Tag Archives: ecuador

Banos – adventure capital of Ecuador

IMG_1988Banos (de Auga Santo) is a small city in the Andean highlands, just west of the Amazon Jungle, located at the base of the still active volcano Tungurahua. We all wondered why you would name a city “bathrooms” and learned that it’s name actually means “baths of sacred water”, in reference to the thermal hot springs located here. Banos has become a mecca for those seeking fun and adventure – whitewater kayking/rafting, waterfalls, rock climbing, zip lining etc. It has a very youthful culture with people from all around the world making a stop here as part of their wandering travels.

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Banos is a 5 hour drive from the Ponderosa Lodge in San Francisco de Borja. The plan was to drive to Tena (2 hours), paddle the Jatunyacu and then head on to Banos in time for dinner. The normal itinerary has the group paddling the Upper Misahualli, which is right along the main highway, but due to low water levels we made the change, which excited Hunter as he wanted to show off “his” river to the rest of the group…

IMG_1988The put in for the Upper Jatunyacu is at a local eco-tourism resort with swimming holes created in the side tributaries, and they come complete with Tarzan ropes. We had a picnic lunch here before the boys launched into the river and the rest of us headed a little downstream to another put in that would avoid a few tricky class IV features. The Jatunyacu river is also known as the Upper Napo river and the Napo River is one of the two headwaters of the Amazon river, which means that we paddled on a headwater of the Amazon – pretty cool.

DSCF8493Abby joined us again and it was interesting to see how much Hunter’s confidence had grown from when we paddled this river less than a week earlier. Hunter had yet another great paddle and showed Tim all the cool stuff that he liked about big water. We made it a bit of a shorter day than our first run on this river due to the remaining drive to Banos. Needless to say, we were still quite late getting into Banos due to all the fun that was being had!

DSCF8555We were up bright and early the next morning to meet up with Andres Reyes (black boat), a Banos based member of the Endless Adventures International team, who was guiding us down the Pastaza River. Andres is a fabulous guide and if you get a chance to paddle with him, grab it! Hunter and I were paddling the upper section (class III+) and then the boys were carrying on to paddle the lower section (class IV). It had been raining a fair bit and water levels were somewhat higher than anticipated and this gave me such huge butterflies the entire run.

The whole experience of paddling the Pastaza that day was yet another great learning moment for me as a parent. I had butterflies because I was worried that we were putting Hunter in over his head and that if he swam he would be scared and upset, which would undo all of the progression (both in skill and confidence) that he had made over the past 10 days. I had no doubts that Andres, Chris and Tim would keep him safe – it was all the emotional side of things that I fretted about. Needless to say, I had a crappy paddle, spending too much time watching Hunter and paying attention to the butterflies. At the end of the upper run, which went really well, Hunter says to me “Mom, when we’re paddling can you please stay back a bit. I had Andres, Chris and Dad there to pick me up if I swam, so I was fine”, with absolutely no fear or negative emotion attached to the idea of swimming. ACK – it’s a constant juggle to figure out where that right line is these days!

IMG_0573Hunter and I got out of the river, undressed and then hopped in the shuttle van to follow everyone else down the river. At one of our stops we saw this really cool fish farm, which was on a plateau that was midway between the road and the river. It supplies the local restaurant (just above it on the road) with fresh fish and then sells the rest to other restaurants in the area.

IMG_0612A very special side benefit of paddling with Andres was that we were served a private dinner by his mom at her restaurant (Mercedes Restaurant). While it did not feel like fine dining, it sure tasted that way – the food was OUTSTANDING…. Five stars from all three of us. If you are in Banos it is well worth checking to see if she is open – very reasonably priced, especially for the quality of the food & service.

Every night after we finished dinner we went for a walk around town to explore. The city was very clean and not once did we feel unsafe. Many stores were still open late into the evening and one night we joined an impromptu kids soccer game in the main square. The christmas lights were still up in the streets which made everything look so festive.

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The rest of our time in Banos was spent exploring and playing.The group rented a mix of motorcycles, ATV’s and off road jeeps for an afternoon and it sure was fun! We headed out through town and then up the big mountain that sits right behind the city of Banos.

At the top of the mountain is The Casa del Arbol (tree house), which was written up as the wildest swing in your life by the Places You Must See In Your Lifetime website. It is actually a seismic monitoring station for the volcano but the views are spectacular and the swing puts you out over the edge of the valley looking into nothing but sky – it comes with a good dose of adrenaline if you actually pump to go high!

IMG_5283We fit all three of us on the ATV (standard vs automatic) and Tim did a great job of coaxing the engine to get us all the way to the top of the mountain. He also did a great job supporting Hunter, who drove us all the way down the mountain until we got to town. Driving in town requires a mix of big city and rural farm driving skills, which luckily Tim has!

IMG_0596One of the other things that Banos seems to be known for is “Los Dulces” – their locally made taffy. There were a number of stores on the main street that all had taffy makers busy making taffy. It was interesting watching them pull and stretch and knead the candy, almost like a pizza maker. What I wasn’t so sure about was the food sanitation as it went straight from the pole and then bare hands of the maker into the bare hands of another worker that rolled it into shapes and packaged it. Not quite North American standards I guess…

Just up the block from our hostel (Hostal Santa Cruz, a classic backpackers hostel) was a fun little park with lots of things to play on. It is also a great meeting ground for people with kids. Andrea was there with Radd the day we paddled the Pastaza and came back with news that she had just met a mom and boy that Hunter and I just had to meet! This is one of the many wonderful things about travelling – people from all over the place coming together in various circumstances and finding commonalities. Jeremie and his mom are from Germany and are travelling and homeschooling for a year. He and Hunter had a fun 2 days together and it was nice for both of them to have some “boy time” where they could play, wrestle and joke around. Travel has made Hunter more open to making these quick connections and enjoying them while they last.

The park mural is painted on the back of the facilities building and is worth noting not just for it’s beauty but also for the detail of it’s message. If you “read it” from left to right you can see that it tells the story of rebirth and revitalization, moving from drained & polluted rivers to the bounty of mother nature.

For our last twenty-four hours in Banos we treated ourselves to a night at the Luna RunTun resort, located up on the hill above town, just below the tree house and volcano. When ever we splurge on expensive hotels we do our best to arrive prior to check-in and seek a late check-out to maximize our spend…We had hoped to spend a good portion of our visit in the hot pools and were fairly disappointed with their temperatures. There are five pools, with three of them being “hot”, a large fourth being a cold pool and then a hot-tub. The four “hot” pools (including the hot-tub) were more like a warm bath and there was no variation in temperature amongst them. Definitely a bummer. While the rooms are beautiful, the food was “OK”, and we had fun playing billiards, I wouldn’t recommend a stay here – the price does not match the value.

The views from both Luna RunTun and the Tree House were amazing – the valley is so lush and we were all constantly amazed at the angles of the plots of land that were being farmed.

IMG_0659It was a five hour drive from Banos to the Quito airport. We spent the money on a private car ($100 US) and arrived at the airport around 6pm. The drive was quite scenic and we enjoyed seeing the regional diversity as you travelled north up the Andes. The highways here are well taken care of and it was very smooth driving.

International flights all leave late in the evening and the down side of that is that check-in does not open until 3 hours prior to the flight. This meant that we had 4 hours to amuse ourselves…with all our bags. The good news is that there is a decent sized restaurant/food court area in a complex just across from the airport. We found some comfy chairs and settled in with some food and some movies.

Andean Eco-hub; Quijos Valley – Ecuador

IMG_1791The Quijos valley sits on the eastern edge of the Andes mountains and runs all the way to the western edge of the Amazon region. It is moderate in temperature (spring like all year round) and can see rain on a fairly regular basis (any time, any day). These two features combine to create this amazingly lush landscape as far as you can see.

San Francisco de Borja, located right on the Quijos river, is the home base for Endless Adventures International as well as a few other kayak companies. There are more than a handful of rivers that can be reached within a 30 minute drive so this is quite a central spot.

The drive from Quito to the Quijos Valley goes through a number of mountain passes and is definitely a windy journey, which Hunter isn’t a real fan of. We chose to give him some Gravol to help his stomach, with the side benefit that it also helped him have a well needed 90 minute nap. After our full day of adventuring in Quito we arrived at the Ponderosa (Endless Adventures International lodge) in time for a late dinner.

Note: one of the clearly differentiating aspects of an All-Inclusive trip with Endless Adventures is the focus that they put on food. Everything is fresh and local, plentiful, flavourful and there is a relentless focus on food-safety to keep everyone healthy for paddling.

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The lodge is a low key environment with rooms of various sizes, 2 shared bathrooms, and lots of indoor and outdoor shared spaces to chill out. One of Hunter’s favourite places was the main hammock, where he and his new BFF Radd would hang out with their snuggly friends.

Ponderosa Lodge is located on a working farm, with milking cows that are fed sugar cane to make their milk yummy or sweet. They grow sugar cane, various vegetables and raise Guinea Pigs (to eat, not as pets). Hunter was happy to get to use a machete (basic farm tool here) to chop down some sugar cane, which we decided is sweeter than the sugar cane in Mexico.

Our first morning was a slow start due to us all being tired from travelling. We headed off to the neighbouring town of El Chaco to check out their Sunday market and pick up some fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. Ecuador allows people to ride in the back of a vehicle IF the cab is full – Hunter was thrilled to take advantage of this rule when ever possible and was always the first to volunteer to ride in the back.

With all the overnight rain we headed to the local swimming pools for a warm up and then off to run the Borja and a section of the Quijos river. There was so much water that what is normally a trickle between the pools was a runable drop, which we had fun with. Hunter also worked on his play boating skills with Chris. With levels running quite high, we decided that Tim,Chris and I would run the Borja river, which can only be run at medium and high water. It was a fun warm up and orientation to creeking. The Borja runs into the Quijos, which was running at high +++ level. Big, brown pushy water with waves so big you couldn’t see the person you were following. Thanks to managing to find the big grabby hole that was strong enough to window shade me and pull me out of my boat, I exited at the take out at the lodge while Tim and Chris continued on to just above the canyon.

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We headed off to Tena the next day for three days of jungle paddling (details to come in my next post) and then were back in the Quijos valley in time for New Years Eve and 2 more days of kayaking.

New Years Eve is quite the cultural experience in Ecuador. It actually stretches over about a 48 hour window (mid-day on the 31st to mid-day on January 2nd). Historically widows dressed in black and holding their babies would venture into the streets on New Year’s Eve to seek money to support themselves.This has evolved over time to men (young and old) dressing up as women and putting up road blocks to collect drinking money. Tim got stopped in Tena walking down the street in the middle of the afternoon 🙂

We all bought masks of sorts from the street vendors in Tena to take part in the evening festivities in Baeza, which is just down the road from Borja and a kayakers haven. It was definitely quite the street party… The other Ecuadorian custom is the burning of effigies at midnight, to send off the past year and welcome in the new one. This ranges from elaborate stuffed effigies to individual pieces of paper with thoughts.

Baeza medical centre

Baeza medical centre

New Years day brought a slow start to things… the boys paddled the Quijos from Bridge II to the Canyon while Hunter and I took a day off and enjoyed the sunshine while catching up on some school work.

Unfortunately Tim ended up hitting his head so hard on a rock on the lower Quijos that he burst his eardrum and had to make a stop at the Baeza medical centre for some urgent care. This definitely put a different perspective on his paddling for the rest of the trip – he tried to walk the line between the Doctor’s guidance of “no paddling, no water in the ear” and being in Ecuador surrounded by fabulous class IV+ creeking! Ear plugs, padding, duct tape and using Lee’s helmet with the ear protection were the compromise. He also opted out of any runs that would clearly see him likely to be totally submersed.

NOTE: At this time (late January), Tim is on the mend. Hearing is at about 50% and not consistent. We are looking forward to it improving over the coming months.

January 2nd had more highs and lows… The high was Hunter confidently paddled the Middle section of the Cosanga, a class 3+ creek that flows into the Quijos river with the entire group. He had a fabulous time and really enjoyed it.

The low was that I got hit hard by a food bug that had been brewing since our night out in Tena and was knocked out for the next 24 hours.

The last day of Quijos valley paddling saw everyone on the Quijos River again, with medium water levels, which made it a completely different river. The girls paddled from Bridge 4 to just above the canyon while the boys paddled from Bridge 1 – Bridge 2, with some carrying on all the way to Bridge 4. It was great to paddle this river at this level as I left it on a good note – nice and challenging but not too challenging. Hunter had a bit of the flu so he stayed home and recuperated.

IMG_1940We took a day off on Sunday and the entire group headed to the Papallacta Hot Springs (Termas de Pallacta), which is located high in the mountains heading west towards Quito. It is at 3800 meters/12000 + feet and the altitude was definitely noticeable. It was the last day of the christmas/new years holiday window and quite busy with south american tourists ending their holidays.

The Quijos Valley is ripe with adventure and we only touched the surface, leaving plenty of room for new kayaking and exploring experiences when we return!

Ama la vida – 2 weeks adventuring in Ecuador

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As we were planning our adventures for this winter, one of the things that we knew we wanted to do was winter whitewater kayaking, in warm water and warm weather. There wasn’t much more criteria than that… Based on our February Mexico experience, we ended up choosing to go back to Mexico in late November and then selected a trip to Ecuador with Chris and Andrea from Endless Adventures (based out of Nelson, BC), who we have been buying kayaks from for the last few years. Chris is a great coach/instructor/guide and we all have things on our learning wish list!

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At the time I didn’t really stop to think about where Ecuador was…. a bit silly I know. We made the decision in May and put our deposit down in June. Around that time I finally got around to looking on the world map and clued in to the Galapagos Islands being in Ecuador – bad geography memory on that one! Next came the library trip to pick up the lonely planet guide to Ecuador and the research began.

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The funniest thing was that once we started mentioning that we were headed to Ecuador to paddle, we were amazed at the number of our friends and acquaintances that had travelled, kayaked and adventured in Ecuador. This turned out to be quite reassuring and another great research vehicle.

IMG_1791We went back and forth on budget and timeline and settled on a 16 day trip, with 14 of those days being actually in Ecuador and the others being consumed with travel time… It takes a good 24+ hours of travel time to get from the Yukon to Ecuador, just a mere 8,283 km away. We also had to make the tough decision to forego exploring the Galapagos islands, both due to cost and time. It just means that we have to head back another time!

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Our final itinerary covered off both the Andes and Amazon region, mostly kayaking but with some exploring built in as well. We enjoyed time in Quito, San Francisco de Borja, Baeza, Tena and Banos. This was our first trip to South America and it was a great entry point into that continent. Completely family friendly, clean, and we all felt very safe, thanks to the people we were surrounded with.

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There is so much to cover that I will write multiple posts, highlighting both the whitewater kayaking and the road schooling experiences that we had. We will definitely go back to Ecuador and recommend it to anyone considering heading to South America! For kayakers – you have to hang with Chris and Andrea at Endless Adventures International– they do it right (rivers, lodge, food, and fun)!

More details on our trip can be found at:

Season Two is launched

do what you love

After lots of research, and then more research, we are really excited to share that our plans for the coming year are coming together… and we are really excited! The theme continues to be active adventure and sunshine.

SUMMER 2014:

Based out of our home base here in Whitehorse, we will spend the majority of our time out Mountain Biking, on our world class trails, and whitewater kayaking on the local rivers (fingers crossed that the water levels come up).

While it is looking like our anticipated day trips and overnight camping on the Wheaton may not come together in June, we are planning for 2-3 trips up to the Ross River area to camp and paddle the Lapie River during late June and July.

Hunter and I will also head east to Ontario to do the “cottage thing” with family  in August – nothing like endless days of swimming, waterskiing, boating and heading into town for ice cream with your cousins. This year we will be celebrating my grandma’s 100th birthday, which is certainly extra special. We will also tack on some time in Ottawa to do some exploring and  canadian history work.

FALL 2014:

Heading back to my happy place with a quick trip out to Tofino on Vancouver Island. A week of surfing and hanging out on the beach and at Hunter’s favourite skateboard park. Our visits to Tofino keep getting better and better so I’m looking forward to what new things this trip will bring.

Mexico – we’re coming back!!! After having so much fun in February, we are happy to be able to head back down to Texas to join up with our new friends Ben, Kelly, Phil & Nejla to go paddling in North Eastern Mexico for a week over American Thanksgiving. The only part I’m not looking forward to is the 14 hour drive (down and back). It will be fun to paddle at Rio Vista again as well, maybe even under the lights!

WINTER 2014:

We will be rushing out the door shortly after Santa lands at our house for a 2 week adventure in Ecuador. Nine days of whitewater kayaking with Endless Adventures International and then another 5 days exploring the countryside (still deciding between an Andes or an Amazon adventure – anyone with experiences should chime in!).

Fingers crossed that the weather mid-January to mid-February will be temperate so we can get out and enjoy snowboarding at our local hill here in town.

The beach is calling – we had so much fun down in Oceanside last year (fall and spring) that we are heading back down for just over three weeks from mid February to mid March. We are renting a beach house with Grandma Lynne and will have various other family coming to hang out. Looking forward to lots of surfing, biking and skateboarding, along with some down time in the sun.

We will make it back just in time to catch peak snowboarding at the White Pass Summit. Late March – mid April are still winter here in the Yukon but the bluebird skies and above freezing day time temps, coupled with lots of snow, make for a fabulous back country experience. We squeezed in one trip in late April this year after we got back and it reminded us how much we enjoy being out and playing in the mountains.

I’ve been driving Tim nuts with all of the research and logistics work over the past month but it is really worth it financially. I was able to get almost all of our flights on points, which I figure saved us over $8000.00. We are working within Tim’s vacation allotment this year, which is what has us taking this approach. It will be a learning experience, and another opportunity to identify what works best for us as a family. There is definitely some hesitation about travelling without our great big gear locker.

I’m excited to see what the year will bring, how we can optimize it for homeschooling (we are all going to be tackling spanish lessons this summer) and balance some work in between all the fun.