The Upper Jondachi is considered Ecuador's most classic steep creek. It's 6 miles of class 4-5 creeking through a lush jungle gorge. In addition to the Upper, there are Middle and Lower sections of the Jondachi with equally, if not more beautiful, scenery and slightly easier class 3-4 rapids.
Unfortunately, a few years ago the government-owned thermal electric generating company proposed the building of a dam on the Jondachi River which would de-water part of or all of the river. Not only is this sad from a recreational standpoint, it would also be very detrimental to the amazingly biodiverse environment. In an effort to try and bring awareness to the cause, the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute hosted the inaugural "Jondachi Fest" this past January. Due to my love for both the country of Ecuador and the Jondachi River, I decided to take another trip down to the equator this year to support this great event. The festival included nightly festivities in Tena, a race down the Upper Jondachi and a group paddle and overnight on the Lower Jondachi/ Hollin section.
After having been in Ecuador for a couple weeks, it was finally time for the Fest! There were tons of international boaters in town for one reason- to help save the Jondachi River (and of course to run some of the best whitewater in the world)!
The First big event for the festival was the Upper Jondachi race. In order to prepare for the race, we tried to squeeze a few laps down the Upper leading up to the festival. Because the race section was to be determined based on the day of water level, we had to try and remember the entire run as best we could.
There was a race meeting on Thursday night at a pizza shop in Tena, then Friday morning everyone was awake early and ready to paddle fast! We all met at the put in of the Urcusiqui to get race bibs and a few more logistical details.
Once at the confluence, we were told the approximate start times of the race, the exact ending point as well as given a safety talk. The race would run from just below the confluence to walking bridge over the Jondachi. It was a mostly class 3 race, but did have a few rapids (especially the last one) that you had to be paying attention to.
After the race, there was still a lot of paddling to do as the finish line was pretty much at what most people consider the start of the Upper Jondachi. In an effort to avoid the crowds, Emily and I snuck downstream on our own and ended up having the river to ourselves.
The evening after the race there was a super fun awards ceremony at a local restaurant in Tena. It was a great night to celebrate a successful race and kick off to the festival. Congrats to Hannah Kertesz for taking first place amongst the women. I was a few seconds behind her securing second place.
The next morning we had to wake up early to prepare for a long day (19miles) on the Middle and Lower Jondachi as well as a portion of the Hollin. As much fun as the Upper is, I think quite possibly the most beautiful sections of the Jondachi lie downstream. Steep jungle walls line much of the many miles of river. As part of the festival, there was a large group putting on a the lower in both kayaks and rafts and paddling down to an eco-lodge perched on the side of the river. I volunteered to lead a group of kayakers down the lesser done Middle section. We all then regrouped at the beautiful lodge for a camp fire, cold beers and an overnight jungle retreat.
The lodge where we spent the night was a 5min paddle from the bridge where our taxi driver was picking us up. We paddled out first thing in the morning and it was bittersweet for me. On one hand, I knew it was my last day in Ecuador for a while, as I would be heading home to the States that evening. On the other hand, I felt a sense of joy that with the success of the festival, there was the slightest hope that the Jondachi might be around for many more years to come. If you want to support the cause, please consider donating to the Ecuadorian Rivers Institute (http://ecuadorianrivers.org/donate/), the non-profit that hosted the festival and is on the front line of fighting for Ecuador's rivers.
For more coverage of the Jondachi and the festival, check out this digital piece by Canoe and Kayak:
See you at Jondachi Fest 2016!
By: Laura Farrell