Pope John Paul II inspired his fellow Poles to fight for their freedom, wherever they were. He also probably saved an intrepid band of Polish kayakers, who otherwise might not have survived some of the more distrustful authoritarian regimes of Latin America, had they not been able to drape themselves under his protective mantle. They came for adventure but wound up speaking out in ways they couldn’t have under martial law. Their incredible story is chronicled in Adam Nawrot’s Godspeed, Los Polacos!, which releases today on VOD.
Initially, the kayaking club that came to call itself the “Canoandes” (for canoe and Andes) didn’t know much about white water, but club’s expeditions always gave them an excuse to be out of town during mandatory marches and the like. They were aware and sympathetic to Solidarity, but they recognized the Soviet strategy of projecting strength through athletics gave them an opportunity to exploit. By pitching an expedition to kayak unnavigated Latin American rivers—for the state’s great glory, of course—they managed to obtain highly coveted travel permissions and even some supplies.
rankly, the sleight-of-hand logistics that went into their expedition are an epic tale in themselves (that reveal the Kafkaesque nature of the socialist system). Nevertheless, the kayakers were still wildly unprepared for the waters and elements that greeted them. Yet, after a winter hiatus spent in Casper, Wyoming, they actual got pretty good at handling the wild rapids throughout Central and South America. Then they took on the waters of Peru’s Colca Canyon River, which was then considered the world’s deepest canyon (and still is, depending how you measure). However, the greatest danger they faced came afterward, when they spoke out on behalf of Solidarity and against martial law, which had been declared during their journeys. This did not endear them to violent element that would become the Shining Path terrorists.
Los Polacos is an amazing story of adventure that is topped by a profile in courage. The hardy five who survived Colca risked even more by organizing demonstrations against the oppressive Communist regime, but they had a greater loyalty to their country and their own personal integrity. To a great extent, Los Polacos has been pitched as an outdoor sports doc, as it indeed is, to an extent. However, their experiences navigating and protesting the corrupt Soviet system are much more dramatic and inspiring—so much so that the film starts to play like a real-life thriller, briskly paced and tightly edited by Nawrot.
The Canoandes have a great story that is well-served by Nawrot’s film. Godpseed arrives like a breath of fresh air, because it makes it clear whenever the Canoandes had a chance to chose between freedom and security, they opted for freedom. It also happens to be one of the most entertaining documentaries of the year. Very highly recommended, Godspeed, Los Polacos releases digitally today (9/21).