If you’ve ever kayaked in Ecuador with Small World Adventures, chances are you know guides Don Beveridge and Darcy Gaechter, who literally wrote the book on the area’s countless waterways. Well, they’ve left the operation after umpteen years and are now off on their next big adventure: running the entire length of the Amazon with friend David Midgley. We caught up with them for their take on all things Ecuador and their upcoming journey, which sees them land in Peru on July 21…
Thoughts from Darcy Gaechter
Ecuador was an incredible chapter in my life. It’s hard to pick out the best times of my decade in that small but amazing country, but a few memories stick out.
My first trip down the Upper Oyacachi ranks up there amongst my fondest memories.
It’s funny that I’d put this on a favorite memory list because from a kayaking point of view, the trip was more or less a disaster. We put on late in the afternoon under beautiful sunny skies for this two-day, 24 mile-long steep creek in a remote part of the Ecuadorian Andes. We paddled about five miles with great flows (about 300-500 cfs) and made camp. That night, we got a good ol’ Amazonian deluge (12 hours of hard, non-stop rain) and we woke up to probably 5,000 cfs. The gradient in the inner part of the run is 400 feet per mile and, as we slowly made our way down river, every half mile or so a tributary would add another 200 cfs. Eventually realizing that it was ridiculous to proceed on the water, we set ourselves to hiking. After 8 hours of grueling jungle trekking carrying kayaks full of camping gear, we reached the put in for the day run on the Oyacachi. Being as this was before cell phones and regular traffic on that road, we camped on the bridge in another rainforest downpour and caught the 6am milk truck out the next morning.
So, was it great kayaking? No way! But, it was the first time I’d experienced such a powerful rainstorm and seen the effects upon a river. Although it was the cause of all our misery, this power was incredible to me and I took ironic pleasure in coming to understand this force of nature through my suffering.
My favorite moment of this particular trip is when I—covered from head to toe in mud, sweat, and blood, tired, thirsty, and hungry—looked at Don and the sight of him brought a huge smile to my face. This trip was supposed to be a fun kayaking mission, but had turned into a jungle slog suffer fest, yet I was enjoying every minute of being with my best friend. That was 10 years ago and we’ve shared many wonderful adventures since then…
Another fond memory is Larry and I making up the game—“Ecua-moment of the week” after we saw a school bus literally overflowing with children. The bus was packed full of kids to the point that a few of the older boys were standing on the steps of the open doorway, hanging on the hand rail, leaning out and waving at us. We both said out loud, “you would NEVER see that in North America—we love this place!”
A few other “Ecua-Moments” that come to mind are:
–We’ experienced about 10 days of heavy rain in Ecuador—unusual for the “dry” kayaking season. Coming home from boating one evening, we noticed a bunch of baby cows (calves) with plastic bags tied onto their backs to serve as rain coats. That’s when you know it’s really raining hard in the jungle!
–On a boating road trip up north, we stopped for a bathroom break. I came out of the bathroom to find Liam buying a machete, a beer and a coffee mug in a tiny store in the town of Reventador (“the exploder” named after the volcano on whose shoulder this town sits). The best part about it was that no one but us gringos thought that his “shopping cart” was at all funny or weird.
Of all my memories there, what will probably stay with me the most are reminiscences coming from reuniting with Don and Larry on our porch at the end of each day. Although we usually only got a brief five or ten minutes together each night, these were always the most peaceful and enjoyable moments for me. The evening activity always varied, but often included a celebratory shot of tequila after a good day of leading people down Ecuador’s rivers, looking for “Mikey the Mot Mot” or “Hey Squirrel” in the jungle in front of our rooms, or just discussing the finer things in our lives. These little moments created a bond between the three of us that will last us the rest of our lives.
Although we are setting off in different paths now, we continually look forward to the next time we can gather on a porch somewhere in the world.
My 11 years in Ecuador taught me a lot about life, love, friendship, and business. I’m grateful for everyday I had there. I will miss all my friends in Ecuador and the extremely laid back lifestyle, but it is time to look forward to new adventures.
Right now we’re working frantically on last -minute details for the trip, and on a new edition of the Kayaker’s Guide to Ecuador. We plan to paddle from the Mantaro River in Peru all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The trip should take 5 months, give or take a month, and will include all sorts of imagined and unimagined adventures. We fly to Lima, on July 21st and will spend a few days making sure all the last minute details are in order—Jetboil fuel purchasing, visa arranging, transportation fixing, and probably eating a few last descent meals before our tenure of dehydrated food starts. Then we’l put on the river, hopefully about a week later. For the first month paddle the whitewater of the Mantaro. Once we hit the confluence with the Apurimac we’ll switch to sea kayaks and make ourselves comfortable because we’ll be in these boats for the next 3-4 months.
I haven’t made any solid plans beyond our upcoming trip down the Amazon River. We hope to paddle the entire river from its source in Peru to the Atlantic Ocean. Most of the rivers we paddled in Ecuador feed the Amazon, but the “official” source is Peru’s Montaro River because it is the longest tributary. This should keep us busy for about 5 months and I figure that paddling 4,200 miles will give me plenty of time think about “what’s next.”
From the “Don”: Thoughts from Don Beveridge
Guiding and paddling for fun in Ecuador since 1995, I’ve seen the country change a lot – mostly for the better. It used to be a bit more suffering trying to get from the airport in Quito out to where the rivers are. Gone are the days of bumping along dusty dirt roads for hours; most of the roads to major paddling destinations are now paved. Fifteen years ago you had to struggle to find transportation. Now in the Quijos valley as well as in Tena, taxi pickup trucks are everywhere, and many drivers have “specialized” in driving kayakers around. More hotels and good restaurants have made the stay in Ecuador that much more pleasant. You can still get out there and suffer and explore – even do first descents if you want to work at it – but now you can come back to a bar where you can trust the ice in your drink. I’ll miss Vicente and the Araña Bar!
Some of my fondest memories in Ecuador involve interactions with the locals. Whether they were our staff and drivers or locals that we see along the river, some have never seen a kayaker – or sometimes even a gringo before. Working with our lodge staff and Memo, probably the coolest shuttle driver in the world. Taking our Ecua-staff rafting and winning the Quijos race with them their first time ever in a raft. Getting to know and hang out with our taxi driver buddies in Tena and El Chaco. Marco in Tena and Rodrigo in El Chaco are the people to call if you need a shuttle. Seeing all of our friends grow into their whitewater roles as the sport developed in Ecuador; from our fellow SWA guide Tarquino who took an ACA Instructor course from Larry and me and got certified as a raft guide by Larry and went on to become probably the best raft and kayaking guide in Ecuador (and Canada!) to our friend Rodrigo Morales who developed a successful hotel and shuttle operation in Baeza that caters to kayakers.
My fondest whitewater memories from Ecuador include paddling to the brink (within reason) of 485-foot San Rafael Falls and lying on the rocks and peering over the top. Hiking to the bottom of those falls to put in at the base with the spray blasting me as I put my sprayskirt on. Doing the first decent of the Upper Oyacachi with Larry Vermeeren and Adam Carter, and then returning to paddle it as a “date” with just Darcy and myself (we’ve gone back three times, a record, I bet). Seeing the look on our guests’ faces as they completed the portage on the Lower Misahualli and realized they “had to” (got to!) run the Land of the Giants. Having a beer on the roof of the Lumbaqui Luxury Lodge, in one of the still rugged kayaking centers in Ecuador, after doing the Chingual river on the border with Colombia. Paddling the Upper Jondachi – every time I brought a new person down that river put a smile on my face.
But the best part of all my time in Ecuador was being able to work doing what I loved; being able to work with my best friend Larry, my other best friend/girlfriend/kayaking partner Darcy, and all the great guests and guides that came and paddled with us over the years at SWA. Vaya con rios, amigos!
To keep tabs on their journey, visit: www.kayaktheamazon.com