At this stage of the trip everything was, more or less, going well. We had ticked off around half of the runs in the Napo valley and by now we had established a good group to go kayaking. A key member of our group was a guy called Armin Neuer. Armin as well as being a good kayaker, speaks good English and Spanish, really helpful in language stalemates! A special thanks to him for taking some amazing photos and for letting us use his laptop to unload our footage onto. A really helpful guy!
That night (04-01-12) it rained really hard, the next day forcing the rafting and kayak guiding companies to change plans and for us to hit the upper Misahualli. This run goes at a relatively low water level and is creeky in nature. However when it rains it becomes one big volume, steep, continuous rapid and doesn´t really let up for 8km. This run had me pushed quite hard, avoiding big holes whilst still trying to boof the boulders that were out the water was exhausting, with for most of the time little room for era. I have never paddled a river like this, it was simply a big volume creek, but an awesome run!
Leaving Armin to hold the fort in Tena, Diego Riley, John and I headed over to Baños. Baños is a small but busy town around 3 hours south of Tena. This cool little town was probably the same size as Tena but a load busier being a popular tourist destination, I can only assume due to it´s beautiful scenery and opportunity for adventure. We headed straight for the hostel where we we due to meet a guy called Dan Young, impossible to sum up in one word he´s a confident, funny, likable redneck! (A top class kayak Ninja too). The crew including a half asleep, stinking of alcohol from the night before, Dan Young went to check out the Rio Verde Chico. This was a low volume, steep creek with very sharp rocks. The slightly unusual thing about this creek was that the lower section was harder than the upper. According to Dan, the lower was a long day of scouting and dangerous rapids where as the upper was still steep but cleaner. We decided on the upper section and it didn´t disappoint. However due to the sharp rock John and Dan both split their boats and Riley made his already split boat worse all within the first kilometer! The run went real nice with some great boof moves and steep technical rapids. Take-out and beers in Baños town that night!
The main reason for our trip to Baños was to get on the Topo river. This was a real undertaking, 6 hours of remote jungle kayaking, and apparently one of the best runs in Ecuador! As we were there for three days we thought we would leave the Topo until the last day as to get a feel for the surrounding rivers. That next morning as well as feeling a little rough I was in agony with tennis elbow, a recurring injury that unfortunately puts a complete stop to my day on the river. The boys headed up for what turned out to be a class 4 steam train on the Zuniac, not the class 3 chilled hangover run that was previously quoted by the boys. I ran shuttle and we made tracks for the Volcano!
We spent the afternoon driving as far as we could up the volcano and having lunch looking over the valley. This was really something special. To top that Diego knew of a little secluded spot with a tree house and a really big swing, swinging over the edge of the small hill looking onto the volcano and surrounding mountains was nothing short of breathtaking!
That night Diego went out into town on his own, (everyone else was too tired and Dan Young, who would have been there in a heartbeat had gone back to Quito) whist out, he met two Norwegian sisters, Katherine and Sandra. They were planning to go to Tena before flying home and as we were going to Tena that next day they agreed to run shuttle for us if we took them to Tena, deal made.
Today was the day, Topo! As we drove towards the Topo river it soon became apparent that it had been raining alot in that valley. By the time we got to the Topo it was raging and too high to run. This was really disappointing as the Topo is in line for the increasingly common hydro scheme proposal. Although we didn´t paddle the Topo it would be really sad if this great stretch was to no longer exist. Something to come back for I suppose.
So we set off for Tena, six of us in a 5 seater for three hours wasn´t anyone´s idea of fun. We stopped off at the Rio Piatua for a good medium level run and back to Tena for drinks and preparation for the next destination, Beaza!
A third of the way through and it seems that everywhere we go produces experiences that exceed the last. A feeling of accomplishment and achievement is well and truly set in!
A huge thanks to Riley Best, Armin Neuer, Dan Young (Team Scum – http://www.teamscum.com/index.html) and Diego Robles (snap dragon ambassador).
These guys have gone above and beyond to make our trip, so far, the best it can possibly be.