By Jessie Gunter CW ‘14
Recently I had the opportunity to travel to Ecuador for a week of paddling with the company Small World Adventures. Luckily, while I was at the National Paddling Film Festival in Frankfort, Kentucky, last February, I became very competitive with another bidder at a silent auction and impulsively bought the trip on a grad student budget (because financial planning is for…adults? Adultier adults?). My next task was to convince my partner, Trip, that he too should throw caution to the wind and set sail for Ecuador, which wasn’t too difficult. As the trip grew nearer, my friend Hilde in Virginia also decided to join, and we were the three best friends that anybody could have.
Once we arrived in Quito, we were greeted by a van full of friendly guides and two other East Coast paddlers. We headed gleefully into the jungle on a narrow and very windy road over the beautiful Papallacta Pass to Small World’s lodge in Borja, stopping only to check out rivers several thousand feet below us in the valley (“That totally looks manageable. Are we paddling that?” Guide: “That’s some super stout class V…”) and to vomit (just kidding, but I came close). At the lodge, we selected and outfitted our boats, geared up, and headed out for a half day of paddling on a class III section of the Rio Quijos. I made sure to start the trip off strong by paddling straight into a hole I was supposed to avoid and swimming the first rapid, approximately fifteen seconds after putting in. We had a fun, albeit blood-pressure-spiking, afternoon getting our river-legs back and remembering how to kayak.
On the second day we headed to the Cosanga to truly dive into the instruction component of the trip, which was aptly named “Intro to Creeking.” We practiced rock splats and boofs, sometimes stopping to lap certain sections.
On the third day we traveled to Tena to enjoy some warm rivers. We had a big mileage day on one of the main tributaries of the Amazon River, the Jatanyacu, which means “big water.” This class III gem was incredibly fun, and my cheeks hurt by the end of the day from grinning as I rode huge wave trains and surfed everything I could catch.
If I had to pick, I’d say day four was my favorite. We had another long and epic day, this time on the Lower Jondachi and then the Hollin after the two rivers converged. The remote location, clear water, and steep canyon walls decorated with abundant waterfalls and plant life made for quite a scenic run. The Jondachi is more of a low volume creek with some exciting rapids that often bring you right up against the walls (and sometimes maybe slamming into them and flipping), but it takes on more of a big water feel after the confluence with the Hollin.
For days five and six, we headed to the Upper Misahualli (class III+/IV) near Tena for some technical creeking. The Upper Mis was a great place for creeking instruction, and by day six I felt (relatively) smoother and more confident while constantly making quick moves to navigate around boulders of unusual size (B.O.U.S.).
Our trip happened to coincide with New Year’s Eve, which was a blast in Tena. We joined most of the town for a huge street party, where ample beer was chugged, effigies were burned, fireworks were thrown at gringos, and we danced to live music until we dropped.
The last day of the trip was a half-day paddle on a different section of the Quijos. Trip, Hilde, and I bid farewell to our fellow trip “custies” (as raft guides say when referring to customers), Billy and Nancy, and to our amazing guides, Jason, Libby, and Gynner, and wondered how soon was too soon to Facebook friend them. We went on to backpack around Ecuador for another week doing slightly less shoulder-intensive activities such as riding bikes, hiking, and eating ice cream.
Jessie Gunter stays in shape in the off-season by playing in a competitive adult dodgeball league in Boulder.
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