White Water Tourists in Ecuador!
'So where the hell IS Ecuador?'
Ecuador was a great place to finish the big trip. Amazing quality rivers in a big hot rainforest. The logistics were easy (see below) and the amount of paddling to be done huge. We were there for the length of March, which is the beginning of the wet(ter) season. We teamed up with Rob Wells and Chris Wheeler for some great paddling.
There is an excellent accurate guidebook available from www.smallworldadventures.com which is simply all you need. Details of a few more obscure trips can be obtained from local paddlers.
Don't even think about going if you have a problem with humidity and mud...
Rivers We Paddled
* - 'Trip Highlight'. Do it!
Ecuador has every kind of trip, from small ditches to huge water. The steep creeks are what it's all about, though. They are mainly quite hard (there is very little under Grade 4) and committing...when you are in the rainforest the only way out is downstream. Fantastic boating, look how many 'trip highlights' there are here.
Upper Misahualli - Grade 4 (4+). Close to Tena, a good warm-up trip as it's not too committing. However, the first of the three times we ran this section, a huge FLASH FLOOD washed through the river and turned it into a big water grade 5 epic! A sobering experience which showed us how volatile these rivers can be.
Urcusiqui - Grade 4+ (P). A tiny creek which makes an easier putin and warmup for the fantastic...
*Upper Jondachi - Grade 4+/ 5. A mindblowing steep creek which just never stops, imagine the River Lyn gorge nonstop for six miles! We did this classic trip twice.
Kiwi Rob on the Jondachi.
*Lower Misahualli - Grade 4 (4+, P). Close to Tena, a stunning big water trip which takes you through jungle gorges and huge rapids. Finishes at Puerto Misahualli, a monkey infested jungle town where the Amazon basin opens out. Unmissable.
Misahualli - big water playing deep in the jungle.
Hollin - Grade 3/ 4 (4+). A long (28 miles) jungle trip with enjoyable continuous rapids. You certainly have to put your head down to do it in a single day.
Jatunyacu - Grade 3 (3+). A big volume play trip, one of the few easier trips in the area. 'Hatless Hole' is worth the trip in itself. The kids at the getout are all expert kayakers and will show you up in your gear.
Anzu - Grade 4+. Full-on steep powerful boating! It was a long expensive trip from Tena...but we were repaid as it was quite high and really kicking. Starts flatish and then drops away...
Ledge fall on the Anzu.
*Quijos - Grade 5 easing to 3 over 40 miles. No end of fantastic paddling and playing. Best of all are the upper sections near Baeza, known as 'Cheesehouse' and 'Bridge to Bridge'. They give unbelievable steep pourover-dodging runs with real power to them when the water is up. We did multiple runs on all sections of the amazing Quijos. Below the final getout is the unmissable San Rafael Falls, dropping 500 foot into the twilight zone.
The fantastic 'Cheesehouse' section.
Playing in El Chaco Canyon on the Quijos.
Oyacachi - Grade 4+. Another steep creek (is a pattern emerging?) with interesting falls which redesigned one or two boats! We did this twice.
Chris on the Oyacachi.
There are rocks in the base of this fall...and they hurt.
*Papallacta - Grade 4+/ 5 - 'The boulder-filled ditch from hell' (Chris W). Steeeep as it gets, with gnarly drops everywhere. Although Mark broke a rib on this masochism-fest, it probably deserves the 'highlight' rating for letting us off alive.
Rob lost in a gnarly maze.
The ten billionth drop on the Papallacta.
Cosanga - Grade 4. Another classic steep run, this is a beautiful section of water with crystal clear water and continual small falls...please take us back there!
Confluence of the Quijos (brown) and Cosanga (blue).
*Lower Jondachi - Grade 4+ easing to 3. Perhaps the most scenic of Ecuador's jungle rivers (quite an accolade), it makes a long day of creek boating (18 miles), taking you down to the Hollin for the final third. Hummingbirds and butterflies everywhere.
*Zunac - Grade 4+/ 5. This supersteep ditch is near Banos, right next to the Rio Topo. We actually went to do the Topo, but that was too high. A gruelling two hour slog through mud brought us to this complete gem...nonstop downhill with the final section dropping off the edge of the world; but all runnable!
Mark on the Zunac.
*Toachi - Grade 4 (4+). On the western slope of the Andes, this river was in spate. Some big rapids and great playspots to enjoy. Also, the hottest weather we experienced in Ecuador! This was well worth doing twice.
Sneak line on the Toachi.
Surfing on the Toachi.
Blanco - Grade 3+. Another big water run, with multiple channels to keep us lost. Some huge rapids, but easier than the Toachi which you begin this section upon.
Crystal - Grade 4+. A rocky little ditch which was almost impossible to find! Although more water would have been nice, it was remarkably similar to the Plym in Devon. Apparently ours was the perhaps second or third descent of the upper section (not in the guidebook). Probably because it's so hard to find! It leads into the...
Otongo - Grades 3 and 4. A steepish run through plantations with some nice rapids here and there.
Planning the 500 foot boof on San Rafael Falls.
Remarkably easy. Buses are well organised and fairly reliable. To get from the hotel to the river, the local pickup truck taxis will drop you at the getin and collect you at the end...they know the rivers and have fair set prices! Ridiculously easy. On the Western slope loking for the more obscure runs, transport is more of a lottery; you take whatever is going up whichever road and hope it's the one you want.
Accommodation and Food
First rate. Hotels are remarkably civilised with air con and (really crap) TV, for only a few dollars a night. In Quitos (the capital) stay at Crossroads Hotel where Jeff the owner is a kayaker. In Tena, there is a good hotel 'Araiz' frequented by kayakers BUT don't leave money in your rooms...we had large amounts stolen, certainly by hotel staff. In Baeza, there are only two to choose from, both fine.
Food is great, steak and eggs (Churrasco) are the national diet for a dollar or two a go. Great food in Quito but more expensive. In Baeza, eat three meals a day at 'Ginas'...it can't be bettered.
Chris Wheeler and Rob 'Sick Boy' Wells.
Not bad. We survived on 20 quid a day and lived very well, with nice hotels and taxi rides each day. In Quito, you'll certainly spend more.
A trip to Ecuador absolutely must be done, provided you are up to the generally challenging boating there. Forget any notions about expedition style suffering, Ecuador is perhaps easier than the Alps logistically with the taxi setup.
We loved it, a superb end to our trip.
Simon encounters a near relative in the Amazon Basin.