Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Which Way Down the Equatorial Plug Hole?

The Hypothesis

Rumour has it that here in the Northern Hemisphere water vortices down a plug hole anti-clockwise owing the Coriolis Effect of the earths spin. Using the same principal I will always favour taking the right line through the gnarl. Of course, paddling in the Southern Hemisphere going left seemed to work for me, and water drains clockwise. Obviously, this is all rubbish – but we had to have a scientific quest to justify a paddling holiday in Ecuador didn’t we?. Bang on the equator, surely the water drops straight down and the safest line will always be centre – well, that was the hypothesis we went out to test :- ) Dave Surman, Andy Newell and I

The Laboratory: Wet and Warm

Tena (about 4 hours drive South East of Quito) and capital of the Napo Province, is arguably the most popular kayaking destination in Ecuador. Tena was originally founded by missionary explorers and retains a wonderful frontier atmosphere - A real jungle town that lies at the confluence of the Tena and Pano rivers. These rivers soon join the Misahualli and flow into the Napo River the 9th largest tributary to the Amazon. The city sits at an altitude of around 500M – it is hot, steamy, wet. We paddled at the beginning of the ‘not so wet’ season (Dec to February) the main kayaking season. The heaviest rains come in April, May, and June. But don’t let the weather put you off – it is invariably hot and sunny for part of the day – thunder storms bubbling up in the afternoons. Wet and warm – a kayakers dream environment. 

Tena lies one degree South of the Equator but we reasoned that this would have minimal effect on our experiment, particularly in view of the good selection of caf├ęs and restaurants offered and the opportunity to enjoy Coco Ron cocktails at Spiders bar - a time honoured way of finishing a paddling day

A couple of hours drive North of Tena, the adjacent Quijos catchment, at around 1500M altitude, offers some cooler boating. Both Endless Adventure and Small World Adventures are based here at San Francisco de Borja (Borja). Most kayakers visiting Ecuador sample the rivers in both these catchments
 The Logistics
On all previous paddling adventures I have managed to fly with my own kayak. However, flying American Airlines through Miami we elected to hire boats from the good folk at Endless Adventure who have a fleet of decent (although somewhat battered) creek boats on offer.
Jondachi Put In

To make things even easier, and to appease Chris Ryman at Endless Adventure who was concerned about our losing / trashing more precious boats, we elected to purchase a ‘Gringo Warm Up’ – three days where Endless Adventure provided guiding, shuttles, lunches and, perhaps most importantly, wisdom and knowledge.   
Dave S on the Quijos
 We enjoyed the hassle free boating so much during these three days that, having counted the dollars, we elected to continue with guides for the remainder of our stay. For us three gentlemen, no longer in the flush of gnarl boating youth, with limited time, and even less savvy, this proved perfect - No faff, good company and maximum paddling time. 
Andy N, Rio Piatua
Guiding is not essential – Transport to put ins and get outs is comparatively easy to arrange with taxi drivers in their 4wd pick-ups. Many of these drivers are familiar with the runs and know all the access points. Some, like Elluardo seem to have an infinite knowledge and can describe the character of the river, grades, lines, levels, etc. etc.. – But pick your taxi driver well to avoid getting lost in the jungle. However, if you want to maximise your time in a boat and minimise time spent planning, scouting long drops, waiting for transport etc. we would highly recommend talking to Endless Adventure
Walk in to the Jondachi
The Rivers
This region seems to cater for every kayaker – big water playful runs to low volume steep creeks and everything in between (I even spied 4 sea kayaks on the top of a bus heading down to the Napo for a jungle float trip). We were looking for the grade 4 runs and there were plenty of these to choose from
Jungle Access

Eight days paddling over a two week holiday ticks my box (and made my ‘Over 50%’ rule). Particularly considering it takes two days travelling each way from the UK. We paddled
Rio Jatunyacu – a 30 km grade 3 warm up on the first day – A Big volume, wide, bouncy, playful run
The Upper Misahualli (Lodo and El Retin sections) from san Francisco to Archidona about 20 km of continuous grade 4 creek boating – a Boof galore run that we enjoyed so much we just had to return later in the week for another run
Butterflies on the Upper Mis
 The lower Jondachi /Hollin). The long muddy walk in was rewarded by a stunning 38 km of grade 4 pool drop paddling through thick jungle with waterfalls cascading down the steep valley sides. 
Sandra B Rio Jondachi
Rio Quijos  (Borja and El Chaco sections) 20 km of powerful and steep grade 4 pool drop fun
Rio Cosanga: After a night of heavy rain a 10km beating of continuous busy grade 4 with powerful hydraulics – fast, furious and brown
Rio Piatua: 22 km of grade 4 cruisy low volume creeking. Being chased by menacing thunder clouds down to the confluence of the Rio Anzu
Dave S Rio Piatua
 Rio Tena (Upper section to the Town): A Grade 2 and 3 bimble float in the sunshine stopping for a few beers on the way and to play with the river kids - An excellent chill down before the long journey home.
River Kids giving kayaking a go on the Tena
 There were lots of runs that we, either, didn’t have time to fit in, or, for the grade 5s, the inclination and balls to run. Our one regret is missing the Overnighter on the Hollin – one of my passions in kayaking is journeying and spending nights on river beaches. However, we arrived at the Hollin put in to find it already high and the sky black with thunder clouds. The risk of a flash was very real and we moved elsewhere. However, this does illustrate that there are always options. Rainfall is usually very localised – while one river is full, tanking brown an adjacent river might be running low and clear.
Rio Hollin
This is South America
Bear in mind, this is South America, and a degree of flexibility and tolerance always helps. If the taxi driver insists that you crouch in the well of the cab to avoid detection as he negotiates a police check point with dodgy paperwork, so be it. Rooms in lodges and hostels might not be entirely free of tarantulas and other creepy crawlies. What you get served up in an eatery might not necessarily be what you thought you ordered. And if you have an aversion to Avocado or bananas you might struggle. If a sloth hangs down from the rafters and grins at you while you are trying to enjoy a steak – live with it!

But, in the main things work out just fine. Our taxi drivers invariably turned up at the get-out within a few minutes of our arrival, with a case of cold beers (even on Sundays when new laws prohibit alcohol). And for a few bucks you can hire a little old granny to carry your boat down a muddy track to a river for half an hour (oh the shame :- ). 
My Little Granny Porter
 The locals are great too – children treat the rivers as their playground. It is not uncommon to find yourself being shown the lines through a boulder choked river by a bunch of ten year olds riding tubes.
The Hypothesis Proved?
So back to our scientific quest then, did we prove that water goes straight down a plug hole when on the equator? Did we establish that the middle line through the gnarle works best? Hmmm we did find plenty of holes to experiment with and, I for one, was most diligent in my studies of these features. But, no, we didn’t prove the centre line (which seemed to get me into some of the larger holes) and we did learn that water and, more to the point, boats in Ecuadorian holes don't seem to go anywhere. Indeed my coveted 9-year ‘no swim’ record was trashed by these equatorial waters.
Dave S
However we did prove, beyond doubt, that Ecuador offers some fine boating even for ‘soft core’ boaters like us. An abundance of quality grade 4 runs where the boulders are smooth, the water is warm and the beer is cold.


The Kayakers Guide to Ecuador –not all the runs are included and please remember the flash floods in this region are frequent and extreme the rivers can come up feet in seconds and rapids are constantly remodelled. Some updates to the published guide are included at http://www.kayakersguidetoecuador.blogspot.com/

But talk to Endless Adventure too, they are masters at sorting out logistics, hiring boats, fixing accommodation, problem solving and, of course, guiding

Thanks Chris Ryman and Andrea of Endless Adventure for your hospitality, flexibility and company and, of course, Dave Gore, Abby Dent, Abraham Herrera for safely guiding these three Englishman down some splendid jungle rivers

 If the above doesn't convince you to consider paddling in Ecuador, perhaps a few more images might