eNRG Kayaking’s trip to Ecuador started out with us being coworkers. It ended with us being so much more. From my very first step out of the airport in Quito, I realized we had stepped into some place special.
Special was the active stratovolcano above the quaint town of Baños. Special were the waterfalls that protected their natural authenticity under a veil of water that followed our descent down to the jungle town of Tena. Special were the people we met along the way. One of those people was Santiago Canala-Echevarria, owner of Kayak Ecuador.
“I got into kayaking nine years ago,” said Santiago. “When I was going through college… I went rafting with some friends and I saw the safety kayaker surfing and catching eddies and having such a good time. I was like: that’s what I really want to do.”
However, with no kayak lessons available, this dream was harder than it first may seem. Thus, Santiago’s interest in paddling was not the only thought coming into existence that day.
“I think Kayak Ecuador started the day I saw the safety kayaker. I asked everyone in town if I could get a kayak lesson and there was none. In that moment the idea came up – why not have a company that offers just kayaking in one of the best places in the world.”
Nowadays, Kayak Ecuador offers more than just kayaking. Santiago believes rafting offers a great opportunity to the people who are not as experienced on the water. Tena has free flowing rivers all year long with waters for beginners and experts with everything in-between.
“The rivers are the veins of the Earth,” said Santiago. However, with the environmental issues Ecuador has, these veins are in trouble. Santiago has seen the destruction foreign companies cause when exploiting the land along the rivers. His words rang true when I paddled past bulldozers in the river destroying the ecosystems that lie underneath.
While laws are in place, they are not being followed. In a mere three days, the river was diverted into a new channel, machines driving up the empty riverbed it left behind.
“After that, the place is no longer good for anything, at least nothing that is alive,” said Santiago. What is alive and growing is the kayaking community. “Something that everyone can do is come here and just paddle because when authorities see people paddling all the time on the rivers, it’s going to make an impact on them as they realize they are being used for something.” Santiago believes that the money kayakers bring with them creates an economy that can support the country and protect the rivers in the process.
“Tena is the whitewater capital of Ecuador,” states Santiago. Tena was also the place where eNRG Kayaking not only rose above the billowing waves, but also rose above our challenges. There was the challenge of swimming out of your kayak, of paddling through sickness, of pushing your whitewater skills outside your comfort zone, of surviving the stench of dirty wet clothing. All were completed not as individuals – but together as eNRG Kayaking arrived at its penultimate destination: Bieza.
Bieza was home to a plethora of paddlers and wonderful water as we continue to strengthen our team building skills. It was great to get off our phones for a minute and daydream upon a riverbed of mountainous snow-melt – disconnected from the Internet but connected to each other. With the strenuous boulder gardens of Bieza under our belt, eNRG Kayaking was more than Sam the Co-Owner, Kurt the Operations Manager, Dave the Whitewater Manager, Sue the Consultant, and me – Jake, the Kid Camp Coordinator. eNRG Kayaking left the country as a team.
While Ecuador is home to river otters and monkeys, Ecuador has also found a home in me.