Rafting in Tena

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June 2nd 2009
Published: June 26th 2009
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After finishing at the Santa Marta rescue Centre we continued our travels by heading to Tena, the white water rafting capital of Ecuador. We were hoping to do a multi-day rafting trip, which would mean camping alongside the river as we made our way along...No the bees and mossies of Noel Kempff had not put us off life on the wildside. After checking out multiple agencies we found one that was willing to do a multiday tour...we could choose between 2 and 4 days. Cost unfortunately limited us to 2 days. Surprisingly we were the only ones interested in such a trip so cost per person was duly increased. We had hoped to go the next day but unsurprisingly this proved to be organisationally difficult and so we settled on the day after. We were not too upset as there seemed to be a nice cycle ride to do and a beach where monkeys hung out. As we left the shop though they suddenly announced that the trip may well go ahead the next day as 2 more people could be interested (since noone new had come in the shop while we were there we struggled to see who). They´d let us know through a message to our hotel within an hour.

We popped to the internet to check up on the world whilst waiting to hear and we were glad we did as we found out that 2 of our companions from the Inca Treck were coming to Tena the next day and wanted to do a multiday trip...talk about coincidence. We were pleased when we got back to the hotel and there was no message. This meant we could do the trip with Connor and Katy.

Next day we had a well deserved lie in, pleased at the prospect of no cage cleaning! We surfaced for breakfast to be greeted by the owner who announced...you have a message your tour will pick you up at 9am (this was 8.45am!) After a few minutes of cursing and flapping we decided that we had to go as they had our money and as far as they were concerned we had the message. The hotel owner offered to call them to let them know we´d be late...no need... as Gordon and he climbed the stairs the tour guides were at the gate to collet us. We negotiated 40 minutes to get ready and set off to pack up. We were most annoyed that we couldn´t now do the tour with the others and didn´t even have time to let them know. We can´t remember the guide´s name so he will hereafter appear as Mister Guide. Shame as we could name drop since he´s a member of the National Rafting team (you can tell by the size of his shoulders and arms!)

It transpired that our fellow rafter were a couple of Spanish girls, who´d been hanging out at the shop the night before and we´d assumed were locals (speaking Spanish n all!) An hour later we reached the river, our spirits raised at the prospect of a Grade 4 river raft in basking sunshine. The girls were quite friendly and one even spoke good english (always an advantage given our spanish).

The raft was great fun, with a few hair-raising moments, a few swims in the river (some planned and some not). Gordon was the first to fall in due to an unexpected bump on his side and was followed not long after by Agada (from Isla Canaria) and then by everyone! Here we managed to ride up onto a rock..Mister Guide shouted high side left (tranlsation = all lean to the left of the boat) but given that this meant leaning towards the rock and the 2 meter drop the other side, instinct set in and we all ignored him, retreating away form the drop to high side right! The result was we still went straight over the rock but manage to tip the whole thing upside down. We splashed in the rapid, drank water and held onto the boat until we were pulled in. Quite a sobering moment for all.

By the end of the day Ann´s arms were truly tired from both paddling and hauling her fellow rafters in. She got the knack of the rescue pull and so was designated hauler (plus Mister Guide decided it was really funny to pull the Spanish girls not just into but across the boat and off the other side until such time that they gave up trusting him (NOTE: this was in calm waters not the rapids).

We played a couple of games...the first being "Vertical Boat" where you all lean on one end and haul a line until the boat reaches near vertical. Needless
Our Paddling PartnersOur Paddling PartnersOur Paddling Partners

Agathe and Eva, from Spain
to say this was one of those times where we did quite a bit of swimming. We were sceptical at the repeated drowning and I think this was confirmed by the next game..."Hold Hands". Here we all stood on the boat edge and leaned in and then out to make a balanced circle. Balanced that is, until the guide decided to let go. All gullible participants (i.e. everyone except Ann) fell in.....so once again it was haul in time. Our last game of the day was bridge jump. As it says on the tin...we jumped from a bridge into the river...great fun (It did take Ann a minute or two to compose herself to jump the first time but with closed eyes she made it.....slowly turning into her mother in her old age!)

After our first boat flip we had further rapids, with rocks and waves to contend. Pleasingly (and to our relief) we navigated all of these successfully. We finished up the day by a not so secluded beach (a rock clearance site with a digger working by the side. We waited for the car to arrive with our belongings and tents (Yes not quite the secluded jungle river experience we were expecting). Everything arrived and we set up camp, including fire and a simple but tasty tuna pasta dinner. Exhausted we set off to bed not too long after dark. Everyone excect Mister Guide into their tents. Due to the rains there was a risk that the river could rise and flood us out, so he slept under the raft nearer the water, thus acting as a warning sign for us (we didn´t envy him this task but were grateful for it).

About 4am the rain started....and didn´t stop! 7am bursting for a wee Ann gave up waiting and headed out into the drench. On getting up we realised that the torrential rain was not just outside, unfortunately the tent was developing some leaks and puddles had developed around the edges. An hour later, fed up with the face splashing inside we decided we were just as well getting out into it. We were going to get wet anyway and the sooner we were ready the sooner we could start.

The car turned up to collect us (the rain meant this river was no longer safely navigable for the likes of us) and take us to another river (I was a this point thinking that a lift back to the hotel and off again today would have been quite nice really). We drove via one river (again decided unnavigable) to a third...disappointingly a Grade 3 but we were promised that with the raised water levels the waves would make it lots of fun. They weren´t wrong. We surfed waves (after a few failed attempts) and rafted along a very choppy water, requiring a lot of effort. The rain continue the whole day and we were soaked to the bone. Fortunately this day we only messed up once, which again led to a full boat flip. Upside...we were already wet. Downside...it was actually pretty cold.

After an hour or so we saw another raft coming onto the river. Gordon (with his 20:20 vision) looked and said isn´t that Katy and Connor? He shouted and lo and behold it was. We shouted we´d meet up tonight. They followed behind us. Further down the river we made a failed attempt at a surf so Mister Guide pulled us over and said "watch them to see how it´s done". So we watched..........them flip the boat and all fall in!! (and 8 of them). "Forward paddle" came the call as we raced forward to help rescue the drowning crew... and here after a few weeks we met Katy again as Ann pulled her into the boat. With 10 people in our boat, Gordon sat in the middle as Lord Muck whilst the ladies paddled across to the other boat to give back its members. After that we were all exhausted so we were quite pleased when we pulled over to go and explore a small canyon on the river edge. It was a bit disconcerting wading through the muddy river, not knowing what was underneath and noone felt any better about it as Ann led the way squealing at every unknown contact. Inside the canyon the Guides decided it was a good idea to paint us with mud....after which we were a bit cold so please to set off again, this time with no further flips in either boat. We ended the day as it began in the pouring rain so were very pleased when the car turned up with a flask of hot chocolate and even more pleased on our return as we dried off and headed to the restaurant next door for a well earned pizza.

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