We kicked off our first trip of the season with a group over the New Year. I’ve written before about the Ecuadorian tradition of creating an effigy that represents the old year. These “año viejos” are often intended to poke fun at politicians, family members, friends or enemies. The idea is that you burn it on New Year’s eve and these negative traits will go up in flames. If only it were that simple. After explaining this to our group, everyone was into participating. We stuffed some paddling gear with newspaper, put on a life vest and had a helmet ready to go, all we needed was a head. Paper mache heads and masks can often be purchased from roadside vendors as you drive out of Quito. Seeing the variety of masks available often gives you insight into world events as viewed through the eyes of Ecuadorians. It took awhile to find a suitable candidate, but one of the group ran across a rather warped attempt at the head of Bart Simpson. Always looking for a humorous twist, we attached the head and helmet and mounted the torso figure on the front of our stack of boats. Our van could be seen traveling the roads with Bart proudly on display. It wasn’t until later that we found that Bart was actually being used to make a political statement. Seems the current government had censored the show here in Ecuador- oops!
Enough of politics, we were here to boat. Gayne, Chuck, Toby, Jean Marie and Debbie made up our group. We had paddled with all but Debbie before on other trips from the Grand Canyon and Middle Fork to here, in Ecuador. Ecuadorian kayaker and Tena local, Jaime Dalgo, rounded out our guide staff.
Sunny weather and friendly flows made for a great week of fun and challenges. On Day 2 we headed to the lowest and most remote of the run on the lower Quijos. At the always interesting “Gringos Revueltos” (Scrambled Gringos) Jaime demonstrated a line that left most folks thinking that the alternate line might be a better choice. Adrenaline junkie, Toby, thought differently and tried to followed Jaime’s line. The video that Gayne shot of Toby’s run clocked him at 42 seconds worth of astronaut training in the hole at the bottom of the rapid- further convincing everyone else they had made the right choice to run the creek sneak.
For our third day we paddled another stretch of the Quijos then drove over to the Tena side of the Guacamayo mountains.
A nice little pulse in the flow allowed us to paddle the Upper Misahualli. This technical river has been very low this year and this was the first time we saw it boatable. We often use some of the more straight-forward sections as an introduction to creeking. Folks love it’s continuous nature and forgiving boofs.
Our second day in the Tena area we decided to take the group into the lower Jondachi/Hollin, home of the infamous “mud walk” put-in trail. I had never seen conditions dryer. Our porters still put us to shame by completing the hike downhill in a fraction of the time we did.
This run is awesome in terms of overall adventure; the walk in, boating down the lower Jondachi in it’s small, intimate canyon with waterfalls cascading all around, the confluence with the Lower Hollin and the change in character of the run. The lush vegetation always leaves me glad that I am sitting on my butt in a kayak floating through it, rather than trying to bushwhack.
Back to the Quijos Valley to finish up our last days of paddling and to take in the New Year’s celebration in Borja. Tuckered from our days of paddling, we weren’t able to stay awake until midnight to get the full effect. We did manage to wander down to the plaza. On the way, we were intercepted by Tanya, who invited us into her home and, in her heavily accented English, laughingly assured us it was safe and she would not “keeel” us. Inside, we met all of her New Year’s guests, saw the hind-quarter of a pig, complete with intact hoof, protruding from a serving dish on the dining table, toasted the group and said our good-byes. At the plaza we watched Toby attempt to win a bottle of whiskey while playing bingo and we danced with some of the youngsters dressed as widows or “viudas”. This is another Ecuadorian tradition; the Viejo (Old Year) is dying, leaving the widow to raise the baby New Year all alone. This is accompanied by wailing and pleas for support, in the form of money, which when given to the adult male viudas, often goes toward the purchase of homemade moonshine (aguardiente).
We got in one last great day of paddling before driving back to Quito. On the way we were treated to a spectacular display by the normally bashful volcano Antisana, the fourth largest peak in the country. This week was a great end to 2009 and begining to 2010!
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