No-one had done it before. Michael put Costa Rica on the map for the brand of tourism it’s now a world-leader in, and everyone followed.
“It’s almost impossible to predict what would have happened to the industry if Michael hadn’t come down here and explored the Reventazon, Pacuare, and General Rivers,” says Rafael Gallo, the founder of rafting and adventure travel company Rios Tropicales. “Who knows how eco and adventure tourism in Costa Rica would have turned out? We’d probably be in a similar state to those countries that try to emulate our model today.”
The Namu Travel Group would like to extend our deepest sympathies to Michael’s wife Yolanda, his family, the Costa Rica Expeditions family, and to the Costa Rican tourism industry as a whole.
James Dyde is the editor of CentralAmerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.
Con el fin de elogiar sus décadas de participación, logros y función integral en la formación y el desarrollo de la Federación Internacional de Rafting (IRF), Rafael Gallo ha sido nominado como el primer presidente honorario de la IRF.
El nuevo cargo fue propuesto por el actual presidente de la IRF, Joe Willis Jones, y aprobado por la Junta Directiva de la IRF como anexo a sus estatutos. El anexo declara que “el Congreso (IRF) puede otorgar el título de ‘presidente honorario’ o ‘miembro honorario’ a cualquier expresidente o exmiembro del Comité Ejecutivo por servicio meritorio al rafting y a la IRF, respectivamente… en particular, los presidentes honorarios deberán servir como embajadores de la IRF”. La nominación de Gallo será considerada para su ratificación en el Congreso de la IRF que se realizará en marzo de 2019 en Australia, durante el próximo Campeonato Mundial de Rafting.
Jones expresó que le complace tener el honor de nominar a Gallo en reconocimiento a sus años de compromiso y servicio. “Todos los que hoy participan en el deporte del rafting agradecen la dedicación y el esfuerzo de aquellos que trabajaron para crearlo. Los años de servicio de Rafa al rafting y a la IRF nos han puesto en deuda con él. Sin Rafa, la IRF probablemente no existiría”.
Gallo es uno de los fundadores de la IRF. Se desempeñó como primer vicepresidente de la IRF durante la presidencia de Peter Micheler de 1997 a 2006, y asumió la presidencia de 2006 a 2013. Gallo ha ayudado a mejorar las normas de seguridad y la capacitación de guías en todo el mundo. También fue uno de los primeros evaluadores de la IRF – el mayor nivel de certificación, el cual permite certificar a instructores que, a su vez, pueden certificar a otros guías de rafting.
“Como fundador de la IRF, Rafa fue esencial para despertar en los demás miembros la necesidad de contar con un ente rector internacional para el rafting. Ha sido un componente básico de la IRF desde su creación, y tenerlo como presidente honorario garantizará que la IRF pueda continuar beneficiándose de sus años de experiencia en el mundo del rafting internacional”, indicó Sue Liell-Cock, secretaria general de la IRF.
“Se siente muy bien haber sido parte de la innovación en el mundo del rafting a través de mi empresa, Ríos Tropicales, en Costa Rica, y convertirme en líder. Me siento afortunado de haber vivido esta histórica etapa desde el inicio, y de haber tenido la oportunidad de dirigir una organización tan importante como la IRF, con tantas personas de todas partes. Ha sido una unión de mentalidades de todo el mundo”, dijo Gallo.
“La IRF ha llevado al rafting a un nivel más competitivo. Se puede ver que las personas luchan por ser atletas y no solo guías de ríos, y les encanta el rafting”, agregó.
Cómo comenzó la IRF
Festival Proyecto RAFT Costa Rica 1991
Fue en el primer evento de Project RAFT, realizado en el río Chuya en Siberia durante el Rally Chuya de 1989, que llegaron, por primera vez, personas de todo el mundo para competir juntas en rafting. El proyecto se llamó “Russians and Americans for Teamwork” (“Rusos y estadounidenses por el trabajo en equipo”) y tenía como fin anular la animosidad política existente en ese momento entre las dos naciones, mediante el deporte del rafting. El Rally Chuya demostró ser un evento catalizador, que cambió el mundo del rafting para siempre, gracias a los contactos y a las amistades que se forjaron.
Jones recuerda su primer encuentro con Gallo en el Rally Chuya, en el cual ambos participaron como atletas de rafting en representación de sus respectivos países. “Rafa y yo nos hicimos amigos, y me invitó a Costa Rica a trabajar como guía de ríos y entrenador de guías en su recién formada empresa. El estilo ‘pura vida’ de Costa Rica y el espíritu de Project Raft se fusionaron en Ríos Tropicales, lo cual atrajo a algunos de los mejores guías de ríos del mundo para trabajar una o dos temporadas con la empresa de Rafa”, resaltó Jones.
El Campeonato Mundial de Rafting se repitió en el río Nantahala, en Carolina del Norte, en 1990; en los ríos Reventazón y Pacuare, en Costa Rica, en 1991; y en el río Çoruh, en Turquía, en 1993. Después de eso, se convirtió en el Camel White Water Challenge de 1995 a 2001.
A medida que crecieron las competiciones internacionales de rafting, sumando 50 equipos para competir en eventos de Slalom y Down River, fue necesario crear un ente oficial que pudiera representar y unir los diversos intereses internacionales del rafting.
Fue en el Campeonato Mundial de Rafting de 1994, organizado en el río Dora Baltea en Italia, que Rafael Gallo y Peter Micheler vieron la necesidad de formar una organización internacional de rafting que pudiera representar a todos los competidores, guías y aspectos del rafting.
Los fundadores de la IRF en 1997 en Augsburg, Germany.
“Las personas se estaban divirtiendo al competir entre ellas, pero necesitaban organizarse mucho mejor”, indicó Gallo. “Todos se presentaron a este Campeonato Mundial de Rafting y descubrieron que no había reglas establecidas. Fue muy caótico. Las balsas eran de diferentes tamaños, las reglas cambiaban y los organizadores no tenían una idea clara de cómo dirigir un evento. Sabíamos que, para que las competiciones internacionales de rafting sobrevivieran, era necesario cambiar el modelo, e implementar una estructura organizativa y reglas para las carreras de rafting”.
El grupo fundador (Lee Porter, Peter Micheler, Rafael Gallo, Tony Hansen, Sue Liell-Cock, Neil Baxter, Glenn Lewman, Zeljko Kelemen y Thomas Karas) se conoció en 1997 en el Augsburg Eiskanal en Augsburgo, Alemania – la base de operaciones de Micheler para el evento de slalom en canoa en los Juegos Olímpicos de 1972. Allí, redactaron las primeras reglas de la carrera de rafting y los estatutos de la organización. La IRF se lanzó oficialmente en el evento Camel White Water Challenge (CWWC) en octubre de 1997.
El primer Campeonato Mundial de la IRF (realizado junto con el CWWC) se llevó a cabo en Costa Rica en 1998, en la sección de Clase 5 del río Reventazón, auspiciado por Gallo y Ríos Tropicales. Allí se concretaron las reglas de las carreras de rafting. Más tarde, en 2001, el Campeonato Mundial de la IRF se separó del CWWC.
20 años de éxito con la IRF
Gallo fue incluido en el Salón Internacional de la Fama del Whitewater en 2009.
A medida que evolucionaron las competiciones de la IRF, también lo hizo la necesidad de crear un sistema internacional de capacitación para guías de rafting.
En 1999, durante el Campeonato Mundial de la IRF en el río Orange en Sudáfrica, Gallo actuó como primer juez principal de un evento de la IRF, y participó en la creación de un sistema de formación y capacitación de guías de rafting aplicable en cualquier parte del mundo.
“Queríamos crear un método para evaluar y certificar las habilidades básicas y el conocimiento que una guía de rafting debe tener”, dijo Gallo. “Lo adoptamos de inmediato con nuestros guías en Costa Rica en 1999”.
Nuevamente, Gallo fue juez principal del Campeonato Mundial de la IRF en Ecuador en 2005 y en Corea del Sur en 2007. Además, auspició un segundo Campeonato Mundial de la IRF en Costa Rica en 2011.
“En este momento, las competiciones de la IRF no eran festivales. Estaban llenas de atletas profesionales. Las personas estaban entrenando, consiguiendo patrocinadores y tomándolo muy en serio”, dijo Gallo. “Fue grandioso. Estábamos logrando nuestro objetivo de crear una competencia de clase mundial. Ya estábamos posicionándonos para hacer que el rafting fuera parte de los Juegos Olímpicos”.
En 2009, Gallo fue incluido en el Salón Internacional de la Fama del Whitewater (Aguas Blancas) como defensor de la conservación y líder del rafting en ríos en el mundo.
El futuro de la IRF
Gallo recibe el certificado de Carbon Neutral para el Campeonato Mundial de Rafting 2011 en Costa Rica
“Tener embajadores en todo el mundo es muy valioso para promover a la IRF y presentarla en los lugares correctos. Los Comités de la IRF pueden recurrir a Rafael para obtener asesoramiento y asistencia en áreas donde su conocimiento o experiencia pueden ayudar”, comentó Liell-Cock.
“Para mí, convertirme en presidente honorario es una excelente forma de continuar participando en el futuro de la IRF”, señaló Gallo. “Con más de 20 años de experiencia, puedo ser un mentor que ‘ha estado allí y hecho eso’, y ayudar a los nuevos líderes del mundo del rafting para que el deporte siga creciendo y creciendo”.
Commending his decades of involvement, achievements, and integral role in the formation and development of the International Rafting Federation (IRF), Rafael Gallo has been nominated as the first Honorary President of the IRF
The new position was proposed by the current IRF President Joe Willis Jones, and was approved by the IRF Board of Directors as an annex to the IRF Bylaws. The annex states that “The (IRF) Congress may bestow the title of ‘Honorary President’, or ‘Honorary Member’, respectively, upon any former president or member of the Executive Committee for meritorious service to rafting and the IRF … Honorary Presidents shall primarily serve as an IRF Ambassador.” The nomination of Gallo will be considered for ratification at the IRF Congress in March 2019 in Australia during the next World Rafting Championships.
IRF President Jones said he is pleased to have the honor of nominating Gallo in recognition for his years of commitment and service. “Everyone who takes part in the rafting sport today is beholden to the dedication and effort of those that worked to create it. Rafa’s years of service to rafting and to the IRF put us all in his debt. Without Rafa, it is likely that the IRF would not exist,” said Jones.
Gallo is one of the original founders of the IRF. He served as the IRF’s first Vice-president, alongside President Peter Micheler, from 1997 to 2006, and then took over the IRF presidency from 2006 to 2013. Gallo has helped improve rafting safety rules and guide training around the world. He was also one of the first assessors for the IRF, which is the highest level for river guide training certification that allows him to certify instructors, who in turn can certify rafting guides.
“As a founding member of the IRF, Rafa was very integral to waking everyone up to the need for an international governing body for rafting. He has been a strong component of the IRF since it was created and having him as an Honorary President will ensure that the IRF can continue to benefit from his years of experience in the international rafting world,” said Sue Liell-Cock, IRF Secretary General.
“It feels great to have been part of innovation in the rafting world through my whitewater rafting company, Rios Tropicales, in Costa Rica, and become such a leader. I feel lucky to have been in that historic era at the beginning and had the opportunity to lead such an important organization as the IRF with so many people from around the globe. It was a joining of minds from all over the world,” said Gallo.
“IRF has brought rafting to a more competitive level. You see people striving to be athletes and not just river guides, and they love rafting,” he added.
How the IRF Began
Rainforest Festival Project RAFT Costa Rica 1991
Starting with the first Project RAFT event held on the Chuya River in Siberia during the 1989 Chuya Rally, people came from all over the world for the first time to compete together in river rafting. Called “Russians and Americans for Teamwork”, the project was initiated by Russian and American rafters to override the political animosity between the two nations at the time, and to join together in the sport of rafting. The Chuya Rally proved to be a catalyst event that changed the world of rafting forever because of the contacts made and the friendships forged.
Jones recalls first meeting Gallo at the Chuya Rally where they both participated as rafting athletes representing their respective countries: “Rafa and I became fast friends and he invited me to Costa Rica to work as a river guide and guide trainer for his newly-formed rafting company. The ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle of Costa Rica and the Project Raft ethos was fully merged at Rios Tropicales, and it attracted some of the best river guides in the world to work a season or two with Rafa’s company.”
This first “World Rafting Championship” was replicated in 1990 on the Nantahala River in North Carolina, then in 1991 on the Reventazón and Pacuare Rivers in Costa Rica, and on the Coruh River in Turkey in 1993. After that, it evolved into the Camel Whitewater Challenge from 1995 to 2001.
As international rafting competitions grew, drawing up to 50 teams to compete in Slalom and Down River events, there became a need for an official body that could represent and unite the various international rafting interests.
It was at the 1994 World Championship, hosted on the Dora Baltea River in Italy, that Rafael Gallo and Peter Micheler saw the necessity to form an international rafting organization that could represent all competitors, guides, and aspects of rafting.
“People were having a lot of fun competing against one another but it needed to be organized much better,” said Gallo. “Everyone showed up to this World Rafting Championship and discovered there were no set rules. It was very chaotic. The rafts were different sizes, the rules kept changing along the way, and the organizers had no clear idea as to how to run an event. We knew that if international rafting competitions were going to survive, we needed to change the model and implement an organizational structure and rules for raft racing.”
IRF founding group in 1997 in Augsburg, Germany
The founding group – Lee Porter, Peter Micheler, Rafael Gallo, Tony Hansen, Sue Liell-Cock, Neil Baxter, Glenn Lewman, Zeljko Kelemen and Thomas Karas – met in 1997 at the Augsburg Eiskanal in Augsburg, Germany – Micheler’s home base and site of the 1972 Summer Olympics’ canoe slalom event. There, they drafted the first raft race rules and organization statutes, and in October of that year, the IRF was officially launched at the 1997 Camel White Water Challenge (CWWC) event.
The first official IRF World Championship – run jointly with the CWWC – was held in Costa Rica in 1998 on the Class 5 section of the Reventazón River, hosted by Gallo and Rios Tropicales. This is where the rules to govern raft racing were finalized. Later, in 2001, the IRF World Championships separated from the CWWC.
20 Years of Success with the IRF
Gallo being inducted into the International Whitewater Hall of Fame in 2009.
As the IRF competitions developed, so did the need to create a universal training system for raft guiding.
In 1999, at the IRF World Championship on the Orange River in South Africa, where Gallo acted as the first chief judge of an IRF event, he was involved in creating a guide training and education system that would be compatible for river rafting anywhere in the world.
“We wanted to create a method of assessing and certifying the basic skills and knowledge that a rafting guide should have,” Gallo said. “We adopted it right away in 1999 with our guides in Costa Rica.”
Gallo again was chief judge for the IRF World Championships in 2005 in Ecuador and in 2007 in South Korea. He hosted a second IRF World Championship in Costa Rica in 2011.
“By this time, IRF competitions were not festivals. They were full of pro athletes. People were training, getting sponsors and taking it very seriously,” said Gallo. “It was great. We were accomplishing our objective to create a world-class competition. We were already positioning ourselves to get rafting into the Olympics.”
In 2009, Gallo was inducted into the International Whitewater Hall of Fame for being an advocate for conservation and a leader in river rafting in the world.
The Future of the IRF
Gallo receives the Carbon Neutral certificate for the 2011 World Rafting Championship in Costa Rica
“Having ambassadors around the world is very valuable to promote the IRF and put it forward in the right places. The IRF Committees can turn to Rafael for advice and assistance in areas where his knowledge or expertise can assist,” said Liell-Cock.
“For me, becoming an honorary president is a great way to continue participating in the future of the IRF,” noted Gallo. “With 20-plus years of experience, I can be a mentor who has ‘been there and done that’ to help the new leaders who are guiding the rafting world as it is growing and growing.”