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Published: March 17th 2020
Since arriving back from the Galapagos we seem to have been running to keep ahead of the coronavirus problem and the inevitable but gradual closure of the infrastructure in Ecuador and world-wide.
We headed straight for Tena, the white water capital of Ecuador and Pete spent two happy days reliving the days of “Lowe, Lowe and Lowe”. Some of you may not know this, but in his youth, Pete together with fearless dad Rowland and crazy fearless brother Geoff formed the sole all family competitive slalom kayaking team of the nation for a time in the 1970s. It seems unnecessarily churlish to establish a husband and wife team that might outshine the family trio so I graciously stepped aside and Pete went down the Grade 3+ rapids alone once I had given him a considerable amount of helpful advice. Naturally most people reading this blog will know that my Grade 5 theory of music would be very much more demanding and challenging than Grade 3+ white-water kayaking but please don't mention it to Pete. He came home a very happy chap!
Pete’s insertion; This was a proper childhood memory jerk. First day was spent getting used to contemporary kit,
which was of course much easier to use than when I was a lad...The river was simple and lots of time was spent drifting along admiring lush tropical forest and some splendid Tarzan hanging vines. I tried a bit of fancy stuff and promptly fell out! We passed a few “communities” of indigenous people, signposted with their dugouts beside the river. There were also a few people panning for gold, it might fetch them a week's wages on a good weekend. Day 2 was more exciting and I was much more focused to follow the safe line down rapids with quite serious challenges offline. Enough to thrill with the adrenaline rush without having a heart attack! Fortunately I stayed upright throughout and fully sated my curiosity that I was still capable in this domain at least. The next challenge is competing at Wimbledon.
Back to Jan…..
Tena may be the white water capital of Ecuador but it is also the hottest and most humid place in the universe. As we steamed and dripped our way through supper at a local restaurant, we heard that Ecuador was closing its borders at midnight that night, that there would be no
more flights allowed to land at Quito and there was a chance that all public transport would be stopped.
The thought of being stuck in boiling Tena galvanised us into action and we left for Baeza the next morning. Why Baeza? Well, we were planning on heading to the jungle on Thursday and we just needed to get a bit of altitude so we could think straight in slightly cooler air. Baeza is a tiny place at the fork of the road to the jungle with an altitude of 1800m. Perfecto!
On the way to the bus station we learned that all public buses were to be stopped at 3pm. “Haha” we thought “aren't we clever to be leaving on the 0900hrs bus”. But there is a saying about not counting chickens etc etc. We did indeed leave Tena at 0900hrs. At 1030hrs, the bus ground to a halt. The road was blocked ahead and we could not continue. ...an accident (we were told) had closed the road and we would have to go back. Whaaaat? The bus driver decided to go onto Quito using the long route (6.5 hours, which we had used when we came to
Tena) and as we were the only people going to Baeza, he decided not to go into Tena town. So we were unceremoniously dumped at the side of the Tena bypass and by the time we had walked back to the bus station (where we had started 3 hours earlier) it was 1200pm.
Time was running out as we boarded another (slow, calling at every house on the way) bus for Baeza leaving at 1235hrs. “Has the road reopened?” we asked. “Si Senor y Senora, hay no problema ahora”, which even to our hopeless Spanish translated as “ yes, mr and mrs, there is no problem now”.
Which part of that message should we not have believed? We approached the exact same spot at 2.30pm and ground to a halt. “If the bus driver says he is planning to turn around I am going to wrestle him to the ground and take command of the bus” announced Pete (or maybe it was me). Turns out that it was a landslide that had closed the road. The landslide had happened LAST JUNE and the road had been closed for engineering works every day from 10am to 4pm every day
SINCE JUNE! So all we had to do was to wait an hour anď a half and the road would be open. So WHY did the original bus driver not know this and WHY had we spent all day on the bus?
It didn't seem worth pursuing these questions so we made friends with various people in the queue while we waited. And at 4pm the road reopened and we made our way past the most enormous landslide which was absolutely terrifying. The rock here is like loosely packed sand with a few boulders for good measure. How anyone in their right mind gets in a bull dozer and goes anywhere near a landslide is just incredible.
We eventually arrived in the tiny town of Baeza to find that our jungle trip has been cancelled (“and we have taken the decision not to give any refunds”), public transport is suspended and all restaurants, bars and non-food shops will close from tomorrow.
We are alone in a hostel with great wifi and a kitchen. The air is not humid, the temperature is great and there are certainly worse places to be stranded. Today was spent stockpiling rice, pasta, beans, tomatoes and fruit…..oh and just a bit of red wine for medical emergencies.
We have made friends with the nearby cafe owner (Gina) and although she is having to close from tomorrow, she tells us that she has a secret supply of local trout and if we knock three times on the door she will prepare a take-away for us. She is of course devastated that she is having to close her restaurant.
The owner of the hostel (Rodrigo) is a lovely man whose business is potentially in ruins as we remain his only guests. Difficult times for everyone. We are extremely lucky to be away from the heat of Tena and to have access to a kitchen. All we need to do now is to find a local brass band that could lend us a baritone and a trombone……..All is well.
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