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NOTES ON PADDLING IN ECUADOR

Chris Wheeler reports from deep in the jungle in Ecuador (first published in 'Canoeist' magazine)...

First things first, there's really no point in me filling a page with information on Ecuador when there's a perfectly good guide book on whitewater kayaking in Ecuador, written by an American kayak guiding company based in the country. If you want to obtain a copy I suggest you visit their web site (www.smallworldadventures.com) or email Larry Vermeeran (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) The guide costs US$15. Alternatively, you should be able to buy a copy at the Crossroads Hotel, which is run by a boater and is therefore the place to stay. The Crossroads Hotel isn't located in Birmingham, but in the capital of Ecuador, Quito, about three miles from the airport, at Foch 678 y Juan Leon Mera. Their e mail address is: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I'll therefore restrict myself to a few key facts or rather......

Reasons why Ecuador is whitewater heaven.......

1. There are lots of rivers

There are numerous rivers to choose from, so many that you could paddle every day for 2-3 weeks without running the same section twice. Also, the rivers are close together. Heading east from Quito you run into numerous rivers, all dropping down from the Andes into the jungle and on to the Amazon. There is a solid week's paddling to be had at Baeza, which is only a 3 hour bus ride from the capital, Quito. Another 2.5 hours on the bus and you arrive in Tena, where there is another solid week's paddling to be had. Another 3-4 hours and you arrive in Banos, home of the Topo river and others. Then, it's 3 hours back to Quito on the 'Pan American', having gone full circle. Then there are further options: a multi day paddle on the Upano, further south; paddling on the western slopes of the Andes, west of Quito; and surfing out west on the Pacific coast.

2. Quality whitewater

Lots of continuous medium volume grade 4/4+ most of which can be run on sight - just! You don't have to be 'whitewater warrior' standard but you'll enjoy it more with a strong group. I say this because many of the rivers are fairly committing - rivers that can rise and fall quickly if it rains hard, running through inpenetrable jungle. A good, solid Alps group would be fine in the dry season.

3. It's exotic!

Ecuador is a small, Spanish speaking, developing country, located in the north western corner of South America. It's not as developed as Chile but more developed than for example, India. Ecuador sits astride the Equator with the Andes running north-south through the middle of the country. As a result the landscape and climate is very varied.

4. It's somewhere to go in the winter

The season runs from October to March. Go in January or February if you want lower water levels - this is the dry season. Go earlier or later if you think you can handle slightly more water but bear in mind that there is a greater risk of running into 3-4 days of rain when all the rivers may be very high. We went in early March but it didn't rain much and most days the rivers were medium. Ecuador would make a very good Christmas/ New year destination.

5. It's easy!

No visas; a kayaker's hostel in Quito; buses that take kayaks; short distances; a guidebook; and taxi drivers with pick up trucks who take you to the put in and pick you up at get out. Satellite T.V., air con and en suite showers at the hotel in Tena and a choice of three internet cafes in town - you can be an intrepid explorer during the day time and a weak and feeble westerner at night. All these things make Ecuador, in many ways, easier than the Alps.....No 18 hour slog down through Europe in the car, no camping on soggy camp sites, no cooking with damp matches.....and you don't do three hours of driving every day, driving to and from rivers and shuttling.

6. It's cheap

Well, after booking the flight, although in practice, the flight weren't as expensive as I thought they'd be. I paid 460 inc. tax for a British Airways/ American flight via Miiami, without my boat. Rob was lucky and managed to get his boat on an American Airlines flight, but paid 100 more. The downside is that getting a boat to Ecuador can be difficult but as Rob showed, it can be done, so persevere. Call your boat a 'surf kayak'! For flights, call the specialist agency, Journey Latin America (tel 020 8747 3108 and e mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). They offer good deals through BA/AA or Iberian but you may then need to speak to the airline direct about your boat. Other costs were as follows: Boat hire: US$ 190 for 2 weeks Hotels: $ 3-5 each per night (en suite standard) Meals: $ 1-2 (in the better places) Taxis: $ 2.5-7.5 each (per day, assuming 4 to a taxi) Airport tax: $ 25 Insurance: 60 (through Snowcard) Guidebook: $ 15 (Snowcard: tel: 01327 262805, e mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) Total cost, living comfortably for two weeks: anything between 900 and 1,000. Unless you're a top blagger like Slime! How does he do it?!

7. You can hire boats

Boats can be hired from two rafting companies and the people who write the guidebook. E mail them and they'll send you a list of boats on offer- you can easily sort it in advance by e mail. The choice of boats isn't too bad - I opted for a Perception 3D which was fine although I must admit I missed my beloved InaZone with it's flatter, sharper hull. The plus side of hiring is that you should be able to sort out a cheaper flight and you don't have the hassle of carting a big plastic object around. So, if they have a boat on their list that you like, hiring can be a winner. Try e mailing the following: Small World Adventures, Rios Ecuador: www.riosecuador.com and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Yacuama: www.yacuamu.com and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Chris 'Magic Knees' Wheeler (the lefthand ugly bloke) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.