We start early today. We had already been able to put together an individual adventure package with the “River People” before our departure: One day rafting, two days trekking and canyoning through the jungle with overnight stay in a tent. Everything clarified uncomplicatedly with Tim, the manager, by e-mail – although it is not absolutely necessary to book so far in advance at low season, but it helps the organizers enormously with the planning. At 8 o’clock in the morning we stand in front of the entrance of the hostel. It is drizzling. Well, we will get wet during the rafting anyways.
A flatbed taxi turns around the corner and stops – our ride.
“You guys ready to be on camera?” asks our driver. “You’ll be rafting with National Geographic today”. Oh come on, you’re messing with us now…
However, the fact is that we have two journalists with us: Nick and Adrian are writing independently for one National Geographic article and a travel guide for Ecuador. My imagination of people who work in this industry seems to correspond to both of them: Both quite fit, relaxed, the humorous type and always enthusiastic about every kind of silliness.
Tim gives us all a briefing. Since it rained yesterday, the stage III-IV rafting on the river Jondachi became an IV+ . I’m looking forward to it…
We do have hiking boots and our booties for diving, but neither is suitable for today: Since it has rained, the way to the river will be extremely muddy, but also rocky in a lot of spots. The combination of neoprene shoes and a firm sole is mandatory. Fortunately they have also everything in my shoe size .
Altogether there are four of us: Ivan is also filming with a GoPro, Adrian and Nick, Gabriel is our guide and then Ena and me. Alvaro and Alex will accompany us in kayaks.
Having loaded everything, we set off as well. After a 30-minute drive we stop at a muddy road in the jungle. Some residents are already waiting for us and are assisting with carrying equipment. A petite girl grabs a kayak and walks barefoot towards the river. After we put on our life jackets and helmets, we grab each one of the paddles and set off. The kayak paddle is a great walking stick because we get stuck in the knee-high mud several times. Where are the locals with the equipment? We feel like we’re walking at a snail’s pace. As soon as I have this train of thought, one of the residents runs past us in parcour manner. WTF. Mud, stones – why is it so exhausting for us and not for him? Almost there, we see the barefoot girl from earlier sitting on a rock, next to her another one with pink plastic sandals. For real? I fell on my face almost a dozen times wearing proper shoes – how the hell do they do that?! The boat is waiting for us under a suspension bridge.
We take a small detour upstream to a canyon where many people swim in the natural pools. Amazing landscape! I’m quite excited about the rafting. Having walked back to the bridge we get a briefing from Gabriel. Then we start immediately: Right after the first rapids it is clear: This is not quite as relaxed as rafting in Boquete.
We have to put a lot of energy into it. At the first rapids with bigger “washingmachines” (whirlpools) we get already stuck. We turn a few times around our own axis until we manage to get out of the whirlpool after about a minute. I look around: 2 people in front of me, Verena next to me, Adrian behind me and Gabriel in the back. Where is Nick?
While we were stuck in the whirlpool he fell out and drifted away. Now he is standing at the edge of the river and stretches his thumb in our direction: “We don’t take any Hitchhikers!” . Nick climbs into the boat and we continue! We have countless rapids with many whirlpools on our way – but we slowly get the hang of it, nobody falls off the boat anymore. Some world-class rafting, really. We have a lot of fun. At some point we take a break. Wow, I really have some sore muscles now . This break is really required.
Some really big ants are scampering on the boulders. Are those bullet ants? Ena doesn’t think so – but a bite from them will certainly be quite painful. Meanwhile Gabriel and Ivan have prepared a feast: Homemade tortillas to fill yourself. We all passionately help ourselves – it is now that I realize how hungry I am. For dessert we have homemade chocolate cake and fruit. While I was still busy with my first tortilla, Nick had already put some of the brown cream on a piece of cake. I thought that was bean mole… But then he would probably have a different facial expression . I also put some of the cream on the cake: Flavour explosion! A really delicious, cream consisting to a large extent of cocoa. It tastes especially delicious on pineapple. Why do you get full at some point? I can’t get enough of it…
Not before we sit down satisfied and with full belly, I notice that we were all stung by some critters. They don’t seem to have been mosquitoes though, since all the bites are limited to the lower legs. Sand flies? Blood just gushes out of the bites. Almost like the water bottle yesterday – does my body have high pressure here? We aren’t even over 1000m above sea level .
Strengthened, we soon continue.
Adrian: “Do the rapids have names actually?”
Gabriel: “No. They’re all numbered.”
Adrian: “We should name the rapids back there after Nick. ‘Naughty Nick’ or something.’
At each of the more difficult points, Gabriel explains to us how to proceed. Without further ado, we baptize the most demanding rapid with 4 washing machines “laundry”.
From time to time we take short breaks to take pictures. We see numerous waterfalls on our way. I find it quite amazing that both Nick and Adrian work on paper. Both carry tiny notepads with them, in which they write down everything rather quickly – so no information gets lost. We pass some very rotten looking suspension bridges – these lead over the river further into the jungle to some villages. There are plenty of people who live here in the forest and only visit the city for errands. At one of those bridges we make a short stop. Along the riverside we can now walk towards the forest and climb onto the bridge. Gabriel leads Nick and Adrian through the vegetation… I hesitate a little bit, then decide to follow them. As I jump from the boat into the water, the current sweeps me away. Even at the edge of the river it is difficult to swim against it. Somehow my stamina is completely gone. Nope – I can’t even get on the shore. I let myself drift back to the boat and fall into it exhausted.
After a while we can see Gabriel, Adrian and Nick stepping on the bridge – they must have walked slowly. So it’ s not just me who has lost all strength. We have some time to rest while the 3 on top of the bridge are chatting. Adrian decides to take some photos of himself hanging with both of his hands from the vine rails of the bridge. A few photos later, Gabriel and Nick are still standing on the bridge, while Adrian doesn’t pull himself up again. Is he tired as well? Getting back to the bridge does not seem to be possible. There is probably nothing left but to jump about 10m into the river. Gabriel and Nick look after Adrian as he lets go and falls into the water – he has to put in a lot of effort to avoid being completely flushed away. The current in the middle of the river is really powerful. Well, now Nick is cheered on by us to jump as well – “Do a flip!” . Crazy National Geographic folks. After gaining some courage he also manages to jump. After a little time to catch our breath we gather and paddle on.
– “Alright, the next rapid is a 20m waterfall”
– “…with a trampoline at the end?”
– “Nonono, hungry crocodiles”
– “I hope they are hipster vegan crocodiles…”
The next rapid actually has a name: “Wafflemaker”. On both banks several washing machines – so if you get too close to the whirlpools you will burn your fingers like a waffle iron – we would all fall off the boat. We have to work hard and mobilize our last strength to get through in the middle. Totally exhausted but happy we drift a few more kilometres to a big metal bridge which we slowly pass through. “Have you brought your passports? it’ s not far to Colombia anymore” . A few hundred meters further we reach a shore where we get off and pull the rubber dinghy ashore.
Uff, I feel muscles on my body that I didn’t know I had. Gabriel invites us to have a look at the Jungle Lodge, which is under construction here. It will take a while until the jeep is here to load the boat. A “perros bravos”-sign hangs a bit at an angle on the side of the gravel road that we take. A few meters further, however, only a dalmatian lady and a Scooby Doo shoot around the corner and slobber all over the visitors . We are wet enough ! After visiting the construction site – this will surely be a great location – we notice that the trailer for the boat has rolled down the embankment into the jungle. With united (dwindling) forces we manage to get it on its way. Unfortunately, the van, to which we hang the trailer, also immediately gets stuck in the muddy ground. With pushing, wooden planks under the tires and Ivan’s pickup for support we manage however. Wow. Enough sport for today.
The drive back seems strangely short to me, although we should be further away from Tena: We talk to Adrian and Nick about our jobs and get answers on how to get into their profession at all.
Back at the base we fall into some sun chairs around an extinct campfire and get a well deserved beer at the end. Also my t-shirt collection is growing thanks to a River People t-shirt I get .
Tonight we will certainly sleep well – but I wonder if we will survive the day tomorrow: We have planned a jungle trip. Only Ena and me, led by a ranger. This will be another tour de force. Adrian and Nick are planning a similar undertaking, but in the town of Coca, a few kilometres further away. We will have to wear rubber boots for the trip tomorrow – it will be a mixture of cross-country hiking, canyoning and abseiling.
The highlight will be camping in tents on a hill over the forest. I’m quite excited about it.
Arriving back at the hostel we have a well deserved shower. Then we both have to lie down for a few minutes – we can’ t move anymore.
Before we crawl out at night to get something to eat, we ask Michele if we can store our things for 1 day and book an overnight stay the following day. No problem – we can even leave our things in the room. Fortunately we are here during the low season, so it works out .
On the street in front of the airport around the corner we find a very simple restaurant, which nevertheless offers some good cuisine.