Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ruminahui--Indigenous defender of Ecuador--the beginning of the story of Orellana and Pizzaro.

 (I love this shot of Stuart on the Oyacachi with the water captured as it's pouring out of his helmet and off his paddle--that's some serious immersion!  Stuart was also digging the full immersion into the Ecuadorian Karaoke scene.  He really brought some new energy into the Karaoke bar in Tena last week!)

So, on to what we are learning this week with SWA's blog...we always have to remember that before the "great European explorers" there were other people living in Ecuador.  Before Humboldt, Orellana or Pizarro set foot in what is now called Ecuador, there were vibrant and varied Indigenous cultures.

 (Mike working his way through the big granite boulders of the Rio Piatua.  Mike was the grounding force to Stuart's antics, making sure we didn't permanently lose S-man to the bars of Tena)

Here I'm going to talk a little bit about the Incas near Quito whom Pizzaro defeated in order to stake his claim to this part of South America.

Due to superior technology and malicious intent (the Incas could have perhaps fought back better had they been anticipating a battle with these new comers) the Spanish overtook the Incas living in what is now Ecuador fairly quickly.  Pizzaro was leading the Spanish through this region, and his success and advance was hardly slowed at all as he came through Northern Peru, up through modern-day Ecuador on his approach to Quito.

(Sam enjoying "quintessential" jungle scenery--complete with crystal clear water and blue skies--on the Upper Jondachi.  Wait a second, does it say "Paddle Like a Girl" on your paddle?) 

In 1532 Pizzaro's troops arranged a meeting with Atahualpa--the last independent leader of the Incan Empire.  Atahualpa was born in what is now Cuzco, Peru and became the Incan Emperor after defeating his older half-brother--Huascar--in a civil war which ignited after their father died from a strange disease (historians today think it was probably Small Pox).  Unfortunately for the Incas, Atahualpa walked peacefully into the trap Pizzaro had set for him, and upon his arrival, Atahualpa's guards were promptly killed and Atahualpa taken prisoner.

(Fran here enjoying a jungle waterfall on the Lower Quijos.  Fran decided to warm up for her 3 week Water Color workshop with a week of kayaking with SWA!)

The Spainards held Atahualpa ransom for "a room filled with gold;" but when Ruminahui--an Inca Warrior who was very close to Atahualpa--brought them what they demanded, the Spanish didn't hold up their end of the bargain--damn those Spaniards were bastards!

 (Spencer "rock, what rock?" Lincoln looking good in Disco-Tech on the Rio Piatua)

Instead of releasing Atahualpa, the Spanish put him through a trial (subjecting him to Spanish Crown law, not that of his own society), found him guilty of polygamy, worshiping false deities, and crimes against the king.  Atahualpa was, consequently, sentenced to death; and the Spaniards were victorious in both getting their greed on (in the form of gold and silver) and of eliminating one of the last, powerful Inca leaders.

(Don, the group's fearless leader working his way through a boulder maze on the Piatua.  Nice jungle behind him with the canopy closing in over the river--and the Piatua ain't no narrow river, there's just a lot of trees up there!)

But, there was 1 more Inca to contend with--Ruminahui.  He lead the final resistance against the Spanish in the Northern part of the Incan Empire--what is today Ecuador's highlands.

(Brian--our resident meteorologist--following Tarquino through the rapids of El Chaco Canyon.  Brian is trying to help us understand Amazonian weather patterns.  After lots of fun and interesting conversations, I think we, and the world, are still confused about what exactly happens with the weather out here in the Amazon)

After Ruminahui brought the Spanish the gold and silver they demanded for Atahualpa's release, and after the Spanish broke their word and executed Atahualpa, Ruminahui is rumored to have ordered the "Treasure of Llanganatis" thrown into a lake so that the Spaniards wouldn't be able to steal anymore of the riches of the Inca Empire.

(Darcy, trying her best to be cool and throw the "brown," but failing miserably and blocking it with her paddle.  Typical!)

In response to Ruminahui's defiance of Spanish power, Pizzaro ordered his troops to immediately take Quito; but anticipating this plan, Ruminahui had already ordered the city evacuated and burned to the ground.  He figured if the Spanish were going to get the city, they should get a pile a rubble rather than a thriving cultural center. 

(The gang on the bridge over the Oyacachi)

Finally, Ruminahui and Pizzaro's lieutenant Sebastian de Benalcazar met at the "Battle of Mount Chimborazo" and Ruminahui was defeated.  But, he is still remembered today by his nick name "eye of stone" for his brave resistance to the Spanish.  He is honored each year on December 1st in Ecuador.

 (The Intern--aka Wes--enjoying his 11th day of paddling in row.  I think that's a record for the Michigan boy)

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Original Whitewater Explorers of Ecuador--Orellana and Pizarro

Each year, hundreds of kayakers come to Ecuador to explore it's many rivers for themselves.  Many of Ecuador's rivers are known, published in our guidebook, on the web, etc...but many are yet to be explored, and kayakers are still doing 1st descents here.   A recent conversation about this made Larry think back to the history of the first journey down the what would come to be known as the Amazon.  So, guest blogging, from Cabanas Tres Rios, Larry reports on Orellana and Pizarro's amazing trip from Quito to the Atlantic ocean:

(A beautiful jungle waterfall, just a short walk from our lodge.  Last week we saw a Trogan and 3 Andean Cock of the Rocks up here--take that Orellana!)

Unlike many current first descents, the discovery (by Europeans) and first descent of the Amazon was mostly accidental.  In 1541 Francisco de Orellana and Gonzalo Pizarro departed Quito in search of “El Dorado” in northeast Ecuador.   The promise of huge amounts of gold and cinnamon (greed) spurred Orellana to embark on this crazy expedition.  Of course you would not want to go discovering alone back then so they took with them over 200 Spanish Conquistadors, 4,000 natives, 500 dogs to hunt food and more natives, 1,000 pigs, and hundreds of horses.

   (Don't F$&K with this guy!  He'll Ultimate Fight your ass)

This week we had an incredible crew of river explorers from a wide variety of places--Oregon, Utah, Caymen Islands, Canada, Colorado and Arizona.  There was Jeff, the Ultimate Fighter (his kick ass shirt compliments of a thrift store--Jeff, awesome buy!), his daughter Madi, David and son Matt, Mike, Peter, Phil and Kayla.

 (Mike enjoying some fun whitewater and pretty scenery on the Rio Cosanga)

But now, more on the expedition from Larry:

Upon crossing the Andes and reaching the lower Rio Coca 3,000 natives and 140 Spanish had either died or deserted. Facing starvation, Orellana and 50 men built a boat and headed downstream with the idea to look for food. Upon reaching the confluence with the Napo river and unable to return against the current, Orellana waited for Pizarro, finally sending back three men with a message, and constructed a second boat. Pizarro had in the meantime returned to Quito by a more northerly route, by then with only 80 men left alive.
 (Madison styling the line at Disco-tech on the Rio Piatua.  We had a great flow on this run, a perfect medium water level and there were big smiles all around)

(Matt--Ottawa paddler--at home in the big water of the Bom Bon run on the Rio Quijos)

At some point along his journey, Orellana encountered the "Amazons."  According to his stories, the Amazons were giant warrior women who fought fiercely, and whom no men could escape.  Well, no men that is, except for Orellana...

 (Peter showing good form running one the many wave trains on the Quijos--Orellana no doubt saw this section of river although it's unlikely he boated much of it seeing at the whitewater would have been overwhelming for most boats constructed in the 1540s)

In fact, rumor has it that the Amazon River takes its name from stories of these women warriors.  Orellana wanted to name the mighty river after himself, but people back home thought the stories of the 6+ foot tall fighter women were so hilarious, they decided to name the it the River Amazon as a sarcastic throw back to Orellana and his tale-telling.  Orellana did, however, get a different river named after himself so all wasn't for naught.

(Kayla basking in the sun on a perfect day in El Chaco Canyon)

Eight months and more than 2,400 miles later Orellana and his men reached the Atlantic, becoming the first Europeans to boat the complete distance of the Amazon, from the Andes in the west to the ocean.  They sailed north to the Caribbean into Spanish territory and eventually Orellana made his way back to Spain with his account of the first decent of the Amazon.  Many people claim the origins of the Amazon to be in Peru since that is where the highest headwaters originate; however, the discovery of the river from Northern Ecuador gave it a legitimate claim as the origin as well.

(Phil testing out the Jackson Villian on the Upper Misahualli River.  Report?  2 thumbs up!)

But, if one thing really separates Small World Adventures' kayakers from Orellana's team it's that he didn't get a cold beer when he reached the Atlantic!  We don't want our kayakers suffering like that, so a cooler at the take-out is protocol.

(Tarquino, the best bar tender this side of the Napo River, hooks Dave up with a cold Pilsiner at the end of an awesome big water day on the Lower Quijos)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A Little Info on Ecuador's Volcanoes and a Lot of Ecuadorian Whitewater to get us Started on 2011!

(Kayakers playing with sparklers always makes for fun times)

Ecuador has a ton of cool "shit" for lack of a better word. I'm constantly blown away by the biodiversity, scope of topographical relief, and just the overall "coolness" of Ecuador.

On this last trip, we were talking about the 7 Natural Wonders of the World (which are, according to, Aurora Borealis, Grand Canyon, Paricutin, Victoria Falls, Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, and the Harbor of Rio De Janeiro) and held a small panel of experts discussion on what would the 7 natural wonders of Ecuador be...Undoubtably the snow-covered volcanoes would count, as would Ecuador's various amazing rivers (both for their whitewater:) and for their importance to the Amazon and habitat to many endemic species.

(Joni putting the Booy-ya in Boof on the Rio Cosanga. --Photo by Curtis Ahlers)

There were lots of other things that made our list, but through all of this I couldn't help but to think about Alexander Von Humboldt and his explorations in Ecuador. I can't imagine how amazing all this was when it was virtually unknown in the European World. It's incredible the "firsts" he came across in Ecuador. Read on to learn more about Humboldt, and about Ecuador's most interesting volcanoes (the two are somewhat tied together, I promise)!

(Devon Barker, sporting a beautiful new Jackson Hero, styles the line at Chibolo.  Nice color scheme Jackson Folks!  We are stoked to have this boat in our fleet now)

Among his South American Firsts (in the areas between Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru), Humboldt discovered the "oil bird," Electric Eels, the Casiquiare Canal (a link between the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers), and much more. Just as an interesting side note, the Casiquiare Canal is the largest river on the planet that links 2 major river systems--aka a "bifurcation." Humboldt also discovered the fertilization qualities of guano, and began promoting its use in Europe.

(Becky psyched to be on the Piatua River enjoying sunshine and warm weather. Tena, Ecuador is a far cry from Lansing Michigan in terms of climate! --Photo by Curtis A.)

Of his numerous discoveries and scientific advances, Humboldt is most well known for his studies and advances in meteorology (The Humboldt Current) and in physical geography. As part of this latter passion, Humboldt liked climbing mountains--ah ha, see the tie in with volcanoes? Ecuador has a lot of great mountains (feeding a lot of great rivers), so let's talk a little about that!

(Volcan Chimborazo. 6,310 meters, 20, 702 feet)

In 1802, Humboldt, along with Aime Bonpland, attempted to climb Chimborazo--then thought to be the tallest mountain in the world. No one really knows how high they made it, although there is a general consensus today that they reached an elevation of 5,875 meters (19, 274 feet). This was supposedly higher than any other Europeans had climbed to date.

(Adam nails the boof in Triple Drop on the Rio Cosanga while Devon films with the helmet-cam and Joni watches her sweetie in action!  --Photo Curtis A.)

It would be 78 years after Humboldt's attempt before any humans reached the summit of Chimborazo. In 1880, Edward Whyemper and Louis and Jean-Antoine Carrel finally made it all the way to the top of Chimborazo--the mountain whose summit boasts the point farthest from the center of the earth.

(Fruits and veggies anyone? Local produce market near Tena, Ecuador. --Photo Curtis A.)

But Chimborazo is not the only interesting volcano in Ecuador...Antisana is the 4th tallest mountain in Ecuador weighing in at 5,753 (18,874 feet). It is particularly special to us at Small World Adventures because it is also the headwaters of the Quijos River which, besides flowing right past our lodge, hosts over 100 miles of awesome whitewater!

(Curtis, our resident photographer, handed his camera off for this shot of him running "Dame su Gasolina" on the Piatua River).

Volcan Reventador is also special to us at SWA because we can see it from our lodge, and often enjoy morning walks (when the vista is most likely to be clear) checking out its 1/2 cone shape. 30,000 years ago (give or take a couple thousand), Reventador erupted big time, blowing off the entire top half of the mountain (a la Mount Saint Helens). If it weren't for this eruption, geologists believe it would be the tallest mountain in Ecuador. Today, a small cone is rebuilding inside the caldera, and the mountain occasionally sends up plumes of ash and smoke.

(The Ano Viejos of Cabanas Tres Rios. These poor guys were just trying to enjoy a few beers in the sunshine...little did they know what awaited them).

Speaking of ash and smoke, those two elements play a key role in Ecuador's New Year's celebrations. Each year families will build munecas (or mannequins) to represent the Old Year (Ano Viejos). They will often represent something or someone they don't like that they wish to do away with in with the coming of the new year. But people also just make fun things too with whatever they have laying around the house to dress up their "dolls" with. So we got Tio Larry and Nano Paul as our Ano Viejos.

(Tio Larry going down in flames!)

But, we couldn't quite wait until midnight so at 9pm the burning commenced! A few brave souls jumped the fire, and the rest of us just watched and thought about everything that happened in 2010, and dreamed about what might happen in 2011.

(Rebekah making the most of 2010 by BOATING on the last day of the year! --Photo Curtis A.)

Moving onto to Volcan Cotopaxi, which is the highest ACTIVE volcano in the world. It stands at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet), and is the most popular mountain to climb in Ecuador. Cotopaxi is also the headwaters to the tributaries that come together to form the Jatunyacu (Upper Napo) that eventually flow into the flatlands where it becomes the Napo proper.

(Whoa, I didn't know monkeys could get beer guts too! --Photo Curtis A.)

Cayambe is also an interesting volcano because it is the only point on Earth where the equator actually passes through snow! The equator bisects Cayambe at 4,690 meters (15,387 feet). This is also the highest altitude on Earth that the equator passes through. Cayambe's summit is 5,790 meters (18,996 feet).

(Traffic jam on the bridge to the Piatua. --Photo Curtis A.)

Volcan Sumaco is near Tena, and while it only stands at a puny 3,990 meters tall (13,090 feet), it is one of the more treacherous to climb. Summiting Sumaco typically takes 5 days of slogging through mud, rain, and thick jungle. (Compare to a 1.5 day ascent of Cotopaxi).

(Devon on the big water Lower Quijos. --Photo Curtis A.)

So, I know I kind of got off the topic of Humboldt, but his passion for exploration and his incredible achievments led others to suffer in the spirit of adventure which has led to many great athletic endeavors as well as many great scientific discoveries.

(Curtis looking pretty in front of a nice jungle waterfall)

Ecuador is a much different place now than it was in the early 1800's when Humboldt was discovering new species, new ocean currents, new meteor showers (Leonids), but there is still incredible opportunities for personal discovery. I don't necessarily mean soul-searching (although this can happen too), but rather, seeing and experiencing things for YOUR first time. Say, if you come paddling with us, you won't be the first person to ever run the Quijos River, but it will be your first time, and the thrill of discovery is still alive and well on these such journeys.

(Ah, the marks of a true guide--Machete, Gum boots, and a "Man Purse." Larry V. leading the crew on a jungle hike to discover birds, cool plants, and waterfalls)

So, in closing, I encourage all of you to come discover Ecuador for yourselves!  It's an amazing place.