Dec 17, 2008

Dec 17 Highlights since the Quijos

The thunder was so loud today it was setting off car alarms. Since the Quijos we've covered a lot of ground. Hiking in and out can wear on you! We finally have semi-reliable internet, and semi-reliable hot water. The weather here is pretty amazing especially by PNW standards. I could do with a few less sand flies, but even they seem to be waning off, at least the bites. I'm in a groove now down here. I think we all are. I speak better Spanish than I did when I got here, but my level of comprehension has room for improvement. The thunder is still awesome. It reminds me of the thunderstorms in Indiana during the summer. It was so loud there it would rattle the windows. A fresh group of boaters arrive about every week or so, and I'm remembering the runs more now, which is nice. Here are some highlights of things we’ve done, seen, bought, swam or thoroughly enjoyed since leaving the beautiful Quijos valley.

The first drop on the bamboo strtech of the Misualli. This was the first day I ran it.

The next day I was in the playboat and things didn't go so smoothly.

I blew the lead in and was too far right. Fighting to get back to the left side (which didn't work) I wound up dropping over this ledge on the right, dead sideways. Damn. The hole is backed up and boils back from 6 or 7 feet downstream. Double shoot. I started rodeoing and it didn't take long before I was upside down. The water was aerated too which didn't help for rolling. I wound up on my back deck at one point and just started paddling downstream out of the hole upside down. I think it was working, but I didn't wait long enough before I rolled and got sucked right back in.

Shee-yute! Hadn't had air in a while and gave rolling a couple more tries, then I pulled. Immediately I got sucked down and held in this little pocket that wasn't really moving anywhere, just kind of stopped between the pourover coming in and the upstream backwash meeting it. I managed to get to the surface for a second, got some air and a bit of water, then went back down again. By this time I'm wondering how this was going to play out. Team Yukon is on either side of the river and the river isn't very wide there. I'm wondering where the rope is, but I'm also wondering how this is gonna play out! I get a little push and try swimming into the green water coming in, I go down a ways and wind up surfacing about three feet from the pourover. I barely get a breath as I see Jeff (one half of Team Yukon) standing on shore in the 'ready' position. Right before I get sucked down again I yell at him, "C'MOOONN!" I want a rope! Then I'm under again. Soon enough I feel the rope and he pulls me out.

Sheeeeee-yute!! It takes a couple minutes for me to catch my breath and about 15 for us to get a line on the boat and pull it out. If you've ever run the Top Tye in WA it's a mini version of the hole in Paranoia, except the water doesn't seem to be flushing. The rest of the trip went pretty well, I led most of the way.

There are a few other groups of boaters in Tena and we all see each other about every day. I talked to one group later that night and said, "Dude, I swam today." He said, "I heard." I thought, who told you? I just got off the river 15 minutes ago. He then said,"I also heard you styled the rest of the run. You're the man! Except for that one drop." Snicker. On top of it, it was my birthday and that drop was the first of about a 15 mile stretch. The birthday tradition down here is to get whipped with a belt or switch for each year. I got my spanking from the river early. Humble pie for dessert.

Capt Fun keeps it real... fun

That's no playhole. Whatch out Capt Fun! That's El Toro at a stupid high level.

The ladies at the fiesta were great.
I don't know why they wore all black though.
Seems a bit too warm.

Jenny, Marco, and Chad love driving in the van to Tena!

Chris made a friend at the restaurant, Dona Cleo's.

The storms are beautiful, loud, and make the rivers go!

Sam likes it when kayaks go BOOF

One of the boofs on the El Reten section of the Misualli. Good stuff!

Can you find the small kayaker in Land of Giants? Lower Misualli at high water

This is the portage just above Land of Giants. LOG starts just out of frame.

Portage. Gynner and Chris look and talk about it.

The only beach on the Lower Mis.

I got a guitar

Some very cute kids at the putin for the Lower Mis.

Dec 11, 2008

Nov 23 The Lower Quijos

Nov 23 The Lower Quijos

So far I've run rivers almost every day. I've done five sections of the Quijos. Some of them were at enormous flows. The Borja to El Chaco section was the one we've done the most. It's a great big-water III+ run with a IV+ in the middle, El Toro. The Bombon section was great. Bigger water yet, and with Marco and Chris Ryman along it was sure to razzle Becky's nerves a bit. Those guys run some shit and love to step it up. Toward the end of the Bombon is a big Z turn rapid that didn't have a name. It did, however, have one of the biggest holes I've ever seen from the cockpit of my kayak. As Becky would say, "Holy Mother of God!" That's what I thought as I rounded the corner. I wish there were pictures for all of these holes. They are fucking enormous! Of course, pictures probably would not do these things justice.

Another neat thing about the Quijos is that the further downstream you go the more water there is. There are a ton of tributaries! From the top, which is a tight steep creek, tumbling 60 kilometers downstream to the 'Final' stretch of the Quijos, the river builds into a magnificent truly BIG water jungle run. We didn't make it to the 'Final' stretch, but Becky and I did the stretch above called the 'Lower'. This stretch, so Chris told Becky, was 'a chill relaxing day on the river with nothing to worry about.' The lower stretch was about 12 miles long and did have a chill stretch which happened to be the second half of the run. The book said it dropped about 32 feet per mile, which was low gradient for a III-IV run. Becky picked out the run because she wanted a 'chill' day and I didn't want to rattle her before we put on. I figured it would spill its guts in the first half or so of the run which would put the rapids closer together, And the way this river rolls down stream, it just gets bigger and louder as it goes. The Lower Quijos did just that.

There were about 20 rapids on this stretch, and they weren't necessarily bigger than the rapids on the other stretches, but there were HUGE holes in every rapid. At least one hole and maybe eight. Each rapid danced with 10-15 foot waves, house rocks that, at times, were 30 feet out of the water, and holes. Oh the holes. Holy Mother of God. We never got up close with any of them, but there was on rapid, "Gringos Revueltos", that the book said to be on the lookout for. Gringos Revueltos, in Spanish, means 'Scrambled White Boy' and we kind of found it by accident. I ran the lead-in and realized it was much bigger than the rest of the rapids, so I caught a small eddy before dropping over the first ledge. Becky was upstream and I was going to tell her to wait in the upstream eddy, but she was heading my way. I signaled for her to stop where I was, but for some reason her eddy-catching-prowess was turned down. She missed it and ran the first of two riverwide ledges backwards. Shit. I didn't want to have to run these blind if she swam. Don't swim, please. She got it turned around for the second ledge and almost caught the side-tractor-beam back into the gigantic hole in the center of the river. Then... she caught an eddy. Damn. I got out and looked at it for a minute and kind of, well, didn't want to run it. The holes up to this point had been larger than most, in every rapid, and my adrenaline glands were growing weary. However, Becky had just run this thing blind, and... backwards, and, (sigh) I don't consider myself a man of machismo or elevated levels of testosterone, BUT. I had to run it. So I did. And that was that.

Throughout the rest of the run we wondered if that had been the Scrambled Gringo. It was, but we had more rapids to run and more holes to dodge. We made it. Nobody swam. Nobody died. A good day was had, especially when we made it down into the lower part of the run. It was absolutely stunning. Jungle walls rising 3000 feet above the river. For miles. It was sunny and hot, no bugs, and because the river was so high we had plenty of time before our shuttle driver, Willow, showed up. It's so strange to me how we can seemingly get out of the river in the middle of nowhere and have a guy pick you up who you've only known for a week, who you've only seen a few times. Ecuador is an amazing place.

Nov 22 Chadwick and The Movies

Nov 22 Chadwick and The Movies

Becky and I decided to take a bus to El Chaco on a day off from boating. Our friend Chad from BC had been sick in bed for three days... in Borja! (heavy on the bore if you don't kayak) Even Chris R and Marco had been getting little pick-me-ups for him in hopes he would get better.

Chad is THE sweetest guy you'll ever meet. He's 27, has lived in the BC backwoods all his life, totally rips when he chooses a sport, but is absolutely the sweetest around. Everybody loves him. On our way back from the Quijos we stopped at a movie place and I went in and got a porno for Chad. Becky and I laughed about it on the way back wondering how everyone would react. Actually, we knew how everyone would react, the funniest part was how Chad would react.

We got back and it took a couple of hours for everyone to get back to the house. (Becky and I had been living with Marco, Chad, and Chris R at 'The Dirtbag House" while in Borja. If you get the chance I recommend experiencing it for the 'full immersion'.) After everyone had arrived I gathered everyone into the main room and announced I had a gift for Chad. It was perfect. The kid lit up. It was great. We played poker for a while and went to bed.

The next morning Becky had decided that she wanted to run the Lower Quijos. Chris J and Abe were in Quito teaching a Swiftwater Rescue class and Sam hadn't arrived yet, so it was just us. Becky, since arriving, had really been stepping up her kayaking game, out of necessity really, because the big water III+-IV runs we were doing were the easiest in the valley. I don't know if she knew that was the case, but she really wanted to do something easier. The morning started like usual. A fifteen minute walk through town to the best place around, Dona Cleo's. Dona Cleo (Don-ya Clay-oh) is a sweet woman who loved us and loved cooking for us. After breakfast we walked back and set up shuttle with Willow.

Eventually we got to the river and were getting dressed and I noticed Becky had something weird on her helmet. I told her to take it off and have a look. She took it off and low and behold... It was on of the women on the cover of Chad's porno. We both laughed about it pretty hard. The other thing was that when we had gotten up earlier other of these ladies were taped to everyone's bedroom door. So dirtbag... Pure comedy.

Well we got off the run and had some Ceviche (Sa-vee-chay), which is a little like soup, but not quite, and it's cold, at this place Willow, our main shuttle driver knew about. He also stopped for us in El Chaco for a sweet gift for the boys. I ran in to the video store. It was absolutely pouring out. I got 10 porno's, and the next morning Becky and I put them in every single one of their boats. If i haven't mentioned it before the boys were starting a kayak touring company, and had a number of boats in Borja, waiting for clients they were meeting to take down the river later. Each boat got it's own movie for the paddler's individual pleasure, or at least for the boys shock and disbelief. Becky and I were leaving that day and wouldn't see the boys for another week or so, so all we could do is laugh about every day and tell everyone we knew. It was funny.

Soon enough we met up with the boys at a pizza place in Tena. They had all their clients with them and after some conversation we gently asked if anything had been discovered in the boats. Everyone, except the two girls, thought it was hilarious. Some of the movies weren't found until halfway down the run. Awesome. It turns out Chad had been the mastermind behind the whole thing. Marco told us later he got up really early and did everything himself. It was still really funny.

Nov 30, 2008

Nov 14 Quijos valley to Tena

This guy can ferry.

It takes awhile and I'm still groggy from the plane, but we get a shuttle together and do the Jatunyacu. Awesome big water run with several really good play holes and waves with eddies. On the way to the put-in, there were two trucks worth of boats and boaters we were interrupted by a group of angry locals who were acting a bit like a militia. They were claiming they worked for the government building bridges, but the government wasn't paying them... so we had to. Immediately one of the local guys who was with us, Jamie (hi-may), jumped out of the truck and started yelling and arguing with the 'militia'. They had thrown a bunch of big rocks into the road so we couldn't drive through. The whole scene was a bit surreal and a little entertaining. They were barking real loud, so was Jamie, but neither side was going to do anything unless we tried to move the rocks. I didn't understand what anyone was saying so I just sat back and listened. Becky was sitting next to me and she was freaked. I tried to calm her down by telling her nothing was going to happen, but it didn't do much.

It was a tense situation, but we wound up turning around and going to a different put-in. Jamie was so mad at those guys. I found out later they are actually a family who live nearby and come to this particular spot to ransom money from people, especially kayakers. They say it is their road and we have to pay if we want to use it. Entertaining, but sad. These people were teaching their children that this is the way to live. There were probably 20 adults and 10-15 children under 10.

A cool slot canyon you can walk into, riverside.

After boating there are plenty of cervezas and dancing. The canucks have been partying a bit more than we had to this point and the next morning they are looking a bit worse for wear. Jenny has come down with a nasty stomach bug and is out for boating pretty much the whole trip.

At the end of the trip you might even see some doggies on top of a building.

Nov 26 A Little Help From My Friends

"I have a friend…" is what I hear many times from folks I meet in Ecuador. It seems it would be commonplace in all of Latin America, but Ecuador is the place I have been to. My friend, Daniel is over right now. He brought a movie back he borrowed and then started talking with Becky in the street in front of our house. They began singing the song from Desperado together and then Daniel told Becky he played a little guitar. Becky is learning and Sam, always a consumate student, was interested as well. Daniel came up, got on Becky's guitar and just started ripping. This kid is good!

His style is more flamenco which is fantastic to listen to. After about 10 minutes Becky asked him where he learned to play. Daniel (Dan-yell) said, "I have a friend who showed me..." Becky laughed loudly and said, "Give your friend my number!" Abe knows the song too so he sings it with Daniel as Daniel teaches them out on the balcony. Becky is writing down all the words to the song as Daniel sings them. Every night is so much fun. Something new. The adventure continues.

Daniel brings his guitar teacher over half an hour later. Sweet. Sam and I want to get guitars and he says there are some shops here in Tena, but it would be better to go to Quito. He will be there on the 4th and we will be there to find guitars. Good ones, he says, go for $180. We’ll be there for an annual festival that goes on for about 2 weeks, including bull fights. Everyone continues to play, sing and drink on into the night. It’s amazing how things work. It’s nice to have friends.

Nov 12 From Quito to the Quijos valley

It's 24 hours later since I last saw my boats. I'm getting off the plane in Quito. The air is cool and muggy. The airport is chaotic and there are people everywhere. I haven't seen the boats, Chris, Abe, or Becky, who are picking me up. I also haven't seen anyone who speaks Englias. It takes a little bit, but my boats surface and so do mi tres amigos. Sweet.

Abe and Chris were able to find a nice 12 passenger van. It has a sweet rack on it. By now it's about 9 o'clock and everyone is ready to get out of Quito. We load up the boats and head to Baeza (bi-A-za)

It takes about three hours of driving through very steep mountains with some sketchy roads. Abe's driving and we're listening to some great Spanish music. I don't even know what it is, but I love it. We make it to a little hostal by about 1 and before Abe and I go to sleep we watch From Dusk 'Til Dawn in spanish. Good stuff.

The next morning I'm feeling a bit jet lagged and slow from the elevation. The weather was great and we drive on to the Quijos river. It takes a little while, but we run into Marco Collela, Chris Ryman, and Chad from BC. Who knew. Fun factor +1. I've known Marco for several years now, Chris runs Endless Adventures (, a kayak shop up in, well... BC, and Chad has put himself in charge of givin'er.

It takes a little bit to get all of my stuff out of the boats and into bags so we can boat. Abe is impressed with how much I was able to get into the playboat. In a pretty short amount of time we get a shuttle going and are on the river. The Quijos is fantastic. It's a higher volume river with some great play and some class III-IV drops. The big one in the middle, El Toro was a bit bigger than the rest with some formidable holes and fairly steep.

Becky, who has been boating for about the last year or so was pretty tentative on this run, and admittedly nervous. I take her under my wing. This run becomes a private class for Becky and she really takes to it. It's great to watch. She tells me she's ready to crap her pants, but she's styling the drops. Becky's awesome. We complement each other on this trip. I can barely say 'gracias', so she helps order me food and keeps me out of trouble.

The Quijos is really great, I think everyone has done the run before except Becky and myself. I pull into an eddy right at the top of El Toro. It's obviously much steeper than the rest of the drops. I'm looking downstream as I'm the first in the eddy. BC Chris and Chad come wheeling into the eddy along with everyone else. I spot a line from right to middle and ask BC Chris about it. He says he's never been here before. Well, I guess it's time to giv'er then, eh? We drop in, Marco and Chad follow. It's big, fast and fun. At the top is this fun S-boof kind of thing out in to the middle. Then down a fast jet of wild crashing waves and seams which push into some nasty rocks on the right. Working to stay middle I wind up just missing the big stompy hole at the bottom. BC Chris hits it and he goes deep coming out the other side. Chad is a bit of a shit show tumbling through, but winds up at the bottom upright and in his boat with a smile on his face.

Abe, Chris J, and Becky are still at the top. Abe describes the line to Becky, proceeds to drop in and gets pushed right of where he wants to be. Chris J knows this might get exciting for Becky very quickly. Becky drops in, flips shortly thereafter, tries some rolls, moves some rocks around on the bottom, then swims, All's well that ends well, right? It takes a bit to get back together, so we stop there, stretch, and actually look at the rapid. Becky and I walk back up to the rapid and talk about it. The rest of the run goes well. Becky is still nervous, but does fine and we finish up with a great play hole.

It takes awhile for our taxi driver to show up but he makes it and we all go back, have a fantastic meal and all of us, Abe, Chris J, me, Becky, BC Chris, Chad, Marco, and Marco's wife Jen, pile into the van and head for Tena.

The Quijos is a fantastic run, just make sure you wear lots of sunscreen, especially if you are coming from a dark and rainy part of the world. I wore a shorty top with SPF 40 on my arms and got totally fried. Bad. It's been three or four days now and they are still red. I'm hoping it's going to darken up, but I'm glad the skin hasn't fallen off. It's getting better.

Along the way, and through a two-liter of rum and Coke, we all tell stories, talk about the Quijos, and Marco told us about Dragan. Dragan is originally from Croatia, has lived in BC for many years now, is a mechanical engineer, and loves to boat and party in Tena! We'll meet him later, Marco tells us.

It's a fun trip with no police 'toll' stops and lots of steep drop offs including one section of road that's all gravel. There really is no safety setup for road repair. Caution tape around the work area is about as good as it gets. This includes pouring new sections of road, fixing big washouts, or building new bridges where the road will drop about ten feet just before it goes over the old bridge. At night it looks like the road just disappears and all you can see is the framework of the new bridge, which is much higher than the old bridge. Sketchy.

We make it to Tena (tay-na) late, find a hostal, which turns out to be great, with a fantastic proprietor, Maximo. I'm not worried about anything getting stolen and my room even has AC! We boat tomorrow.

Nov 11 On the way...

I was more nervous than I had been in years. I wasn't sure if the airlines were going to let me take my two boats to Ecuador and I’d spent the last month busting my ass to make it happen. I am in Seattle now. The three weeks prior I’ve been completing a bathroom remodel, moving out of my house, and packing for this trip. It’s taken much longer to pack my boats than I had thought. And I have so much stuff at my house! I've been to the Goodwill many times to drop things off just to get rid of them.

Mama Mama, the Ecuadorian gnome, watches the kayak disguise metamorphosis.

It took three hours to wrap the boats in plastic. I started with the playboat, I wanted to make sure I had at least that boat. By the time I was finishing it was apparent the boat weighed a lot, maybe too much. There was so much else to do, though, there wasn’t time to worry about it. The next night I packed the creeker. It didn't have much in it, because I didn't want to have to repack a bunch into a bag if they weren't going to let it come. It was raining pretty hard, too, had been all day. I was so nervous on the way to the airport. My stomach was in knots.

When we got to the front counter there was hardly anyone in the airport. This was good because the attendants at the front counter were probably bored and the boats would at least be entertaining for them. Within a minute of putting the boats on the scale they were making jokes and asking about the contents of my 'bags'. It was fun. We were all laughing and joking. Then the main attendant measured the creeker. "I'm sorry, sir, this is too long to travel on the plane." Oh no. He then looked over to the scale the playboat was on. "I'm sorry, sir, this is overweight. Neither one of these can come. I can put them on a FedEx flight tomorrow, but that is the best I can do for you." Double, oh no.

The Gatekeeper flaunting his power.

I went around with the main attendant for a few minutes, then he decided to call his manager on the walkie-talkie. His manager confirmed to him what he had told me already. "No can do, pal." Damn. I, then, asked to speak with the manager, personally. I went around with him for a couple minutes. I knew if I could get him to okay the creeker I could pull some stuff out of the playboat to get the weight down and all would be good. I should point out that I was never impolite or disrespectful in the least. I wanted to be very clear that I was unhappy about the current circumstances, but I was not mad at them and I was willing to try and work things out. I needed those boats on the plane.

I continued speaking with the manager over the phone and he finally relinquished and allowed the creeker to pass. I'm in. I then told the main attendant of my conversation with his manager and he readily accepted. Now the hustle began. Luckily I had arrived about four hours early in case of something like this. I took the boats from the counter and moved them across to the other side of the thoroughfare, far enough away that they couldn't see exactly what I had, but could see I was moving things around. It took about an hour to get things all situated and taped back up. (Bring tape and scissors) During this hour I took the boat over to the scale three times to check weight. I got both boats under 100 pounds and now it’s off to the races!

Mama Mama knows the pain of repacking boats at the airport. But it's worth it!

The attendant put the stickers on, then it was around the corner to the oversized baggage check in. Almost immediately, the man at this counter said he would have to open up the packages. Oh jeez. I told him he would have to use the utmost care opening it because he could damage it very easily. He looked at the boat. It was 10:30PM by this point. I need to also mention that my girlfriend has been so helpful throughout the day, packing, driving around, saying goodbye, and has been amazingly patient. All she wanted was to see me get on the plane with the boats.

The man looked at the boats, wiped them down to check for explosives, then, put the final stickers on and sent them down the conveyor belt. yesss. Now we have about an hour to kill before I have to walk through the final security gate, so we just sat with each other.

Now what, sucka?

I'm getting on the plane.

Nov 5, 2008

Welcome to The Ecuadorian Adventure

This blog will chronical my travels this winter in Ecuador. I am a kayaker and adventurer. This promises to be my biggest adventure, yet. This trip is made possible in part by these fantastic sponsors: Jackson Kayak, Snapdragon Sprayskirts, Stohlquist Waterware. Special thanks goes to: Immersion Research, and AT Paddles! Stay tuned, I leave Nov 11!