a collaboration from Carrie Singer & Mary Mills
Pictures tell so much about the trips to Ecuador, but sometimes it is nice to hear first-hand what a trip is all about. Here is a collaboration between two of our veteran Ecuador paddlers (who will be returning again this year for more fun!!). Carrie and Mary – paddling Ecuador with Endless River Adventures, what a trip is all about.
As I stumbled off the plane at 2am in Quito, I frantically searched for the Endless River Adventure’s driver and there he was, well named, Angel. He gathered us 3 weary travelers up and took us to our hotel, ready to start our adventures.
Day 1 began with breakfast and a tour of Quito. It’s an opportunity to stand with a foot on either side of the equator, and enjoy a guided tour of the beautiful Old Town of Quito – where Spain built on top of the original Inca capital, tour stunning churches and the presidential palace, as well as getting to know the other trip participants. It is also a chance to acclimate to the elevation of nearly 10,000 feet.
We then hopped on the bus with Angel, a 20 year ERA driver and land guide extraordinaire. We headed out of town, over a 14,000 foot pass into what is called the “oriente” of Ecuador and home to the Rio Quijos Eco-Lodge – our home away from home for the next 3 days. Located on the banks of the Quijos River, it is a dramatic change from the big city of Quito. For those who don’t get enough exercise paddling, there is a yoga stand on the Quijos as well as miles of hiking/running trails through the jungle around the lodge.
We wake up on Day 2 to the sound of the river, and a silence broken by the calls of the Ecuadorian birds. There are over 80 species of humming birds alone in Ecuador and many greet us on the porch as we head inside for a home cooked breakfast of freshly prepared eggs to order, breads, coffee, yogurt and various wonderful fruits. Afterwards, we outfit our boats with help from ERA and head out to the Quijos. Interesting, there are no river gauges in Ecuador, so each day Juliet goes out to look upstream at 2 rocks in the Quijos and determines what river and section we will paddle that day. The first paddling day Juliet “tech’s” us so she knows everyone’s abilities and limitations. Ecuador offers an immense variety of whitewater. Just the Quijos River itself offers 35 miles of whitewater, divided up into several sections from steep Class IV+ to big water Class III-IV.
Rapids in Ecuador tend to be long, but we break them up with eddy hopping and scouting if needed/possible. Some moves are big water moves and some are more technical. We always had at least 2 skilled guides in addition to Juliet who often goes ahead to take amazing pictures. Some rapids I am told to walk and a guide carries my boat, some I have the option of running, and some I run with no problem. Angel follows us on a road above the river in case anyone tires, or like me, the least-skilled of the 7 guests, puts in at the class III- III+ section to meet up with my fellow paddlers who I can watch running the class IV’s. ERA always tailors the trip in terms of put-ins and take-outs to meet an individual’s paddling abilities.
Mid week we change water sheds and head to the Tena area. It’s an interesting change in rivers and eco systems. While Quito’s elevation is about 9500 feet above sea level, the Rio Quijos Eco-lodge sits at about 5000 feet, and Tena is about 1900. All the rivers we paddle in the Oriente are headwaters to the Amazon out of Ecuador, and this is really clear in the Tena region. At this lower elevation we go from cloud forest to rain forest, highlighted by the several varieties of monkeys who have free range of the lodge and pose for picture-taking.
The food of Ecuador is not fancy, but very healthy. Lunch is typically served on the river, flipped over kayak for your table, with a full spread that includes “ a mystery fruit of the day,” veggies, lunchmeats, bread, cookies, peanut butter, and chips. Dinners are typically fresh fish or chicken, the ubiquitious potato, plantain and rice, and local additions to make it all interesting and filling.
Depending on the river and water levels, some days are shorter (5-10 miles) and some longer (as long as 20+ miles). Anyone who wants instruction gets it, so I worked on speeding up my too slow roll. Many of my fellow paddlers worked on and got their other-side roll or tweaked other skills. Often we finished dinner and sat around to a night of photos, sharing stories and relaxing before turning in. One night the locals including Angel jammed for us, dancing, singing and whooping it up Ecuadorian style.
The trip was truly all –inclusive. All food, lodging and transportation were included. Often we stopped at local grocery stores for additional beverages and snacks, like ice cream which could not be carried on the river. Luckily Ecuador uses the dollar as their currency so no issues there. My few swims were uneventful with the guides being there quickly to assist almost before I knew it. After paddling in Tena there were always excursions to visit the locals and get a feel for the culture as well. We were very lucky with the water levels, we could paddle every day, as the following week Tena was flooded and those guests missed a day of paddling but had some wonderful adventures, as there is always a backup plan.
I loved paddling Ecuador, the people are so friendly, I could walk whatever I needed to and I felt safe trying to step it up with the support from ERA, so much so that I am headed back down again this December. Hope to cinch my other-side roll and run some of the rapids I walked in 2016.