“Remos arriba (oars in the air )!”
Our guide’s name was Wilson. (Hmmmm…Foreshadowing you think?)
We’ve all seen photos of wave enveloped rafts meant to entice us into the excitement of the sport called white water rafting. For some it’s non negotiably one of the reasons to visit a country like Ecuador with rivers fed by volcanic mountains, creating the perfect environment year round. But what of those who aren’t fed by the thrill of being tossed about in a rubber boat?
River rafting is an opportunity to see parts of Ecuador that are not accessible other than by water and rafting is one of the most scenic ways to see the land and wildlife of the jungle.
Our day excursion to the Quijos River in the Parque Nacional (National Park) de Cuyambe Coca, in the north central region of Ecuador began with a scenic drive of mountains and waterfalls everywhere we turned. On arrival, we donned wetsuits, helmets and life jackets provided by our local guides. Remember, we are in the jungle so no fancy changing areas are to be found, we all changed on the bus in turn, women, then the men. I know that some of you are still thinking, why would I do this? Hang with me.
A short hike to the river was in itself interesting with large boulders to traverse that are at times under water, but in full view for us today. Our raft guides and kayak escorts were ready to go! Before we could depart, a safety briefing was given in Spanish with an English translation. Equipment was checked and double checked, helmet straps tightly held under each chin and jackets tight enough to be able to haul you out of the water during a rescue. Really? A rescue?
We spent the next 20 minutes practicing our calls, forward, back, right back, left back and inside. Inside was my favorite as we all plunked into the raft when approaching a rock in a rapid. What? A rock? Hell no.
Each team (raft) practiced a fall in and rescue of one of our group so we’d be prepared should it happen. I’m thinking, “won’t happen to me.” Hah!
With each six man raft loaded with a guide and ready to go, we paddled along to what was a nice easy start. By the way, we had many beginners so we asked the raft company to start lower in the river where it wouldn’t be too rough. We would still encounter Class III rapids.
Definition of Class III Rapids: Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open canoe. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good boat control in tight passages or around ledges are often required; large waves or strainers may be present but are easily avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable for inexperienced parties. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class III- or Class III+ respectively.
Wilson yelled out “Forward” and we all paddled to the 1-2 count toward the rapids. “Stop” was the next command as we were in position for our rapid. The kayak guide slalomed slightly ahead, making hand signals to Wilson, so that we entered at the best spot to make it through. I pressed record on my Go Pro and we hit the first wave.
“Faster, faster!” yelled Wilson, so we paddled and shouted “1-2, 1-2, 1-2” to keep in sync with each other. After two large waves in sequence crushed up against us, we exited to a tranquil pool once again. “Remos arriba (oars in the air )!” was the chant of triumph. This would be the first of 10-12 rapids for the day and the crowning moment when fears were dispelled and anxieties forgotten. We had done it.
Our day continued to alternate between adrenaline rushes and peaceful respites, and while our team work strengthened, we were surrounded by incredible scenes right out of an episode of National Geographic. Our laughter was rarely silent as we succeeded to make it through some tougher rapids and yes, had to save a team mate or two along the way. We told jokes, sang songs and got to know each other better in the calmer moments. Cameras clicked and Go Pro’s filmed all day in our effort to take home just a slice of this incredibly exciting and beautiful day.
Our ride ended at the new hydro electrical plant built by the Chinese in 2013 and although an engineering marvel, they never thought to build a stairway out. That meant that our final feat of the day was Class III rock climbing to the road to meet our bus. Once again we worked together, pulling one another up by hand or supporting from behind.
Our experience ended with a delicious dinner with choices of fish in banana leaf, hen soup or pork, rice and beans and a celebratory beer with our raft guides. What a fun cultural experience for everyone and when asked later on this week about which day was the highlight, most said the rafting. The reasons were personal growth by learning something new or going beyond my limits and succeeding and the closeness that was achieved by working as a team.
Experience white water rafting with Singles Travel International. We put our oars in the air in Costa Rica and Ecuador: