The end of the season for us is usually a mixed bag of work in the form of closing out the season, preparing for the next season, visiting friends and putting our feet up for a bit. This year our down time started with us heading back over the hill from Quito to Tena to hook up with Nelson Jr. and his friend Fabricio. We’ve known Nelson for some time as he and his family own and operate the hotel we use there. For a number of years now Nelson has expressed an interest in kayaking but our schedules never matched up until now. We got in a couple of days on the Rio Tena before we all had to get down to the business of Carnival.
Mention Carnival to most people and they think of Rio de Janiero with it’s ornate floats, amazing costumes, scantily clad women, boisterous parties and big crowds. Carnival isn’t just for Rio, you can find it in some form or another in many places in the world. In the US, Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) falls just before the Christian day of “Ash Wednesday”. This day marks the beginning of a forty day period of mourning and repentance known as “Lent”. If you’re going to have to be on your best behavior for forty days you might as well have a big blow out to hold you over. In Ecuador it’s about the crowds, parades, parties and water. Our first introduction to the watery world of this festivity came many years ago as we wandered through a market place in a moderately sized town in the highland region. We always love to check out markets since it gives you a little insight into what cultures grow, eat, buy and sell. This particular market was under a roofed-in structure with as much commerce going on outside as in. It was upon exiting the covered area that we encountered a surprise gantlet of water balloons, pistols and buckets. In our naivete we had assumed that, as foreigners, we would be spared such a bathing. On the contrary, one can rack up big points for taking down a gringo.
Another time we were in the town of Tena with a group and as we drove into town we could see things were heating up with water, flower, used motor oil and paint (I’m happy to report that in recent years the motor oil and paint haven’t appeared). With our paddling done for the day, we b-lined it to our lodging where we hid. The only problem was dinner. Calling out for pizza was an easy solution, the downside was one of us had to fetch it. There wasn’t even a volunteer process or a game of rock, paper, scissors that I recall that put me on the streets to the pizzeria. I did my best “Saving Private Ryan” movie moment as I ran from building corner to building corner and hid under bridges to avoid being detected. While I did see plenty of wet spots on the streets and sidewalks from earlier attacks, I was lucky to avoid any incoming fire.
Normally in Ecuador a flood of people head for the beaches to let off steam and celebrate. This year they faced a flood of their own in the form of winter coastal rains that hit early and hard. Every major highway to the coast had been cut by flooding. Bridges were swept away, roads undermined and traffic was crippled. We sensed that the masses would stay in Quito or look for other places to celebrate. Even Tena could be overwhelmed by the crowds. We were looking for a smaller, more peaceful experience so headed back to Borja and the Quijos valley.
When in Borja, and not working trips, you can finds us with our adoptive family, the Roman’s. We’ve talked about them before in some of our earlier postings. They are a super tight family and are all remarkably hard working. They have dairy cows, greenhouses chocked full of tomatoes that they grow, and Carmencita, their daughter started up a small, but busy business specializing in baked goods. Our first day’s lunches during our trips feature her home made empanadas. If you’re getting married any time soon in Borja she can do your cake. The big news this year is that Leonardo is running for Mayor of the canton Quijos. This si all the region from the town of Papallacta, up to Cosanga, Baeza, Borja and Sardinas. We’ll know the results on April 26th.
During our last few days in the Quijos valley we were treated to four straight days of great weather. We used some of the time to play with Kiki and Carmencita and some of their friends that had come over from Quito. They were keen to try some kayaking so we loaded up the family’s small truck and headed to a pool on the Rio Quijos that we know about for a late- afternoon intro to paddling. A really fun afternoon was followed up by a parillada (BBQ) that evening. The rest of the time we dried out kayaking gear and packed it away in preparation for next season. We’re all set for our 2009/ 2010 kayaking season.Hope to see you there!
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