THE FRENCH FAMILY ROBINSON IN PETITE AMAZONIE

Sophie, her husband, and their six children (Indi, 13, Nahuell, 11, Isaïe, 9, Yaell, 7, Abigaell, 5, and Sahell, 2) are a large family with an appetite for adventure. When the family are not on their sailboat cruising the oceans, you can find them doing things like paddling 90 kilometres of the Leyre from Commensacq to Arcachon Bay in a kayak with all the equipment to camp as they go. And why not on inflatable Itiwit 3-person kayaks since they are so easy to carry? Here is their adventure on this river that locals rightly nickname "Petite Amazonie" (Little Amazon)...
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It all began in Hendaye...

"It all began in Hendaye at the Decathlon Watersports Centre, where we were met by Jérôme, who works for the kayak & stand-up paddle brand Itiwit

He gave us a tour of the Design & Prototyping Centre of all of Decathlon's water-based sports.

It was really informative to find out how this great French sports brand's products are invented.

At the end of the tour, we collected three big backpacks containing the three Itiwit3 inflatable kayaks, six double paddles, three pumps, six buoyancy aids and two dry bags that will allow us to travel over 90 kilometres of the Leyre and the Eyre.

We will have to give feedback on the positive and negative points of these kayaks so that they can make them even better. It is very interesting for us to have this chance to participate in the test, we will need to be able to make constructive comments.

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Wednesday 1st August 2018: Mexico Loisirs, Commensacq (4.5 km / 2 hr)

The starting point of this family adventure. Dorothée and Benjamin, the French M6 TV crew, are here too to follow us on this fluvial journey. The documentary they will be doing on us will be broadcast next summer on the programme "Zone Interdite".

It's time to get our equipment ready. The inflation of the first kayak seems intuitive. We inflate the bottom, then the sides a little bit, even it out, and then all that's left is to put the seats in.

For safety, our two youngest girls are wearing 100 Newton life jackets, which is mandatory because they cannot swim. Others, adults included, will always be wearing a 50N buoyancy aid.

In less than an hour, quickly and efficiently, we are ready to load the three inflatable kayaks with food for four days, along with the stove, sleeping bags, tent, spare clothes, and the whole family.

We are finally ready for our first 4.5 km on the Leyre. Two hours in the branches and upper reaches on the first day, that's not bad going! But I admit that we are mostly taking in the natural beauty of the Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park. The Leyre zigzags in all directions, you have to keep an eye out for the branches, which have been cut for watercourse maintenance, but that we sometimes get our boats stuck in.

 

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Thursday 2 August 2018: La Pouloye - Pissos (20 km / 7.5 hr)

We leave Pouloye on a section of river 5-6 m wide, perfectly in the shade! Let's not forget that the weather forecast says that there will be a heat wave all week. It will suit us just fine to be under these branches that sometimes force us to duck to pass under them. The little ones are having fun counting these overgrown obstacles and we are enjoying having to slalom to get through.

The only landmark that links us to civilization when we are on the Leyre is the bridges. We will go under two more of them this afternoon before we get to Testarrouman municipal quay in Pissos. Under the bridges, there are often "mini" rapids that give our young kayakers a buzz.

The crews have been changed for the afternoon. We balance the boats better: a big and a medium paddler in each kayak. The strongest at the rear to propel and steer and the medium-sized one at the front to help propel.

We have less than half an hour of paddling left after the Bern bridge. The children speed up and jump out onto the beach in front of the campsite. It's time to cool down now; we'll think about putting the tent up later. Everyone bathes in the slightly rust-coloured water, caused by "garluche", a kind of sandstone rich in iron. The Leyre is a "true river", since its source is only 10 km upstream of Commensacq.

We had a nice evening at Pissos pizzeria; our journalists took the whole family out for dinner. Thank you very much!

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Friday 3 August 2018: Pissos - Vallée du Leyre quay, Moustey (9 km / 3 hr)

Throughout France there is a heat wave warning, but we spend three hours in the shade of a canopy of thick greenery, surrounded by the wild vegetation of Landes de Gascogne Regional Natural Park.

The temperature is five degrees lower than on the plains, and this meandering scenery with the smell of driftwood really gives us the impression of being in the jungle. We are off on a real adventure again. Not another soul in sight, our kayaks are as pumped as we are as we gently glide along the fresh water. We leave the civilized world of Pissos, and the friendly Lionel, manager of Testarrouman quay. 

Compared to yesterday, the river widens slightly and our avoidance manoeuvres of the dozens, what am I saying, hundreds of branches or trees emerging from the water are only getting easier.

It must be said that we are now becoming fully in control of our boats. And given the current of about 4 km/h, we manage without too much difficulty to skirt around the obstacles and avoid getting stuck on a treacherous branch... being pinned, as feared by avid paddlers, is not in our plans... and just as well! We will get our adrenaline hit elsewhere!

Along the way, Dorothée and Benjamin from M6 are either waiting for us or we are waiting for them. The shots come one after the other against this never-ending scenic backdrop. We are the adventurers, they are our storytellers... but what skills they have, these raconteurs... to get these beautiful shots that are true to life, weaving in all the purity of the location and the charm of eight of us all being together for this journey! And all of that with three inflatable kayaks loaded to the brim. It is going to be a long wait to see that on M6 next year.

For the moment, we focus on landing in the outskirts of the village of Moustey. For the night, we have no choice but to pitch the tent on the private Vallée du Leyre campsite.

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Saturday 4 August: Moustey - Belin Beliet (20 km / 5 hr)

We set off at 9am. It takes us just half an hour to load our things back into the kayaks, put the buoyancy aids on and get on the water.

9:30, we can feel the difference in temperature. On the Leyre, there is a difference of about 5°C from the announced temperatures. The water temperature should be around 16°C at the moment. We have been told that we are lucky because it is usually cooler.

We get to the confluence of the Grande Leyre and the Petite Leyre just after we set off. The river changes name, we now find ourselves on the Eyre, which is wider and straighter. Navigation becomes easier but we still do not dare to put on the skegs. We are still scraping against tree trunks.

After three hours of paddling, we stop on a tiny beach that may well never have been set foot on before. Swim, sarnie, fruit... we laugh and play and then it is time to leave by arm power alone. Blisters appear on the hands of some of the paddlers.

One hour later, we get to Belin Beliet. Life is good!

Nicolas from Lou Canoë helps us lift out the boats. He even offers to take all of our gear up to the campsite.

I find that the outdoor instructors, leaders and providers along the Leyre are generally very nice. We have the feeling that before their work, there is this passion for this river. They do not give off the impression that it belongs to them but on the contrary that the river accepts to have them there.

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Sunday 5 August 2018: Belin - Beliet-Salles (13 km / 4 hr)

We leave Belin-Beliet, ready for four hours of paddling to get to Salles. On the way, we pick up more rubbish than usual, perhaps because of this region being a little more populated.

Half way we take a break at Vieux Lugo church, which dates from the 11th century.

We set off again to have our lunch in a place a little quieter than here. We are on the section with the most canoe hire companies.

A fairly uneventful day with a little less going on than at the beginning of our trek.

When we get to Salles, there is a beach where we were able to swim until 9pm, a field with a black horse and a goat that we could not get enough of.

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Monday 6 August 2018: Salles - Port de Biganos (20 km / 5 hr)

We get up early this morning because we still have 20 km to go. But despite us getting up at 6:30, we don't leave until 8am. It must be said that the inertia of the group can really be felt with the fatigue. You have to make the most of being on the water in the morning to try to see the animals in the cool morning air.

The first 10 kilometres to Mios are like the 70 km we have just done, beautiful and wild.

After a 10:30 snack on Mios beach, we notice that the banks of the river are more populated and that rubbish is accumulating at the edges of the last few kilometres of the Eyre.

5 km after Mios, there is the so-called "sandpit", a part of the river where the water is not very deep, between 5 and 10 cm, where we ate sat in the kayaks, which we kept in place with a system of paddles stuck in the sand .

Our trip could have ended at Teich, given that the river splits into two. But as we wanted to go around the island of Malprat, we preferred to follow the advice and get to Biganos. Unfortunately, we had to cancel our trip around the island because the wind was blowing too hard and as we have small arms in the team, we do not want to overexert our youngest crew members.

After deflating our boats, we celebrate our arrival with a nice canned cassoulet, happy with our 90 km on the Leyre!

CONCLUSION

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Our convoy set off at night, course set for La Rochelle. We have just spent an extremely varied 12 days on holiday in the scorching south-west of France.
Since the meet with Jerome at Itiwit Hendaye, it has all played out like a well-scripted film.

I realise how lucky we are. The eight of us together, in perfect harmony as a family, gives us these fantastic opportunities to imagine exciting adventures for all of us and then experience them in real life!

Only two months ago, Isaïe suggested that we go on a kayak trip. We gave him all the freedom he needed to make it happen, from looking for the right river in the books at La Rochelle library, to suggesting that his sister contact Decathlon to be able to test out some kayaks while benefiting from the loan of the equipment, it all helped make this child's dream a reality. In no time, and very little outlay (€300 including food and camping).

All that remains is to do a thorough debrief, like Jérôme asked us, on the equipment that held its own throughout the adventure. This will help Itiwit to improve their inflatable kayaks, paddles, buoyancy aids and dry bags. I must say, these inflatable kayaks are super convenient for travelling!

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