By Theresa Landman
Kayakers: Derrick Law, Shaun Boughen, Bob Daffe, Kevin Daffe, Scotty Burrell, Peter Finoff, Jochan Kirkoff and Theresa Landman (with a brief appearance by Adam Villard)
Landing in Quito was a high, not only because of the upcoming kayaking but the high altitude was making me feel trippy! I felt protected sending an e-mail to my folks as an armed guard stood a few feet away from me, pointing his shotgun towards the door. Derrick happened to get a drug bust on film and got pickpocketed on the bus, while I decided to donate my camera to the bus gods for I never did see it again.
We arrived in Tena, which would be our base for most of the trip. Taxi drivers were use to kayakers and had their trucks outfitted with roof racks and benches for seating in the back. Luis our personal taxi driver liked the way Peter tied the boats on his truck and would only want his help for the duration of the trip.
The usual question of the day was "Whats it going to be Bob, Class III, IV, V or another surprise flood river?" Even though hes never paddled Ecuador before, everyone assumed he should know. Might as well throw the dice, it could be a Class VI for all we knew.
The guys were pumped to go kayaking and the rivers were all in flood, - so much for the warm-up. We plunged into the Rio Napo, which was big water and great surfing. The next day we ran the upper Misahualli river in flood and it was Class V boating time. There was lots of unintentional hole riding, backenders and cartwheels. Bob said this would not be a good river for swimming, it was very fast, few eddies and a long trek through the jungle to get your boat back.
Next was the Lower Misahualli, which was relatively, more relaxing. It was very thick jungle with Tarzan vines, shiny blue butterflies, parakeets, vultures and waterfalls. The surfing was great but the 1.5-hour portage wasnt. Sheer high cliff walls on each side of the river made the portage seem impossible at first. We saw a heavy metal ring in the cliff wall, which is what we used to lower the kayaks down with, while Bob stood in a tight squirrelly eddy helping people get in to their boats. The Upper Upper Misahualli was IV-V rock dodging action. Kevin and Scotty were totally comfortable in their boats doing rock splats above major drops and taking the lead down challenging rapids.
Jochan had got an ear infection the locals call mushroom ear. About half of our group had ear infections or other fungal infections such as ringworm. Fish aren't the only things living in these rivers!
The Upper Jondachi was definitely our wildest ride. It started off high water Class V and went into flood where it was solid Class V+. We had seen the river rise a metre at lunchtime and Bob was looking worried. Getting out was not an option because the jungle was so thick, so we scouted the rapid and went for it. I couldnt catch the eddies I wanted too, but I knew I caught a couple of holes. Everyone paddled great. When we spotted a bamboo bridge over the river Bob suggested stashing our boats and walking out. It was an hour on the jungle trail and we reached the road. The next day the river had dropped to a good level , it was out-of-this-world beautiful.
That night we had dinner at Los Choquitos and had drinks at the Riverside bar. The bar was like a 2-storied palapa with a peaked thatched roof. We were drinking muchos cuba libres and a spitball fight broke out with the lime seeds and napkin bits. The waitresses were laughing and probably enjoyed seeing the loco gringos dropping all those American dollars.
We took a day off after 6 days of paddling and spent a day going to a waterslide, caving, and visiting the "La Isla del Amazonica", where there are various indigenous animals, flora and fauna of the jungle. Most spectacular was the ocelot, kind of a small version of a cheetah. The crocodiles were absent from their ponds maybe they were in the river waiting for us.
We ran the Lower Jondachi River. I had a bit of a rough start, got stuck on some rocks and kind of pinned my hip. I let go of my paddle and boat and Bob and Shaun rescued the gear. Thanks guys! The rest of day was great, we ended up on the Hollin river where you can do an overnight jungle kayaking trip. A few days earlier a group from Edmonton had done the Hollin when it was in flood and a couple of people lost their boats and had a few unpleasant nights in the jungle with no food as they were walking out.
We drove up to do the Upper Anzu River but there was a roadblock by the Quijos Indians. They wanted money but Luis, our taxi driver thought it would be dangerous and we should turn back. Scotty didnt understand why --there were eight of us and five of them, "ocho y cinco no problema" he said to Luis. But then more Indians came out of the bush with machetes so we took off to do the Upper Misahualli instead. Derrick had taken a day off so he hired a flute player to play at dinnertime back at the lodge. The music was awful and they wanted 3 times the amount of moola they quoted Derrick for.
At our lodge Scotty and Kevin were always hunting down cockroaches, cutter ants, geckos and slicing the bark off mango trees with their machetes. They would even take their machetes in their kayaks for the opportunity to slash some jungle on the river. Scotty had spotted a water snake on shore above a significant rapid and decided to eddy out and chase it!
We left Tena and headed to Baeza, which is out of the jungle and 10,000 feet in altitude. Luis told us of a taxi driver who had his cab stolen and was killed by a Colombian man in this area. His wife still had to make payments on the car. We ran the Cosanga river (IV) and had a fun run but my shoulder is still paying for that hole thrashing.
We met up with Adam a friend of Jeff Lewis who was paddling for 3 months in Costa Rica and Ecuador. He ran a 50 ft waterfall and broke his nose on the paddle. Later we went up to the Papallacta hot springs , which had a series of hot pools and a decadent restaurant and lodge. Everyone was freezing, Scotty was wrapping his jacket around his ears and Kevin begged to go back to the jungle in Tena.
The next day they ran the Rio Quijos (IV-V) which was another river high on our list. We headed back to Tena except for Derrick who was leaving to the Galapagos Islands with Shannon. In Tena we saw an incredible parade that began the week long festival. Kids and adults were Spanish folk dancing and the amazonian floats depicted their close connection to the jungle.
On Saturday we went to see the bullfights. There were many bullfights, but for the finale they picked a smart, fiesty bull , so smart it figured a way to escape through the same gate the matador uses. It was hilarious seeing the crowd dashing in all directions as the bull tore through the parade grounds. They had to lasso the bull and drag him back in the ring. He escaped 3 more times, so they gave up on him and picked another bull, this bull wasnt as smart he died.
We went back to Quito and shopped and bartered for all kinds of weavings, silver jewelry, and wood carvings. Our day to leave was a bit of a panic because Bob got the departure times mixed up. We thought we were really late so we flagged down a whole bunch of taxis and finally got one that would take our 3 loaded kayaks on the roof. We piled on in and put our arms out the window to hold on to the kayaks as we high-tailed it to the airport. It was a bit of a rush, and then our plane was 5 hours late! Well have to have a talk with that Murphy!
Hasta La Vista!!!