The River People Experience (Tena / Archidona, Ecuadorian Rainforest)
For our first story, Roadtripecuador will head to the Amazon. We are excited about the experience we are about to have in the rivers and jungles. Our destination: “San Juan de los Dos Ríos de Tena” the place with the most rivers per square meter in the world. There we met up with the River People, our hosts for this adventure.
Our journey started on the road. We stopped in Huigra, a small calm place full of kind people and beautiful sceneries. We stopped to eat arroz con menestra de arvejas and grilled chicken made with love. Gastronomy is very important when taking trips.
After stopping, we continue on the road through weather changes, mountains, and fog, until we reach the jungle and its vast vegetation. In just one day we went through very different worlds. In other places it would take you a week to do so.
It's nighttime when we arrive at our destination. We have rooms waiting for us right next to the eternally influential Tena River. The excitement, anticipation, and roar of the river made it difficult to sleep, and resting was very important considering the day we had ahead of us. As we woke up we noticed the river and its voice were still present. It appears to be a never ending source of energy.
In the morning we had time to get to know the River People. Describing them as an organization or tourist agency would belittle them for their accomplishments. River People started with a family’s dream (the Dent family) and after 15 years they’ve managed to keep their essence.
One of its members (with a different last name) is Gabriel Garbín, Argentinean guide born in the mountains of Mendoza where he started as a tour and hiking guide.
He tells us how he ended up as a kayak and rafting guide by accident. “they invited me to an advanced rafting class in Mendoza River with a rugby team. The trip leader delegated me in charge of a team not knowing that I was not an official guide. I accepted the challenge. I had fun during that trip, and they ended up paying me as a tour guide.”
Ever since that moment, he started traveling and taking courses until rafting became part of his lifestyle. “Rivers have been a bridge to many different things, thanks to them I have traveled to spectacular places and made lots of friends.” It’s difficult to picture Gabriel working behind a desk all day. “I like changes and the river represents that since it always flows in a different way. It's a connection between people, fun, happiness, hope, challenges….”
Once we met the entire team it was our turn to meet the jungle. We were going to have to coexist with the jungle for the next few days.
The fact that we walked together to get there helped us form the right ambiance. A long walk in the jungle is enough to make a body tired and to energize the soul.
The texture of the vegetation that surrounded us, the hot air going into our lungs upon each breath and thousands of drops of sweat sliding on our skin are characteristic of the region. In the jungle you sharpen your senses, to the point where you can be aware of a minimum temperature change.
As we walked we could hear a waterfall in the distance, which quickened our pace. We could feel the dew drops refresh us and sense the smell of the water, until we found ourselves in the middle of an oasis. It seemed like something out of a movie where they go through the a dessert and find an oasis except in this case they were waterfalls in the middle of a jungle.
The white stream of water would fall against the rocks forming a crystal clear lagoon. This divine water came from the Andes and was our natural energizer that we needed to continue our expedition.
Then we climbed down into deep caves and felt the confinement aided only by a few candles. All of a sudden the water became part of the expedition. We were surrounded by darkness in a cave submerged in water up to our necks. Luckily the light at the end of the tunnel guided us back to the jungle.
Then it was time to navigate the rivers. Just like with people, there are no identical ones. “Depending on the river and the day, you perceive things in a different way. There are many factors that influence the experience. The rain, the weather, the level of water flowing through the river, and even the people involved make every day different” says Gabriel.
He has more fun at expeditions that last more than a day. “You go camping in the jungle and you must take on the boats everything you need in order to survive”. It doesn’t matter how many expeditions you’ve been on before, you will always feel like a tourist. The immensity of the jungle, the biodiversity and the sites that you come across, make you feel small. Everything is impressive: the animals, the plants, the caves, the waterfalls and even the butterflies are worthy of admiration.
It was the energy of the river that spiced things up throughout our journey. It’s impossible not to feel a bit skeptical about taking the ride because of its power. Only words from your guide can give you the strength needed so that you keep going. “When I’m close to a rapid, I concentrate and try to do my job as safe as possible. Many confuse adrenaline and energy with risk and danger. Adrenaline is always present in the river and risks decrease with experience”. Guides know what they are doing and Gabriel is not the exception. “Having the proper instructions, training, and equipment in good working order gives us the balance that allows us to practice a dangerous sport in a safe and fun way”.
No matter how many precautions you take or advise you follow, throwing yourself into a river is crazy, pure adrenaline. Seconds are perceived as hours while the kayaks slowly approach the rapids. It’s torture! And when you finally get there, those thoughts disappear and your body becomes a reflex machine guided exclusively by the command of your tour guide.
In just a couple of days we were able to understand why the family tree of the River People planted its roots right next to these rivers. Who would want to leave such place, where they can grow old and enjoy their lives calmly by the riverside.
“People in cities dedicate too much time to the external world instead of the internal one, to one self. Call your friends, girlfriend, father, mother or whoever, and come and enjoy an activity at the river. It’s going to brighten your mood and everyone else’s around you”. When Gabriel talks about the river, you can feel that through him, that energy flows. He feels fortunate he can live doing what he loves. “Many times people say that they don’t have time. Since I do what I love, I have spare time for everything else”.
Tena, its jungle and rivers, is a place you must see if you come to Ecuador. The city’s vibe is incredible. If you leave your destiny in the hands of the River People, it will be unforgettable. They are great hosts; and the experience as far as river and jungle goes, is exceptional.