DO YOU KNOW THE WAY
Rest assured there at least five or six Ecuadorians that won't be recording ... "Do You Know The Way To Tena" anytime soon.
Leaving Quito along Av 6 Diecembre, I am initially headed in the right direction for Tena, however my inquiry to a toll-booth worker adds the first bit of confusion. She's not sure if I need to go "Norte" or "Sur" for Tena, the less than helpful map tells me its "East" then "South"... I think.
I head "Sur" but with an uncertain feeling. Frequent stops to easy my uncertain feeling does not help until 30-40 minutes into the drive at a Petrol Station I am told to do a 180 and "mano a la derecha" in about 15 minutes.
Although somewhat lost, I am enjoying the scenery of huge towns in the valleys below me and homes that populate the mountainsides. Through small towns I witness the hustle and bustle of everyday Ecuadorian life. Children unload in colorful uniforms from school buses even as cars and other buses belching black smoke maneuvers nearby. Somehow it works without crossing guards and requiring all other vehicles to stop.
About 4 hours into my journey, I get my first real confirmation that I am headed in the right direction ... A huge road sign with "Tena" and a pointing arrow.
I must admit that during the previous 3 hours I was continuously distracted from my dilemma.
Huge twin mountain waterfalls, single lane bridges, curving gravel roads, light rain and rainforest like foliage with various density of greens provide a natural escape from a feeling of being lost.
A bit more direction finding and I am at Hostel Los Yutzos where I will call home for the next few nights. A bit more expensive $20.00 per night than other alternatives but it is a nice facility on the river in the quiet part of town.
Whitewater rafting and a jungle tour is planned for the next few days. Tonight, I will see what happens after dark in Tena.
TENA AFTER DARK
A local hangout with a large selection of mix drinks, stereo music, cheap beer and relaxing views as The Pano River flows below. The town is closing up for the night as I walk back to Los Yuztos except for a local karaoke bar that fills the night air with music.
HOSTEL LOS YUZTOS
A recommended stay located on a mostly quiet street within easy walking distance of all the town has to offer. Comfortable rooms with hot showers starting at $21 per person (breakfast included) plus 22% in taxes along with 7% credit card surcharge. Free and mostly reliable wireless and desktop internet services also provided.
Nicely landscaped mix of fruit trees, flowers and hammocks with bunches of free bananas nearby. Primarily Spanish speaking friendly staff that provide local information and also can help with arranging various Tena tours.
Hard to believe lower rooms that are about 6-8 feet above the river were recently flooded and are in the process of being repaired. Coincidentally, this flooding along with two floating houses was also responsible for destroying the bridge that provided access to Parque Amazonico.
Expect at least a 6 month delay before access is available to the park which promised good hikes and animal sightings.
WHITE WATER RAFTING
It's around 9:30pm when I return to Los Yuztos and start making a few phone calls to arrange a rafting trip for tomorrow. A little bargaining and $50 is an agreed price. There is no rain this evening so I open my room window and fall asleep to the sound of a gentle breeze.
Ring... ring … ring... ring... I am awaken around 8am by my room phone and head to the hotel reception to pay for my rafting trip. I will be picked up around 9am so I have time to enjoy a quick breakfast of fresh papaya juice, bread and fresh fruits. After breakfast, I relax in a hammock with the sounds of the Pano River and chirping birds in the background. Life is good!
Disrupted from my short nap and dream, I am in a Toyota pickup truck headed to Hostal Limoncocha. There we pick up a few other thrill seekers. After about a twenty minute drive on a mix of dirt and paved roads we pass thru some small villages and arrive at our launch site. We are at a cool wooden bridge that crosses the Misahualli River to Serena.
Distant mountains, dense green jungle vegetation against blue skies with a few gray clouds, the temperature is about 22C mid 70's as we prepare for our trip. Sunscreen and bug repellent is applied as we learn about each other and our travel adventures.
I am put to work inflating the raft and I am glad to “Pump It Up”. My work done, I stroll across the bridge to take in the views and discover a few planks missing. I dangle my leg between them as the river flows rapidly about twenty feet below.
Bright orange long sleeve shirts, helmets and life vest are handed out to rafters along with an individual paddle. Even after I remove my T-shirt, I feel like I am wearing a chest girdle in my one size fits all life vest. I suck in and change my breathing pattern.
Bladimir, one of our tour guide continues with the raft preparations as we wait for his cousin Herado to join us from Serena their home community across the Misahualli River.
With the raft loaded, we carry it to a natural ramp and with a gentle push it disappears below us. Herado arrives and we take a small hike down to the river where we must finish recovering the raft still about six feet above us. Bladimir pushes from above and we land the raft on the gray sand without putting it in the river.
Bladimir conducts a safety briefing with an occasionally joke thrown in. I lean side to side to laugh as I am still working on my new breathing pattern. Part of our safety also includes Herado following along in a rescue kayak.
The river is high today and our trip will be faster than normal because the river is flowing at a fast pace. I guess at least 10 mph or more. With the safety briefing complete, one more raft lifting and we will be on the river.
An alarming scream goes up from one of the rafters as we lift the back of raft and she rapidly jumps in the front. A small snake has appeared from under the raft and slivers away I guess now frighten into the water. I lean side to side as laughter burst out among the rest of us. Our journey begins.
It's not long before we are excited by our first dousing. The river promises more of the same with it's Class 2 and 3 rapids. The water is cool to cold but with the sun and our excitement it is quiet refreshing. A smooth portion of the river approaches and we are invited to swim. I take the plunge. Once overboard, Herado paddles over and with a smirking smile warns us to watch out for anacondas!
Before the next rapid appears we are hauled on-board and paddling commands are given …. “Forward (Adelante)”, “Back”, “Paddles ...En” (Bladimir pronunciation of “In”), “Hi Five”. Ahead, Herado is having fun battling the rapids and occasionally loses as his world is turned upside down.
About an hour after launching, we beach for lunch. It is now hot as we come to a stop with a mild river breeze providing some relief. We are asked to wait at the beach area as Bladimir and Herado disappear down a path to prepare our lunch. A call is made and we are surprised to find a buffet set up on a table covered with banana leaves.
We have all the ingredients to make vegetarian burritos. Fresh peppers, onions, tomatoes, beans, cheese and guacamole. For dessert, galletas(cookies), fresh pineapple along with an Ecuadorian favorite …. 2 liters of warm Coca-Cola.
After lunch the fun continues as we hit a churning rapid and only my feet and legs remain in the raft. Along the way we past families on the banks also enjoying the river even a group of kids tubing with miniature yellow paddles. Soon we past a motorize contraption on the river that we are told is used in the process of mining gold.
Although the river speed is changing the scenery rapidly, at times it is smooth and peaceful as I enjoy waterfalls, birds singing and a great jungle landscape. This peacefulness is soon broken by a noise and object overhead as Bladimir does a flip from the rear of the raft and lands in the river with a huge smile. Our journey soon ends with lots of wet memories and no regrets.
If you want to experience your own white water rafting adventure while in Tena, Ecuador... You can reach Bladimir at firstname.lastname@example.org or thru Hostal Limoncocha.
BACK TO TENA ..... FAST
We have exited the Misahualli River just beyond what the locals call the “6 Year Bridge”. This bridge replaced an old shared bridge (still in use) on the way to Banos but it took six years to build. A short wait and we are in the back of a pickup truck with Herado headed back to Tena .... Muy Rapido! I almost lose my hat as we hang on for the roller coaster ride. Herado informs us that driver does not want to miss a televised soccer match involving Germany so he is driving like a madman.. Muy Loco!
Our return is to Hostal Limon Cocha where indeed a few men are gathered around a large flat screen television watching futbol. The Hostal is decent with inexpensive accommodations overlooking Tena. You can also directly book 1-5 Day Jungle Treks and Whitewater Rafting Trips with Hostal Limoncocha.
A walk down a gentle hill and I am on Main Street visiting “Mi Panaderia”. I have taken a serious liking to their “Dos Leche” bread and enjoy it with a local Limon drink all for less than a dollar. The weather is nice still in the 70”s.
Beyond the Town Square, I pass through a school yard with many specialty classrooms including woodwork and machinery. I share a bridge with a taxi cab, motorcycle and other pedestrians as I cross another river and enter a small village with dirt roads.
I pass a yard of girls playing who stop and with curiosity watch me continue walking down the street. About a hundred yards pass them I hear giggles and then .... “Hola”. I smile and yell back ... “Hola”.
Back at Los Yutzos, I do a quick online search for dinner restaurants. Asadero Safari, Cositas Ricas and Chuquitos are my choices with caution. Apparently, Tena does not have many highly recommended restaurants but “The Big Shots” dine at Chuquitos.
Half carafe of fresh melon juice $2.50 and the free yucca appetizer with fruit salsa was great. However, the main course of Stew Fish lacked flavor and was disappointing.
On the way back to Los Yutzos, I encountered some friends I meet earlier in the day on my whitewater trip. They are on their way to enjoy a beer down at the river and extended an invitation. I am beer less but stop at a local convenience store just before closing. With a promise to the store clerk to return the empty bottle tomorrow when they open a $1 buys me a cold bottle of 32oz Pilsener.
My evening dining experience is redeemed along the river sharing stories, talking politics while enjoying new friends and a cold brew.